“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple…And one [of the seraphim] cried unto another, and said, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.
And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips: and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:1-5).
“Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness (Psalm 29:2).
I fear that few Christians today—especially those of us in the West—understand what genuine worship really is. Our modern concept of worship is, I fear, very far removed from what it ought to be. We have moved from the real purpose and object of worship to that which we think is worship, but is in reality nothing more than our own self-directed idea of worship.
Far too often what passes for worship in many American churches (but not all, praise God) is nothing more than an emotionally charged feel-good session with the focus almost always on ourselves and on what we are doing, being, or feeling rather than having as the object of our focus the One to whom all praise is due.
I think, for the most part we mean well, but when the object of our focus in worship is wrong, then our worship is misplaced. As a result, instead of our praise, adoration and love being directed at God, we ourselves become the object and focus of worship. Instead of our focus being solely on How Great Thou Art, in many cases, worship has morphed into an attitude of “How great I am for noticing how great Thou art.”
Genuine worship must always have at its center an understanding and appreciation of the character and nature of God and on what He has done and is doing in the lives of men.
When we approach God in worship, we must come to “see” (recognize within our hearts) and understand God as He is (utterly holy, unequaled in majesty, omnipotent in power, resplendent in glory), as well as seeing ourselves for who and what we are—abject sinners lost from God, absolutely unable to reconcile on our own merits our tainted souls to restoration with the holy God of Glory.
Let’s take a step back and focus on many of the lyrics of our contemporary worship music. How often do the words “I” or “me” show up in the lyrics? How often is the theme of the song geared toward lauding ourselves with God, reduced to the role of a bystander on the edge of our worship—as opposed to Him being the exalted center of it? Much too often, I fear.
Please don’t misunderstand me; by no means am I saying that all contemporary Christian music is shallow and self-centered only, but that much of it tends to be. And although there are many contemporary songs of worship that genuinely do have Christ as the center of their focus, there are many that give attention more on the “worshiper” than on God Himself—more on our role in worship rather than on the character and nature of the sovereign Lord to whom all praise is due.
But we must remember this too: True worship goes far beyond just the songs we sing. True worship encompasses every aspect of our being. It includes seeing (with our spiritual eyes) just who God is in both His character and His nature—hearing with our ears the truth that is being expounded about Him from His Word; reasoning with our minds the truth of the Word and bringing our hearts and our will into complete submission and surrender to Him.
If we wish to know how to approach the Lord of Glory with the proper attitude of worship then we need to go to the Word of God, to examine those who have had encounters with God, to learn what they can tell us about what genuine worship entails.
In God’s Word we are told of a vision that the prophet Isaiah had “in the year that King Uzziah died.” In that vision, Isaiah “saw the Lord,” and although Isaiah had an actual visual sighting of the throne room of God (something to which we in the church age are not privy), what Isaiah learned, and we need to comprehend—is the holiness of God!
You see, Isaiah came face to face with the holy God of Glory, and the result of that encounter was that he saw himself “undone” before the infinite righteous holiness of Almighty God. When in a vision he beheld the breathtaking glory of the Ancient of Days, he perceived as much as his puny mortal mind could grasp (a small measure of the righteous character and nature the of God).
And as he did, he fell prostrate before the throne in complete and utter terror, because he saw within himself the complete sinfulness of his state next to the purity, righteousness and holiness of the King of kings! There was no attempt or even desire on his part to proclaim to God how much Isaiah “loved God” or how great his “feelings” of adoration were.
He made no attempt to justify himself or to proclaim to God his intent to worship. No, Isaiah did none of those things—not at all. What he did do was the only thing mortal man can ever do when he comes into the presence of absolute righteousness: He fell prostrate in shame before the Infinite Almighty. There, seated there before him “high and lifted up” was holy God—perfect in purity, unmatched in splendor—surrounded by the awe-inspiring angelic court of seraphim, cherubim and other heavenly creatures surrounding the throne of God.
Awesome creatures who were crying aloud with solemn ringing voices that echoed throughout the throne room of heaven, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty! And there, before that scene, falling on his face in abject misery at the recognition of his sinful state, was a mortal man who, being a representative of all of Adam’s race, cried aloud “WOE IS ME FOR I AM UNDONE.”
Now let us travel through the Word to the Isle of Patmos with John the beloved disciple, who encountered the splendorous glory of the risen and glorified Lamb.
There on that barren and desolate island, the apostle John is given a glimpse of the beloved Lamb of God who, now seen, displayed Himself in His righteous, glorious splendor. On Patmos, Jesus appeared as the regal Lion of the Tribe of Judah as He will be when He prepares to roar from the throne room of heaven and shake the foundations of the earth with His mighty return.
The spotless Lamb of God, now the regal, royal Lion John sees, is the only One in all of creation worthy to open the scroll that will unleash the final judgment of God upon a sin-cursed world.
