Sermon: The Preparation of Worship - Ecclesiastes 5
Sermon series: The Way of a Worshipper
- The Presence of Worship - Exodus 33
- The Preparation of Worship - Ecclesiastes 5
- The Power of Worship - Psalm 40, John 12
- The Protocol of Worship - Psalm 100
The Bible study connection
Calling on God necessitates preparation. One would not barge into the President's office unannounced and unprepared, neither should we with God. This sermon provides the proper procedures for calling on God.
People on an airplane and people on a pew have a lot in common. All are on a journey. Most are well-behaved and presentable. Some doze, others enter in a mindless trace, and a few gaze out the window. Most, if not all, are satisfied with a predictable experience. For many, the mark of a good flight and the mark of a good worship service are the same. "Nice," we like to say. "It was a nice flight/It was a nice worship service." We exit the same way we enter - unmoved, unchanged, unaltered - and, we're happy to return next time.
Enter a church sanctuary and look at the faces. A few are giggly, a couple are cranky, but by and large we are content. Content to be there. Content to sit and look straight ahead and leave when the service is over. Content to endure. Content with the mundane. Content with a "nice" service.
A few, however, seek more. And those few leave wide-eyed with wonder of having experienced worship rather than merely endured worship.
The destination of worship is to meet God. As with any journey we need to make the proper preparations so that we experience God rather than endure worship. We want a memorable not mundane trip. What does our flight check require? Travel demands preparation.
Solomon, the wisest and richest man in the world, writing thousands of years ago, gives us some preflight instructions in order to encounter the God of the universe when we come into his house.
I. Get ready to meet God
Solomon wrote, "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God" (Eccl. 5:1). One rendering of this verse is: "Watch your feet when you go to the house of God." The phrase guard your steps means to proceed with reverence, tip toeing into the presence of God. We come with care and caution. We come with dignity and respect. We approach God with the same care as Moses when he encountered God in a burning bush and took off his shoes. He was on holy ground, and he knew it.
Remember hearing as a kid the words, "No running in church?" The sanctuary is a place of reverence. Physically we may not be running when we meet God, but spiritually, emotionally, and mentally we are. We "do church" as many "do lunch," casually and unprepared. Our hearts and minds don't show profound awe and respect. We don't anticipate God's presence or voice. Consequently, we're unable to experience the presence of God that will stir our souls, change our lives, and satisfy our hunger for meaning.
Let me encourage you to come to worship prepared to worship. Pray before you come so you will be ready to pray when you arrive. Sleep before you come so you will stay alert when you arrive. Read the Word before you come so your heart will be soft when you worship. Come hungry. Come willing. Come expecting God to speak. Come anticipating a memorable experience with the Creator of the universe.
II. Listen to God
One man said he and his wife had words but he never got a chance to use his. I think God often feels the same way.
When flying, I feel for the flight attendants as they share instructions before the plane takes flights. The attendants are explaining about how to use the seat belt, where the exits are, how to use the seat cushion as a flotation device, how to put on the oxygen mask if needed. Yet most of the people on the plane are talking, reading, looking out the window, getting stuff out of their carry-on luggage. They are doing everything but listening. Those flight attendants know how God must feel, when his people come to church.
We show up to our houses of worship after a mad dash from home. World War III has just occurred with spouse and children in the car. A few choice words is said under our breath to the guy who cut us off in traffic. We stroll into the sanctuary and find our seat. "Whew, no one took my seat this morning." We start looking around to see who is present. We proof the bulletin for typos. We find pastor notes to make the grocery list or to-do list for next week. And before we know it the preacher is preaching and we are wondering why we didn't sing any songs we preferred this morning. Before we know it the serve is over but minds were somewhere else. We were not listening.
Solomon offers further instructions for experiencing God in worship. "Better to draw near in obedience than to offer the sacrifice as fools do, for they ignorantly do wrong. Do not be hasty to speak, and do not be impulsive to make a speech before God" (Eccl. 5:1b-2). The New Living Translation says, "As you enter the house of God, keep your ears open and your mouth shut" (Eccl. 5:1 NLT). Think about it: When we come to worship, we have come to meet with God - the living God - who has one agenda to meet with us. When we come to meet with God we would be well advised to let him do the talking. God wants to communicate with us.
III. Humble yourself before God
Solomon continued, "God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few" (Eccl. 5:2). In actuality, this is a statement of perspective, not distance. God is in the realm of the infinite. He hears the inaudible and sees the invisible. God penetrates that which is inaudible to human ears and peers into what's invisible to human eyes.
