ILL: A Tacoma, Washington, newspaper carried the story of Tattoo the basset hound. Tattoo didn’t intend to go for an evening run, but when his owner shut the dog’s leash in the car door and took off for a drive with Tattoo still outside the vehicle, he had no choice.
A motorcycle cop noticed a passing vehicle with something dragging behind it: it was “the basset hound picking [up his feet] and putting them down as fast as he could.” He chased the car to a stop. Tattoo was rescued, but not before the dog had reached a speed of 20 to 25 miles per hour, rolling over several times.
Too many of us end up living like Tattoo, our days marked by picking them up and putting them down as fast as we can.
John Ortberg, LeadershipJournal.net (7-11-02)
It’s time to learn another way to live. It’s time to pause: pause so you can pray, rest, worship, think and love. Today, we’re going to talk about pausing to worship.
We live in a non-stop 24-7 world; most of us are “picking them up and putting them down” as fast as we can. It’s a 24-7 world, and in the midst of it, God calls us to pause. Pause to pray, pause to rest, and today, we’re talking about pause to worship. Let’s begin with a story from the book of Exodus.
Exodus 3:1–6 (ESV) Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Moses is a shepherd. He is tending his flock near a mountainside, doing his job, when he sees a bush on fire. That would be unusual, because bushes don’t just self-ignite; someone or something would have had to start the fire, but there was no one around—or so Moses thought. But even more unusual, the bush was on fire but not being consumed! The bush wasn’t burning up! It was like my gas fireplace: it burns and burns but those little logs don’t burn up! Every time we use our gas fireplace, I take off my shoes and just sit there watching the logs that burn but are not consumed!
So what does Moses do? He keeps moving—he’s at work; he’s got a job to do; he doesn’t have time to watch bushes burn! That’s what I might do, but it’s not what Moses does. He “turns aside to see.” I love that phrase. It’s why I used the English Standard Version instead of the NIV (which says “I will go over and see”). He turned aside—Moses paused. He turned aside from his work to look at a bush—and ran smack into God. When God saw that he turned aside to see—when God saw that Moses paused to look more closely—God spoke to him. “Take off your sandals; you are on holy ground.” Moses hid his face in fear. He was in the presence of Almighty God and was afraid.
I want to suggest that when we turn aside to see, when we pause to see what God is doing, to hear what God is saying, God will meet us and we’ll be on holy ground. It will be a worship moment. It might happen in your home, or on your job (like it did for Moses), or at your school, or in your car, or on a walk in your neighborhood.
ILL: Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:
“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries”
I think she’s right. I think bushes are burning all around us. I think God is always working and speaking and calling to us. But only those who see, take off their shoes and worship. Only those who turn aside—who pause—encounter God. The rest just hurry by.
So I want to talk with you about turning aside to see, pausing to worship the God who makes bushes burn, the God who makes winter storms and warm sunsets, the God who is both awesome and intimate, Almighty and Father.
We’re going to talk about turning aside in two very different ways, each important. We want to pause to worship with others each week, and to worship alone each day.
1. Pause to worship together each week.
Before we go any farther, let’s define worship. What do you think of when you hear the word, “worship”? Singing; what we do at church; liturgy. That is worship, but it is only part of worship, not all of it.
There are three primary words for worship in both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. The first word in both means “to bow down as a sign of respect and deference.” I looked up every occurrence of the word “worship” in the Bible, and by far, the most common verb associated with it was “to bow down” or “to fall down.”
Psalm 95:6 Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
Revelation 5:14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
Over 80 times in the Bible, when people worship, they bow down or fall down before God. This was the most common posture, and it is not surprising since the word “worship” means, “to bow down in respect”. It was the word used of showing respect to a sovereign, like a king, and it was very common in Biblical times. Bowing down is not so common today. I can’t get my wife or kids to bow down when I walk in the front door. In fact, in our culture, we might this kind of gesture offensive. “What are you doing?” But it was common in Biblical times; people bowed down, knelt down to show respect.
What posture do we use to show respect? We stand.
When the President of the US walks into a room, what does everyone do? They stand. It’s a gesture of respect.
When a lady or an older person walks into a room, what does a gentleman do? He stands. It’s a gesture of respect.
When someone does something really well, we don’t just give him an ovation; we give him a standing ovation. It’s a gesture of respect.
This is why when we worship God with singing, we stand. It’s a gesture of respect.
So the first word for worship means “to bow down in respect”. It means that we show our respect, our deference to God. We acknowledge that He is greater than us.
The second word means, “to serve.” A superior was to be served by his subordinates. A king was to be served by his subjects. To worship God is to serve Him, to do what He asks, what He wants. There were lots of verses that combined the words “worship” and “serve”.
Daniel 3:28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.
Romans 1:25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
To serve God is to worship Him. Understood this way, worship cannot be confined to church; it is a lifestyle. It is something we do all week long as we seek to do God’s will.
