By Greg Litmer
The book of Psalms is filled with exuberant expressions of praise to God. His various attributes are exalted and his wonderful works and blessings are gratefully acknowledged. Along with the recognition of his majesty, the book of Psalms exhorts to practical application of that recognition. Let’s look at an example of what I mean.
Psalm 89:5-8 reads as follows, “And the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O Lord: thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints. For who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord? Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord? God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him. O Lord God of hosts, who is a strong Lord like unto thee? Or to thy faithfulness round about thee?”
The italized portion of the passage is the practical application of the words of praise and glory that surround it. Yes, God is all those things and more; worthy of praise, incomparable, strong and faithful. Our acknowledgment of those attributes demands expression. In view of all that God is, how reverent our worship should be! I think of Isaiah when he recognized that he was in the presence of Deity. He said in Isaiah 6:5, “Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” I am reminded of the reaction of the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai when they heard the voice of God and saw the multiple expressions of his presence. In Exodus 20:18, 19, we find, “And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” In each case there was a profound sense of awe and wonder, as well as a sense of their own unworthiness in the presence of God.
It is a glorious and wonderful blessing to be able to worship God. What a privilege to be able to join our voices together in “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody” in our hearts to the Lord; to sing “with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” We talk to God together and know that he is listening in our prayers. Each Lord’s day we commemorate the greatest manifestation of love the world will ever know, the death of the Son of God, in our partaking of the Lord’s supper. We also freely, and with joy in our hearts, give for the work of the Lord as we have been prospered, and together we study and seek to learn more fully “the engrafted word, which is able to save our souls.”
Is there a danger that familiarity can dull the sense of awe, reverence and wonder, when we come before the Lord to worship? Is there a danger that this incredible privilege might become commonplace? Truly, the more we worship the more we should come to adore him. The better we know God, the greater should be the sense of awe and holy fear. But I fear that in many cases, familiarity breeds a diminishing of the sense of reverence, wonder, and holy fear when we come together to worship God.
In Nehemiah 8, we find a situation where the Jews who had returned from Babylonian captivity requested to hear the words of the book of the law of Moses. This was the first time in a very long time that these people listened to the word. Verse 3 of Nehemiah 8 tells us, “And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.” Verse 5 says, “And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up.” The close of verse 7 tells us, “and the people stood in their place.” The last sentence of verse 9 informs us “For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law.” What an incredible display of reverence and respect for God and his word that day was! It was also a pivotal day in the history of the Jews. For six hours or more the people “stood in their place” in the street, and “were attentive unto the book of the law.”
I would never say that reverence and respect for God demands that we all stand in a street for six or more hours and listen attentively to the word. But I do believe that reverence and respect means that we will sit attentively for 40 minutes and listen to his word. Perceived familiarity with God may very well be the thing that causes adults to be unable to sit without a drink of water for an hour long service. Or for those who do not have a medical reason, to be unable to endure perhaps a bit of discomfort and wait until services are over to go to the restroom.
Have we become so used to the idea of worshiping God that we cannot stay awake for one hour? Sometimes I think of the words of Jesus, “What, could ye not watch with me one hour?” (Matt. 26:40). Can’t the children be played with before and after services, and be taught that the services are a time for reverence and respect? Surely, nobody seeks to be disrespectful to God and his word on purpose. I believe it is something that folks just fall into without thinking, and that is the problem. If we truly think about our worship and who we are worshiping, we will humble ourselves and with awe devote our full attention to what we are doing.
As we consider our approach to God in worship there is a passage that comes to mind. It is found in 1 Timothy 2:8-10, which says, “I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.” I do not believe that the principle of proper adornment is limited in God’s word to women only.
It appears to me that the context of 1 Timothy 2 is the matter of public worship. In verses 3-7 Paul digresses from that subject a little, only to come back to it in verse 8. In verse 9, the word for “adorn” means to put in order, arrange, make ready. “By the use of this word, Paul indicates that the adornment of the Christian woman should be one in which order, not disorder, obtains. And this orderliness must not extend merely to the relationship of the various articles of wearing apparel to one another, but also to the relationship of that apparel to her Christian character and testimony. In other words, the apparel must be congruous with, fitting to, and consistent with what she is, a child of God” (Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Vol. 2, 46).
The word translated as “modest” means well arranged, seemly, decent, according to a standard that is proper and decorous. Surely, when all such is considered, the point can and should be made that how we appear should always be, first of all, consistent with the character of one who follows Christ; and secondly, congruous with and decorous according to what we are doing. Obviously that principle does not apply only to women.
When we come together to worship God, should not our dress manifest the sense of reverence, respect, and awe that we have for him whom we are worshiping? Should it not be appropriate for the most important privilege that we have? How can T-shirts, blue jeans, and such like, that are completely appropriate for certain activities we engage in, be appropriate when we come to worship the God of the universe? If such clothing is all that we have and the best we have, fine. But if it is not, what could be a more appropriate activity for wearing the best we have than worship? And certainly, when any man stands before the assembly to lead in prayer, preach, make announcements, serve at the Lord’s supper, isn’t it appropriate and decorous to be dressed in such a way as to show any visitors that might come that we are in awe of our God? Shouldn’t our dress at worship reflect the deepest reverence and respect and the knowledge that our worship to God is the most wonderful and glorious privilege that we have?