September 22, 2013

Lifting Hands

Passage: Mark 12:28-34
Service Type:

I want to begin this morning by playing a little word association game with you. I’m going to say a word and then I want you to say the first word that comes to your mind. Are you ready? What is the first word that comes to your mind when I say “worship”?

All of these are good answers. You may think of prayer. You may think of singing. You may think of ritual or communion or going to church, something you do in church. But while worship may include all of those things, worship is far, far more than all those things.

What does a person look like when they worship? Have you ever thought about that? Whenever worship is portrayed in the media, they always have the exact same picture of somebody worshipping. It is this – [Pose] Okay? A person is pictured arms raised and hands lifted. Now, that may be one legitimate form in millions of different ways. But worship is far more than – [Pose].

Last week we talked about the fact that as God’s people, the church, we are made to be in relationship with one another. We talked about the importance of joining hands in fellowship and unity in order to enable us to accomplish God’s plans. This week as we continue our series God’s Plans, Our Hands we’re looking at another relationship; and even deeper and more important relationship, our relationship with God Himself. I want to talk to you about how we are called to use our hands as an instrument of worship to God.

One day Jesus was walking down the street and one of the Scribes, teachers of the law came up and said, “Lord, what’s the most important command of all?” Jesus says, “Okay, I’m going to give it to you. This is the most important thing.” We find this in our Scripture lesson for this morning in Mark 12. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. ’This is the first and greatest commandment.” Notice what he said: “first” and “greatest.” God says if you don’t get anything else, here’s what you’re supposed to do in life: you’re supposed to learn to love Me back, because I made you to love you. And I want you love me back.

Now, there’s a word for this. It is that word “worship.” Worship is knowing and loving God back. There’s a lot of ways to worship God.

We’re going to look at them today. We’re going to look at what it really means to worship. Now, another verse that defines worship, - Romans 12, verse 1. Listen closely. “Because of God’s great mercy to us… offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to His service and pleasing to Him. This is the true worship that you should offer.” Now, I want you to remember three words in this verse -- the word “because,” the word “offer,” and the word “offer.” Because this is what worship is all about.

Let me point out two things. First, worship is my response to God’s love. Worship is just the way I react, I respond, to God when He loves me. “Because of God’s great mercy,” He gives his love to us, then we worship Him back. God takes the initiative. God always makes the first move. He creates us. He saves us. He forgives us. He blesses us. He protects us. All these things and then because of all these things, we worship. And notice what we do - we “offer.” That word describes worship.

So the second thing is giving back to God. Worship is giving back to God. He gives to us, and we give back to Him. And whenever you give back to God, whenever you offer anything to God, that’s called worship. And that brings pleasure to God. It brings enjoyment to God. Now, the question is, when it says, “offer” – What am I supposed to offer? What do you give a God who’s got everything? I mean, He made the world. He made you. He made the universe. What do you give Him? I’ll tell you what you give Him…you give Him your love. And He’s very specific about how to give it. In our scripture text from Mark chapter 12 He says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” Now in this verse I want to point out that God wants me to love Him three ways:

First, God wants me to love Him thoughtfully. “Love Him with your mind.” Second, God wants me to love him passionately. He says, “With all your heart and all your soul.” And Third, He says, I want you to love me practically. “Love Me with all your strength”, with your abilities, with your hands. You see, the truth is that even though God created the entire world and the universe and He created you, there are three things God does not have unless you give them to Him. He doesn’t have your attention unless you give it to Him. He doesn’t have your affection, unless you give it to Him. And God doesn’t have your ability, your hands, unless you give them to Him. And whenever you take what God has given you and you give it back to God, that, friends, is the heart of worship.

So let’s look at each one of those individually for a moment.

Number one, worship is focusing my attention on God. It is focusing my mind, my thoughts, and my attention on God. You know, in a lot of religions, the idea of worship is to put your mind into neutral, sort of lose your mind to the universe. But the truth is, God wants us to worship Him thoughtfully. And that takes energy. It takes getting our mind focused on God. Not just going through the motions, but really, really thinking about it. Which isn’t always easy to do.

Have you ever prayed on autopilot? You know what I mean? You pray before a meal, you pray— blah, blah, blah -- Amen? And if somebody asked you what you just prayed, you’d have no idea. You just prayed on autopilot. Do you ever zone out in church, not when I’m speaking, but sometimes, do you zone out in church? It takes energy and attention to focus on God.

You know why God wants your focus? God wants your focus because He is focused on you. Look at what the Bible has to say to us in Psalm 139 verses 1 through 3. “You have looked deep into my heart, Lord, and You know all about me. You know when I am resting or when I am working. You notice everything I do and everywhere I go.” God has focused his attention on you. Did you know that? That God pays constant attention to you, that He never takes His eyes off of you. He never stops thinking about you. The reason is He made you is to love you. He made you to give you this attention. And the greatest expression of love is often that attention. Sometimes guys will ask me, you know, “my wife, my kids, they say I don’t love them. But I do things for them. I work every day for them, why don’t they feel loved by me?” You know why, don’t you? Because they want your attention. Attention is an incredible expression of love. And God puts His attention constantly on us.

But even greater than that, the Bible tells us, God’s love for us is eternal. He is always focused on us, and He wants to teach us to focus our heart and our attention on Him. And that’s difficult sometimes. It is difficult to focus on God. Honestly, the easiest thing to do in life for us as human beings is to lose our focus. We’re not like one of those auto-focus cameras that you might have, you point it at something and it focuses. We have to decide to focus. We have to choose to focus on things.

Now, how do you do that? Well, first of all, you can start doing that by just establishing a daily time with God. Just a few minutes during the day. I don’t care when you do it – but establish a time where you decide, “I’m going to stop everything else and just be with God. To talk to Him, read His Word.” You can worship God anywhere. You just find a place -- your car on the way to work, someplace in your backyard, a corner of your living room where you can focus on God. And you don’t need ceremony, no fancy words. You’re just there with Him, talking to Him, honestly.

There’s a second thing that you can do to focus on God, and that is develop a constant conversation with God. The Bible tells us in Psalm 105, verse 4, “Worship him continually.” In other words, just think about Him throughout the day. Again you have to decide to do that. I know people do that in a lot of different ways. I know a guy who sets his watch to go off every 30 minutes so when it beeps, it reminds him to think about God, maybe to pray for the person he’s talking to. There are countless ways to do this. Whatever you do, develop this constant conversation throughout the day.

And as you do this, as we do this, focusing on God has incredible benefits in our lives. Isaiah 26:3 tells us, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on You!” When you focus on yourself, the inevitable result are thoughts of worry, insecurity, anxiety, guilt, fear, discouragement. But when that focus shifts from me to God, from you to God, all of a sudden, you begin to sense gratitude and hope and confidence and love.

Now, not only is worship focusing my attention on God, it’s also expressing my affection to God. This is loving God with your heart and soul. And again for some of you, this is kind of difficult because you grew up in families that weren’t real affectionate, weren’t real expressive, and didn’t say I love you a lot. Maybe you’re kind of the silent type. It’s not real easy for you to express affection to God without feeling weird or kind of kooky about it. You’re going to have to learn how to grow, how to develop, how to say, “I love you God”. Do you remember the first time you ever said I love you to somebody? Probably scared you to death. You had sweaty palms, stomach was in a knot. You were all nervous wondering, are they going to accept it or are they going to reject it; worried, are they going to say it back to me? Do you remember? It’s risky to say, “I love you.” But the neat thing about God is He’s taken away the risk. How? God said it first to you.

You know, in many religions, God is this angry tyrant, and you have to appease God and you have to avoid God and have you to kind of run from God, and you have to be afraid of God. But that’s not the real God. The Bible says God wants to be loved. Have you ever said, “I love you” to God? God wants that from you. Notice this next verse. God is talking here in Hosea 6, God says, “I don’t want your sacrifices -- I want your love! I don’t want your offerings -- I want you to know me!”

Did you hear that? The most important thing you can know in life is that God loves you. And the most important thing you can do in life is to love Him back. So when you get up every morning before you get out of bed, sit on the edge of your bed and say something like this little prayer. “God, if I don’t get anything else done today, at the end of this day, I want to know You a little bit better and I want to love You a little bit more.” Because if you do that, at the end of your day, no matter how bad the day has gone, and no matter how many plans fell apart – if at the end of the day, you know God a little bit better and you love Him a little bit more, that day was a success.

On the other hand, I don’t care what you get done in a day, and if you check 24 things off your to-do list and you accomplish great feats and you achieve amazing goals in your life; if at the end of the day you don’t know God a little bit better and you don’t love Him a little bit more, that day, my friend, was wasted. It’s a failure because you weren’t put here on earth to check things off your to-do list. The first reason God put you on earth is to get to know Him and to love Him back. And you do it by focusing your attention and by expressing your affection to God.

So how can I express my affection to God? Well, if you have never done it before, let me tell you how to get started. Start by just saying “thanks.” Just start by saying “thank you.” Start looking around at everything and start thanking God. “God, thank you for a beautiful sky today.” “God, thank you for green trees.” “Thank you for clean air.” “Thank you that I’m still breathing.” “Thank you that I live in America and I have freedom.” “Thank you that I had something to eat.” You could go on and on. Everything you look at is here because of God. Everything you look at is a gift from God. So you just start by being thankful.

Worship is always a response. When you understand how much He loves you, loved you enough to even come to earth and die on a cross for you, then you say “Okay, God, I surrender myself to You. Here I am.”

Now, worship is focusing my attention on God. It is expressing my affection to God, and thirdly it is using my abilities for God. This is loving God with all your strength. You see, God wants us to see Him with our minds. He wants us to sense Him with our heart and soul. And he wants us to serve Him with our hands; with our strength.

I have been married long enough to know that it takes more than just words and kisses to express affection. Yes, my wife likes me to tell her, “I love you, Robin.” And I try to tell her that every day. And she likes me to kiss her and express affection physically. But there’s another kind of love that you need, too, to back it up. That’s practical expressions of love. Sometimes there are chores to be done. Sometimes there are things that need to be fixed. Sometimes there are errands to be run. Sometimes there are responsibilities to be shared. And that’s the practical thing where I use my hands, my abilities to show, this is not just words, I really do love you and I show it by my action in practical ways – fixing, helping, serving, sharing, those kinds of things. And that’s part of worship, too.

Listen to this verse, Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for people.” Now, if you get this verse, it will absolutely revolutionize your life. You’ll never be the same once you understand this verse. Notice it again. “Whatever you do” – that means anything – “work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for people.” You see, you don’t have to join a monastery to worship more. It is not about that. You just change who you’re working for. And when you change who you’re working for, your work becomes worship.

You see, many of you compartmentalize your life saying, “Okay, here’s my worship. I go to church once a week. Maybe I go to a Sunday school class or a Bible study group once a week, and maybe I have a daily time where I’m reading a little bit every day about God and trying to learn from Him, and that’s my worship. And then over here, I’ve got my career and then over here I’ve got my social life.” No, no. God says I want you to invite me into every area of your life.

Now, if you don’t get anything else I’ve said today, I want you to get this one truth, because it will revolutionize your life. In life it’s not WHAT you do that matters; it is WHO you do it for. You give it all to God. And all of your work can be turned to worship. I don’t care if you’re a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker. You can do it for God. It really doesn’t matter what you do. It’s Who you do it for. God wants to know, “Are you doing it for Me?” And that turns work into worship, and then you’re worshipping God 24 hours a day. Not just in church. God doesn’t want worship to just be a church thing. He wants it to be your whole life.

So, folks, this is where the rubber meets the road. Real Christian living doesn’t happen in a church. It doesn’t even happen in a small group. It doesn’t even happen in your personal time of quiet time with God every day, of prayer and reading the Bible. It happens in the ordinary, routine, mundane, things of real everyday life. Everything can be turned into an act of worship.

The truth is everybody worships something. You were wired to worship by God. You couldn’t stop worshipping if you had to, because it is part of being a human. Everybody worships something. If you don’t worship God, believe me, you’re going to find a substitute real quick, even if it is just yourself.

So let me ask you, what are you worshipping? I’ll tell you what it is. It is whatever you’re giving your primary attention to, whatever you’re giving your primary affection to, and whatever you’re giving your primary abilities to. Now, in that case, some of you worship your career, and you’re living for that job. Some of you are worshipping making money or you’re worshipping retirement. Some of you are worshipping pleasure; some of you are worshipping entertainment. Some of you are worshipping another person who so dominates your life -- your total attention, affection and ability goes to that person.

Now, let me remind you of something, the greatest temptation of your life and the worst sin you could possibly commit is the temptation to worship something other than God. You say, “That’s not my problem.” Oh, yeah it is. It’s my problem, too. It’s the number one problem in life, because it is the root behind every other one of your problems. Whenever you love something more than God, you’re going to have chaos, conflict, stress and problems in your life. Always. When I love comfort more than doing the right thing, I always get into trouble. When I love protecting my ego more than God and humility, I’m going to go down the wrong path. When I love my reputation, when I love money, when I love pleasure, when I love anything more than God, it creates all kinds of havoc in my life.

We know it is the greatest temptation because it’s the one Satan pulled on Jesus. If he had had a bigger tool, believe me, he would have used it. He said, “Why don’t you worship something else?” The biggest temptation in life is always going to be to worship something else other than God, to give your attention, your affection and ability to something other than the Creator who made you.

Now, the amazing thing is this: if we focus our attention and we express our affection and we use our abilities for the one who made us, God says, “I’ll take care of everything else. You don’t have to worry about it. I will take care of it all.” The Bible says in Psalm 37, “God pays attention and God delights in every detail of our lives.” Every detail.

Every one of you who are believers, I’m sure, could share stories of little examples of how God cared about the details in your life, in the smallest needs. That kind of God – He is worthy of our worship. When you understand how passionate He is about you, how much He loves you, how much He cares about every detail; you can’t help but love God.

You were made to know and love God. So I challenge you to make as the No 1 goal of your life before everything else, getting to know and love God, because that brings Him pleasure.