Here's the point: God is God and we aren't. God is in heaven and we are on earth. God is Lord and we are his slaves. As we prepare for worship, remember that we are to approach God in a stature of humility. We bow before him. We fall before him.
Like Isaiah when he experienced the presence of God, he bowed before God and said, "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and His robe filled the temple" (Isa. 6:1). To see God reigning in power, wisdom, and love produces only one response: awe.
One of the great benefits of gaining a proper perspective of God is that we not only gain a view of the throne of God, we gain a view from the throne of God. Once we have entered into God's presence, we look down on our world from his perspective. We find that what we thought was a mountain was a molehill. What seemed great and mighty in the world's eyes turns out to be small and insignificant in God's eyes. On the other hand, when we thought we were weak, we became strong because we were in the presence of God. Or, what we thought was foolish actually became wise from God's vantage point.
Have you looked at every one of your personal struggles and frustrations from God's perspective? Worship is a time when we come into God's presence so we can see our difficulties and our rewards from his perspective. That can make all the difference in the world.
When we encounter the very presence of God we begin to see life from his perspective. When we worship we gain a view of the throne of God.
IV. Mean what you say to God
Solomon wrote, "When you make a vow to God, don't delay fulfilling it, because He does not delight in fools. Fulfill what you vow. Better that you do not vow than that you vow and not fulfill it" (Eccl. 5:4-5). In other words, keep your word. Words may not mean much to us, but they mean a lot to God. In God's eyes, a promise is a promise. You vowed it, you keep it.
David Allan Hubbard wrote, "Better to bribe a judge than to ply God with hollow words; better to slap a policeman than to seek God's influence by meaningless gestures; better to perjure yourself in court than to harry God with promises you cannot keep. The full adorations of our spirit, the true obedience of our heart - these are his demands and his delights."
Consider for a moment the promises you made to God when you were in worship? "Oh, God, if you'll get me out of this predicament, I'll serve you." "Lord, if you'll just help me do this one thing, I'm going to start coming to church more often." "Yes, Lord I promise to give you ten percent of all my earnings." "I do promise and covenant before God and these witnesses to be your loving and faithful husband, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live." "Lord, I rededicate my life to you. I promise to spend more time with my family." "I promise to remain morally pure for my marriage partner." "I pledge before this congregation with my baby in my arms to rear that child God's way." "Yes, Lord, I will be a missionary and give my life to you on the mission field." What promises with your time, your commitments, your life, your money have you made to God and not kept?
When we make a commitment to God, we must keep it because God believes it and doesn't forget it. Making commitments to God is like flying on an airplane, once in the air there's no turning back. We are committed. We can't change our mind. We can't say, "I don't really want to go. Can we turn back?"
When you go to worship, it would be better not to vow at all, than to fail to keep your word with God.
V. Take God seriously
Solomon concluded this section, "For many dreams bring futility, so do many words. Therefore, fear God" (Eccl. 5:7). To fear God does not mean dread or terror; it means holy awe and respect. In other words, we take God seriously.
I once saw a church sign that advertised one of its worship services with a statement that read: "Casual Worship 9:30 AM." I know that they were trying to communicate that their worship service was casual dress and informal. But from Solomon's writings, and, I believe, all of scripture teaches, that nothing is casual about worship. Far too often, we take God too lightly. We approach him in a trite and casual fashion. We think of God as our buddy or our pal. But this is the eternal God of the universe who has a claim on our lives because he has placed eternity within our hearts. We're to approach him with respect and reverence.
Let's stop playing games with God. Make no mistake about it: God loves fun and laughter. He delights in people who have a sense of humor. But, worship is serious business. We approach God with respect and awe. Again, it's like flying on a plane. I remember one trip with a group of students long before the tragedy and subsequent restrictions of 9/11. One teenager in a good natured, playful way, as she was going through security, humorously said, "Do you really think I have a gun in my bag?" In a flash she was whisked away, searched (no gun), then scolded. She walked away from that experience, knowing that she would never walk through an airport security making jokes about guns.
Entering God's presence is not a joking matter. It is serious business. Are you ready to board the flight and take the trip?
Worship is not an endurance contest, but a marvelous adventure into the presence of the God of the universe. It is not business as usual, but a wonder-filled ride into a new dimension of life. It is not a mundane trip, but a memorable flight. And on that journey our reaction will not be simply, "nice service" or "nice trip," but rather in the words of a child who has flown for the first time, "Awesome."