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Free To Worship by Derek Prince

 

Free to Worship

by Derek Prince

"But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him." (John 4:23)

Isn't that amazing? Almighty God, who has the resources of the entire universe at His disposal, is seeking people to worship Him—people like you and me, drawn from a fallen race of sinners! What can be God's motive? Does He have some deep need for affirmation and approval? Hardly!

Now —His Father's heart yearns to reveal Himself in all His glory to those whom He has created. This is the highest blessing he has to bestow.

The revelation of God comes first and foremost through His precious word—the Bible. "If anyone loves Me," Jesus said, "he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him" (John 14:23). Through God's Word, received and obeyed, both God the Father and God the Son come to indwell us.

This in turn draws us to worship the God whom we have received. The better we know God through His Word, the more we desire to worship Him. We may measure the place that God's Word has in our lives by the degree in which we desire to worship Him.

First of all, we need to recognize that worship does not consist in singing hymns or choruses, or listening to a choir, or even in praying—though all these are legitimate activities. These can—or should—lead us into worship.

More important still, worship is not a form of spiritual entertainment. In worship, we do not focus on ourselves, or our experiences, but on God. Worship is direct, intimate, personal communion with our Creator. It is the highest activity of which the human spirit is capable. But it goes beyond the spirit and involves the totality of human personality.

It is a mistake, too, to think of worship as something we only do in a congregation or in public. Worship should form the highest point of our private devotions. In fact, the original meaning of the word "devotion" is an act of worship. If we only worship God in public in a congregation, there will always be something artificial about it. It will be merely a religious "act" that we put on in the presence of others.

On the other hand, united congregational worship can bring each individual into a higher and deeper awareness of God and His majesty than could ever be attained in solitary devotions.

Unfortunately, through the centuries, the Christian concept of worship has fallen far below the pattern presented in Scripture. I have researched all the main words the Bible uses for worship, and I have arrived at an exciting and revolutionary conclusion: every word used for worship—both in the Old Testament and in the New—describes a posture of the body. By way of illustration we will begin at the head and work downwards.

One main act is to bow the head. When Abraham's servant, seeking a bride for his master's son, realized that God had directed him to the family of Abraham's brother, "Then the man bowed down his head and worshiped the Lord." (Genesis 24:26)

Again, when Moses and Aaron reported to the elders of Israel in Egypt that the Lord had promised to deliver them from their slavery, their response was the same: "They bowed down their heads and worshiped" (Exodus 4:31).

Our hands also play an important part in our worship. David's response to God's lovingkindness is described in Psalm 63:4:

"Thus will I bless you while I live;
I will lift up my hands in your name."

In Psalm 141:2 David describes a similar act of worship:

"Let my prayer be set forth before you as incense,
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice."

In Psalm 143:6 David describes a different position of his hands which expresses his longing for God:

"I spread out my hands to You;
My soul longs for you like a thirsty land."

Lifting up our hands is an act by which we acknowledge God's majesty. Spreading out our hands indicates our desire to receive from God.

Probably the most familiar work of art that depicts prayer is Albrecht Durer's Praying Hands. Perhaps this is more a picture of supplication than of worship. Nevertheless, it is significant that Durer does not focus on the lips, or even the face of the one praying, but on the hands.

Another way in which we may use our hands in worship is described in Psalm 47:1-2:

"Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples!
Shout to God with the voice of triumph!
For the Lord Most High is awesome;
He is a great King over all the earth."

By clapping our hands in this way we acknowledge the awesome majesty of our great King. By joining this with a shout of triumph, we proclaim His total victory. From time to time I have been present in a meeting when something that was said or done provoked a burst of clapping and sometimes also of shouting. Probably some who responded in this way did not realize that it was a scriptural act of worship.

Shouting—let me add—does not mean loud singing. It means shouting—exercising the full capacity of our lungs.

When Solomon was dedicating the temple that he had built to the Lord, he spread out his hands. But he also went further: he knelt down on his knees (2 Chronicles 6:12-13). This form of worship typifies total submission to the Lord.

In Ephesians 3:15 Paul reveals that he too approached God in this position: "I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Ultimately the whole universe will make this act of submission to the Creator. In Isaiah 45:23 the Lord declares: "I have sworn by myself. . . that to Me every knee shall bow. . . " In Philippians 2:10 Paul reveals that this act of submission will be made specifically to Jesus, as God's appointed ruler: "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow. . . ."

