Abraham: A True Model of Worship
by Steven Dow
It seems that very few Christians know much about true worship. Charles Stanely once said that he believed that most Christians in most churches have never worshiped God. We go to church, but we don’t worship. We sing songs, but we don’t worship. We listen to sermons, but we don’t worship. All of these things are elements of worship but they are not worship in and of themselves which means that you can do all of them and yet have failed to truly worship God. We Christians often mistake the means of worship for worship itself.
A man told a story about the time his son’s sixth birthday was approaching. He had mentioned he wouldn’t mind a party, and as his son usually was very specific about the kind of presents he liked so the dad asked him what he could get him. Bill expected a well planned reply, such as “I’d like a baseball glove; you can find it at Toys-R-Us, aisle 6, below the batting helmets, or a Parcheesi board; the games are in alphabetical order in aisle 1; its between the Pac Man and Pay Day.” But his son’s request was a bit different. He said, “Dad, I’d like a ball to play with for my birthday.” Bill said, “Great, what kind of ball?” “Oh, I don’t know, either a football or a soccer ball.” “Well, which would you want more?” He said, “Well, and thought about it. Then he said, “If you have some time to play ball with me this year, I’d really like a football so we could throw it back and forth in the back yard. But if you’re gonna be real busy this year, maybe you just better get me a soccer ball, because I can play soccer with the rest of the kids in the neighborhood.” The dad thought about this and said, “Let me surprise you. How does that sound?” And the little boy smiled and said, “Oh that would be great Dad. I really love you.” Then Bill went in and shared this little encounter with his wife and together they agreed, their son was not so much interested in the gift. He was interested in the giver. (Autoillustrator.com)
True worship is not interested in the created but the Creator. Question’s like — Did I like the sermon/service/music? — are the wrong kind of questions. The right question — Did God like it?
Christians also make the mistake of limiting their worship to one hour each week. And when they come to that service they often come to observe and be entertained. I have been at services that were opened with the following statement: “We want you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the program we have prepared for you.” If the people feel that they were entertained they say they had a good worship service. We have gotten the whole concept of worship backwards. We think that the pastor and worship leaders are the entertainers and we are the audience. But in true worship we are the performers, the pastors and worship leaders are the directors, and God is the audience. Because our concept of worship is backwards we want to know what’s in it for us. If we are going to truly worship, we must come to the realization that worship is not for us, but for God. Because God desires our worship, we must learn how to worship him.
The word ‘worship’ appears in the Bible for the first time in Genesis 22:5. We are going to look into this episode in the life of Abraham to see what he can teach us about the true worship of God.
THE ELEMENTS OF TRUE WORSHIP:
1. REVELATION (vv. 1-2)
This episode in Abraham’s life begins with God revealing Himself to Abraham and speaking to him. True worship is based on the revelation of God. Worship is not based on my likes or dislikes. It is not based on my personal preferences or priorities. It is based solely on God’s revelation of Himself as it is found in the scriptures. Because true worship is based on the Bible the only question that needs to be asked of our means of worship is — Are they biblical? The music must be biblical. The sermon must be biblical. The prayers must be biblical.
Why is it so vitally important that our worship be biblical?
Allow me to answer that question with a story. James Michener, writing in his book, The Source, tells the story of a man named Urbaal, who was a farmer living about 2200 B.C. He worshiped two gods, one a god of death, the other a goddess of fertility. One day, the temple priests tell Urbaal to bring his young son to the temple for sacrifice — if he wants good crops. Urbaal obeys, and on the appointed day drags his wife and boy to the scene of the boy’s “religious execution” by fire to the god of death. After the sacrifice of Urbaal’s boy and several others, the priests announce that one of the fathers will spend next week in the temple, with a new temple prostitute. Urbaal’s wife is stunned as she notices a desire written more intensely across his face than she had seen before, and she is overwhelmed to see him eagerly lunge forward when his name is called. The ceremony over, she walks out of the temple with her head swimming, concluding that “if he had different gods, he would have been a different man.” (Erwin Lutzer, Pastor to Pastor, p. 89)
Because the kind of God you worship is the kind of person you will become, we must make sure that the God we worship is the God of the Bible and not a god of our own making.
