There was one act of worship which Jesus said would be spoken of wherever the Gospel was preached. It was when a woman took an alabaster box full of expensive perfume and poured it all over him. You know the story. This was an incident that he wanted everyone to know about. Something about it excited him: it was risky, spontaneous and shocking. It wasn’t predictable, it wasn’t number 73 in the songbook. She let her hair down, something a woman only did for her husband on her wedding night. Then she poured a year’s salary worth of precious liquid all over Jesus and on to the floor. Unpredictable, extraordinary devotion: and Jesus loved it.
God is looking for devotion and intimacy. He wants us to enjoy his presence. The Hebrew word for presence can also be translated as ‘face’. We are talking about a face to face encounter. I hope that in our worship we have times of celebration and great declaration of truth; but I also hope that we have beautiful moments where individuals are encountering him face to face in deep devotion.
Finding Significance and Acceptance.
“God does not need us for anything, yet it is an amazing fact that he chooses to delight in us. To be significant to God is to be significant in the ultimate sense. No greater personal significance can be imagined.” Wayne Grudem
Devotion and Sacrifice
I’ve been reading a new biography of Hudson Taylor, and have been freshly amazed by his faith, courage and sacrifice. He started the China Inland Mission at the age of twenty three. The voyage to China took six months and he was nearly shipwrecked twice. Several of his children died in China, and also his beloved first wife Maria. As you read his story you are shocked by his incredible sacrifice. So it is interesting to observe the kind of hymns that Christians were singing at that time, hymns that expressed love and sacrificial devotion by writers like Francis Ridley Havergal. It was in the church culture which encouraged selfless lifestyles.
Today, people are also making costly decisions involving moving families to different towns and countries for the sake of the Gospel. But such sacrifice isn’t born out of nothing: it has to come out of a culture where believers lay down their lives, and this is cultivated in a context where true worship is expressed.
I remember some years ago, as a church, we were drawing near to one of our regular gift days. I had bought into an investment called a TESSA which you paid into monthly over seven years. It was just coming up to maturity. I remember vividly we were worshipping in church and singing, “I will worship with all of my heart….I will give you everything…” and I heard the Lord say, “Thank you, I’ll have the TESSA!” It was so clear. So the TESSA money and the interest it had made went in to the gift day. People do all sorts of crazy things— giving away inheritances, money saved for an extension, holiday savings— for the glory of God and to make Jesus famous over all the earth. It often starts in worship.
Devotion and Sanctification
“Ecstasy and delight are essential to the believer’s soul and they promote sanctification. We were not meant to live without spiritual exhilaration and the Christian who goes for a long time without the experience of heart warming will soon find himself tempted to have his emotions satisfied from earthly things, and not, as he ought, from the Spirit of God. The soul is so constituted that it craves fulfilment from things outside itself and will embrace earthly joys for satisfaction when it cannot reach spiritual ones. The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go for any length of time without tasting of the love of Christ and savouring the felt comforts of the Saviour’s presence.When Christ ceases to fill the heart with satisfaction our souls will go in silent search of other lovers. By the enjoyment of the love of Christ in the heart of the believer, we mean an experience of the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given to us. (Rom.5:5)”
This is so insightful. When you are delighted with God, you are no longer taken up with other things. Charismatic worship which includes emotion is a true delight in God that sets you free from secondary things. It sorts out your motives. Personal worship can achieve that, but experiencing Him corporately brings us into another dimension, and is wonderful.
Worship and Evangelism
What about other things that we should focus on, such as evangelism? Yes, of course, we want always to be aware of the needs of the lost. But having our eyes on Jesus does not mean that we are indifferent to the unsaved. In fact I am thrilled to observe that in some of our biggest and fastest growing churches where fabulous worship is central, people are regularly being saved and added. We don’t have to dilute or minimise worship in order to prioritise evangelism. People can be drawn to God where worship is sensitively conducted. Worship is essentially for him; we don’t worship to impress others. As on the Day of Pentecost when 3,000 were saved, we might well need to provide some explanation for all this enthusiasm about Jesus, but let our priority as the gathered church be for his glory.
This post is adapted from a sermon preached at New Community Church, London called Worship: Liberty, faith and devotion
Photograph credit: Chris Johnson