There is a further act of worship which includes the whole body and which is depicted in the Bible more often than any other: to prostrate one's self before God. When we prostrate ourselves in this way, we acknowledge our total dependence on God. We thus revoke the desire to be independent of God which prompted the original disobedience of Adam and Eve and which characterizes the fallen nature of every one of their descendants.

At some time or other most of the great men in the Bible had found themselves flat on their faces before God. Twice in Genesis 17 it records that Abraham fell on his face before the Lord (verses 3, 17).

When the Lord appeared to Joshua outside Jericho as the commander of God's army, [Joshua] fell on his face to the earth. He was further commanded to take off his sandals from his feet (Joshua 5:13-15). Both actions—falling on his face and taking off his sandals—expressed worship. It was in this posture of worship that Joshua received the Lord's direction for taking Jericho.

By contemporary standards, however, the most unconventional act of worship is described in 2 Samuel 6:12-14. When David had successfully brought the ark up to Jerusalem, he danced before the Lord with all his might. Since David was a mighty man of valor, the phrase "all his might" must indicate extremely energetic actions that included every part of his body. This was the most appropriate expression of his exuberant joy and gratitude to God.

The chapter closes with a word of warning to any who might react in a negative way to such a vigorous expression of worship. David's wife Michal criticized him for such a display, and as a result was deprived of the privilege of bearing children. A carnal attitude of criticism can result in spiritual barrenness.

I said earlier that singing is not in itself an act of worship, but this statement needs to be qualified. In some cases singing can flow imperceptibly into worship. On the other side, clapping hands or dancing may often be expressive of praise as much as of worship. Human language is not sensitive enough to mark the exact borderline between various forms of worship and praise.

Why the Body?

We may ask: Why does the body play such an important part in our worship? After all, Jesus said that we should worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24). The answer lies in understanding the relationship between the three elements that make up human personality: spirit, soul and body. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:23.)

The spirit is the part of our personality that can make direct contact with God. (See 1 Corinthians 6:17) But to express itself the spirit needs the cooperation of the soul—the part through which the will operates and which therefore makes decisions for the whole person. The soul, in turn, sets the body in motion.

This is illustrated by the words of David in Psalm 103:1: "Bless the Lord, O my soul. . . ." David's spirit was stirred to bless the Lord and urged his soul to make the appropriate decision. His soul, in turn, had to set his body in motion—primarily his vocal organs—to express the blessing which his spirit was longing to offer.

Seen in this light, worship is an activity in which the spirit works through the soul to produce the appropriate actions of the body. If the soul and the body do not respond to the spirit's urging, then the body is in effect a prison in which the spirit remains inhibited and unable to express itself. There are multitudes in the contemporary church who are in this condition—spirits imprisoned in bodies through which they cannot freely express themselves. Their physical activity in church is limited to a few routine movements. They walk in, sit down, stand up, sit down, stand up and walk out again. As a result, they scarcely participate at all in the highest activity of which their spirits are capable—the uninhibited worship of the Creator.

There is, however, an opposite error: the soul and the body may "go through the motions" of worship without the spirit initiating it or being involved. The result is mere religious activity and not true worship. The scriptural pattern of worship requires the harmonious interaction of all three parts—spirit, soul and body—with the spirit to bring the initiative. It is this harmony of all our faculties that constitutes true liberty.

A Spirit of Stiffness

Recently I had an experience which I believe serves as a kind of "parable" to illustrate this situation. I was with a group of Christians waiting upon God in prayer. Suddenly, without any act of my will, my hands went up in the air and my body went through a series of convulsive jerks for a moment. I felt embarrassed, wondering what the other people would think. Then I asked myself: Which is more important, what people think, or what God wants to do for me? I decided to yield without reservation to what God was doing. Actually, most of the other people were too preoccupied with God to notice what was happening to me.

The convulsive jerks lasted for a few minutes, then I relaxed and my body went limp. God showed me that I had been delivered from a spirit of "stiffness" (something I had never heard of before). He showed me, too, when and how that spirit had gained access to me. I was born in India—in 1915—at a time when the medical facilities were relatively primitive. The local doctor soon detected that my legs were unequal. He recommended that I lie on my back with one leg in a splint—which continued for several months. From that time onward there were certain normal physical movements that I was never able to make. Since my deliverance, however, I have begun to experience a new freedom of movement.

