THE WICKET GATE
"God is a Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." John, ch. 4, verse 24,
THE heart of all Christian experience is worship. When we are thinking of what service we can be to God let us remember that the greatest service of all is to worship Him. It is at once the greatest service we can render to God as it is the highest exercise in which a Christian can be engaged. Rightly understood it will be readily seen that worship is far-reaching in its influence. Such things, persons and issues as are nourished in the soul, and are continually the food of meditation; the content of our imagination, constitute our true worship; and this worship is limitless in its influence. It therefore follows that in this realm Satan will be most eager to make his attacks. In most people he finds their worship addressed to something on earth and is content. Where he discovers somebody with thoughts of God, his object will be to come into conflict with all the subtlety of the Satanic cunning; for it is in worship that the most seductive and illusive temptations are experienced. This is made clear in the temptation of our Lord in the wilderness: " If Thou wilt fall down and worship me." The idea, therefore, that if we go to church, if we worship, we must be right, is demonstrated to be an illusion; one can serve the ends of the devil in worship!
That there is more than one kind of worship is evident from the words of Our Lord given above. God is a Spirit and therefore all true worshippers will worship Him in spirit and in truth. But they can offer a worship, which they think to be to God but which is not worship in spirit and in truth.
Our first question must therefore be: What is meant by worship in spirit? Adam was made in the likeness of God. Of what that image consisted we do not know entirely, but this is clear: While Adam was made in the likeness of God, Cain came into the world in the likeness of Adam. In the meantime Adam had sinned and he had come under the sentence of death. His spirit by which he had enjoyed fellowship with God " died " and all his descendants have come into the world " dead in trespasses and in sins." That is to say they have no faculty by which they can worship God. Their fallen nature delights in trespasses and in sins because men are largely unconcerned with God.
How many parents like Manoah and his wife have had babies that have seemed to them perfect, but it has not been long before all the complexities of a Samson have grieved their hearts. The reason is that in every little baby the spirit is dead; its parents could produce nothing but soul and body, and no sprinkling with water at a month old will bring that spirit, dead in sin, to life. The proof of that is abundantly demonstrated in that whether babies are or are not sprinkled they reveal precisely the same kind of nature.
Unredeemed man does not and cannot worship God in spirit; because his spirit is dead towards God. He does not want God; his worship must therefore be in soul or body. In heathen and pagan religions the body is often prominent and there is possibly nothing the devil likes more than to see people so deceived as to imagine that in prostituting their bodies they are actually rendering God a service. Where Christian truth has percolated, obscenities of the body would hardly be likely to commend themselves, and therefore the devil promotes the worship of the soul. In such circumstances undue emphasis is placed upon music, ritual, vestments and oratory. The thoughts are occupied with the music or the preaching, the ritual or the vestments. True Christians may he taken up with these things. If they are, they tend to become self-righteous, sometimes exclusive, even to the point of supposing that they belong to the one true church and anybody who differs from them is outside the pale. In such circumstances, therefore, the young Christian must watch very carefully in order that he may discern between the true and the apparently true.
Worship is essentially an individual exercise. It begins in aloneness with God to the total exclusion of everything and everybody else. It is not an accidental reference to God but a firm resolve to give one's mind and heart to this great exercise of worship. If it is public worship, then before leaving home the mind will be disciplined, there will be a rigid concentration and a steadfast resistance to all intrusion. The moment the Christian sees this necessity, attendance at public worship will be a new thing. There are two kinds of reverence in worship. One is the natural sense of solemnity that comes over us as we enter some stately Cathedral, and that is a solemnity that is beautiful indeed. One hopes it will never depart from our people; but there is a better solemnity, and that is when the heart and mind have been prepared of God in the home. The worshipper comes along to the house of prayer with the Spirit already bringing him into a worshipping frame of mind and heart. As we thus draw near to God with the heart and mind focussed on God, we shall direct our hearts and minds to the centre of all truth, indeed to Truth itself.
All this requires great persistence, unfailing resolve and strong faith, never succumbing to failure until the whole Divine panorama of Providence, Redemption, Resurrection and Life Eternal baptises us into a sense of utter and complete unworthiness. Heaven itself is opened to communicate afresh the anointing of the Holy One. In the will of God this is the way each day should begin for every Christian. It is this anointing from heaven that is the secret of every blessing. It is with this anointing that every believer should gather for worship corporately on Sunday and at other times. Sunday morning is, of course, the great occasion for blessing. To that service every believer should bring the vital contribution of a heavenly anointing received from Jesus in secret at the beginning of the day. The dismal fact confronts us, however, that so few experience it and then so rarely. We are content to begin days without God and to come to worship without this heavenly anointing. In consequence we are inevitably tempted to all sorts of substitutes, and indeed to judge by some churches the Sunday services are not so much a matter of worshipping God, but of providing something that will be attractive to carnal men and women.
