We are right in the middle of our series entitled “40 Days of Purpose”. We have been looking at the five-fold purpose of the Church which also gives us grounding and direction for our own personal lives.
There was a survey conducted several years ago that revealed what people are looking for in a church. The survey revealed that 89% of church shoppers choose a church based upon teaching, 80% on Worship style, 76% on care for the community (that’s service and outreach), and 73% choose a church based upon the opportunity to build relationships, that’s fellowship.
I find those statistics fascinating because they tie into the fivefold purpose of the church that we see in Acts 2:42-47. Over the past two Sundays we looked at the first two purposes: Teaching and Fellowship. This Sunday, we are going to examine Worship. Listen for God’s word to you from Acts 2:42-47…
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Our English word “worship” comes from the Old English “weorthscipe” which had to do with an object’s worthiness. Thus, I think we can properly say that true worship means giving God what he is worth. And this definition begs the question: are we giving God what he is worth?
The bad news is that in most cases we probably are not. But the good news is that in Acts 2:42-47 we find a guide to help us in our devotion to worship.
One aspect of worship to which the first Christians in Jerusalem were devoted was “The Breaking of the Bread”. This is Luke’s technical term that he uses to describe what has been called by various terms depending upon your church tradition. This act has been called The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Eucharist, and the Mass. It is quite likely that the church in Jerusalem and the other first century Christian congregations celebrated the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis.
I think one of the key questions we must ask is: how are we to devote ourselves to the breaking of the bread? Frequency is part of the answer. Here is what Pastor Dan Meyer says about it:
The first leg of the first Christian Family Table was the simple ritual of consistent meals…
Did you know that research shows a positive relationship between frequent family dinners and positive teen behavioral outcomes? Teens who regularly have meals with their family are less likely to get into fights, think about suicide, drink, or use drugs. They are more likely to have later-initiation of sexual activity and better academic performance than teens who do not.
In a sense, Jesus founded his Church at a table. He told us that we could commune with God and each other in the breaking of bread.
Imagine a family where meals are never shared. Family cohesion is lost over time, is it not? The same is true in the family of God; we need to come to the Lord’s Table frequently to maintain our family cohesion and values.
Two other things have helped me in my devotion to the Lord’s Supper. First, understanding more about it through reading the Scriptures that deal with it as well as other Christian books on the topic. Two books that have helped me the most in this way are Appointment with God by J. B. Phillips and The Meal Jesus Gave Us by Tom Wright.
The second thing that has helped me to grow in my devotion to the Lord’s Supper is experiencing it in different ways. I have experienced it in the context of the Passover Meal. I have participated in the Lord’s Supper in numerous different denominations with various ways of celebrating. I have enjoyed Holy Communion in many different places, including the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, on a bus during a church teen choir tour, and kneeling in a parish church in England. Perhaps the most meaningful experience of Communion I have ever known was sharing the bread and wine with Christian friends, sitting around the dining room table in their home on New Year’s Eve as we reflected on what God had done in our lives in the year past and what we hoped God might do for us in the year ahead.
A second aspect of worship that we see in this passage is the devotion of the first Christians to the prayers. William Barclay says,
These early Christians knew that they could not meet life in their own strength and that they did not need to. They always went in to God before they went out to the world; they were able to meet the problems of life because they had first met him.
One pattern for prayer that I have often used follows the acronym ACTS which stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. We see this pattern of prayer played out in such passages as Isaiah 6. There Isaiah tells us about his call to serve the Lord as a prophet. He writes...
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
What a wonderful expression of worship and adoration! Adoration is the most appropriate response for human beings entering into the presence of God. That is one reason why the first prayer in our worship service is, in a sense, a prayer of adoration as well as invocation.
The next move in prayer is, I believe, also, almost, instinctive. Look at what Isaiah’s response was to this angelic adoration in the very presence of God…
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
We cannot enter the presence of a holy God without simultaneously becoming aware of the fact that we, in and of ourselves, are not holy. But thankfully, the movement of worship does not end there. Notice what happens next in response to Isaiah’s confession of sin…
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
This is nothing more, nothing less, than an assurance of pardon. The whole point of confessing sin is not that we might dwell on it, but that we might receive the forgiveness that God is only too willing to give us through Christ. And the natural response to forgiveness is thanksgiving. As it says in Psalm 32, “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven.”