I find it a sobering thought that a spirit of stiffness had kept me from full freedom in my body for 79 years—in spite of many physical and spiritual blessings that I have enjoyed in subsequent years.

Over the centuries, I believe, something analogous has happened to the Christian church. A large section of it has been infiltrated by a spirit of "stiffness" which has kept Christians from experiencing the liberty and exhilaration which God desires His people to enjoy in their worship of Him. As a result, our forms of worship are often far removed from the patterns so abundantly presented in Scriptures.

What is the remedy? First, we must return to the pattern of Scripture and apprehend the full scope of activities with which it is appropriate to worship God. Then we must discipline our souls to respond to the prompting of our spirits and to release our bodies into all the appropriate actions. In many cases this may require some kind of spiritual deliverance.

If these words apply to you, don't make the mistake I nearly made. Don't let embarrassment or self-consciousness keep you from pressing through into all that God has for you!

In the Master's service,

In Psalm 96:8 the psalmist establishes one primary condition for approaching God: Bring an offering and come into His courts. In Exodus 23:15 the Lord affirms, "None shall appear before Me empty-handed."

There are many kinds of offering that we may bring to God: thanks, praise, money, possessions, acts of service, the works of our hands. But it is in worship that we bring to God our highest offering: ourselves. Any religious activity that stops short of the offering of ourselves to God is not true worship.

Of the various Old Testament offerings, the one which typifies the offering of ourselves to God is the grain offering (see Lev. 2:1-11). This contains some important principles that should guide us in our worship.

If our worship is to be acceptable to God, the lives that we offer to Him must be "finely ground; fully submitted, that is, to all God's disciplines. There must be no "lumps" of self-will or disobedience.

Two things accompanied the grain offering: oil and frankincense. The oil—typifying the Holy Spirit—reminds us of our dependence upon the Holy Spirit to make our offering acceptable.

Frankincense is an aromatic gum, not particularly impressive in itself, but when burned it emits a distinctive fragrance. This fragrance depicts our worship rising up before God.

Out of this offering only a handful of the oil and the flour was burned in the fire to the Lord; all the rest went to the priest. However, all the frankincense went solely and exclusively to the Lord. This warns us that no human being must receive even a whiff of the worship of God's people. Leaders who permit their followers to offer them anything that amounts to worship come under the judgment of God. This is one reason why in recent decades some Charismatic ministries have ended in disaster.

No grain offering must be accompanied by either leaven or honey (verse 11). In 1 Corinthians 5:8 Paul speaks of "the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." Leaven, therefore, represents any form of insincerity or untruthfulness.

This is further emphasized by the exclusion of honey. Honey is sweet on the lips, but—unlike frankincense—it cannot stand the fire. When burned, it becomes a black, sticky, mess. In our worship we must avoid any kind of exaggeration or empty religious phraseology. We dare not make any professions or commitments that will not stand the test of fire.

Finally, every grain offering must be seasoned with "the salt of the covenant" (verse 13). God enters into a permanent relationship with man only on the basis of a covenant—that is, a mutual commitment between God and man. God commits Himself to the believer, but in return the believer must commit himself to God. Worship that does not proceed out of a covenant commitment is "saltless" and unacceptable.

Access to God

 

In Psalm 100:4 the psalmist defines two successive stages in approaching God: Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise. First, with thanksgiving, we enter the gates. Then, with praise, we pass through the courts. We thus have direct access to God. Otherwise, we may pray to God and He will hear us, but we are praying from a distance.

We will be like the ten lepers described in Luke 17:12-19. We may cry to Jesus from a distance, and He will hear us and have mercy on us, but we cannot come close to Him.

It is significant that the only leper who actually came close to Jesus was the one who returned to give Him thanks. Jesus said to him, "Your faith has made you well"—Greek, "has saved you." All ten lepers were healed, but only the one who gave thanks was also saved.

In Psalm 95:1-7 the psalmist takes us through the same two stages of approach to God: thanksgiving and praise. But then he leads us one step further—into worship. Verses 1 and 2 describe loud, jubilant praise and thanksgiving. Verses 3, 4 and 5 give the reason for our praise: the magnificence of God's creation. But in verse 6 we move on into worship:

Oh, come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.

