Worship Realities For A New Millennium
I had a vision of Africa. Perhaps some might prefer to call it an unusual, Holy Spirit-inspired mental picture, but regardless of how it might be defined, it has profoundly impacted my thinking about the role of worship in the transformation of nations and the ultimate completion of the Great Commission.
It happened just a few months ago, during March of this year, as our Every Home for Christ staff gathered around a field team going out to the Zambesi River region of Southern Africa. They were to participate in village-to-village home-to-home evangelism as well as survey results in the region from more than a decade's work. We had already heard of how entire villages of the area were turning to Jesus.
As hands were placed on the team, and just as I was about to pray, I suddenly felt as if I had been transported to a ridge somewhere in that very region of Africa, and I was looking out over a vast expanse of bush and jungle. As far as my eyes could see the smoke of village after village rose into the early morning sun.
At once I remembered the historic words of a sermon by missionary Robert Moffat from Africa, that he preached to the London Missionary Society in 1839. In the crowd was a young missionary candidate, David Livingstone, who would respond to that message, and go to the very region of Southern Africa where Moffat had established a mission. Livingstone would even eventually marry Robert Moffat's daughter, Mary.
The penetrating words of Moffat in that sermon in 1839 remain today as some of the most memorable in all the annals of missionary challenge. Moffat delcared: "I have sometimes seen, in the morning sun, the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary has ever been."
So, here it was March of the year 2000 as we laid hands on this team headed to the very region where Moffat and Livingstone had planted the first gospel seeds, there along the Zambezi.
And now, in this vision-encounter I could see smoke rising_not of a thousand villages, but what I imagined to be tens of thousands. As another staff member continued praying over the team, I quietly said, "Lord, are there still that many thousands of villages where no missionary has ever been?"
The reply came instantly, 'No, that is not what you are seeing. You are seeing the smoke of the incense of worship rising from village after village that have turned entirely to my Son, from every tribe and tongue and people in the region. What you are seeing is the fragrance of worship rising before my throne!"
You can imagine the joy that filled my heart. Was that day very far off? I wondered.
Instantly I realized this experience had a clear biblical basis and backing. Isaiah 11:9 tells us, "The earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (NIV). The New Living Translation uniquely translates this: "And as the waters cover the sea, so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord" (NLT).
I immediately recalled the powerful picture of heavenly worshippers in Revelation 5:8-10 as they sing a song of the redeemed who are purchased by the blood of the Lamb from "every tribe and language and people and nation" (NIV). These worshippers, interestingly, come before the Lamb holding "harps" (a symbol of worship) and "bowls" (containers filled with the prayers of the saints). It is clear in this passage that worship and intercession are vital to the ultimate global ingathering of the lost.
In that moment I became even more convinced of something that had been stirring my heart for many months, that worship-saturated intercession would be the key to the final great thrust of completing the Great Commission.
John Piper, a wise mission strategist and noted author, summed it up in one powerful statement in his excellent book Let the Nations be Glad. He wrote: "Missions exists today because worship doesn't. Missions is a temporary necessity but worship goes on forever. Therefore, worship is both fuel and the goal of missions."
In subsequent days following my unusual vision encounter, the Lord distilled in my heart what I saw as "Seven Great Commission Worship Realities." With each of these came a simple principle. I'll share just two of these in this brief segment, and the remainder a little later as we continue tonight's worship celebration.
1. The first worship reality is this WORSHIP ENTHRONES GOD. This reality is clearly foundational to all the others.
Let me state it in the form of a principle_bearing in mind that a principle is "truth that is a foundation to other truths." Our first principle is this:
Note Psalm 22:3 from a literal Hebrew translation:
This is to say, worship and praise bring the very throne of God's presence into all we do. John Piper is right. Worship is, indeed, both fuel and the goal of missions.
I especially like the literal Japanese translation of Psalm 22:3.
Notice how Psalm 9:11 ties the enthroning of God into proclaiming the Good News among the nations. We read: "Sing praises to the Lord, enthroned in Zion, proclaim among the nations what he has done" (Psalm 9:11, NIV).
2. Then, consider with me worship reality number two: WORSHIP ENCOUNTERS GOD.
Our second principle is this:
Notice the challenging words of Psalm 46:10 where we see an act of worship linked once again to fulfilling the Great Commission. In Psalm 46:10 God declares: "Be still [which is an act of worship] and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." To "be still" creates the climate "to know" and to know provides the conditions to encounter!
Proverbs 9:10 in the Living Bible has this paraphrase: "The fear and reverence of God are basic to all wisdom. Knowing God results in every kind of understanding."
The great Bible teacher and scholar A. W. Tozer wrote:
I am convinced that the degree to which we encounter God in all His fullness through our worship, will be the degree to which we will see God exalted in the nations.
So as we move tonight into the early hours of a new millennium, let us corporately and individually seek to "fervently" EHTHRONE GOD in all of our plans and strategies so that we might "passionately" ENCOUNTER GOD in all of His fullness and thereby see Him exalted among all peoples.