Then, returning to Isaiah, we see the final movement in this pattern of prayer. Isaiah says…
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Isaiah’s words are an example of supplication. The word means “to humbly ask or beg for something”. In fact, Isaiah prays one of the greatest prayers of supplication there is: “Here am I. Send me!”
I want to commend to your reading the article I have placed in the bulletin entitled 7 Minutes with God. This little essay helped me as a young Christian to get started in a life of prayer. I have seen it help many others as well.
A third aspect of worship we see in this passage is “awe”. Why were the first Christians in Jerusalem experiencing awe in their worship? It was happening because many wonders and signs were being performed by the apostles. In other words, these first Christians were actively seeing God at work in their midst.
When was the last time you experienced awe?
The story is told of a time many years ago when a woman walked into an ice cream shop. While waiting, she turned to find actor Paul Newman standing behind her. He smiled at her and said “hello.” She took one look at those legendary blue eyes and her knees almost buckled. Her heart was in her throat. She tried to speak, but not a sound came out. Mortified, she turned around, paid for her ice cream, then quickly walked out of the store.
Outside, she sat down on a bench and caught her breath. As she calmed down, she realized she didn’t have her ice cream cone. She was debating walking back in to get it when Paul Newman walked out. “You looking for your ice cream cone?” he asked. Speechless again, she nodded. “You put it in your purse.”
I would suggest to you that woman was experiencing awe. I would even say she was experiencing awe in worship. It just wasn’t worship of the one true God.
So, when was the last time you experienced awe in worship of our triune God?
I remember waking up one Sunday in sunny Southern California. I was due to preach in a church I had never visited before. I was feeling kind of spiritually dry. I felt like I was just going through the motions. So, I began to talk to the Lord about what I was feeling. I don’t remember exactly what I said in prayer, but in essence, I asked for God to touch me with a sense of his presence. Well, I got to church and was so moved by the singing of praise that when it came time for me to preach, I was too choked up to speak. Be careful what you ask for!
Awe is real. It comes in response to a real experience of worship. It comes in response to God’s presence. It can come to us if we simply ask for it—ask that is for God’s presence. The awe will come naturally in response.
A fourth aspect of worship we see here is gladness. “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”
Psalm 100 says…
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his[a];
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
But to look at most people in America, either entering or exiting church, one might reasonably question whether gladness had anything to do with worship. I love what Richard Allen Farmer says about this. He writes…
I have a 95-year-old grandmother. No one has heard me preach more than three times without hearing a story about my grandmama. The saddest thing I can probably say about you is that you’ll not get a chance to meet Sweetie Pie. She lives in New York City, and we are lovers. I am the second born of her 65-year-old daughter, and she makes me happy.
We talk on the phone every Sunday night no matter where I am in the world. When I talk to her or when I see her, as I will next week, it’s not drudgery for me to enjoy her presence.
Over these last forty-three years, I have simply bathed in the sunlight of her presence. I don’t say “Oh, I’ve got to go see my grandmother.” It’s “I get to see Sweetie Pie.”
Until you stop coming to worship as if you have to see God, you’ll never know what the Psalmist is talking about. He says it ought to be your delight to come up into Papa’s face and enjoy his presence. It presupposes a relationship that makes you want to be there. He says, “When we have the festival, when we have our Sabbath, when we have our convocation, we ought to come with a certain gladness of heart because God is God.”
We can have all the mechanics of a worship service down pat. We can have a great choir. We can have a wonderful organist. I dream that someday we will have multiple services here in this place because one service will not provide enough room for all who want to meet God in this place. I dream of a day when we have multiple services with many different styles of music because different strokes minister to different folks. But we can have all that and if we do not believe that God is real, if we are not connecting with God through his Son Jesus Christ, if we are not worshipping in the power of the Holy Spirit, then there will be no joy. There will be no awe. Our prayers will simply be bouncing off the ceiling. Communion will be meaningless—unless we believe there is a creator of the universe, a redeemer of humanity who wants to commune, who wants to meet with us. But if you do believe, if you believe that our Triune God is real and present in our midst, then worship becomes an entirely different affair, it is carried on to a whole new level. And let me tell you, when that happens, you will have to lock the doors to keep the people out, and even then, they will be knocking down the doors to get in on the love…
 Audrey Barrick, “What Church Switchers Look for in a Church,” www.christianpost.com (4-10-07).