Why do people from all nations of this world go to a place they call church to sing, pray and hear a sermon every week? Does worship mean something to the modern men in this technological society of ours?
The world around us is full of wars and rumors of wars. But we are here today to worship God. We have come to this place along very different roads of circumstances and experiences. I suppose that no two roads that we have travelled through life have been quite identical, but here we are today to worship God.
Perhaps the journey has not been easy for some of us recently. Perhaps we have had to cope with difficulties and problems, disappointments and temptations. Perhaps life has been besieging us with its complexities, battering us with its fierce enigmas. Perhaps the ways of providence have seemed mysterious and dark and difficult to understand. But, here we are today to worship God.
ACCEPTANCE OF THE WILL OF GOD
The first essential note of worship and its relevance to life is that worshipers are prepared to accept the will of God.
In Revelation 7 John indicates that those who have passed through great tribulations, whatever they may have suffered here on earth, have no rebellion now within their hearts. Here in the thick of the battle it may be difficult to understand; but yonder, in the perspective of eternity they have seen the plan complete. For them the Master's word is verified: "What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter" (John 13:7). And today they know, and are content. "Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints!" (Revelation 15:3). Amen so let it be!
This is a spiritual reality that we have to learn here. And this is where worship can come in decisively to help us. This is where worship and life are linked inextricably together. It can be so difficult, so terribly difficult sometimes, amid the personal strains and complications and loneliness and frustrations and griefs of life to bow submissively to the divine will.
I know there are some who dislike the very sound of such words as submission and resignation. There is a youthful, immature theology that would banish them from its vocabulary. "Resigned? Why should I be resigned? That is weak and feeble and sub-Christian. Am I to accept the ills of life, and sit submissively with folded hands, and drug my soul to sleep? God forbid!"
"O My Father," prayed Jesus with the red agony of Gethsemane on His brow, "if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done" (Matthew 26:42).
But we are different. We see some grim darkness threatening, or some potential catastrophe descending on our dreams, and we want to cry "Don't permit that, God! Never allow it. 1 couldn't stand it!"
There was a day at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus took the disciples into His confidence. His hour, He told them, had come. He was about to make the supreme sacrifice on the battlefield of the world. It was His Father's will, and He could do no other. Quietly and gently, yet firmly and inexorably, He told them what must be. All of a sudden Peter, listening, and struck by that frightful prospect of losing his Lord, strode up to Jesus and said, "Master, this shall not be unto Thee! I refuse to say Amen to it. This shall not be!" And if we had belonged to the disciple group then and in the days that were to follow, I imagine we should have said and done the very same. "Come down from that cross, Jesus! There cannot be any will of God in this. Come down!" And then the world would have remained unsaved for ever. "The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall 1 not drink it?" (John 18:11).
And we must learn to say it too. Even when life brings us to the breakingpoint, and hurts us fiercely with its cruel enigmas, we must learn to say it too: Amen, so let it be.
Now in worship we do at least begin to learn it. For it is through worship we come to know that there is just one thing needful at such a time. It is to possess Christ. It is to be sure that there beside you in the dark is One who still as in the days of old, gathers the lambs in His arms when they have been hurt, yes, even when in their foolishness they have hurt themselves, and carries them in His bosom (Isaiah 40:11).
0 dear kind Shepherd Christ, the darkness is not dark with You, but the night is clear as the day!
COMMITMENT TO THE PURPOSE OF GOD
Now we pass on to something different. If the first essential note of worship in its relevance to life is acceptance of the will of God, the second is commitment to the purpose of God. John had a vision of the exalted Christ riding forth to the conquest of the world, and all the saints in glory streaming out after Him on that high crusade. They rest not day nor night. They follow the Lamb wherever He goes. For them the divine purpose means action fuller and service grander than they ever knew on earth. "Amen, Thy will be done and help us to do it." This is the meaning.
A preacher, by the sheer power of spiritual leadership, must lead his congregation up the altar stairs to God. They see God and hear His voice and descend again to serve. A worship experience that does not lead to service has lost its real objective. The worship service is not an end in itself; it is only a means to an end. And through our worship we must learn this too. For Christianity is not all submission and resignation. The will of God is not simply something to be accepted and borne─it is something to be asserted, something to be done. And Amen is not always a sigh─it is sometimes a shout:
My God, my Father, make me strong,
When tasks of life seem hard and long.
To greet them with this triumph song:
Thy will be done!
Where this note is lacking, there is no true worship.
There was a day when David, having brought the ark to Jerusalem, summoned his people to a new campaign, and told them of the wonderful destiny to which the Lord God of their fathers was now calling them; and the magnificent passage in Chronicles ends with a sudden irrepressible shout from the whole congregation "All the people said, Amen, and praised the Lord" (I Chronicles 16:36). I can imagine the sound of that great Amen reverberating round the hills and making the Philistines tremble! If we would only say Amen to our own prayers, which means putting ourselves into these petitions, backing up our supplications with the resolution of dedicated lives; if we would say Amen to our own prayers by thus putting heart and mind and will at Christ's disposal, we should go out and crusade for Christ as we have never done before.
