The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

Worshipping God in Difficulty

The following sermon was delivered at Gosford Presbyterian Church, 27th January 2013 on Psalm 98.

I suspect everyone here would agree that worshipping God is important. God deserves to be worshipped, and we were created to worship God. But if we are honest, we can find worship difficult. Perhaps one of the main reasons why we find worship difficult is wrong motives. We can end up thinking that God exists to bless us the way we want. Then when we don’t get what we want, we struggle to worship God. I admit, I find it easier to come to church when I’ve had a good week, rather than when I’ve had a bad week. Worse still, we can face the very real temptation to stop worshipping God all together.

On the other hand, correct motives sustain us to worship God. So it’s worth asking, what should motivate us to worship God? A good place that helps us answer that is the Psalms.

Psalms 96 – 99 form a block of Psalms that celebrate God’s kingship. These Psalms give us insight into correct motives for worshipping God. They’re worth reading through, in your own time, noting what the Psalmist mentions, and perhaps what he doesn’t mention.

Today, we’re looking at Psalm 98, which begins by inviting us to worship God by singing a new song v1. The idea being expressed by the Psalmist of a new song means to look beyond our present circumstances – our frustrations, our weaknesses, our disappointments – and look forward to the NEW work of God in the future, which we’ll look at in a minute.

But some of you might find this a big ask. Some of you may find your circumstances so painful, you just can’t see past them at the present time. Well, there is a solution. Before you look forward to what God will do, look back to see what God has done, and all the positives he has provided. That’s exactly what the Psalmist does!

in v3 The Psalmist looks back to the time when God made salvation for his people. It’s likely that the Psalmist is referring to God’s salvation in general terms. But it is also likely that he was thinking of the exodus – when God saved his people from the tyranny of slavery in Egypt, and after many years, brought them into the Promised Land. Just as he had promised their forefathers generations before.

For us today, we need to look back to the salvation that God made for us in Jesus – when we were saved from the tyranny of sin. When Jesus died on the cross, our wrong doing before God was removed so we could enter a right relationship with him. His resurrection assures us that sin has been conquered, and the work of salvation continues.

Whether it’s the salvation that Israel experienced in the exodus, or the salvation we experienced in Jesus, we are to understand that salvation is entirely God’s work. In v1 it is stated that “God’s right hand and holy arm have made salvation”. This gives us confidence to depend on what God has provided for us.

If I make something, trust me, you know it will fall apart. The same is true for our salvation – if we try to make our own salvation, it will fall apart. We can’t put confidence in our own efforts. But, because God has made salvation, it can’t fall apart. If you trust in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, your relationship with God is secure. Nothing can change that – not our frustrations, weaknesses, or disappointments.

So here is the right motivation to worship God. We worship God not because he gives us what we want – although sometimes he does, and we should thank him for it. But we worship God because he gives us what we need – a right relationship with him.

So, what will this worship look like? How are we to worship God? In a word, publicly and loudly. Occasionally I hear about the idea of a ‘private Christian’ – someone who keeps their faith to themselves and never lets on they’re a Christian. Such an idea is inconsistent with Psalm 98. In v4 the psalmist’s invitation goes out to th`e whole earth, which involves making music. Until the invention of headphones, music was not a private affair! Music that is out in the open is noticed by anyone nearby. There is nothing private about music. So, according to Psalm 98, neither should there be anything private about our worship of God. Everyone is invited to worship God.

So, when it comes to right motives for worshipping God, we need to be looking beyond our own circumstances, because it’s God who makes salvation, not us, and our response in worship is to be public.

Now, I’ve made mention that our circumstances can be painful. But in focusing our attention on the salvation that God has made for us, I do not intend to be dismissive of such circumstances. I know when I’m hurting, and my concerns are dismissed, it only hurts even more. I don’t want to do that to anyone. We should be looking to support each other any time one of us is hurting. But at the same time, we must recognise that the support we get is not the final solution to that hurt.

The final solution to our frustrations, weaknesses, and disappointments is judgement. We see that in vv7-9. Judgement is a part of salvation. They go hand-in-hand. Judgement will see a time when things are put right. Not just improved. They will be made right! A time when evil and wickedness will be punished. A time when the righteous will be protected. That is, for those who are trusting in God’s promises, harm and injury will be done away with. Suffering will be no more.

It’s important to note the difference in who pays attention to salvation and to judgment. While we might expect that salvation gets the most attention, its actually judgement that gets the most attention. With salvation, everyone on earth pays attention, which when you think about it, that’s a lot of attention! But in vv7-9 judgement not only grabs the attention of everyone on earth, it grabs the attention of creation itself. The fish, the animals, the rivers, the mountains are all caught up in the worship of God, looking forward to the judgement that is to come.

Our motive for worshipping God is bigger than ourselves; bigger than our circumstances; bigger than our lives – what we’re doing, and what we hope to do. Our motive for worshipping God is God himself: What he has done in making salvation. For us, that salvation is through Jesus; and what God will do in judging the earth.

We need to see that our motive for worshipping God should not be restricted by our circumstances.