3. WORSHIP ENLARGES GOD (Repeat) Let me state that as a principle: "Worship provides an atmosphere to expand and increase our knowledge and understanding of God in all His fullness." (Repeat)
Note the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 34:3
When Mary, the mother of Jesus, heard from the Angel that she would give birth to the Messiah she sang this song: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior" (King James Version).
The word "magnify" means to enlarge something or make it bigger. Of course, we cannot make God bigger than He already is. But I like what A. W. Tozer says:
"You can't make God big. But you can see Him big!"
To expand and increase our knowledge and understanding of God is critical because it increases our faith to believe He will lead us to total victory in fulfilling the Great Commission. And that's something worth shouting about_PRAISE THE LORD!
4. Next on our list of worship realities_Number Four_is: WORSHIP ENJOYS GOD.
We could sum this up with the following principle:
How many here long for much more of the "delights and pleasures of God's presence?"
The psalmist said in Psalm 16:11 "In God's presence is the fullness of joy, at His right hand are pleasures for evermore" (King James Version)
Elsewhere in the Psalms (Psalm 65:4) we read King David's words: "What joy awaits those you choose to bring near, those who live in your holy courts; what joys await us in your holy temple" (Psalm 65:4, New Living Translation).
We recall the old Presbyterian catechism that suggests: "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever!"
Look again at this fourth principle: "Worship provides a place of entry into the delights and pleasures of God's presence." May our worship tonight provide us with a new zeal to find that place of entry and swiftly go through it.
5. WORSHIP ENLISTS GOD. This could be stated in the following principle:
"Worship provides our primary means to mobilize and release the resources of God into the needs of the nations." (Repeat)
Look again at that great hymnal of the Old Testament_The Psalms. Psalm 77:14 declares: "You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples." Worship clearly enlists all of God's power and resources into our needs and circumstances.
We see this in the powerful lesson of God's people under King Jehoshaphat in ancient times as recorded in II Chronicles 20:21-22: "After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord, and to praise Him . . . As they went out at the head of the army . . . (v. 22) As they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir . . . and they were defeated" (NIV).
Here we see how worship clearly enlists God in all His fullness and thus leads to total victory.
And that brings us to an especially interesting worship reality_worship reality number six:
6. WORSHIP EXCITES GOD. Let me enlarge that in a simple principle:
"Worship provides the only true position from which we might bring God pure pleasure."
What is it that we can offer God to truly bring Him joy or delight? Listen to this thought from Psalm 149:3-4 (New Living Translation): "Praise His Name with dancing, accompanied by tambourine and harp. For the Lord delights in His people; He crowns the humble with salvation."
Interestingly, this expression of praise in verses 3 and 4 is followed only a few verses later with a linkage to the nations. Verses 6 and 7 read: "Let the praises of God be in their mouths, and a sharp sword in their hands_to execute vengeance on the nations . . ."
Consider also Zephaniah 3:17 from the New Living Translation: "For the Lord your God has arrived to live among you. He is a mighty Savior. He will rejoice over you with great gladness. With His love He will calm all your fears. He will exult over you by singing a happy song."
Notice that last phrase again: "He will exult over you by singing a happy song."The New International Version includes this expression in verse 17: "He will take great delight in you!" (NIV) What we are doing here tonight truly brings God pure pleasure. And with that, we come to our final worship reality_worship reality number seven:
7. WORSHIP EXALTS GOD In a sense, all the other worship realities are summed up in this reality because all that worship is, truly exalts God.
Our final principle, stated in a single sentence, is this: "Worship provides the platform and power necessary to exalt God in the nations!" The psalmist emphasized this very powerfully in his declaration of Psalm 57:9-11 . . .
The role of worship in fulfilling the Great Commission is perhaps better summed up in Psalm 67 than any other single chapter in the Bible.
Notice in particular verses 1, 2, 5 and 7: "May God be gracious and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. (v. 5) May the peoples praise you, O God; May all the peoples praise you. (v. 7) God will bless us and all the ends of the earth will fear him."
The Living Bible paraphrases this last verse: "People from the remotest lands will worship Him!"
Can you imagine with me tonight this Psalm becoming a global reality? Can you picture the incense of tens upon tens of thousands of villages and towns, cities, barrios, neighborhoods_rising in awesome adoration of Almighty God!
May God, tonight, amplify these realities of worship in our hearts, not as we comprehend them intellectually, but as we practice and apply them passionately.
Worship enthrones God! It encounters God! It enlarges God, enjoys God, enlists God and excites God . . . But most of all . . . worship exalts God!
O, let everything that hath breath, praise the Lord. May our heart's passion be like that of the 16th century monk, Brother Lawrence, who said: "The thing we ought to purpose to ourselves in this life is to become the most perfect worshippers of God we can possibly be, as we hope to be through all eternity."
Come, let's practice up for eternity. Let's sustain God's praises over the nations tonight as we continue our worship.
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