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Why We Worship: Essentials for Spiritual Fitness, week 3 of 5

Why worship?

Welcome to week 3 in yChurch’s 5-part series titled “Why Church? Essentials for Spiritual Fitness.” In this series, we’re unpacking the New Testament vision for the Church. Why go to church? Why commit to a local group of Christians as together we pursue God’s vision for us?

So far we’ve explored the blessings of belonging and the powerful benefits that come from fellowship, from going through life with friends who share your faith and are committed to following Christ. This week takes us the next step with a dive into why we worship. Why is it that for the past 2,000 years, Christians have devoted themselves to gathering in worship each Sunday? I could give you dozens of reasons, but this week I want to zero in on four of the greatest reasons why we worship, why we gather together to sing and pray and dive into God’s Word together. If you like to take notes, which I recommend as a memory help, here’s the first reason why we worship:

Why do we gather in worship?

  1. To praise God for his love.

Every Scripture I will show you today is a worship passage. Let’s start with one from the New Testament. Almost all of the New Testament letters begin with a soaring review of what God has done for us by sending his Son. Ephesians is no exception. Look with me at Ephesians chapter one. Sitting in prison, chained to a Roman guard, Paul’s heart and mind are free, because of what God had done for him—and for you and me. He writes…

“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.” Ephesians 1:4-8

The greatest reason of all that we worship God is to thank him, to praise him for his love, for his initiative in creating a plan and working that plan to save us, to reconcile us from being enemies to adopting us as sons and daughters of God. Look at all the actions in this passage:

  • God created all there is—and so we praise him.
  • God loved and chose us long before we gave a thought to him—and so we love him back.
  • God decided in advance to adopt us into his family—and we’re grateful.
  • God wanted to do this, he was pleased to do so—and so we praise him for the grace he has so lavishly poured out on us.

It’s all God, all his initiative and doing. This is why we worship first and foremost: to praise and thank God for how powerfully he has proven his love.

There’s a reason it’s called good news

I don’t know how some churches miss this, and some folks who grow up in church miss this. Skye Jethani filled in my role at the church in Wheaton when I came here twenty years ago. Once when Skye held a series of meetings with college-aged students, they all agreed that they felt that God was extremely disappointed with them.

After hearing their stories, Jethani asked, “How many of you were raised in a Christian home?” They all raised their hands. “How many of you grew up in a Bible-centered church?” All hands stayed up. Skye’s observation was, “You’ve all spent eighteen or twenty years in the church. You’ve been taught the Bible from the time you could crawl, and you attend Christian colleges, but not one of you gave the right answer. Not one of you said that in the midst of your sin God still ­loves you.”

He didn’t blame the students for their misunderstanding. It was just that somewhere along the line they were led to believe that what mattered was not God’s love for them, but how well they performed for God. But that’s not Christianity. That’s not the good news that Jesus brings.

Source: Skye Jethani, With (Thomas H. Nelson, 2011), pp. 80-82

Here’s the good news message, friends: you are more sinful than you ever dared believe; and you’re more loved than you ever dared hope. It’s both-and, not either-or. The Christian understanding that we all fall into sin is honest. It’s realistic. The gospel message makes sense of the world and of your own journey. And the good news of Jesus is that knowing our tendency toward sin, God chose to set his love upon us. He chose to chase us down and reconcile us to himself. This is why we worship—to praise God for his drop-to-your-knees in gratitude love!

Why else? Second, we worship…

  1. To thank God for his provision.

God knows how much we worry about money and financial security. And so in many ways in many places throughout the Scriptures, he speaks to our fears. In Matthew chapter 6 for example, Jesus directly addresses God’s provision in light of our fears, urging…

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”
Matthew 6:26

Year in and year out, you can expect to see birds flying south this time of year, because they know where food will be during our winter. And just as surely, you can plan on seeing them return in spring, knowing that there will be food for them here then. God makes sure they have what they need, when they need it, where they need it.

Aren’t you much more valuable to God than they, Jesus asks? What a wonderful word! God in person understands our worries, speaks to our worries, and provides what we tend to worry about. And so when we remember this, the only appropriate response is worship, to thank God for his kind provision.

What do you tend to worry about? Take up birdwatching, Jesus commends. Watch the robins. Spy on the squirrels. Keep an eye on the wild rabbits that hop about. They’re fine. They have what they need, because God watches over them. And you have a heavenly Father as well, who values you far more than he does them. Instead of worrying, try worship.

The benefits of thankfulness

Science confirms the truth of what Jesus commends to us. Ten years of research shows the benefits of gratitude, that adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy, or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly, and have greater resistance to viral infections.

