Good morning and welcome to 2016! What will this New Year hold? I don’t know. Will it be joy and prosperity, I hope so. How about difficulty and pain? Probably! Our hearts and prayers go out especially to Luke and Kelsey Stacy and the challenges they face in 2016.
No matter what happens in the New Year, it will unfold one day at a time. Maybe that’s why Jesus told us… “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you as well. Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Mt 6:31-14
One thing we know for sure in the year ahead. The Lord will be with us and he has promised that his grace will be sufficient for whatever we face. I want to begin the New Year by reviewing the some resources God has given to guide us through the changes that are coming our way. The first is LIVING WORSHIP. Let’s read together…
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Deut 6:4-9
When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment, he said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” Mt 22:37
Serenity in the changes of daily life begins with LIVING WORSHIP. Worship isn’t just what happens here on Sunday morning, it’s the way we live our lives. It’s seeking God above all else. It’s seeing every circumstance of our lives as an opportunity to glorify the LORD.
Let me give you some Biblical examples. Most of you know the story of Job. Job was a very successful and wealthy man in the ancient world. Yet he never got a big head about what God had given him. He knew it all belonged to the Lord and he did his best to serve him. Everything Job did, he did to bring glory to God, that’s LIVING WORSHIP.
But one day, the LORD took it all away. His wealth, his family, his health, it was gone in an instant. Why? We aren’t told. What we are told is that even as Job’s circumstances changed, his commitment to worship and glorify God never missed a beat. Even in the midst of unimaginable pain, grief, suffering, Job chose to praise the LORD - to worship him. He said, “Though He slay me, yet I will praise him.” Job 13:15
How could Job do this? Job knew and trusted God’s character. He understood that circumstances in this sinful world change but God never changes. His mercies are new every morning. Job made the LORD his anchor, his foundation. On the day of testing - Job was ready. Rather than falling into bitterness and despair, he turned to worship and praise.
Remember Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego, the three Hebrew teenagers who refused to bow down to the statue King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon set up? The King said, “What god can save you from my hand!” The boys said, “Our God can, but even if he doesn’t we won’t bow down to your statue or serve your gods!”
In one day, these boys went from being the King’s favorites to facing martyrdom for their faith. Yet they refused to back down. Where did they get that kind of power? It was LIVING WORSHIP. Their faith wasn’t just words, they lived it out and when the day of testing came, they were ready. Rather than falling into fear, they worshipped even in the fire.
Martyrdom for the name is Jesus is no longer something that happened long ago. In 2016 it’s up close and personal. It’s happening to people we know and love. It could even happen to us. Will we be ready? It depends on how well we have prepared ourselves.
It’s important that we remember that the greatest enemy we face is not some power hungry jihadist. It’s not secular American culture or Wall Street greed. It’s not even death. Our greatest enemy is the sin-nature that dwells within our own hearts.
The real battle for America in the year ahead won’t be fought with guns or even votes. It will be fought in the realm of the Spirit. Here’s how Paul puts it in Romans 6. “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:11-12
The most powerful weapon God has given us in this battle is worship - not just going through the motions on Sunday morning, but living worship. Worship that begins with bowing before God and giving him all we are and all we possess to be used as he chooses.
The demons of pride and prosperity, despair and adversity are overcome in worship. Worship takes our eyes off of ourselves and places them on God who is our salvation.
When ancient Israel went into battle the LORD put the priests and musicians in the lead. Why? Because the battle belongs to the LORD! He is the one who fights for us. We will never understand this truth as long as we go racing off to do it in our own strength. It’s when we are on our knees before the LORD, that we begin to see this world and the threats around us as they really are.
David figured that out as a shepherd boy. When he spent time with the Lord, praising and worshipping him, he was ready when the lion or bear attacked the sheep. If he hadn’t spent time with the LORD, he wasn’t ready when things got tough. Evidently David had prepared himself through his time in LIVING WORSHIP when he faced Goliath. Listen to his words:
“David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” 1 Samuel 17:45-47
One of Satan’s most effective weapons is to make us feel alone. You can’t watch the evening news without feeling alone and under attack. But the evening news never tells the whole story. Listen to his example from 2 Kings 6. It was 150 years after David.
The nation of Aram was at war with Israel. Every time they would attack Israel, God would tell Elisha, the Hebrew prophet, what Aram’s plans were and Israel would be ready for them.
When Aram’s king learned it was Elisha who was giving away his plans, he sent his whole army to kill him. Elisha’s servant woke up and went outside one morning to see the whole army of Aram surrounding them. It was 2 against 1000 plus!
The servant was terrified. He ran back in the house to ask Elisha what to do. Elisha said, “Don’t worry. Our army is far bigger than theirs!” Elisha’s servant was stunned. “How can this be!”
So Elisha prayed, “Lord, open his eyes so he may see!” 2 Kings 6:17 Suddenly, Elisha’s servant saw an even bigger army of mighty warrior angels driving chariots of fire surrounding the army of Aram. Elijah prayed “Lord strike these enemy soldiers with blindness” and Aram’s army scattered in terror without a single sword or arrow being fired.
Where did Elisha find this kind of spiritual insight and power? I believe it came through LIVING WORSHIP. William Cowper wrote a hymn with the line, “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint on his knees in prayer.”
Worship is primarily a community activity involving prayer, praise, God’s Word, the celebration of the Sacraments. “We can worship alone, but it’s when we come together as a large group and in small groups that real heat is generated.” Martin Luther
Music, from the time of David and the Psalms, has always been a part of worship. If we want God to reveal himself among us, we must be spiritually vulnerable and that’s what singing does. People give me lots of excuses for not singing in church. “I don’t know how.” “Everybody will leave if I do.” “I’d rather listen to everybody else.”
The Lord isn’t impressed with any of these excuses. Not singing is not participating. It’s staying emotionally aloof from what the Spirit of God is doing. The Bible doesn’t say we should sing like an angel; it says we should make a joyful noise. You can do that if you will.
Maybe the most honest reason I’ve been told for not singing is this. “If I start singing, I’ll cry and if I start, I’m afraid I will never stop.” Your tears are precious to God. David writes in Psalm 56:8 that the LORD keeps a record of all our sorrows and collects our tears in a bottle.
When we refuse to allow the LORD to see our emotions or share them with him, we are hardening our heart against him. Worship is intended to be a place where we can be honest with the Lord about our heartaches and weaknesses and lean into his strength.
In our own strength we are powerless against the changes and challenges that are coming our way in 2016. But if we are willing to engage both our heart and mind and let our whole lives become an expression of living worship bringing glory to God, we will find that we have tapped into a power that is greater than ANY circumstances may threaten us in the coming year.