Just as a football player must study the play book in order to be a good player so the worshiper must study the Bible in order to be a true worshiper. If you want to do more this Sunday than merely singing songs and listening to a preacher talk then study the play book.
If the elements of the service are biblical and you still can’t worship, maybe it is because you haven’t prepared properly.
2. PREPARATION (v. 3)
The revelation that Abraham received from God was hard to hear but Abraham made preparations to obey immediately. He got his servants together, cut the wood for the burnt offering, saddled his donkey, and took his son and set out. Just like Abraham we need to make the appropriate preparations in order to worship God. If we have not prepared our hearts to worship God we will not be able to worship even if the worship service is biblical. When football players prepare for a game they do what they call ‘getting their game face on’. That means that they prepare themselves mentally for the challenges of the game they are about to play. Spiritually speaking we need to ‘get our game faces on’ before we go to church.
Deeply immersed in meditation during a church service, Italian poet Dante Alighieri failed to kneel at the appropriate moment. His enemies hurried to the bishop and demanded that Dante be punished for his sacrilege. Dante defended himself by saying, “If those who accuse me had had their eyes and minds on God, as I had, they too would have failed to notice events around them, and they most certainly would not have noticed what I was doing. (Today in the Word, March 10, 1993)
Like Dante we need to get our eyes and minds on God because we cannot go from the secular to the sacred in a moment. We cannot pass from the world to worship at the drop of a hat. We prepared for work. Shouldn’t we prepare for worship. When you think about it we spend time preparing for almost everything in life. We spend time preparing for work, for vacations, for school, for exams, for meals, and we even take time to prepare for bed. But very few of us take time to prepare ourselves for worship. We may prepare to go to church. But that isn’t the same as preparing for worship. We prepare for church by getting dressed in our Sunday best, fixing our hair and make up, and grabbing our Bibles as we head out the door. The typical Christian is very well prepared for church but not at all prepared for worship.
Abraham prepared to worship God by being obedient to the revelation of God. We need to do much more that simply study the play book. We need to do what it says. If we are going to truly worship God, we must study the play book and get our game faces on. Part of preparing to worship is to eliminate anything that distracts you.
3. SEPARATION (vv. 4-5)
At a certain point in the journey Abraham left his servants behind. It is very possible that they would have interfered when they realized that he was going to sacrifice his son and Abraham wasn’t about to allow anything to distract him from worshiping. We need to separate ourselves from anything that would draw our attention away from God. I’m not even talking about sinful things. I’m talking about the natural and normal things of life. Things like work, family, and finances can all distract us from the worship of God. These are not things that we can simple eliminate from our lives. But we do need to put them out of our minds so that we can be free to focus on God. We can even allow the elements of the worship service itself to distract us from worship. You must not allow the preacher, the music, the praise team, the ushers, or the people around you to distract you from worshiping your God.
During the tenure of the great orator Henry Ward Beecher, a visiting minister (Beecher’s brother) once substituted for the popular pastor. A large audience had already assembled to hear Beecher, and when the substitute pastor stepped into the pulpit, several disappointed listeners began to move toward the exits. That’s when the minister stood and said loudly, “All who have come here today to worship Henry Ward Beecher may now withdraw from the church. All who have come to worship God keep your seats!” (Today in the Word, April 1989, p. 22)
We have not come together this morning to worship the preacher, the music, the singers, or the instruments, but God and God alone.
The night before a game the players all stay in a hotel together even if it is a home game. They do this so that they can separate themselves from all the cares of their regular lives and begin to focus on the game entirely. The coach also establishes a curfew so that the players aren’t out to late because they need rest to be their best. We need to start getting ready for Sunday morning worship on Saturday night. On Saturday evening we should begin reading and meditating on God’s revelation. We should spend time praying and praising. And we should get to bed early. If you are going to truly worship God you must study the play book, get your game face on, and keep your curfew.
4. DEDICATION (vv. 6-10)
Abraham dedicated his son Isaac to God. It wasn’t like he had twelve sons. Isaac was his only son. Isaac was the son God had promised to him years earlier. Isaac was the son that was to carry on the family line and grow into a great nation. Abraham also dedicated himself completely to God. As Abraham stood holding the knife above his head ready to plunge it into his son he was completely dead to self. He had dedicated all he was and all he had to God. True worship is always costly. True worship always requires us to give up our best for God’s best. Oswald Chambers said it this way: “my utmost for His Highest.”