The third word means, “to fear or reverence”. This is similar to the first word, but here’s the difference. The first word emphasized the physical posture of respect; this word emphasizes the feeling or thought of respect or fear or reverence. This is what Moses felt when God spoke out of the burning bush. (Catch your breath.) This is what the disciples felt when Jesus calmed the storm. (Catch your breath.) “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey Him!” They realized, “we’re in the presence of a holy God, someone utterly different than us.”
Our English word “worship” comes from the old English word “worthship”. To worship was to ascribe worth, value to someone. To worship God is to recognize that He is worthy of your reverence, respect, awe and even fear.
I said earlier that we worship the God who is both awesome and intimate, Almighty and Father. We are always leaning one way or the other on this continuum, so it is easy to lean too far. On the one hand, God is our Father who invites us into an intimate relationship; if we’re not careful we can turn God into our buddy. “Hey God.” On the other hand, God is awesome, holy and almighty, who deserves our reverence; if we’re not careful we can hold him at arms’ length and make our relationship a fearful formality. Somehow we have to hold these in tension; we worship a God who is both immanent and transcendent, almighty and Father.
So this is worship: to bow down in respect, to serve, to fear or reverence. It is a lifestyle more than an event.
Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship.
This is true worship: to offer your whole life to God as a living sacrifice. In the Old Testament, sacrifices were killed on the altar. To be a living sacrifice means that we offer our lives to God. The trouble with living sacrifices is they keep crawling off the altar. All of my life is to be an offering of worship to God, but I get distracted so easily. I regularly crawl off the altar and need to be re-offered. I need to be recalibrated, refocused. And this is why God asks us to pause regularly for worship.
We talked last Sunday about the Sabbath, a weekly day of rest, that we learn to live with the unforced rhythms of grace: rest, then work, then rest. We’re going to look at the Sabbath again because we are not only to rest on the Sabbath, we are also to worship.
Leviticus 23:3 There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the Lord.
Notice two things. First, it is a “Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly.” They were to do two things: rest, and have a sacred assembly, that is, meet together for worship. God built into the Jewish community this sacred rhythm: every seven days, they paused to rest and worship together. Every seven days they gathered as a community to worship God. Second, it is “a Sabbath to the Lord.” If you look at the other Sabbath scriptures, you’ll notice that they say it is a day that is “holy to the Lord”. It is a day set aside for God. It is the Lord’s Day. This doesn’t mean that the other six days are not God’s days too—every day belongs to God. But by setting one day aside for God, to rest and worship together, it reminds us that the other six are His too. It recalibrates us.
ILL: I have this really cool backpacking watch. It does everything: it’s an altimeter and barometer, it’s a compass, a stopwatch, alarm…it even tells time. When you change the battery, the compass has to be recalibrated. I have to push some buttons, and then slowly turn a 360-degree circle. Then the compass can find true north again.
I’m like my watch. I need regular recalibration to keep on true north. When I worship each Sunday, it’s like turning that circle and coming up with true north again. I’m refocused on God. I offer myself as a living sacrifice again.
We set aside one day in seven to rest and worship together, to remember, recalibrate and refocus on God, to offer ourselves to God. This was what the practice of the Jewish community, and it was Jesus’ habit as well
Luke 4:16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read.
What was Jesus’ custom? He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. Every seven days, Jesus paused to worship in community. The early Christian community adopted this practice from their Jewish ancestors, and began meeting for worship every Sunday. They chose Sunday because it was the day of Christ’s resurrection. From the very beginning, Christians began gathering together every Sunday to worship in community. And here we are 2000 years later doing what hundreds of millions of Christians around us and before us have done. There is strength in community that we don’t have alone.
Hebrews 10:25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Evidently, some Christians then were dropping out of church; they were giving up on meeting together. The author of Hebrews encourages them not to do that: “don’t give up meeting together…but encourage one another.”
I can understand why some people give up on church. Churches are full of people, and people can be a pain in the…neck—starting with me. How many of you have ever been hurt by a church? How many have left a church because it became toxic or unhealthy? The church is a mess; and it is the Bride of Christ. It is a glorious mess! You all know what Jesus said: “Where two or three come together in my name, there is trouble.” Ok, that’s what I say. Jesus said, “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” I think both are true. When we meet to worship, Jesus is here. And we’ll have trouble. It’s a glorious mess. But knowing that, the Bible still says, “Don’t give up meeting together.” It may be a mess, but we need this glorious mess, this rhythm of grace, meeting every 7 days to worship God. And in spite of the mess, Jesus shows up, and works among us. In fact, He works through the mess!
We need each other. Coming to church every week won’t guarantee that you’ll be a strong Christian; but giving up on church guarantees that you won’t be. I see this all the time. People stop coming, and start cooling. Their love for God and the active practice of their faith slowly cools, and sometimes dies altogether. I don’t know anyone who maintains his spiritual fervor alone. Please: don’t give up on meeting together. We need each other. That is why God commanded this weekly rhythm: every seven days, pause to worship together. Offer yourself to God.