"Thy Kingdom come: Amen! Thy world be swept clean of war and oppression and racial discrimination and injustice: Amen! Bless our foreign missions: Amen! This is urgent. For today there are men and communities and nations saying Amen with all their soul to false God-denying philosophies and ideologies, saying it with a mystic fervor and passion. Will not we Christians then say Amen to the purpose of our heavenly Father until every Christian is an instrument in the hand of God, every Church member a missionary for the Kingdom of Christ? There is so much land yet to be possessed. There are so many radical reformations still to be achieved, so much shame of war and cruelty and poverty and ignorance and racial bitterness still to banish from the earth.
What a day this would be for the Church if the Amen of faith and devotion were really a shout of consecrated self-commitment. Like Isaiah we would cry "Here I am; send me" (Isaiah 6:8).
JOY IN THE FELLOWSHIP OF GOD
We pass to the third essential note of worship in its relevance to life. For through acceptance of the will of God, and commitment to the purpose of God, there comes a wonderful sense of joy in the fellowship of God. "I heard," says John in the book of Revelation, "the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth" (19:6). ". . . and worshipped God that sat on the throne, saying, Amen; Alleluia" (19:4). And in Revelation 7 verses II and 12 John writes, "And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen." The worship of the church of heaven was Amen─but it was more: it was Amen, Hallelujah! For yonder, where they dwell in Christ, they are eternally happy and all their sufferings and sorrows of this earth are swallowed up in gladness and felicity. "In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Psalm 16:11). And if we have lost this note─and who can deny that many of us have lost it?─it is through worship that we must recapture it.
Shortly after the end of the war, Dr. Hendrik Kraemer, great leader of the Church in Holland came one night to a conference to talk to the students in the St. Andrews chapel in London. This preacher had spent some terrible months as a prisoner in a concentration camp, and his face was lined with suffering. He spoke to the young students that night for half an hour, and the whole burden of his message was this:
"We Christians must get the joy of Christ back into our religion. We are denying Christ by losing it!"
There was a modern martyr of the Church of Oxford and Uganda named James Hannington. He was consecrated Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa, and toiled there shining for Christ until his work was cut short by violent death. He wrote in his diary just before he died, "I felt that they were coming upon me to murder me: but I sang 'Safe in the arms of Jesus,' and laughed at the agony of my situation." That is apostolic and Johannine─safe in the arms of Jesus, and laughing at the agony!
"I heard," says St. John, "the voice of the saints of God; and it was Amen! Hallelujah, praise the Lord!" And I pray that even our worship here today may help to bring the joy of Jesus back to some disconsolate heart.
ASSURANCE OF THE VICTORY OF GOD
But now what is the deep root of this joy which can sing its Hallelujahs through the darkness? Here we reach the fourth essential note of worship in its relevance to life, the final characteristic attitude of the soul that worships in spirit and in truth. It is assurance of the victory of God.
John and Hannington and Kraemer were not deluding themselves with rhetorical fantasies and vague emotions. They were not whistling to keep their courage up in the dark. They were rejoicing─John reiterates it all─because of something which had actually hap-pened in history. There had been an advent. There had been a cross. There had been a resurrection. God in Christ has met the powers of darkness at their worst. He has taken their measure, and has triumphed. Nothing has been left undone.
Once and for all, atonement has been achieved and death destroyed, and the doors of the Kingdom of heaven flung open wide. Once and for all, God has devised for this ruined world a way out of chaos and damnation. Therefore be not dismayed! You are fighting a defeated enemy. This is the fact that cannot be shaken.
Some fifty years after John wrote his book, there was a frightful martyrdom in the city of Smyrna, during the proconsulship of Statius Quadratus. The aged Polycarp, bishop and saint, was brought to his trial. His judge stood before him and cried "You are to renounce the faith! You are to curse the name of Christ!"
But Polycarp answered, "Four score and six years have I served Him, and He never did me wrong: how then can I revile my King, my Savior?" So they took him and burned him to death in the amphitheater. But the young Church in Smyrna hurled its defiance in the very face of his murderers; for when later it came to write down in the annals of the Church what had happened, it was very careful to put in the precise date, and it read thus "Polycarp was martyred, Statius Quadratus being proconsul of Asia, and Jesus Christ being King forever."
Christ died for our sins. He is risen and alive for ever. He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat. The kingdoms of this world are become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever. He is the way, the truth and the life.
This is the Lord's doing. This is the victory. Surely, then, we of the Church remnant who are struggling here on earth and finding the battle often stern and hard and the road much rougher than we hoped, surely we can lift up our hearts and look forward to the day when we will join our voices with the Church triumphant worshiping in the full splendor of His glory, Jesus our blessed Redeemer for ever.