Sermon: The Down Side of Worship: Preparation - Isaiah 6

How can we prepare ourselves to worship the Lord? Perhaps we can learn several lessons from Uzziah's failures.

Scriptures: Isaiah 6:1; 2 Chronicles 26:5-21

Introduction

Although most people enjoy a brief brush with fame, there is one time when we don't want to make the headlines - in the obituary section. But that is how this discussion of worship begins. Listen to one line in this verse: "In the year that King Uzziah died." While it seems like a side-bar to the real story, this sentence has a story behind the story. We find the record of Uzziah's life in two primary passages: 2 Kings 15:5 and 2 Chronicles 26:18-21.

It begins with the conspiracy and assassination of Uzziah's father [2 Kings 14:19]. Upon the death of his father, Uzziah, a 16 year old young man, ascends to the throne of Judah. He will reign over the nation for 52 years - the second longest reign in Judah's history.

While most people have never heard of him, he was one of Judah's greatest kings. His reign is summarized by four brief commentaries:

  1. 2 Kings 15:3 "He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord"
  2. 2 Chronicles 26:5 "He sought God throughout the lifetime of Zechariah"
  3. 2 Chronicles 26:5, 8 "God gave him success, God made him very powerful in war, in construction, in fame, in wealth"
  4. 2 Chronicles 26:19-20 "The Lord afflicted him" [struck him with leprosy]

And what terrible sin had the king committed? Was it a sin of the flesh like David? No. Was it a blatant disobedience like Jonah? No. Was it a sin of his speech like Peter? No. The crime that evoked such a divine reaction was shocking. One day he violated a rule of worship. According to 2 Chronicles 26, he acted "unfaithfully" out of arrogance.

Uzziah died in 740BC. But he was not buried with the kings and his whole life of goodness was forgotten. In time he was known only as the "leper king." It surprises most people that his sin related to worship. No doubt, Isaiah remembered the story as he penned his memoirs of his vision of God.

To most people, the term "worship" means going to church. And we typically go to church with little or no thought of what we are actually doing. We are, in a sense, unprepared to worship. But preparation is as essential to real worship as a student preparing for a test or an athlete stretching before a competition.

So how can we prepare ourselves to worship the Lord? Perhaps we can learn several lessons from Uzziah's failures.

I. Reflect on the significance God places on worship

According to Romans 12:1, worship matters to God. Paul wrote, "Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God' this is your spiritual worship." Even a casual glance at the Scriptures will reveal the significance that God places on worship.

A. You were created to worship [Genesis 1:27, 2:7]

God create humans with two unique attributes that separate us from the rest of the created order. He made us in His image [1:27] and He gave us a "spirit" [2:7]. One of the great truths that we can glean from those two facts is that we were created to know and relate to God in a unique way. We have the capacity to be aware of God and to respond to God.

B. Worship is the highest activity of humanity

Can you do anything that exceeds the importance of worship so far as God is concerned? Compare God's perspective on all of your activities. Those activities that are offered as acts of worship are far more important to God than any other pursuit of your life.

C. In worship we encounter God [Isaiah 1:12]

While one can encounter God without worship, one cannot worship without encountering God. Obviously, worship matters to God.

"Bonnie Hanson had a problem. Her three-year-old grandson begged her to take him with her to "big church." Little Daniel asked, 'Can we just go into God's house and see God?' She consented to take him but worried about his expectations. Her fears were dispelled when they entered the sanctuary and Daniel pointed to a large cross. He grinned and said, 'See, Grandma Bonnie, Jesus is already here waiting for us!'" [Mature Living, July 1996, 7]

Maybe worship would be more meaningful if we expected to encounter God when we go to His house.

II. Respect the sacredness of worship

Hebrews 12:28 reminds us to recover a reverence for God.

"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us hold on to grace. By it, we may serve [worship] God acceptably, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire." Uzziah failed here. In this text we see that worship reveals much about our relationship to God.

A. Worship indicates your awareness of God's presence

An awareness of God's presence can overwhelm and humble us. Of course, the opposite of this is also true.

Unfortunately, we are not always aware of God's presence. After Jacob swindled Esau out of his birthright and blessing, Esau vowed to kill his brother. So Jacob ran. During the night he had a dream of angels ascended and descending on a ladder. When he woke he realized that he had had a unique encounter with God.

Concerning that encounter he said, "Surely, the Lord is in this place and I did not know it." He later called that place Bethel, which means "the house of God." [Genesis 28:10-22, 16] Worship and awareness go hand in hand.

