The Awesome Power of Worship
This essay is a sermon delivered to Grace Community United Methodist Church February 12, 2022. The church closed for a week due to an outbreak of COVID so I rushed this video out to the congregation. It is a reworking of a sermon I gave several years ago.
As some of you know, my favorite band is the band Kansas. You know Carry on Wayward Son and Dust in the Wind. I was introduced to Kansas by my cousin, who played for me their live album. I was transfixed. I knew of them through their albums, but it wasn’t until Kerry Livgren, their songwriter, keyboardist, and guitarist, became a Christian that I could feel a little closer to the band. Many years later, I got to see them perform in a free concert at Government Center in downtown Boston. I came a little closer to the band through the concert as I watched them perform my favorite songs. Finally, a few years ago, they played in Rock Hill, and I went to a meet and greet. I got to shake hands with Rich Williams, the man who played that awesome guitar lick in Carry On Wayward Son.
Worship is like that. You can read about God in books. You can get to know him through the Bible and even know him more through prayer. But it is through the act of worship, we meet God, and he meets us, and we can know him more intimately. C.S. Lewis said, “It is in the process of being worshiped that God communicates His presence to men.”
Here is an undeniable truth about worship: All people worship. Atheist, pagan, faithful, or undecided, all human beings need deep within them to worship – or “serve,” as Brother Bob put it. This need to worship is essential in how we develop as human beings. Bill Johnson has said, “What we fear is what we trust. What we trust is what we worship.” Worship can be money, anger, unforgiveness, power, order – or even family. I think that is what the apostle Paul was getting at in the first chapter of Romans:
For though they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. Therefore, God delivered them over in the desires of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen. Romans 1:21-25 (CSB)
So let’s look at that progression:
i. God revealed himself to all humanity
ii. Many rejected the truth
iii. Rejecting the truth led to foolish thinking
iv. Foolish thinking led to worshiping other things
v. Sin produced by wrong worship
Worship, at its very heart, is about a relationship. Philosopher Martin Buber talks about two different kinds of relationships he labels Dialogical Relationships. The first is the “I It” relationship, which is impersonal and exhaustive (meaning that it ends at some point). The second is the “I You” relationship, which is mutual, reciprocal, symmetrical, and inconsolable (meaning it is inexhaustible) – never-ending. I love Karry, and my relationship with her is inexhaustible. So, it is with God. Idolatry is an “I It” relationship – think Islam and Hinduism have no concepts of a personal God, just a detached being inaccessible to the worshiper. The hard truth is that sometimes we treat God as an “I It” relationship when he deeply desires the “I You.” God desires the “I You” relationship with us, and worship is the realization of that.
So why do all people worship? For that, we look at the narrative in Genesis 1:26-31. Summarizing the passage: God was in perfect communal love before creation. God desired – did not need but wanted to share His perfect love. Out of Nothing, God created everything and declared it good. Out of nothing, He created humanity and stamped His image upon them so that they could be in a loving community together. He gave humanity free will to choose to love Him back, but humanity chose to rebel. Humanity, indeed, decided to rebel, and the image placed upon us was damaged by sin. Through the death, burial, resurrection, the ascension of Jesus, and the sending of the Holy Spirit, we can have the image of God.
Our indwelling most profound purpose is to have a relationship with God. He created us out of nothing for the sole purpose of loving us. Through Jesus, we are redeemed from our sin, restored in relationship with God, and transformed into the people God has created us to be. Worship is the eternal fellowship and relationship with God – every aspect of our lives is an act of worship. We can choose to realize this in our lives by worshipping God or substitute it with something else that falls far short of repairing that damaged image given to us.
Lastly, I will look at the wicked weapon of despair and how God has given us a powerful weapon to defeat that weapon in worship.
What is despair? Despair sounds like this:
“It is hopeless.”
“It will never change.”
“There is no use in fighting; you will only lose.”
“You will always fail; you will never gain victory.”
“You are not loved by anyone, no matter how hard you try.”
All these statements and versions are demonic whispers aimed to keep you from knowing who you are. Even the great men of God succumbed to despair. Take Elijah in 1 Kings 19. In Chapter 18, the Lord did mighty work by defeating the prophets of Baal. However, in 19:2, Satan worked through the words of Jezebel as she threatened Elijah. He retreated in the desert and vss. 3-4 recount his despair. After he had baptized Jesus, John the Baptist experienced a fantastic sight of the Trinitarian God commissioning Jesus for ministry (Matthew 3:16). But when in prison, he forgot who he was and who Jesus was because he sent his disciples to Jesus to verify who he was (Luke 7:20). Peter (after denying Jesus) was in bitter despair (Matthew 26:75).
Why were these great men of God in despair? Because when they heard the enemy’s words, the demonic whispers of death, they believed those words. They forgot whom they were, considering the God they served. It took God intervening in their lives to restore them. The word of despair we hear in our ear has that same power. They only work if we believe them. Our circumstances may accentuate the satanic words of discouragement. The choices we have made may have led us to a place where no hope seems possible. But God has a different view. He has a different plan.
To combat despair, God has given us a potent weapon in worship. When we worship God, we acknowledge three things:
1. His presence
2. His majesty
3. His love
Nothing can stand against God. If we genuinely believe that God is the all-powerful, holy, and benevolent God that He is, then the enemy cannot beguile us with demonic words of despair. In our time of despair, when we lift our praises and worship God, the Holy Spirit ministers to our soul as He ministered to Elijah. God frees us from the prison of our self-imposed sentence of hopelessness. He restores us like he restored Peter (John 21:15-19).
When we worship, the demons flee. They have no place in the presence of God. Our worship is like a horrible noise that they cannot stand. To illustrate, let me go back to a story from WWI. On the 23rd August of 1914, England had had just entered the war. The Germans had fought Belgium and French armies but had not encountered the British until this summer day. Knowing that the British were on the other side, the Germans waited for them to come. Out in the distance, they heard the most horrible noise imaginable. First, it started with drums, and then out of the fog and the mist, marched the British troops, along with musicians playing the horrible music they had ever heard. What was more, the musicians were wearing skirts! It sounded something like this:
The Germans called them “damen aus der Hölle” or “Ladies from Hell.” Who they were was the Scottish Black Watch. Now, to a German soldier, who had only heard Bach, Wagner, and Beethoven (and some German Umpa music from the Beer Gardens), the bagpipes were the most horrible sound one could imagine. But to someone of Scottish heritage (like myself), the sound of the drums and the bagpipes playing “Scotland the Brave” by folks wearing Kilts (not skirts!) fills our hearts with pride and a bit of joy.
It is like that with worship. The demons hear a horrible screeching noise, and they must flee from it. To us, it is the sound of joy. Despair has no place in our lives. Although the enemy attempts to deceive us into thinking our circumstances are higher than our God, worship reminds us of the truth of a victory already won. Through worship, knowing who we are in Jesus combats any lie the enemy can foster.