So when I have a bad week, I still come to church. When I’ve had a discouraging day, I still go to Growth Group. When I’m angry and want to tell someone off, I still pray. When I feel like hiding at home, I still look for ways to share my faith. When I feel like escaping reality by watching a movie or playing a computer game, I still read the Bible. When I’ve been ripped off, I still look to be generous with what I have.

I don’t abandon God just because I don’t like my circumstances. And neither should you. Instead, we are to persevere in our worship of God, looking beyond our circumstances. And our worship is to be motivated by the salvation God has made, and his coming judgement.

In this way, we can truly sing a new song, and worship God, just as the Psalmist invites us to do!

January 28, 2013 Posted by | Sermons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Introducing ‘Worship’

Genesis 4:1-16

What is worship? I suspect when we think of worship, we tend to think of giving thanks, praise and adoration to God, and praying to God. This is absolutely right, worship is all these things. But here’s the thing: we can so easily distort worship, and twist it into something else as we give thanks and praise and pray to God. For us, worshipping God can become a means of scoring brownie points with God. Doing things to make God happy so he will bless us, or give us what we want. Ultimately, this kind of worship becomes about us trying to manipulate God. This kind of worship is a major problem, because it doesn’t reflect God’s character. God is a God who blesses. Who provides. Who is gracious. God doesn’t sit back and wait for us to do the right thing, and then he blesses us. God has blessed us. God has provided for us. Abundantly! When we worship God, and pray to him, his blessing and his provision need to be reflected in our worship.And this is where a man by the name of Cain came undone.

Cain was the son of Adam and Eve, and he had a younger brother named Abel. One day, both Cain and Abel worshipped God. God accepted Abel’s worship, but not Cain’s. And it’s not immediately obvious why it was so. But I think it’s got to do with their motives. It’s an issue of the heart. You see, when Abel worshipped God, he was whole-hearted. Abel recognised how much God had blessed him, and he gave the best thing he had to God. He didn’t want anything back. He just wanted to acknowledge God’s blessing on his life.

Cain on the other hand, he was half-hearted. Cain gave some of what he had. It wasn’t the best. Actually, to me, it sounds like Cain gave God his leftovers. Does God give us his leftovers? No! He gives us what’s best for us. So Cain’s worship of God didn’t reflect God’s character, and how much God had given him. Cain wasn’t truly thankful for how much God had given him. The problem with half-hearted worship is we’re not really focused on God. We’re actually focused on what we want. And that’s what sin is, wanting what we want, and not wanting what God’s wants.

Because we’re not really focussed on God, we end up trying to manipulate God to get what we want, and we become frustrated when God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want. Then we are tempted to take matters into our own hands. This can have terrible consequences.

Cain took matters into his own hands, this led to the murder of his brother, Abel. Cain was envious of Abel because God accepted Abel’s worship, and not his. Cain was so angry about his brother, he actually planned his murder. Cain had it all figured out – when and how to murder him, and how to get rid of the evidence. Perhaps Cain thought if he bumped off his brother, God would have no choice but to accept his half-hearted worship, and bless him with what he wanted.

The thing is, God won’t be manipulated. God won’t let himself be accountable to us. God is God, and we are accountable to him. He can see straight through us. Cain was a worker of the ground. He knew how to dig a hole and make a body disappear. He could con his parents into thinking Abel was alive and well, but not God. Cain relied on his expertise as a man of the land to cover up his sin. No one could ever tell what happen, except God. God saw straight through it. By burying his brother’s body, he thought that would cover his sin. Instead, the act actually convicted him. And the question was never about how well Cain could cover his sin. It was a question of the state of his heart. When God questions Cain about where Abel was, a very cold and hard heart is revealed. Cain couldn’t have cared less about Abel. All he could care about was himself, and what he wanted. Cain’s worship was half-hearted from the beginning, and that’s why God didn’t accept his worship.

What about our worship? Is our worship whole-hearted like Abel? Is our focus on God? Are we thankful for everything God has given us? Or has something else got our attention, so we end up trying to manipulate God like Cain to get what we really want. Because the thing is, God has given us so much more than what he gave Abel. God has given us Jesus so we could have a personal relationship with him. Jesus worshipped God the way God deserves. Jesus didn’t just give his best to God. He gave everything to God. Even his life. And Jesus did it with us in mind. Jesus worshipped God for us, and God accepted his worship. That’s how we can have a personal relationship with God now. That personal relationship needs to be reflected in how we worship God. Our worship of God doesn’t just involve praising God and praying to him. It involves our whole life – how we treat people, and what we do. It’s worth asking the question, “How does your personal relationship with God affect what you do?” This is your worship as well!

Worship is not about earning brownie points with God, to manipulate him and get what we want. We can’t be half-hearted about it, wanting something else as well. Neither is worship about us, and what we want. Worship is a whole-hearted response to what God has given us. Especially as Christians who know that God has also given us Jesus. Worship is recognising God’s character – that God is a God who loves us and has blessed us. He has already provided what we need. Finally, worship is made possible by Jesus. Jesus alone has worshipped God as he deserves. True worship begins when we put our faith and trust in Jesus.

(c) The Student’s Desk, 2012

June 1, 2012 Posted by | Bible, Devotionals, Genesis | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment