How We’re Learning
by Liz Giertz
Our founding fathers established this country ensuring people would be free to worship as they saw fit. As a soldier, I swore an oath to defend the document guaranteeing that right. While on active duty I deployed to combat zones where enemies of our nation’s liberties hid in the shadows and threatened our way of life, our freedom to worship.
Yet, we use this word rather casually these days. We talk about getting our worship on at home or in our cars. Images of closed eyes and raised hands often accompany our thoughts of worship. We expect to feel the presence of God in our worship and wonder where He is when we don’t. We talk about how great worship was on Sunday afternoons.
But I didn’t grow up feeling the same way about worship that I do now.
Our tradition was rather stoic. If I’d so much as swayed to the music somebody would likely have passed out. Through the years, I’ve attended churches where I felt out of place for NOT reaching my hands heavenward in praise and ostracized for not being moved by the music. While in uniform, regulations caution us to remain rather buttoned up about our religious beliefs.
But fitting in out of fear is far from freedom.
So what does it really mean to be free to worship?
To answer that question we need to go back to the origins of worship. What I’ve learned is the answer goes well beyond whether or not we raise our hands or close our eyes or hit our knees on Sunday morning.
The very first time “worship” is mentioned in the Bible is in Genesis 22:3-10, where God instructs Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac upon an altar. It was with a willing yet likely grieving heart that Abraham laid down his treasured son on that altar in an act of worship and in humble obedience to what God had commanded. Then, at just the right moment, God provided a substitutionary sacrifice, a ram in the thicket, saving Abraham from spilling Isaac’s blood.
In the Old Testament, worship meant sacrifice. But when Jesus came, He fulfilled all the requirements of the Law for us. His crucifixion and death set us free from the requirement to bring a blood sacrifice. His resurrection and defeat of Satan set us free to worship Him with confidence with our whole hearts and our whole lives.
Too often we reduce worship to simple praise. The error of this is that praise implies not just admiration, but approval of someone or something or the expression of a favorable judgment. The real heart of worship is not our approval of God, but rather His approval and favor lavished upon us through Jesus. When we make worship about ourselves and our feelings and our opinions, we diminish the humble reverence God requires of His people. While praising God is right and good, worship is more.
Confining worship to something we do for an hour on Sunday morning is dangerous. Worship is the outward expression of the inward condition of our hearts. When our hearts are heavy with sin and condemnation or fear of comparison, we are unable to worship in spirit and truth.
But sometimes Satan binds us up in whispered lies, convincing us we are unworthy to worship our King. For far too long, I believed this nonsense. That my sins were too sinful and my life was fraught with too many failures for the holy God who hated sin to ever allow me to even fall prostrate at His feet in adoration. And that is far from freedom.
You see, that is the conundrum. Recognizing the depravity of our sin is both what Satan uses to hold us captive and precisely what we need to understand and appreciate our need for a Savior. It is precisely for that sinfulness that Jesus came to earth, fully God and fully man, and endured the shame of the cross and the entirety of God’s punishment for our sins, so that we could be free to worship Him because of what He has done for us.
True worship is less about what we do for God and more about what He has already done for us through his Son’s sacrifice. At Christmas, we are reminded that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The temptation is to do more for Jesus, to celebrate His birth in bigger and better ways. This seems right and good, but the true heart of worship looks forward to the crucifixion and resurrection that made a way for us to spend eternity in His presence.
That is how and why we are truly free to worship Him.
How to Be Free to Worship:
- Realize your own sin. This is the first step toward creating a posture of worship in your heart. Knowing you are a sinner should drive you to your knees. But don’t stop here.
- Remember Christ’s work on the cross. As soon as you remember your own sinfulness, call to mind Christ’s crucifixion that saves you. This is where you discover the reason to worship—this holy and perfect King of Kings died to have an eternal relationship with you.
- Rejoice in your restoration. You can’t help but rejoice when you realize the freedom God has given you through His Son. When that joy shines from within, your worship is true.
- Reject manmade expectations. Resist the urge to compare the way you worship with other people. God is infinitely creative and when you allow His Spirit to lead your worship, you can’t go wrong.
- Recognize opportunities to worship. Every area of your life is an opportunity to worship God or to revere someone or something else. If you catch yourself doing the latter, return to the realization of your sin and repent so you can rejoice in your freedom. This is a lifelong process.
The outward expression of worship flows naturally from a heart that recognizes its worth comes through a restored relationship with God. It is evidenced through a life of obedience to God, reverence for His holiness, gratitude for what He has done, gathering with fellow believers, and service to others in love.
Our worship of God is an opportunity to stop fitting in with the world and start standing out for our Savior so that others might discover His glory and experience the freedom only He makes possible.
We are free to worship because by sending Jesus to redeem us God has liberated us from the bondage of our sin, the shame it makes us feel, and the temptation to compare our expression of love for Him with others.
Verses to Ponder:
And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (2 Samuel 15:22 ESV)
And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their words and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” (Isaiah 29:13 ESV)
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of my salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:10-12 ESV)
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24 ESV)
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 ESV)
Lord, set me free with the knowledge that Your Son’s sacrifice makes me worthy to worship You. Then, by Your Holy Spirit, inspire me to worship You with all that I have and all that I am. Amen.