And how did John react when he glimpsed the glorified Jesus whom he had known so well? Let’s see… Bear in mind that this is the very same man with whom John had spent several years. He learned from Jesus; ate with Him, traveled with Him, sailed with Him, heard Him preach and teach and do all manner of miraculous works; the man whom John stood by at Calvary and watched—the Savior, His blood flowing out and His head sagging upon His breast in death. John knew Jesus personally.)
He saw and heard this same Jesus as He stood before the people of Israel and cried out to them with longing:
“Come unto me all ye who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
So, how did John react in the presence of Christ now glorified? He too became “undone” in the presence of the Lord:
“And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead” (Revelation 1:17).
Do you see it? We cannot begin to worship until we come to the same place of “undoneness” that Isaiah and John did, or the apostle Paul, or anyone else who has had a personal encounter with the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
All who have encountered the Almighty God of Glory become “undone” in His presence. “But the Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Habakkuk 2:20).
And what of us? What about those of us who have (as yet) never seen the throne room of God, we who have never witnessed the glory of God on a mountain top, or on a dusty road, or on a desolate island? Can we, who have as yet not even seen the face of the One in whom we have entrusted our souls, really worship Him simply by faith alone? Oh yes! Resoundingly YES!
The moment we open our Bibles, from Genesis to Revelation, we encounter this same God that Isaiah, John and Paul encountered. From the very first words written specifically to mankind: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) to the very last words penned in the ending chapter of the book of Revelation:
“He which testifieth these things saith, ‘Surely I come quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (Revelation 22:21-22 ).
From beginning to end we come to know the very same God these men knew, but we learn of Him through the instrument of His inerrant Word, penned and preserved just for us. From the beginning promise of the prophesied Redeemer that was given to a fallen Adam in Genesis chapter three, right up to the cross, we are brought face to face with the purpose and Person of salvation. For it is the cross that is the pivot point of all human history.
When we consider the cross, when we ponder upon what occurred there; when we stop and marvel at what God did for us, it is there that genuine worship begins. It is at the foot of the cross that is the only place where salvation from our sinful condition can be found. At the cross, we begin to become “undone.”
At Calvary, on that hill just outside of the city of Jerusalem, a hill known as “the place of the skull” on that desolate hill was the place where the Justice of God met the Mercy of God.
At this place, nailed to a wooden cross, hung the Son of God. Upon Him all of humanity’s sin debt was laid. Our sins were thrust upon the beaten, brutalized and crucified Lord of Glory. There, suspended between heaven and earth, hung the One who created the very earth into which that cross was driven, as well as the canopy of sky that blanketed Him.
At the foot of that particular cross, the precious blood of Jesus Christ (God wrapped in human flesh) flowed from the hands, feet and punctured side of the only One who could redeem mankind from the curse of sin.
At the very instant when He who knew no sin “became” sin in order to redeem fallen man, He took upon Himself the debt of the sins of the world. And as the righteous, holy Father turned His face away, the Lord Jesus Christ hung alone, bearing upon Himself the sins of the world. When we come “face to face” with this reality is when we begin to become “undone.”
Oh, my dear ones; when we ponder the cross, we worship! We begin to worship when we consider the truth: that the sins of every person who has ever lived or will ever live was placed upon the Son of God. He hung upon that “cursed tree” so that He could become our “Kinsman Redeemer.”
Jesus Christ did this for all to pay the debt of sin and by His blood He purchased lost mankind. It is sin that damns lost mankind to hell. When we grasp this truth we become “undone” and it is then that we begin to truly worship.
When we see that it was Christ who willingly took upon Himself our sins, so that all who come to Him by faith will have their sins forgiven—resulting in His righteousness, that is the beginning of our “undoneness.”
When we read of that astoundingly empty tomb that forever proved His victory over sin, death and the grave, or read of Jesus’ unexpected appearances (after His resurrection) to his heartbroken disciples and later on to multitudes in order to prove to them that, by His death and resurrection, He had indeed “crushed the serpent’s head.”
Thus by dying, He defeated death forever. Or when we read of His ascension back to heaven to “prepare for us a place with Him” while we await His promised return for us, it is then we become “undone” and begin to truly worship.
We must not come to worship the King of kings and Lord of lords with an attitude of “look how much I’m praising God” and dare call it worship.
So much of our modern form of worship speaks more about us than it does about God; more about what we are doing or feeling as the central theme or focus instead of lifting in praise and adoration the character, nature and deeds of the One who died to procure our salvation.
When and why did we stop singing, “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains!” Or, how is it not relevant anymore to lift our voices in praise and proclaim, “My God how great Thou art!” or “Alas and did my Savior bleed and did my Sovereign die…?”
