Was That Worship?

I once had a co-worker who loved just about everything Disney. He put a sticker on his car, and would proudly wear Disney hats and shirts. He was one of the managers at the store where I was working, and I remember one day when everything was going wrong he said to me “when this day is over I am going home, and I’m going to watch an old Disney movie.” When I pressed him a bit as to why he chose to watch an old Disney movie as opposed to anything else, he said, “Disney things just bring me back to when I was a kid.” Ultimately there was a sense of nostalgia from all the memories of growing up, and these things moved his affections in a way that made him feel a bit better after a hard day.

On another note, music has a way of doing the same type of things for us. I can remember in high school and college, and it even happens now occasionally, when I would be listening to secular radio, and that new song that I had been waiting to hear would come on. Immediately, I would turn up the volume, and I would be energized by what I was hearing. I would sing along with all the passion I could muster; sometimes to questionable lyrics.

There is nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia and being energized or moved by some piece of music, provided the context is not sinful, but when you put these things together with a Christian worship service, or program, we must be careful to discern our affections. I bring this up because sometimes we can be misled to think that we have had a time of worship, or that we have heard a great sermon, on the sole basis that our affections had been moved.

We must pay close attention to what is stirring our hearts to discern whether or not it is worship or even spiritual. When the worship leader plays the first chords of our favorite praise song, are we being energized much like the natural man who hears a secular song that causes him to turn up the radio, or are we truly worshipping? When grandma’s favorite hymn starts to play and causes us to experience a time of peace and contentment while thinking back to when she used to sing it to us as a child, do we sometimes confuse that with worship?

Now I am not saying we should only sing dull songs or songs that don’t remind us of anything, or that it is impossible to be genuinely worshipping during these times. In fact, I think it can be good to remember our family worship from when we were growing up, and I also believe it is good that we still have people today writing new psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs for us to sing today that gets us excited. What I want to stress is that merely because we have these moments, does not mean we are worshipping or that we have been moved in adoration of God. Charles Spurgeon once said that if he wanted to, he could move congregations to tears by telling them sad stories of mothers with sick children or energize them by telling them stories of men and women who accomplished great things. He then went on to say, it would be a waste of time unless they were moved to cry over their sin and take joy in Christ and the cross. In other words, were their hearts and attention drawn to God.

Even the natural man’s affections can be moved in powerful ways, but those affections will never be worship unless we are moved by the truth of scripture as the Holy Spirit points us to Christ and what He has done for us. Whether we attend a modern or traditional worship service is not the biggest issue, but we must be sure to seek out worship and preaching that convicts us of sin and shows us the remedy in Christ, which is the foundation of all true worship.

-D. Eaton-

Four Ways Incense Typifies Prayer

Old Covenant Altar of Incense
May my prayer be set before you like incense. – Psalm 141:2

All throughout the Old Testament we see incense playing an important role in the way God prescribed that the people should worship Him.  There was even an altar of incense in the Holy Place.  As we look at this, it is important to remember the ceremonies of the old covenant were pictures and shadows of what Christ would accomplish in His atoning work on the cross, and incense is part of that picture. Ultimately, incense is a picture of the sacrifice of Christ which is the sweet aroma that goes before the Father on our behalf, but in another sense, incense also typifies prayer.

John Owen in his commentary on Hebrews lays out four ways incense is like prayer.

1. Incense was beaten and pounded before it was used.  Likewise acceptable prayer proceeds from a broken and contrite heart. 

Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  Elsewhere we are told that God “resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  In order for our prayers to be as incense we must be broken enough to be aware that we are poor in spirit, knowing that our sinfulness has separated us from God, and that only through Christ our mediator do we have peace with Him.  If we approach God in any other way we are like the tax collector leaning on our own righteousness, and he went away unjustified.

2. Incense rises toward heaven, and the point of prayer is that it ascends to the throne of God.

One of the major points made in the book of Hebrews is that Christ is exalted and sitting at the right hand of the Father.   Yet we are encouraged to approach the Throne of Grace with confidence.  When we pray, we are doing that very thing.  We are bringing our praises and petitions to the throne of God.  In doing this we need to remember three things.  First, we are approaching a throne, and we need to approach it with reverence and not flippancy.  Second, we need to remember that it is a throne of grace in the sense that we have no merit there.  We make our petitions without making demands.  Third, we need to remember that it is a throne of grace in a different sense.  Though we have no merit there, we still find favor because of the merit of Christ and His righteousness.  So for our prayers to be as incense, we need to be aware of the great heights they are reaching when we commune with the exalted Christ.

3.  Incense requires fire for it to be useful, and prayer has no virtue unless is set on fire by the power of the Holy Spirit.

By this we are not referring to some mystical experience.  The very fact that a believer desires to go to the Lord in prayer is the work of the Holy Spirit.  The natural man desires to be independent and self-sufficient.  Prayer is not his natural disposition.  Most prayer will never take place apart from the Spirit’s work.  The only prayer that would take place without Him would be prayer that is not in accord with the Word of God: for example, prayers to false gods, and ritualistic prayers by those who believe they will be heard because of mere formality.  We must pray in accordance with the Word of God.  When this happens it is because the Spirit is moving.

4.   Incense yields a sweet aroma, and our prayers are a sweet aroma to the Lord.  

This seems to be at the heart of the cry of the Psalmist.  “May my prayer be as incense,” means, may it be a sweet aroma to you.  In Revelation 8:4 we see that the smoke of incense rose with the prayers of the saints.  This seems to signify that there is a sweet fragrance associated with our prayers, and the sweet fragrance is due to the fact that we approach the Lord in Christ’s name.  This teaches us that our prayers are pleasing to the Lord, and the very fact that we can bring pleasure to God is something that should cause us to drop to our knees with joy.

As you spend time with the Lord in prayer this week, may you approach him with a broken and contrite heart, may you be reverent and hopeful as you understand the exalted nature of the One with whom you commune, may your prayers be set on set on fire by the Holy Spirit, and may you approach Him with joy knowing that your prayers bring him pleasure.  In so doing, your prayers will be as incense before the Lord.

D. Eaton