I've got a question for you: When you go to church, why do you go? I hope that your primary reason is to worship God.
We ought to share the same mentality that David did toward worship; he rejoiced at the opportunity to go into the house of the Lord (Psa. 122:1)! Earlier in the book the Psalmist wrote the following exhortation relevant to worship - "Oh come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the LORD is the great God, and the great King above all gods. In His hand are the deep places of the earth; the heights of the hills are His also. The sea is His, for He made it; and His hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand..." (Psa. 95:1-7).
When you go to worship, do you properly prepare yourself? Well, Stephen, I usually wear nice clothes to church, if that's what you mean. No, that's not what I mean.
Preparing oneself for worship really has very little to do with how a person presents himself physically; rather, it chiefly deals with how one presents himself mentally. I remember a good friend of mine relating one of his worship experiences when he was in Sri Lanka as a missionary. He said there was one Christian who would always do the same thing every time he entered the building to worship. He'd come in the door, kneel, and bow his head for several minutes. My friend was concerned that perhaps this was some sort of pagan tradition that the man had carried over from Hinduism (from which he was converted), so he asked him about it. Do you know what the man said? He said that he felt that he needed to bow his head for a few minutes in quiet meditation in order to prepare his mind to worship God in the assembly! The man had a several mile journey to the church building with his family, and by the time he got there he never felt like he was in a proper frame of mind to worship. So, he used that time after entering the building to prepare his mind for worship.
What about you and I? When the worship period begins, are we really ready for it? Have we properly prepared ourselves? Have we tried to clear our minds of the issues of this life, so that we can better focus on the spiritual matters? I'm afraid that often we don't prepare ourselves sufficiently. It is difficult because it takes self-discipline to be visiting with Christian friends about all sorts of things one minute, and then, in the next moment, focus one's mind intently upon worshipping God.
Today I want you to think about your personal worship to God. First of all, do you really worship Him? Is your worship acceptable to Him? I believe that we can know the answer to these questions, but we're going to have to examine ourselves in three ways. You might say that these three points are requirements for being properly prepared for worship.
1. IN ORDER TO BE PREPARED TO WORSHIP, YOU MUST BE AT PEACE WITH OTHER HUMAN BEINGS.
No, I don't mean that we should be at peace with sin or error. I'm thinking more along the lines of what Paul wrote in Romans 12:18 - "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men." Peace isn't always possible, but you must do everything within your power to try to achieve it.
To be at peace with our fellow human beings means that our dealings with them are as they should be. We need to be treating them as we want them to treat us. As Jesus taught - "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 7:12). And, when we do wrong someone, we need to take action to make the situation right; we need to take action to try to create peace and harmony once again. We need to take action even if we haven't done anything wrong, but, for whatever reason, someone is upset with us. Isn't that what Jesus said in Matthew 5:23,24 - "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."?
I believe Jesus is teaching us an important lesson here about worship: We can't worship God properly if we're in the midst of a conflict. We should take care of the problem first, and then we'll be ready to worship God. This reminds me of the good principle Paul set forth in Ephesians 4:26 about not letting the sun go down on one's wrath. Keeping negative feelings stored up inside and maintaining a level of rage for a long period of time is not healthy in any relationship--especially marriage. I believe that's why Peter said what he did in I Peter 3:7 about prayers being hindered. If there isn't harmony in the home, our prayers will be hindered. The same is true for our worship in general.
So, ask yourself: Have I done everything within my power to be at peace with my fellow human beings? If not, then you're not prepared to worship God acceptably.
2. IN ORDER TO BE PREPARED TO WORSHIP, YOU MUST BE AT PEACE WITH GOD.
In order to worship God acceptably, a person must be in a right relationship with God. That is, he must do two things: (1) He must obey the gospel and (2) He must live faithfully as a Christian.
Consider II Thessalonians 1:6-10 on the first point - "Since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed."
Stephen, I see that a person must obey the gospel to be saved, but what exactly does that mean? Consider this: The gospel is the good news of the death, burial, & resurrection of Jesus (cf. I Cor. 15:1-4). How can a person obey the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ? Although that question may seem strange to some, it is a valid question. We can obey the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus by imitating Him through those very actions. We too must die, be buried, and then raised. In what way, Stephen? We must die to self and to sin (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:6), we must be buried in the waters of baptism for forgiveness (Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:3), and we must be raised up to walk in newness of life (Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:4)! In so doing, we have obeyed the gospel! This is the "form of doctrine" that Paul spoke of in Romans 6:17! Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world; we must die to sin. Jesus was buried in a physical tomb; we must be buried in water. Jesus was raised to life by the glory of the Father; we must be brought forth from the waters of baptism cleansed and ready to live for God!
We've established the need for obeying the gospel and examined what is involved in doing such, but what about the second part? After becoming a Christian, one must live faithfully according to the New Testament pattern (cf. II Tim. 1:13). He must endure to the end to be saved (Matt. 10:22); he must be faithful until death to receive the crown of life (Rev. 2:10). No one is prepared to worship God properly if he is not in a right relationship with Him. If you haven't obeyed the gospel, then you are still in your sins, and if you're still in your sins then you're at enmity with God (cf. Rom. 5:10); you're at war against Him, and your worship is not acceptable. If you have become a Christian and aren't living as a child of God should live, then you need to repent and confess your sins before the Lord, seeking His forgiveness. As I John 1:7-9 declares - "...if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." One must be at peace with God in order to be prepared to worship Him.
There is a third major point that we want to develop on this subject regarding preparing oneself for worship, but we do not have time to do such now. This final point pertains to our attitude--one must have a proper attitude in order to be prepared for worship. In our next feature lesson we will consider seven aspects of a good worship attitude. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.