5/9/2021「Thematic Message133」 www.lifechurchmissions.com
How to Prepare Our Hearts for Corporate Worship <Ex 19: 9 – 19> <He 4:15 -16>
Prelude: One of the spiritual problems that we believers often fall into is that it is easy to lose our spiritual heart in spiritual rituals. In particular, when God has set weekly corporate worship for all the saints, many believers attend Sunday worship in church as a routine, and after that, leave as usual. But their hearts do not practically meet God. After going through such a motion in worship for a long time, we may gradually feel that there is nothing new. Or when we return from church to our respective fields, it seems that every day at home and at work is very much the same and ordinary, and we gradually lose the heart of godliness and anticipation toward corporate worship. In fact, many believers do not realize that their weekly worship is such an important matter. When God exhorted the Israelites to worship Him on Mount Sinai, God told Moses, "I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you. Sometimes when we regard worship as a weekly routine, we hence place less and less value to it. Sometimes, if we are not late, then we will attend worship without preparing our hearts. In fact, a person who does not value worship cannot hear the voice of God. He and his family will surely walk their own ways after worship. Their weakness does not start elsewhere, but it starts when they treat corporate worship with contempt. Therefore, it is very important for us saints to prepare our hearts before stepping into the sanctuary to worship the Lord every Sunday. In the Old Testament, God truly held this matter in high regard. In <Ex 19>, God told the people of Israel at Mount Sinai to come to Him (or draw close before Him). In this, God also defined the boundaries so that they could not get too close to the mountain. Then, God asked them to consecrate themselves for two days, told them to wash their clothes, and even told them to abstain from sexual relations. Then, on the third day, God descended to the top of Mount Sinai before the people and spoke to them through Moses. Think about it, coming before God to meet Him is such a lavish ceremony. This proves how important the preparation of believers’ heart before worship is. It is not just another session of worship, and neither is it done ritualistically but it is the moment to meet God. When our worship is set to start at 1030, there is a piano prelude before the start of the worship. The lights are slightly dimmed to allow everyone to quiet down and prepare their hearts to worship the Lord. Sometimes, we see that some believers are often late for worship, if not, they are in a groggy state, as though they did not sleep well the night before. They may have arranged too many activities on Saturday night, or they may have been burdened with many thoughts and worries in life throughout the entire week. They did not guard their hearts as they approach the coming Sunday worship. In fact, if I tell the congregation that God will come before us in three days and so we should all consecrate ourselves and wash our clothes to meet the Lord, we would all be willing to do so. The problem is that the coming of our Lord among us today is invisible and intangible, so we take corporate worship for granted, or even place little value on it. As a result, our hearts become increasingly unable to see and hear the Lord coming among us and speaking to us. Over time, we find that our worship does not bear fruit, but instead bring about our own fatigue. Therefore, in the age of the Holy Spirit, one of the dangers we saints face is to fall into formalism in an instant. God wants us to act in the flesh, but do so by faith. Therefore, although we are living in the New Testament, we must go back to understand the command God gave His people in the Old Testament to arouse our hearts with fear and trembling.
1. The Holy God demands a clean and wholehearted worship
1) God’s people have to spend time to consecrate themselves
When God demands His people to consecrate themselves, it is not a kind of mindset only. God had vividly instructed a few matters concerning consecration, and His people had to obey and carry them out. Among God’s instructions, God first demanded His people to use two days to consecrate themselves. From here, it can be inferred that God was not asking for a hasty or reactive worship, but worship that one has put in efforts and time to prepare his heart. Today, we are accustomed to an “instant noodle” culture. We want efficiency in all that we do, desire to achieve the maximal within the shortest time frame. Even as we listen to sermons, people like the big ideas that are condensed and concise, and feel “fed” after. As such, many believers do not like to meditate and confirm the Word of God. In the end, the understanding many believers have about God remains shallow, or a form of head knowledge. In serving, servers learn about methods instead of the heart of Christ. Ponder: If God asks His people to consecrate themselves, is it something that can be achieved in 1-2 hours? There are elements of setting apart in consecration. If we want to achieve the effects speedily, our setting apart remains as an act that lacks the heart, and it is not pleasing to God. In fact, many believers often complain that they do not know why they do not have conviction when listening to God’s Word. The answer lies in – have you given God the time? If we prepare ourselves 1-2 days before service, put down the worldly things, our hearts can thus be guided by Holy Spirit.