Hence we may have need of confession of great failure in this respect. So easily can we rush to services without first having waited patiently upon Him and certainly without receiving the precious anointing before coming. It is almost hopeless if we have got into the habit of regularly arriving late, of calculating to a nicety exactly how long we can possibly stay in bed on Sunday morning and still get to church before the service has proceeded very far. God, who is a Master of time, is never rushed, and therefore if we value our souls let us covet this holy preparation of mind and heart and will.
It would be a great asset to our worship if we could all be present five minutes before the service begins. Then carefully and prayerfully prepare our hearts for worship and then as the hour strikes, close the doors, so that without disturbance of any kind we could all give our undivided attention and preoccupation to worship. And remember worship can never become too important! If we remembered that the Invisible realm with the King of Glory is ever seeking to enrich our spiritual susceptibilities and to communicate with us and enlarge our whole beings in the will of God, worship would be supreme in our hearts, and Sunday with its great opportunity for corporate worship would never be missed.
It may be helpful to indicate some of the priceless blessings of true worship.
First, worship is essential to the understanding of truth. Education is by way of lecture and information, but revelation is quite different. Nothing is ever revealed by God except to a worshipping heart. The worshipping spirit will be led to the Word of God and taught from it by the Holy Spirit in terms of revelation. The scientist as such cannot enter into the revelation of God; he may if he worships in spirit. The natural mind perceiveth not the things of God and even the religious mind, the understanding of the professing Christian, cannot enter into the truth of God except in a worshipping spirit. That means that every time the worshipper comes to the house of prayer without a worshipping spirit he will almost certainly miss the vital truth God has for him. A minister can never receive the truth of God for vital communication to his congregation except as he himself exercises a worshipping spirit in his study. Truth, vital truth, is given to the worshipping spirit.
Secondly, there is Intimacy. Knowing God is the whole business of life. " This is life eternal that they might know Thee the Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent." That intimacy is progressive as all intimacy is. God from a distance is even perhaps nebulous or One perfectly indifferent to all the little peccadilloes of a human life. On the other hand He may be some unrelenting judge. But if we really want to know Him and come in sincere worship to His feet, He will reveal Himself as our Redeemer in Jesus and then lead us on to know of resurrection life in Jesus, which may be eternal life in us. He will make us to know the priceless boon of the Indwelling Spirit. The same Spirit will then begin to unveil Jesus in heaven as the Firstborn by resurrection from the dead--the One Who imparts the Holy Spirit to the new creation, our Advocate with the Father and the One Who bids us share His throne even as He shares the Throne of the Father.
The modern idea is that to know God we must study Jesus historically as One walking the earth, but the revelation of the Spirit is of Jesus, not after the flesh, but living in heaven in the wonder of Omnipotence. It is surprising how very real the Spirit makes the Heavenly Jesus to be. However impossible all this may seem we may be sure that the true believer may enter into it all, and will do so as he or she waits patiently upon the Lord cultivating the worshipping habit day by day and coming in the worshipping spirit to the house of prayer.
Thirdly, worship is the secret of Integrity. A great need in Christians today is spiritual depth. It is so easy to be satisfied with religious superficiality and indeed that is our peril. So many fall away because there is no root in them. Some decide for Christ and then zeal and desire perish. Worship is the secret. From the day of your conversion make it your business to be most serious with God. Give Him the disciplined mind, the earnest heart, the spirit seeking Him for Himself, and He will surely give you Himself in return. Even in orthodox circles there is this need. Sometimes we know all about Christ dying for our sin and something concerning our being crucified with Christ. We may deplore the power of the old nature and be seeking to know and prove the power of the Holy Spirit, yet remain without victory, especially over besetting sin. It is not always easy to diagnose such cases but one explanation may be that we have no worshipping spirit and worship is the secret of stability. If we want to be stable Christians let us make worship our first concern. In it we shall be brought to spiritual depth, patience, deliverance from fretfulness, anxiety, fear, depression.Let us then wait upon the Lord. As in worship our spirits blend with His at the Mercy Seat our strength will be transfigured; heavenly things will become real and will bestow upon us their strength and assurance. The visible will have its measure of value, but the invisible will be opened up to the wondering eye of faith. Our innermost beings will be refreshed, renewed, maintained in creative power while beauty and truth will be vital in our natures and the Lord exceedingly precious. We shall be coming more and more into the likeness of the One who has redeemed us. Of all the privileges of life we shall covet most that "hour so sweet."
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