And when did the sermons our pastors prepare for us become mere polemics on the ills of society, or soft, non-confrontational platitudes written to stroke our powder puff egos—instead of the heartfelt pleas of shepherds of the flock of God “reproving, rebuking and exhorting” us with the ringing sounds of “thus saith the Lord?”
When did the urgency of the hour give way to strictly timed, and oh-so-carefully crafted sermonettes, written and delivered in such a manner so as to get us out of “worship” in time for us to make it to the restaurant before everyone else gets there? Father in heaven forgive us for what we have done to the worship of You.
I am not saying that all of our churches have pastors who are shallow or “in it for the money.” But, unfortunately there are far too many who are called more by their checkbooks than are called by God. There are too many pastors who would rather be renowned as international “movers and shakers” or who desire to be de facto CEOs of corporate styled mega churches than to be the under shepherds of God’s flock charged with feeding His sheep.
And what of much of our modern, contemporary styled “worship and praise” music with concert-style staging, smoke machines, lasers and colored “mood” lighting, spotlighting tee shirt clad rock bands that have replaced the choirs and musicians of years gone by?
What was wrong with hymnals, pianos and church organs, or even church orchestras with whom the entire congregation could join in together to partake in the worship and adoration of our King? When did congregations need to become professional vocalists in order to perform (I mean worship)?
Or what about our institutional churches, who perhaps have a form of tradition, but whose hearts and minds are just as self-centered as those on the opposite end of the church spectrum – those for whom the meaning and message of both the music and the Bible are simply followed by form and rote with no melting of the heart at all? Are either of these extremes really worship?
To be sure, not all contemporary music is bad or shallow, not by a long shot (I think of the late Keith Green here), but let’s be honest; a great deal of it is. Much of contemporary Christian music is shallow, repetitive, “me” centered, doctrinally shallow at best, and in some cases flat out scripturally unsound at worse. Once again, not all, but a lot.
I realize that many people will take umbrage at my statements, but as Christians we must be discerning, and we must be willing to go to the scriptures to see whether or not our idea of worship conforms to that which God acknowledges as worship.
We must examine what we are singing (and preaching or teaching) to see whether it adheres to sound doctrine or not. If the message and presentation is not biblically sound, then we must reject it no matter how much we may personally like it.
It is an affront to the sovereign majesty of God and an assault upon His holy character to sing or teach or preach that which is not right, true and reverent to His nature, His character, and His Word.
God is, after all, holy and righteous, and although as believers He has forgiven us our sins and allowed us to approach His throne of grace with “boldness,” we must never confuse boldness with arrogance.
We dare not approach Him with anything less than godly fear and holy reverence. We may certainly approach the throne of grace with confidence BUT we must also come with a broken and contrite heart in a spirit of gratitude and humility. For to come any other way is to rob God of the righteousness that is due Him—for He alone is worthy.
The world does not care about the greatness of God because it does not know the greatness of God. There was a time when the souls of the lost were stirred and convicted by the Holy Spirit of God just by hearing of His greatness proclaimed through simple songs and through the straightforward yet powerful preaching of the Word.
There was a time when ourselves and our children learned the great doctrines of the faith through the old hymns and songs of the faith. There was once a time when songs like “I’d Rather Have Jesus” or “It Is Well with My Soul” were staples of Sunday morning services, after which the pastor would stand behind the sacred desk, open his Bible and begin by reading the Scriptures and preaching, expounding “Thus saith the Lord.”
There were no “topical talks,” no “trying to meet the felt needs of the people,” for it was understood that the need of the lost was salvation, and the need of the saved was sanctification and holy living.
There was no attempt to make the church appeal to the world, but rather to train and equip the Church to go out into the world to proclaim and live the gospel before a lost and dying world.
What we need more of today is real, God-centered worship; the kind of worship that has as its focus and purpose to proclaim and extol the attributes and nature of God—what He has done, what He is still doing, all the while proclaiming the warning that He is soon coming back for His Church, after which He will bring judgment to a wicked and dying world.
We need less of the “world in the church and more church in the world” as my pastor Daddy used to say. After all, when we get to heaven, as we cast our crowns at the pierced feet of the risen Lord who redeemed us, our song – indeed our only thoughts there will be, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!”
Beloved friends, from now on until such time that we ourselves join the angelic host of heaven, along with the redeemed of all the ages, let us approach worship the way it was meant to be, with the focus on whom it should be. And, whether we are worshiping alone or en mass, let us meditate upon the attributes of our Lord.
Let us consider and recount His blessings to us, who were and are by our very natures, the most abject sinners who have been redeemed by the precious shed blood of the Lord of Glory, the One who gave His life as a ransom for all who would come to Him by faith.
Let us marvel at His grace, thank Him for His mercy, worship Him with joyful reverence, and serve Him always in humility.
True worship begins when we become “undone” and when He is exalted above all things—high and lifted up. Glory to God in the highest!
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessings” (Revelation 5:12).