Bertoldo de Giovanni is a name even the most enthusiastic lover of art is unlikely to recognize. He was the pupil of Donatello, the greatest sculptor of his time, and he was the teacher of Michelangelo, the greatest sculptor of all time. Michelangelo was only 14 years old when he came to Bertoldo, but it was already obvious that he was enormously gifted. Bertoldo was wise enough to realize that gifted people are often tempted to coast rather than grow, and therefore he kept trying to pressure his young prodigy to work seriously at his art. One day he came into the studio to find Michelangelo toying with a piece of sculpture far beneath his abilities. Bertoldo grabbed a hammer, stomped across the room, and smashed the work into tiny pieces, shouting this unforgettable message, “Michelangelo, talent is cheap; dedication is costly!” (Gary Inrig, A Call to Excellence)
Too often Christians are just like Michelangelo in that we simply coast through worship service by simply going through the motions. Going through the motions of singing songs and taking notes is cheap; dedication to true worship is costly.
Football players have a saying — “leave it all on the field.” It means that during the game they don’t hold anything back. They give 110%. God expects us to do the same thing as Christians. He wants us to be totally dedicated to Him. Is there anything that you are holding back? If you are going to truly worship God you must study the play book, get your game face on, keep your curfew, and leave it all on the field.
5. PROCLAMATION (vv. 11-14)
Abraham called that place “The Lord Will Provide” — Jehovah Jireh. By doing so he was proclaiming the nature and work of God. He was declaring who God is and what God does. That is praise and worship. Praise is proclaiming what God has done. Worship is proclaiming who God is. When was the last time you told someone what God has done for you? We all like to share good news so why don’t we share the Good News? In the game of football following a big victory the players usually douse the coach with a bucket of Gatorade. It is their way of proclaiming that they love their coach and that he has done an excellent job. That is what we do when we tell others about God. That is why we all need to brag on God. If you are going to truly worship God you must study the play book, get your game face on, keep your curfew, leave it all on the field, and douse the coach.
THE RESULTS OF TRUE WORSHIP:
1) RESTORATION (vv. 11-12)
We have looked at the various elements of true worship and so let us now examine the results or benefits of true worship. We see that Isaac was restored to his father. And I believe that as a result of this Abraham’s spirit was restored as well. Abraham was willing to part with his son, but this dramatic intervention by God renewed his faith. That is what true worship does for us. The Bible says that those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. Only true worship can do this. We can sing our favorite songs and have an emotional experience but if we have not truly worshiped this experience will quickly fade away when the music is over and that is the true test of true worship.
2. CONFIRMATION (vv. 15-18)
God confirmed his covenant with Abraham. God declared that He would bless Abraham because Abraham had worshiped him. We find here the principle that worship results in the blessing of the worshiper. If God’s blessing seems absent from your life, perhaps it is due to an absence of true worship in your life.
A few years ago the Tennessee Titans were involved in a heart wrenching defeat in the Super Bowl. All season they had fought back from deficits to win and it appeared as though they were going to pull off another comeback victory over the Rams. However, they came up about a yard and a half short.
The next evening when the team returned to Nashville they were bused to Adelphia Coliseum where more than 45,000 fans had gathered to greet and honor their team. People painted their faces. They put on their Titan hats and jerseys. They screamed wildly as the team exited the bus and players were introduced. When that tribute to the Titans team was over not one fan walked away saying, “That event was a dud. That did nothing for me.”
The event was a great success, not because of the performance — the teams didn’t play. It wasn’t their speeches, because few of the players are great public speakers. it was a great success because people understood the purpose. The purpose wasn’t to please the fans. The purpose of the event was to honor the team and show how much they were appreciated. (Tom Dooley)
That is what true worship is all about. It’s not about the performance (music and drama) or the speech (sermon). It’s not about pleasing you or me. It’s all about pleasing God and expressing our appreciation and love to our Lord and Savior.
Verse 19 tells us that after Abraham had this beautiful worship experience on the mountain top he walked off the mountain and returned home to Beersheba. The true test of our worship comes not from what takes place in this sanctuary on Sunday morning. The true test of our worship comes when we walk out those doors and return home.
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