Peter Marshall told the story: It was quiet on the battlefield. In the bright early summer sunshine the air was balmy and had a breath of a garden in it. By some grotesque miracle, a bird was singing somewhere near at hand. On the firing step with his rifle lying in a groove in the parapet stood a young soldier in field gray, his uniform stained with mud and blood.
On his face, so young yet strangely marked with the lines of war that made him look old, was a wistful, faraway expression. He was enjoying the sunshine and the quiet of this strange lull in the firing. The heavy guns had been silent. There was no sound to break the eerie stillness.
Suddenly a butterfly fluttered into view and alighted on the ground almost at the end of his rifle. It was a strange visitor to a battleground. But it was there, a gorgeous creature, the wings like gold leaf splashed with carmine swaying in the warm breath of spring.
As the war-weary youngster watched the butterfly he was no longer a private in field gray. He was a boy once more, fresh and clean, swinging through a field in sunny Saxony, knee deep in clover, buttercups, and daisies. That strange visitor to the front trench recalled to him the joys of his boyhood when he had collected butterflies. It spoke to him of days of peace. It was a symbol of the lovelier things of life. It was the emblem of the eternal, a reminder that there still was beauty and peace in the world.
He forgot the enemy a few hundred yards across no man's land. He forgot the danger and privation and suffering. He forgot everything as he watched that butterfly. With all the hunger in his heart, with the resurrection of dreams and visions that he thought were gone, he reached out his hand toward that butterfly. His fingers moved slowly, cautiously, lest he frighten away this visitor to the battlefield. In showing one kind of caution, he forgot another. The butterfly was just beyond his reach, so he stretched, forgetting that watchful eyes were waiting for a target. He brought himself out slowly until he had just a little distance to go. He could almost touch the wings that were so lovely.
Then . . . ping, ping. A sniper's bullet found its mark. The stretching fingers relaxed. For the private soldier in field gray the war was over.
There is always a risk when you reach for the beautiful. And worship is a reach for the beautiful. It is our attempt to reach from the squalor of the earth and our existence to the very beauty of God Himself.
Notice the marks of the church that belong to the living Lord. Worship is one of those marks. See what happens when a church worships.
II. When church worships in the right day
It is the seventh day, the Sabbath, the Lord's Day, when we meet for worship.
While every day has meaning to God and for a Christian all time is to be used wisely and well, there is something special about this one day each week that we dedicate to God. The dedication of this one day to God is a token of the fact that all of time is in God's hand. Because of this we owe God a part of life, a portion of our time in worship.
There is something deep within us that calls for this day of worship, a period of time for God.
III. When church worships with right purpose
We worship to see God.
There is a time when we have to move aside all of the other things of life that crowd out and obscure God so that we can seek and see His face.
Why? For one thing, life frightens us. We are literally pushed into the arms of God. Notice that the disciples were gathered together that day because they were afraid.
There is certain spontaneity about worship. The disciples apparently were not called together that day; they just met together.
Hebrews 10:25 admonished, ". . . not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. ..." There is something instinctive in us that calls for the need of worship. Pushed by our sins, the weight of the world, and the problems of life, we move into the presence of God.
IV. When church worship recognizes the person who is worshiped
The central element in the worship service is the presence of Christ. It was when Jesus was in their midst that the disciples knew something unique had happened.
There are many reasons for corporate worship. They have to do with such things as the gathering of the family of faith, the witness to the world, the sharing of joys and sorrows, the strength derived from meeting with others of like hearts and minds. But the only real reason for worship is to meet Christ.
It is then that we can claim His promise of Matthew 18:20 that He is with us.
It is then that we can claim His promise that He will go with us even to the end.
The presence of the person of the resurrected Christ is what sets worship apart from everything else.
V. When church worship sees the product of worship
From this experience we can see what happens when we worship God.
A. We receive the word of comfort from Christ.
B. We receive the gift of His peace (vs. 19, 20).
C. We receive a commission for service, a responsibility for life (vs. 21).
D. We receive the spirit of power (v. 22). And that Holy Spirit gives us the power to witness to the forgiveness of sins and to receive the forgiveness of sin.
Someone has observed that in the church in which William Shakespeare worshiped in Stratford-onAvon the woodcarver had the privilege of carving his own inspiration under the choir seats after he had carved the ornate altar. What can be seen are the pious, serene, and holy carvings. But underneath the choir seats are carvings that are dark and unseemly: monsters, dogs biting people, unholy and impious acts. But that is what worship does. It delivers us from the dark and unredeemed impulses that would destroy us. It is a reach for the beautiful, for God.
A. Worship helps us find who we are and why God has placed us here on the earth. When we bow in God's presence with worship, only then are we made complete. Judson Cornwall. Leadership, Vol. 16, No. 2.
B. In order for us to worship, our mind, will, and emotions have to be moved. Tim Keller.
C. The current phrase "worship experience" merely serves to confuse us. Those who worship with the expectation that the act ought to generate certain experiences for them will undoubtedly have many experiences. But they will probably not be the sorts of experiences that Christian worship offers to those who seek only the face of God through song and prayer, preaching and sacrament. Liturgists can generate many powerful experiences, but when experience is the aim, this becomes cheap theater at best and manipulation at worst. Both are repulsive substitutes for an encounter with the power of the living God. Mark Horst in the Christian Century (Nov. 11, 1987) and Christianity Today, Vol. 34, No. 16.
D. Ellen G. White: "Those who worship Him in sincerity and truth will be accepted by Him. If church members will put away all selfworship, and will receive in their hearts the love for God and for one another that filled Christ's heart, our heavenly Father will constantly manifest His power through them. Let His people be drawn together with the cords of divine love. Then the world will recognize the miracle-working power of God, and will acknowledge that He is the Strength and the Helper of His commandment-keeping people". Bible Commentaries, Vol. 7, p. 939.
Humility and reverence should characterize the deportment of all who come into the presence of God. In the name of Jesus we may come before Him with confidence, but we must not approach Him with the boldness of presumption, as though He were on a level with ourselves. There are those who address the great and all-powerful and holy God, who dwelleth in light unapproachable, as they would address an equal, or even an inferior. There are those who conduct themselves in His house as they would not presume to do in the audience chamber of an earthly ruler. These should remember that they are in His sight whom seraphim adore, before whom angels veil their faces. God is greatly to be reverenced; all who truly realize His presence will bow in humility before Him, and, like Jacob beholding the vision of God, they will cry out, "How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 252.
Gabriel Paredes sent this contribution from Quito, Ecuador, where he serves as an elder.