I consider this practice of weekly worship the irreducible minimum. You can’t do less than this and stay on fire. You can do more than this and grow even faster. That is why we encourage you to be in a Life Group. Life Groups are small groups of people who band together for friendship, spiritual growth and service. We move from the crowd to an intimate group of friends where we talk honestly about our faith and our lives, and we encourage and spur each other on. If you are not in a group, we are having Life Group signups the first two weekends in February—plan on getting in a group!
First, pause to worship together each week. Offer yourself to God as a living sacrifice; crawl back up on the altar.
2. Pause to worship alone each day.
When you’ve paused each week to worship together, you are more likely to pause each day to worship alone. Worship each day starts with our PBJ time; it is part of our daily time with God. We open ourselves to God, we offer our lives to God, we love Him, we listen to Him. And when we start our day this way, we are more likely to live our day this way: open to God and offering our lives to Him.
ILL: Some of creative geniuses in Alive, our college ministry, put together a video this week to encourage all the students to practice PBJ all day. Take a look. Video.
PBJ all day! I want to be part of Alive. You guys are so cool…
We start the day open to God, listening to Jesus, doing what He says; then we live the whole day that way. It’s worship. It’s offering your life to God as a living sacrifice.
And all during the day, we can find moments to pause, to express our love to God, and offer our lives to Him. Let me give you some examples.
Pause to thank God. How many times do you think of something for which you are grateful, but don’t pause to simply say thanks to God? Every time you feel a little gratitude, pause to thank God.
ILL: We had a lot of thank you moments this week. Last Sunday morning, Laina’s dad, Pastor Noel, age 82, had a small stroke. He didn’t tell us about it because he wanted to teach his two Sunday morning classes. But members of his classes told us, and when we asked him later that day, he owned up. So we took him in Monday morning; he was admitted to the hospital and docs did a cat scan. The doc told us that a small stroke like this can be trembler before the earthquake. Sure enough, the scan showed that the carotid artery on the right side of his neck was over 90% blocked. The opening was the size of a toothpick; in the words of the doctor, he was getting a “whiff of blood” to his brain. That was the earthquake waiting to happen. Noel had surgery to remove the blockage and recovering well. I can hardly wait to see how frisky he’s going to be with all that blood in his brain!
Needless to say, we thanked God repeatedly during this process.
Let’s pause to thank God. What are you thankful for? Thank God right now.
Pause to offer yourself to God. In the first message in this series, “Pause to pray”, I talked about pausing all during the day to pray, about living open to God all day long. At each change of circumstance, pausing just to breath, “God you are here and I am open to You right now.” That’s what I’m trying to do. As I get in my car to go to work, I open myself to God. As I walk into the office, I offer myself to God. As I meet with someone, I open myself to God. As I answer emails, I offer myself to God. I use each new opportunity to open myself and offer myself to God.
This is worship—that we offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices. We do it over and over, not just once in our lifetime, or once a week or even once a day. Over and over…why? I crawl off the altar. I wander. A lot. It is hard to do because I get swept up the current of the day. But the more I do it, the more natural it becomes. Even if you did it a few times each day—just paused and offered yourself to God as a living sacrifice—what might happen? We suddenly become aware of His presence and His desire to love us and work in our lives.
Let’s pause and offer ourselves to God. “I am Yours. I belong to You. You are my God, my Lord.”
Pause to tell God you love Him. Some mornings, I rush out of the house in a hurry to get to work, and Laina will stop me. “Hug and kiss,” she’ll say. So I pause, I hug her and kiss her and tell her that I lover her, and then I’m off.
ILL: Zig Ziglar cites statistics from a West German insurance company indicating that men who kiss their wives good-bye each day live 5.6 years longer than the men who neglect to include “this pleasant little interlude” in their daily lives. “Not only that,” adds Ziglar, “these men earn from 20-30% more money than do the men who leave home under their own power.” Top Performance, pg. 277
Live long and prosper!
Whenever I see my kids or my wife, or talk to them on the phone, I always tell them, “I love you.” I’ll bet lots of you do the same. We can do that with God too. When God comes to mind during the day, pause and say, “I love you.”
Let’s pause and do that right now.
Pause to wonder. Let’s go back to where we started, back to the burning bush—aren’t you glad Moses paused to wonder? The world is full of burning bushes, but most people hurry by and never pause to wonder. We see wonders every day and don’t even notice. Listen to this psalm by David and watch and wonder:
Psalm 8 (Sunset) Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. 2 (Kids) Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. 3 (Moon) When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, (boy at night) human beings that you care for them? 5 You have made them a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned them with glory and honor. 6 You made them rulers over (Earth) the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: 7 (Sheep) all flocks and herds, and (Lion) the animals of the wild, 8 (Eagle) the birds in the sky, and (Whale) the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. 9 (Sunset) Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Let’s pause to wonder…and adore Him.
Perhaps nothing should cause more wonder than the love of God expressed in Christ. We are going to do what Christians have been doing for almost 2000 years when they gather to worship: we are going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. On the last night of His life, Jesus took the bread and said, “This is my body, broken for you; do this in remembrance of me.” He took the cup and said, “This is my blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins; do this in remembrance of me.” Why would a good man, a sinless man, the Son of God die in my place? This is love…and this is the greatest wonder of all.