Now, researchers are finding that gratitude brings similar benefits in children and adolescents. Studies show that kids who feel and act grateful tend to be less materialistic, get better grades, set higher goals, complain of fewer headaches and stomach aches, and feel more satisfied with their friends, families, and schools than those who don’t.

The researchers concluded, “A lot of these findings are things we learned in kindergarten or our grandmothers told us, but now we have scientific evidence to prove them …. The key is not to leave it on the Thanksgiving table.”

Source: Melinda Beck, “Thank You. No, Thank You,” The Wall Street Journal (11-23-10)

Another of the greatest antidotes to worry is generosity. Studies by a generation of behavioral scientists show there’s one way that money can buy happiness—and that’s when you spend money with and for others. Think of treating someone to a special meal, a sports game, or a concert. Dozens of studies show that these buying experiences bring us closer to other people and bring us more happiness than spending money on ourselves.

The only way money can buy happiness

Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, a pair of researchers who authored the book Happy Money, reported on an experiment:

We handed out Starbucks gift cards on a university campus …. [and] told some people to head to Starbucks and buy something for themselves.

We told others to pass their gift card along to someone else.

And we told a third group of people to use the gift card to buy something for someone else—with the additional requirement that they actually hang out with that person at Starbucks.

They concluded, “Who was happiest? Those who treated someone else and shared in that experience with them. So the cost of increasing your happiness may be as cheap as two cups of coffee.”

Source: Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Horton, “How to Buy Happiness,” Los Angeles Times (5-19-13)

Friend, what are you grateful for? And are you practicing generosity? Worship—in song, in pointing out God’s blessings, and in being generous—is the greatest antidote to worry. Turn your worries into worship.

Why do we worship? We gather in worship to praise God for his love, to thank him for his provision, and third…

  1. To gain God’s perspective.

We all know the experience of feeling overwhelmed by a worry or a real problem that starts squeezing in on all sides, and you just can’t see the way out or a way ahead. Maybe it’s credit card debt or an addiction. Maybe it’s feeling stuck in a dead-end job where you just can’t see yourself there for the next many years but you don’t know what to jump to.

But have you also ever had the experience of coming to church overwhelmed with a problem, but then somewhere in that gathered worship time, the Holy Spirit breaks through the feelings and makes the way ahead clear? It can be a line from one of the worship songs, or a timeless truth from God’s Word, or some gem of wisdom that someone voices in conversation. And all of a sudden, you gain clarity.

Psalm 73 sets that common experience into music, the writer admitting…

“My feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked…”

This is the opposite of the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The songwriter here asks, “Why do wicked people at times prosper? Where’s the justice in that?” He continues…

“When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny…When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Psalm 73:2-3, 16-17, 21-26

Away from worship, he fell into bitterness and envy. He lost his joy. He compared what he had to the far greater ease and wealth of the wicked—and ended up totally depressed and angry. But then…when he came to the place of worshiping God, along with the people of God, his perspective completely changed. Because he gained God’s perspective on those who do wrong and win now but will answer to God on judgment day, contrasted against going through life now with God and his people. And in that moment of clarity in worship, he realized how much better it is to have God and his people with little than to have a lot of stuff but no reconciliation with God.

The Devil’s most effective tool

The fictitious story is told of the Devil having a yard sale, and all of his tools were marked with different prices. They were a fiendish lot. There were the tools of hatred, jealously, deceit, lying, pride–all at expensive prices.

But over to one side of the yard on display was a tool more obviously worn than any of the other tools. It was also the most costly. The tool was simply labeled DISCOURAGEMENT.

When questioned, the Devil explained, “It’s more useful to me than any other tool. When I can’t bring down my victims with any of the rest of these tools, I use discouragement—because so few people realize that it belongs to me.”

Source: John Yates, “An Attitude of Gratitude”

That was the psalmist before he came to the place of worship, with God’s people worshiping: he had lost perspective. His problems felt overwhelming. But then in the presence of God, he was able to regain perspective on his struggles.

Can I ask you, what do you get discouraged about? What makes you feel like a failure, or feel like quitting? One of Satan’s most destructive tools…is discouragement. And one of God’s most powerful weapons…is worship. God’s plan for restoring right perspective…is worshiping him in the presence of his people. When you feel overwhelmed or discouraged, get yourself to worship, and gain God’s perspective.

