We are What We Worship
Life in the Spirit: Sermon #03 - We are What We Worship
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • Oct 30, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
We are in the midst of our Life in the Spirit sermon series. This is a series that calls us the on-going process of learning to trust and obey Jesus, what we might call, “discipleship.” Here’s the basic idea: Jesus doesn’t invite us to trust and obey him just so that we can avoid a fiery end, instead, he invites us to trust and obey him so that we can start to live our best life now. This is a life that brings the reality of heaven into our present reality and frees us from fear because we follow a resurrected Messiah who conquered and destroyed death and calls us to follow him into life. The disciple’s life is learning to live in this reality free from fear, willing to love our neighbors as ourselves, learning to give generously because we know that all that we have comes from God, a life that is kind and compassionate and makes space for those who are at the margins offering them welcome and inclusion. This is the disciple’s path, a path of transformation that starts with our learning to lose ourselves that we might find ourselves.
24Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul? (Matthew 16:24–27)
This morning, I want to consider the role of worship in [on] our discipleship journey. When I speak of worship I mean both our participation in the act of praising and worshipping God as well as our participation in a regular worship liturgy that helps to reveal God in our midst and invites us to trust God for everything. At the center of discipleship is the call to transformation and one of the ways that we are transformed is by and through our worship. You’ve undoubtedly heard the idiom, “You become what you worship.” We see echoes of this idiom throughout scripture whether in Jeremiah 2:5 or Psalm 115:1-8. The idea that we become what we worship is true both in the positive and negative sense. So, it’s important that we are mindful of images of God we create and therefore worship. As the Psalm says, “those who make idols will be like them.”
As image-bearers of the most high God, there’s no better hope than as we learn to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus, he will lead us to the Father. There we we can be transformed and changed! We have a chance of becoming like the Creator, who is described in Exodus 34:6-7 as compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love, and faithfulness, lavishing love, forgiving wickedness, rebellion, & sin.
Our transformation happens with our willing cooperation, our recognition that each act of faith, each act of surrender, each act of trust, each act of obedience moves us along the path towards becoming transformed.
This requires us to see ourselves soberly, moving from simplistic thinking towards something much deeper, something along the lines of what St. Paul, the New Testament church planter, suggests in his letter to the church gathered in Rome when he says:
I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)
This call invites us to move beyond just mental assent into learning to live as living sacrifices. Being willing to see ourselves in the full light of day, not just the best parts of us. This means the parts that prevent us from trusting and obeying; all of things we do to deal with all disappointments, attacks, and frustrations we experience; all of the emotional responses of fear, anger, lust, lying, cheating, and scheming that we participate in.
Here is where I think worship can be helpful, as we are invited into a way of being that moves our discipleship forward. It starts with our willingness to join ourselves to the community of believers, coming as we are, open to the possibility that we might have a real encounter with the living God. Not just some spiritual experience, but something else, something different, better even, a recognition that we need each to tell the story of God, together so that we are better able to be the disciples we are called to be. It’s the idea that we gather regularly with the people of God; not to just go through the motions but to be shaped and formed into the people of God by hearing about God’s faithfulness, God’s lovingkindness, God’s compassion and allowing God’s glory to inform and shape how we live our every day.
Think of it this way, worship is a way for us to deny ourselves as we shift our attention to Another. We recognize in act of worship that someone is worthy of praise and that the object of our worship is someone of worth far greater than ourselves, this is a celebration of worth. It’s a way for us to proclaim God’s faithfulness, loving kindness, and compassion. It’s way for us to seek God’s glory rather than our own all while learning to love the Lord with everything we have. As Luke 10:27 puts it,
7“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27)
Practically speaking, we can’t worship God to the exclusion of everything else, so how do we create space for worship in our everyday? By recalling God and God’s goodness throughout the day, through our singing, our silence, our scripture engagement and through our mindful reflection of God, these are some of the spiritual disciplines and practices of the saints who have paved the way for us. Helping us to answer the question of, “How we do orient our life so that we can “find” God (who, let just acknowledge, is already there reaching out towards us) in our everyday life?”
Worship is the means and response to the infilling of the Holy Spirit.
We experience a deeper and richer connection with God as we worship God because our worship of God makes us more truly human. Our praise reminds us of the God we serve, and God’s ability to meet us where we are, to sit with us in our joy, pain or sorrow, to rescue us by loving us, healing us, or renewing us.
4Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
5For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.(Psalm 100:4-5)
There’s a way that we experience and are filled with God’s loving presence through the Holy Spirit as we worship. As we enter his presence, his presence increases and so does our worship in response to his loving presence.
Come near to God and he will come near to you. (James 4:8)
Story of worshipping God in my college dorm: I was either writing a program or studying for a computer science class with some worship on in the background and as I entered into the worship, the presence of God seemed to increase. The more I worshipped, the more I experienced God’s presence. This study session quickly turned into a full-body worship experience, and before I knew it, I was on the floor, crying, rocking back and forth, shouting that I didn’t want to live (without God). Of course, my Jewish roommate entered our room right at the height of my worship experience, but only saw me under my desk, crying, snot running down my face, shouting that I didn’t want to live.
Worship shifts the atmosphere and allows us to hear God.
Our worship, our shared experience, is intended to be a communal effort. When we gather together in worship, something actually happens. When we gather together in the name of God, we acknowledge his presence, and we breathe in his goodness, mercy, and beauty into our brokenness, suffering, and darkness. Whether you are able to do this on your own, or you just experience the goodness, mercy, and beauty as you participate in the worship happening around you there is something that happens when we each bring what ever little or much of God we have into the worship space. Let’s heed the author of Hebrews encouragement:
23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23–25)
This is one of the gifts I received in the African American church, the idea that you do whatever you can to get to church every week. Because life is already hard there’s no need to do life alone. There was this idea that church was the place that allowed for a continual dialogue within the community and gave the individual a distinct and clear voice. This allowed an individual to preserve their individual voice (as you brought either your praises or worries to church) and it allowed that voice to be blended within the larger community creating a potential outlet for individual feelings while simultaneously allowing the individual to benefit from the inclusion, embrace, and warmth of the community through their shared feelings, hopes, dreams, assumptions and aspirations.
This sets us up to hear God speaking to us, whether from the community around us or by his voice. Our worship shifts the atmosphere allowing God’s voice to break through.
When we worship God, we presuppose God’s there. We take focus off ourselves, our struggles, our sorrows, and place our attention on God through our act of worship, the act of surrender. We humble ourselves in God’s presence through our act of surrender. And it’s often from this place of surrender that we are able to hear God speaking to us.
There is something powerful and unique that happens when we gather together in worship. We need to be in worship with the people of God to remind us that our experience of life isn’t lived alone, no, it’s lived in community, with and through the testimony of the believers.
Finally, Worship is how we fight the enemy.
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down imaginations and every high thought that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, NKJV)
One of the ways we resist the advances of the enemy is through our worship. Because our worship of God allows us to envision a new reality, a reality where God is enthroned, and his rule and reign are supreme. A new reality where are our enemies are defeated, our suffering has ended, our wounds have been healed and the victory is ours. There is power in our worship because of its ability to change and shape our reality. This is where scripture is particularly helpful in our worship because it reminds to tell the story of God the thousand different ways that God participates in our unfolding story with faithfulness, lovingkindness, and compassion.
Take for instance, the story of the King of Judah, Jehoshaphat. The king was facing a vast new enemy and was terrified. In response to these fears, he called the nation to a time of prayer, fasting and worship. In their worship, God spoke,
Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s (2 Chronicles 20:15)
Have you ever been in a place where you were afraid, felt completely overwhelmed and had no idea what to do? That’s exactly where they found themselves. Maybe there’s an invitation to shift your focus and worship God instead.
There’s this deeply rooted belief that God acts on our behalf when we humble ourselves and cry out to God to come and rescue us.
We fight back in worship. God can be felt and experienced when we gather in worship. The more we are present in worship, the more he is present. This is a real phenomenon.
If you find yourself at the end of your rope, staring despair in the face, there’s nothing more uplifting than a community with a shared hope that the God of the universe can change your reality and bring about new hope, new peace, new joy, and new love.
It has been said that it’s darkest right before dawn... and you may be in the toughest season of your life. But, let this hope remain in you, it’s not over... your story may just be starting.
Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. (Psalm 30:5b, KJV)
God won’t let go of you, he won’t give up on you, he won’t stop pursuing you with his love! This is our invitation to bring our whole selves to worship.