 

Once again we see that worship is expressed in a posture of our bodies—bowing down and kneeling.

Verse 7 reveals the reason why we should worship: For He is our God. Worship belongs solely and exclusively to God. The One whom we worship is our God.

But the closing line of verse 7 takes us one step further still: Today if you will hear His voice. After the loud, jubilant praise of the preceding verses, there follows a special kind of stillness, which proceeds only out of worship. In the stillness we hear only one sound: the voice of the Lord. In such a setting God can speak to us with a clarity and an authority that can come in no other way.

Stillness is an essential part of true worship. We must come to a place where we have no prayer requests, no personal agenda, and no time limit. Our only desire is to be in the presence of God. What follows after that must proceed from God's initiative, not ours.

Sitting at the Feet of Jesus

 

In Luke 10:38-42 Mary (the sister of Lazarus and Martha) provides a pattern for us: she sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word. Martha, on the other hand, was "distracted with much serving." She asked Jesus to tell Mary to help her, but Jesus replied, "One thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her."

How many dedicated servants of God today are like Martha, "distracted with much serving"? They are too busy to "waste time on Jesus," simply sitting at His feet.

The outcome of the time Mary spent at Jesus' feet is described later, in John 12:3-7. While all the other disciples were seated at table eating, "Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume" (v. 3, NIV). This was an act of worship, expressing itself in the fragrance that filled the house.

The other disciples criticized Mary for her extravagance but Jesus gave her His approval, saying, "Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial."

Apparently Mary was the only disciple who understood at that time that Jesus had to die. Had she learned this secret while sitting at His feet?

It was an accepted Jewish practice to anoint a body that was being prepared for burial. In anticipation of Jesus' death, Mary anointed His body with the most expensive ointment she owned. She alone had this privilege. Later, other women came to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus (see Mark 16:1). But they were too late! He had already risen from the grave.

Oh, that God's people today would take time to sit at the feet of Jesus! Surely we would then be more extravagant in our worship. Perhaps we would also be open to the special kind of revelation that comes no other way.

The Pattern of Worship in Heaven

 

Isaiah's vision of the seraphim offers us a glimpse of worship as it is conducted in heaven (see Isaiah 6:1-8). The word seraph is directly connected with the Hebrew word for burning. The seraphim were fiery creatures. Each had six wings (whereas the cherubim in Ezekiel 1:6 had four wings).

The worship of the seraphim took two forms: an utterance from their mouths and an action of their bodies. With their mouths they proclaimed, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts." "Holy" is the only adjective in Scripture applied three times in one sentence to the Lord.

The seraphim used their wings in three ways. With two they covered their faces; with two they covered their feet; with two they flew. The covering of their faces and their feet was an act of worship. Flying was an act of service. They used four wings for worship, and only two for service.

God's people on earth need to follow this pattern. First, we should place twice as much emphasis on worship as on service. Second, we need to recognize that effective service must proceed out of worship. It is in our times of worship that we receive relelation and direction for our service.

In Revelation chapter 4 we are taken up into the throne room of heaven. In this brief chapter of 11 verses the word "throne" occures 14 times. It is from here that the universe is governed. The primary emphasis is on worship.

The six-winged living creatures apparently correspond to the seraphim of Isaiah's vision. Their theme is the same, the word holy uttered three times, "Holy, holy, holy."

In chapter 5 the focus is one the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who is the slain Lamb, standing at the center of the throne. His presence is an eternal reminder that victory comes through laying down our lives. Out from the throne there extend ever-expanding circles of worship that eventually include the whole universe.

First, there are the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, who prostrate themselves and sing a new song (verses 8-10). Then there are many millions of angels, who proclaim in a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb!" (verses 11-12). Then all the other creatures in heaven, on earth, under the earth and in the sea join in a chorus of blessing to the One who sits on the throne and to the Lamb (verses 13-14). The climax is a final "Amen!" from the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders (verse 14).

The only One worthy to occupy the center of such worship is the slain Lamb. If our worship on earth is to conform to that of heaven, it will also have the same focus: the One who sits on the throne and Jesus the Lamb who stands before Him.

In the Master's service,


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