“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
Because the Jews had defended it so fanatically, the Roman general Pompey was anxious to see what was in the temple’s most sacred room, the Holy of Holies. He was surprised to find it empty. He wondered why so many Jews had died to defend an empty room.1 He did not understand the concept of a God “eternal, immortal, invisible” (1 Timothy 1:17).
The worship service is about recognition. It is the time in a Christian’s week when he remembers the majesty of his God. It is the time when she acknowledges the greatness of her God’s character and deeds. It is the time when God’s people as a group fulfill one of His strongest desires. The Bible commands, “Acknowledge Him” (Proverbs 3:6).
WE MUST RECOGNIZE THE DISTANCE BETWEEN GOD AND MAN.
“In the year that King Uzziah died, [Isaiah] saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1). Worshipers do not come before God on a horizontal plane. One does not approach one’s Creator as he does his buddy at the ball field or as she does her friend on the phone. God corrected those who “thought that I was altogether like you” (Psalm 50:21). It is a vertical plane that we ascend to be in God’s presence.
Isaiah shows our approach is vertical in both (1) position (“high,” “lofty”) and (2) morality (“holiness”): “Thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place’” (Isaiah 57:15a).
In terms of position, “God is in heaven, and you on earth” (Ecclesiastes 5:2; cf. Psalm 2:4; 68:4; 113:5; 115:3; 123:1; Ephesians 1:20–21). We pray, “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). Even God’s name is “exalted’’2 (Isaiah 12:4).
In terms of morality, the Bible contrasts God’s absolute holiness (high) with man’s sinfulness (low). “One cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts’ . . . So I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips’” (Isaiah 6:3–5).
God wants us to recognize our condition before coming before Him: “Only acknowledge [recognize] your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the Lord your God . . . and you have not obeyed My voice” (Jeremiah 3:13; cf. 14:20; 24:5; Hosea 5:15). “Reckon [recognize] yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ” (Romans 6:11). Only the worshiper who recognizes this distance and manifests the corresponding humility is allowed to approach the divine Being: “With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15).
The primary Old Testament word for worship (shachah) means “to bow down; to prostrate one’s self; to do obeisance” (cf. Genesis 24:52; Exodus 4:31). When Albert Thorwaldsen completed his famous statue of Christ, he invited a friend to see it. The Danish sculptor had created a portrayal of Christ with His arms outstretched and His head bowed. The friend looked and said, “I can’t see His face.” Thorwaldsen replied, “If you want to see the face of Christ, you must get on your knees.” Only when God’s servants humble themselves in worship to God can we see Him clearly.
WE MUST RECOGNIZE OUR DEPENDENCE ON GOD.
When one becomes impressed with the truth of God’s majesty, he naturally feels insignificant. In the divine presence, Isaiah said, “Woe is me.” He was “undone”3 (Isaiah 6:5). The psalmist expressed it this way: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” (8:3–4).4
The recognition is accurate—we are totally dependent on God. An appropriate worship song is “I Need Thee Every Hour,” for worship is an acknowledgment to God that He is our provider, sustainer, redeemer—our existence depends on Him. It is in God that we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28; cf. Luke 20:38). David saw men as being in God’s sling, who could be slung out of its pocket at any time (1 Samuel 25:29). In Christ “all things consist” (Colossians 1:17); He upholds “all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3). God has life in Himself (John 5:20–21); He is the very fountain of life (Psalm 36:9). Job put it simply: “In whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10).
A TRUE WORSHIPER RECOGNIZES GOD’S DESIRE TO BE WORSHIPED.
We may not grasp the full scope of worship, but it is a big thing to God. A visit home with the grandchildren may seem like more trouble than it is worth to parents, but to grandparents that visit is the highlight of the week (perhaps the year). If we could ascribe to God such human-like terms, we might say, “Worship is the highlight of God’s week.” To borrow the language of Solomon’s love song,5 we can almost hear God saying at worship time, “O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely” (Song of Solomon 2:14). The eternal Father “takes pleasure6 in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy” (Psalm 147:11). A Christian’s prayers delight God (Proverbs 15:8). The Father “is seeking such to worship Him” (John 4:23).
In the Old Testament, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders were told to worship “from afar” (Exodus 24:1), but now we are invited to “draw near7 to God” (Hebrews 7:19; 10:22). We may even come boldly to His throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).8
1 Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Stand Publishing Company, 1997).
2 Hebrew sagah, “inaccessible; high, lofty.”
3 Hebrew damah, “to be dumb or silent: hence to fail or perish; be brought to silence.”
4 God, though, does not consider man insignificant. He made man in His own image (Genesis 1:26–27). He paid the highest price for our fellowship—the humiliation, suffering, and separation of His Son (Hebrews 12:2; 1 Peter 2:21–22; Matthew 27:46). We are constantly in His thoughts (Psalm 40:5). He values our worship.
5 Some see this as a picture of God’s love relationship with His church.
6 Interestingly, this word (ratsah) can also mean “to satisfy a debt,” which reminds us of how much we owe God and how little He asks of us in return.
7 Greek proserchomai, “to approach, visit, worship.”
8 There are stipulations, of course. We must come through our High Priest and Mediator, Christ (Hebrews 4:14–15; 1 Timothy 2:5). We must come with clean hands and pure hearts (James 4:8).