So…why do we worship? Why have Christians devoted ourselves to gathering in worship each Sunday for some 2,000 years? We gather to praise God for his love, to thank him for his provision, to gain his perspective. And there’s one more reason to highlight today. We worship in order…

  1. To receive God’s strength.

When we bring ourselves honestly before the Lord in worship, he meets us. He lifts burdens. He speaks what we need to hear. And he strengthens those who draw near to him. So many Bible writers testify to this, as do believers all across the centuries. David, for example, wrote the 18th Psalm in worship to the Lord because the Lord strengthened him when David was being harassed and hunted like a wild animal by crazed King Saul. Listen to this excerpt that David sang in worship to the Lord:

“You, Lord, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light.
With your help I can advance against a troop;
with my God I can scale a wall.

As for God, his way is perfect:
The Lord’s word is flawless;
he shields all who take refuge in him.
For who is God besides the Lord?
And who is the Rock except our God?
It is God who arms me with strength
and keeps my way secure.”

Psalm 18:28-32

“Lord, you keep my lamp burning.” What does that mean? Lamps in David’s day ran on oil, olive oil. And when a lamp runs on oil, eventually it’s going to run dry. It’s going to flame out. Have you ever run out of gas? Either your lawnmower in the middle of cutting the grass, or worse, your car in the middle of the highway.

I ran out of gas once as a teen. Unfortunately for me, it was in the middle of the Adirondack mountains in a no-cell-signal area. What saved me was that even today, there are hardwired phones every mile in that region for folks like me! $25 later, someone showed up with one gallon of gas, enough to get me to the next station. Highest price I ever paid for gas, and I learned my lesson about keeping a full tank.

But you don’t always get to keep a full tank in life, right? Sometimes you run out of gas emotionally or relationally. And you need to be refilled, refueled. Worship is God’s way of filling us again, renewing the believer’s strength.

You’re not Moses? No worries: God is still God

Gladys Aylward was a 20th-century missionary in China who was forced to flee when Japanese troops invaded Yangcheng during World War II. She and just one assistant secretly led more than a hundred orphans over the mountains and away from the violence.

But during that harrowing journey away from a war zone, Gladys later admitted that she wrestled with despair like never before. After a sleepless night with violence all around, she faced the morning with no hope that they would make it out safe and alive. A 13-year-old orphan in their group reminded Gladys of Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea—to which Gladys shot back, “But I am not Moses!”

The young teen didn’t miss a beat, and replied, “Of course you aren’t, but the Lord is still God!”

They found new strength. They pushed ahead. And they made it through, discovering again that no matter how inadequate we feel, God is still God, and we can trust in him.

Source: Jonathan G. Yandell. Garden Grove, California. Leadership, Vol. 16, no. 1.

This is another reason why we’ve returned to in-person worship at yChurch, and I invite you to make that move, with masks recommended: because there’s something powerful about gathering to worship the Lord with his people, with others. Just like your car needs regular stops at the gas station, you need to consistently worship with God’s people. Don’t miss out. Don’t go long without refilling and refueling.

More than just your own strength

I love how pastor Tony Evans explains it. He says, “One day I was in an airport rushing to catch a plane. I was sweating and puffing when I looked to my right and saw a man walking half as fast as I was, but going faster. He was walking on a moving sidewalk. When we walk in the Spirit,” Evans says, “he comes underneath us and bears us along. We’re still walking, but we walk dependent on him.”

Source: Tony Evans, “Liberating Grace,” Decision (July 2002), p. 25

This is why we worship, friends. We gather to praise God for his love, to thank him for his provision, to gain his perspective, and to receive God’s strength.

Which of these do you most need right now?

Is God’s love bursting at the seams and you need to voice it? Come worship with his people.

Have you seen God’s kind provision and it’s time to thank him? Come.

Are you wrapped up in stress and need to gain perspective? Come to worship.

Are you running on fumes and need new strength? Come, friend, bring yourself honestly to the Lord in worship, and see what only He is delighted to do.

May I have the privilege of praying for you right now? Let’s pray.

To who else can we turn, Lord? You alone have the words of eternal life.

You alone can turn darkness into light.

You alone are our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of need.

So we come. We bring ourselves before you, mind and body, our whole selves.

For the ways we have fallen short, we ask your forgiveness.

For the things can make us tremble, we ask your strength.

For the things that leave us confused, we ask for your perspective.

And as we come, we praise you for the lavish love you have poured out in Christ.

We thank you for your powerful provision for each of us throughout our lives and in these days.

Our prayer is, may we be found faithful. Make us worshipers, we pray, bringing all our needs before you and worshiping you for who you are and all you do. And through us, we pray, draw others to seek and find you, the Living God, from whom all things come and for whom all things are created. We ask all this, Lord God, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

I’m so glad you joined us this week for yChurch online! We talk about church online as the front door, and we’re glad you’re here at the front door. We’d also love to invite you into the living room and kitchen, which are coming to church in person: for yChurch, that’s 9:30 Sunday morning in the Fishers YMCA. Be our guest!