Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Edgerton, Minnesota.
Worship of God is a big part of our lives as God’s people.
In reality, the whole life of a child of God is worship. The believer is constantly in God’s presence, and the whole purpose of his life is to praise and glorify God through all he thinks, says, and does. To do that is to worship God. Worship in this sense is a full-time calling and responsibility.
But when we say that worship is a big part of our lives, we have in mind our formal worship. We have in mind the time we spend reading the Scriptures, singing God’s praises, and praying. We have in mind the fact that we do this privately as well as publicly; that we do it on our own, with our families, and with fellow believers. Much time is (or at least ought to be) devoted to such worship of God.
We must know, therefore, what kind of worship is pleasing to God. And one who is spiritually minded wants to know this, for he desires to worship God as He has commanded in His Word. For that reason he approaches all worship, whether private or public, at home or in church, with this prayer in his heart: “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Ps. 19:14).
To worship God is to enter God’s presence in order to have fellowship with Him.
It is true that we are always in God’s presence. We can never hide from Him. He is always near. But the act of worship involves consciously entering God’s presence. We stop doing other things. We put aside other objects and other thoughts. And we think of and concentrate only on God. We do all this in order to have conscious fellowship with Him.
This fellowship with God is characterized especially by speech. That is true of fellowship on an earthly level, too. A husband and wife, or friends, cannot have fellowship without good communication. In order to share their joys and sorrows they must converse with each other. The same is true of our fellowship with God. We have fellowship with God by His speaking to us, and our speaking to Him.
In all true worship, God’s speech comes first. In our private worship, God speaks to us through the Scriptures we read and through the words of the Psalms we sing. And in church, God speaks to us in a special way. He speaks to us through Christ. He does that first of all through the benedictions. We come into His holy presence and He says: “Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, grace, mercy, and peace be to you!” He also and especially speaks to us through the preaching of the gospel. We hear Christ’s voice. He speaks words of comfort to our souls. Wonderful it is to hear God’s speech in worship!
But in worship we also speak to Him. We do so when we sing. We do so when we pray. And we do so through the confessions we make. God gives us, by means of such conversation with Him, the opportunity and privilege of enjoying sweet fellowship with Him.
All of this shows that worship is possible only for the true believer.
The unbeliever cannot worship God. He cannot because he does not want to hear God’s speech. He cannot because, even if he hears God’s speech with his ears, he does not understand it. He is unable to worship because he does not know, and does not care to know, the proper words to speak, or the proper response to give to God’s speech. He cannot converse with God, for He is not God’s friend, but God’s enemy. Sin causes a separation between him and God. God cannot and does not have fellowship with sinners.
Only we who are true believers can properly worship God. And we can do so only because of Christ. Through Jesus Christ we are cleansed from sin and thus acceptable in God’s sight. Through Christ God receives us into His holy presence and speaks lovingly and kindly to us in worship. Also, we have been given the Spirit, who makes us spiritually minded so we want to hear what God says to us, so we understand that speech of God, and so we respond with proper praise.
Worship is the holy activity of a believer who is righteous in Jesus Christ. Only the words of his mouth and the meditation of his heart are acceptable in God’s sight.
To worship God properly, we must have a proper awareness of whose presence we are in, namely, the presence of the great and the only God. We, creatures of the dust and sinners, stand before the holy and glorious God who is infinitely exalted above us. He is so holy that even the angels hide their faces from Him (Is. 6:1-4). He is so great that He holds our very lives in His hands.
This does not mean we have to be afraid of God, for we are able boldly to enter His holy presence through our Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 4:16). But we may never forget whose presence it is that we are entering when we worship. God is not just a man. God is God.
For this reason, we must enter His presence in humility. When we worship, we are not only to be aware of who God is, but also of what we are in comparison to Him. Even apart from the fact that we are sinners, we are nothing compared to God. He is the Creator, we are creatures. He is the eternal One, we are finite. He is the almighty God, we are weak. He is the completely independent One, we are dependent on Him for everything. There is a vast difference between God and us.
That we are sinners makes that gulf between God and us greater still. God is holy, we are unholy. God is righteous, we are unrighteous. God is good, we are by nature evil.
Therefore we may not come to God in worship with any pride. The child of God approaches God with reverence and godly fear. He is filled with awe and wonder at the fact that the great and holy God of heaven and earth allows him to approach and to speak to Him. He knows he brings nothing to God that makes him worthy of this. He approaches God through Christ, filled with humble thanks and praise.
If we fail to worship God in humility, we show that we have a very small conception of who God is. Acceptable worship requires humility.
This humility of the heart shows itself in our outward behavior. It is reflected in how we conduct ourselves in worship. It is seen, for example, in how we sit. If one slouches in his chair at home or in the pew at church, he indicates that he has a careless attitude toward being in the presence of God.
Humility of heart is also reflected in how we dress for church. Often we are tempted to dress casually, instead of in our “Sunday best.” Men and boys wear jeans and tennis shoes and have their shirts hanging out. Women and girls come casually, wearing, for example, something other than a dress. It seems this often happens on special services, as though these services are less important than worship of God on Sunday.
When we do this, it seems that we are thinking about ourselves instead of about God. It appears that we are more concerned with our own personal comfort, or with being fashionable and trendy, than with recognizing that in worship we enter the holy presence of a holy God.
The child of God should strive to reflect, both in his conduct and in his appearance, the attitude of humility that characterizes true worshipers of God.
We must also remember in all our worship of God that God is a Spirit.
Because God is a Spirit, we do not and cannot see Him with our physical eyes. As a result, we are tempted to overlook and forget who God is when we worship Him. Whenever we worship, we need to make a point of reminding ourselves who it is that we speak to, and who it is that speaks to us—God! That is necessary in family worship, in private worship, and in worship in church. It will lead us to worship God in a way that is pleasing to Him.
This means our worship will be spiritual. We are to worship God “in spirit” (John 4:24). Our worship must be from the heart. It is to be sincere. God does look at our outward conduct as we worship Him, but He is much more interested in what is in our hearts.
It is especially in this area that we fail miserably in worship. It is so easy for us simply to go through the outward motions of worship, but not to be sincere. Such worship is not acceptable in God’s sight.
God is displeased when inprayer we speak words that sound godly, but our hearts are not in it. He is displeased when we sit in church watching the clock to see if the minister is going “overtime.” He is displeased when our eyes wander to watch others, or our minds are occupied with other thoughts. He is displeased when, as we sing, we are more interested in what others think of our voices than in the meaning of the words we are singing. He is displeased when in worship we act piously and godly, but harbor in our hearts hatred toward a family member or fellow saint. In summary, He is displeased when our worship is done for men, and not for Him.
Our worship should be spiritual and sincere. That means we should mean what we say. We should mean the words we sing. We should mean it when we confess our faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. We should mean it when we pray, having a true desire for the things we seek, and being sincerely thankful for what God has given. There must not be an asking for grace to fight sin when our intention is to continue in that sin. There may not be thanks for all the things God gives or withholds while at the same time we question God’s ways with us.
May we examine our hearts to see that our worship is sincere. May it be true of us that the words of our mouths have their source in the meditations of our hearts. And may God be pleased, by means of true worship, to comfort and feed our souls unto life eternal.