Thinking About Worship

 

Isaiah 6

 

 

 

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train[a] of his robe filled the temple.

Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”[b]

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

 

 

In the past few weeks and in light of the recent letter from Pastor Joel about the decline in attendance at worship services, we’ve been studying the idea of worship.  So many wise people tell us that we human beings are made for worship and that it is not our choice whether to worship or not.  The only choice we have in the matter is what we will worship.

 

We worship that which we give our first priority to.  We worship that which we believe can fulfill the desires that drive us on and that haunt our souls.  Both Augustine and Pascal have famously weighed in on this dynamic – on the idea that worship is inevitable, a fundamental human impulse.

 

Here is Augustine:

 

“Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” (Augustine, Confessions (Book 1)

 

And here is Blaise Pascal:

 

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself” (Pensees, 148/428).

 

 

Separated by centuries, the words of these great saints assume that a part of the human condition is hunger and longing.  Our desires outstrip our experience and we long to be filled.  God Himself speaks to this very hunger in the Scriptures:

I am the Lord your God: open your mouth wide and I will fill it.  Psalm 81: 10

 

The story of Israel in the Old Testament is a story of a people who seek to fulfill their souls – their longings – not with God, but with the gods of the cultures that surrounded them.  This is what the Bible calls idolatry.  Need it even be stated that the impulse to idolatry is alive and well today and that we, even as God’s people, time and again seek to fill ourselves not from God’s fountains, but through the promises of the advertisers and through submission to the standards of the culture that surrounds us?  Why else would we be so far in debt, so soaked in pornography, so addicted to every corrupting thing?  Idols begin by promising everything for nothing and end by giving nothing for everything.

 

Christian worship is the active pursuit of the true God who is the true satisfaction of every desire.   It should be designed to fulfill the worshipper.  Here is what Archbishop William Temple had to say about the dynamics of worship:

 

To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.”

 

 

― William Temple, Nature, Man and God

 

In preparation for next week’s class, let’s give some thought to each of these dynamics.

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