2) The acts of consecration of God’s people
During the two days of consecration, God had also instructed 2 matters. First, what ought to be done; second, the forbidden things. First was to wash garments, so that Israelites came before God with the cleanest garments. It talks about the things believers ought to do to safeguard the cleanliness of their hearts. Besides, God also instructed His people not to go near a woman, albeit God bestowed the enjoyment of sex so that we can have intimacy with our loved one. But here, God had instructed His people not to enter into sexual intimacy prior to coming before Him. Now that we are in New Testament period and need not do so. In these two matters instructed by God: first, to receive a pure heart; second, be wholehearted towards God. Hence, every time when we come before God, we must ask how should we prepare our hearts?
3) God let the people come before Mount Sinai, but He set limits for the people all around
Here, God allowed the people to come near Him, but not completely near. Why? Because our God is merciful, but He is also holy. Because of His mercy we could come near Him, and we thirst to be close to Him because of our love for Him. But because God is holy, we also have heart of reverence towards Him. We cannot come too near to God, to the extent of treating Him with contempt, or not putting His Word in our hearts. This is like a child facing his kind and stern father. Certainly he enjoys the close relationship with his father, but he cannot take lightly His commands because of the relationship. Therefore, as believers, we draw near to God but we should also revere God. Actually, from the attitude of a believer before coming to God, we can already tell if his worship will succeed.
2. God appeared on the third day (the day He designated) to His people
1）God’s people all trembled
<Ex 19:16>: “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled.” The “trembled” mentioned here is similar to the “fear and trembling” mentioned in <Php 2:12>. It is a pity however, that many believers today do not worship God with the same kind of response. Today, many believers forget how to tremble before God, because they no longer treat God as holy. If they truly believe that the God whom they worship today is also the same God in the Old Testament, and He can come in our midst in without a physical form, they will not be so cavalier in their worship of God. Thus, God is not pleased with our worship by sight, for that will make us treat God’s holiness with more and more contempt, and make us not care about His descent. In <Heb 12:25>, God gives New Testament believers (those who come before Mount Zion) such a warning: See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?
2) God uses Moses to lead His people before Him.
<Ex 19:17-18>: “ Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. Indeed, God tells His people repeatedly, “draw near to me!” but those who draw near to God must see Him as holy. Because God in <Lev 10:3> said, “Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people, I will be honoured.” We will certainly remember the example of Nadab and Abihu, who were consumed by God’s fire when they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord. Therefore, when we draw near to God, we must not take lightly His holiness. Today, if we are in a state of weakness, we must not be afraid to draw near to God. Because <He 4:16> tells us that we can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. God knows our weakness and powerlessness. Therefore when He asks us to approach Him, it is not to receive rebuke but to receive the mercy, grace and help we need. Sometimes, when we are weak, we rather spend more time scrolling the handphone, watch dramas, or gratify our flesh to the fullest extent, almost to numb ourselves. But in this state, we will not receive compassion, grace and help, but not we receive more accusations. But when the bible tells us to come to God with confidence, it is not with arrogance that we come before God, as though God has owed me grace and mercy. Some weak believers will lament, “I prayed already but God did not help me.” Such an attitude is not confidence, but arrogance, so they will not receive mercy. Furthermore, a person who can come before God confidently, is not because he has self-confidence or courage, but because He believe and trust in what Christ has accomplished for him on the cross.
3) The smoke billowed up from mountain like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.
When we see such a shock in the world, we know that is God trying to reveal His power to His people. Sometimes, when we are in weakness and do not see God’s power, we will remain in a state of self-pity. However the revelation will surely come with great power. Think about it, would the power that shakes the mountain not remove our problem? Therefore, when we are weak, we must not keep feeling sorry for ourselves. Prophet Elijah also entered into a state where he kept feeling sorry for himself and so he became discouraged. Actually, the great things God is doing, is not just making our situations or feelings better. Sometimes, the greatest work God is doing is not sensed by us. Therefore, when Elijah was discouraged, God only asked him to eat, drink, sleep and find the energy to meet Him at Mount Horeb and God will reveal to Him there. Sometimes, when we are weak and discouraged, God is not expecting us to do any great things, and even less so enter into self-pity, but He just wants us to come before God wholeheartedly. Perhaps, as we prepare our hearts to worship the Lord, God will enable us to hear His whisper and regain our strength, like what He strengthened Elijah with His still small voice <1 Ki 19:11-12>
3. But be sure to know that no one person can come before God by his own preparation
Even though today’s scripture tells us the importance of having a prepared heart before worshipping God, we must know that no one person can come before God by himself. If not for the new and living way leading to God opened for us by Christ, no matter how much we prepare, it will also be of no avail. Thus, there is nothing we can boast about. Even if today we can prepare our hearts to meet the Lord, that is also by the grace of God. Thus, those of us who receive the Lord’s word today should not be too slow to believe. God’s word urges us not to receive His grace in vain. For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. <2 Co 6:1-2>