B. Worship is your evaluation of God's greatness

In a real sense, my level of worship is a reflection of the value I place upon God. To some degree, it correlates to my evaluation of how great God is. Generally, the deeper one's understanding of God becomes, the deeper his/her worship becomes.

J.B. Phillips has written an excellent little book entitled, "Your God is to Small." Perhaps the reason our worship comes across as ritualistic and lifeless is that God is not great in our sight.

C. Worship is your recognition of God's goodness

In worship we focus our thoughts on God. To help us understand the sacredness of worship, try to image a day in heaven. How do angel and those in heaven react to the presence of God? Are they irreverent? The Apostle John tells us that the angelic host bow in adoration before the Lord. They know that worship is a sacred response to the presence of God. Is it sacred to you?

III. Repent of all known sin

It would help us to worship better if we examine Uzziah's slide into irreverence - see 2 Chronicles 26:16-21. As you read that passage check your life against his story. We should approach worship with an honest and confessional reverence. Notice Uzziah's sins.

A. His unchecked arrogance

"I can do whatever I want to do" - 26:16a

This was the attitude of the Pharisees. Jesus said of them, "they honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." In fact, they exercised the motions of worship, but ignored the meaning of it.

B. His underlying assumption

"Worship is whatever I want it to be." - 26:16b.

Sometimes we assume that God will accept our worship even if it is offered unconventionally. Cain embraced the same rational [Genesis 4].

C. His unrestrained action

"I will ignore what God has required." - 26:16c.

The manner in which we approach worship matters to God. Leviticus 10:1-2, 9 tells the story of Nadab and Abihu who became drunk and then offered to God "strange fire" for which God killed them.

D. His unrepentant spirit

"I don't care what God or others think." - 26:19.

Pride got him in trouble and kept him in trouble. If you harbor know sin don't justify it and don't ignore it. Confess it and turn from it.

E. His unusual correction

God put him out of the Temple for life - 26:19, 21.

Can you image that? He could never enter the house of worship again. Some might think that would be a blessing. But the leper king knew He needed God. Once we repent of sin then we can rejoice in praise.

IV. Rejoice in the God of your salvation

True consideration of God's grace will change your worship.

A. Worship is an expression of your love

"The French have a proverb that provides insight for worship that states, 'A good meal ought to begin with hunger.' It is hard to enjoy a meal when you are not hungry, but when you are starving, anything tastes good. As we approach worship with a hunger to meet God we will be filled and satiated. And when we come to worship filled up with our own self-sufficiency or full of preoccupied thoughts, we probably won't experience meaningful worship. It's true, good worship begins with a love for God." [Adapted from Pulpit Resource, Vol. 28, No. 3, 30]

If the depth of your worship is the measure of your love for God, then how deeply do you truly love God? Worship is the authentic expression of your love for God.

B. Worship is a celebration of His grace

It is a privilege to worship. Just as we were redeemed by grace, it is grace that enables us to worship. And when we do worship we celebrate God's grace. Don't miss the goodness and greatness of God while you're focused on the non-essentials of worship like music style, buildings, or the order of the service. Rich Tatum illustrates this truth with a humorous story of a vacation with his wife.

"My wife and I recently went on vacation and took along a camera and several rolls of film. Upon our return, my wife began proudly showing off our latest set of vacation photos; she'd then tell me her coworkers' reactions. After a few days of this, I noticed a recurring theme. Invariably, people would say, 'Wow, your husband must have a really nice camera!' Even though people liked my photos, I was disappointed. I wanted them to acknowledge what a good photographer I am, not what a good camera I have.

"I ranted to my wife: 'Why do people do this? Nobody looks at a painting and says, 'Nice brushes!' Nobody looks at a skyscraper and says, 'Nice drafting table!' Nobody looks at a sculpture and says, 'Nice chisel!' What's wrong with these people?' It felt good to get that off my chest. Until my wife reminded me, 'So, how often do you look at creation and say, 'Nice work, God'?" [Larson and Ten Elshof, "1001 Illustrations That Connect," #211]

Conclusion

"The best preparation for work is not thinking about work, talking about work, or studying for work: it is work." - William Weld

And the best preparation for worship is not thinking about worship, talking about worship, or studying about worship: it is worship. Are you prepared to worship?

Jerry Gifford is senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Franklin, Kentucky. Jerry holds degrees from Western Kentucky University and Liberty Baptist Seminary. He and his wife, Tammie, have two sons, Daniel and David. He is passionate about his family, spiritual renewal, discipleship, preaching, basketball, and water sports.