'A puppy is not just for Christmas – it's for life.' It's not Christmas yet, but when it is, out will come that slogan again, to deter those who are seduced into buying a puppy by its cute looks without reckoning on a lifetime of feeding and clearing up mess and going walkies. Something similar could be said about worship. Worship is not just for Sunday services – it's for life.
Over the next five weeks we're thinking about God's purposes for our lives. This week's theme is worship. That's my heading as you'll see on the outline in the service sheet. You can make notes there if you want to. Worship is not just what we should be doing when the drums begin to beat and the guitars start to strum. Worship is what we should be doing with the whole of our lives.
We're going to look at a bit of Paul's letter to the Colossians. But before we get to that, would you find in the Bibles Romans 12.1. Up to this point in the letter Paul's been hammering away at the wonder of everything that God's done for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Now he comes to the 'so what?' question. If God is that amazing, what are you going to do about it? And this is what he says. Romans 12.1:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.
True worship is our response to God's mercy towards us in Christ. True worship is pleasing God with the whole of our lives the whole of the time.
Vaughan Roberts in his new book called 'True Worship', which you can find on the bookstall, tells the story of a little boy who was very moved by a sermon on giving. The minister had stressed that God is the great giver and that what we give is to be in grateful response to his gift to us of his own son. When the plate was passed round for the collection, the boy looked in his pockets to see what he could contribute. He found a dirty handkerchief, a conker on a piece of string and a rusty old penknife. He didn't feel that any of those items were adequate gifts in the light of all that God had given him. He hesitated for a moment while he held the plate in his hands, then he put the plate on the floor and stepped into it.
That is worship: the offering of the whole of ourselves, body and soul, to God, to please him. So how should we worship? What pleases God? Well this is where I want you to turn to Colossians 1.9-14. We're going to stay in this passage for the rest of the time, so do have that open in front of you. This is Paul praying for the believers in Colosse. He wants them to know what he's praying God will do in them. He knows they're under pressure. They're hard pressed by the pagan world they've come out of. And now they're being infiltrated by people who're trying to seduce them away from Christ with their subtle, smooth, spiritual sounding and plausible teaching. Paul's eyes are wide open to the problems. But he's praising God for their faith and for how they've responded to the gospel. In 1.3-8 he's been telling them how he's thanking God for them.
And then in verse 9 he says he's praying that they'll know God's will. Why? He tells them in verse 10. Look at that:
And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way…
Or to put it another way, he's praying that their lives will worship God. How? He tells them. And what applies to them also applies to us. What he says here is not comprehensive. There are other dimensions of worship. But in verses 10-12 he tells them four ways that they can please God with their lives. I've restated them in the four headings on my outline. Let me unpack those.
First, WE PLEASE GOD WHEN WE'RE WORKING EFFECTIVELY FOR HIM
In verse 10 Paul says that we please God when we're …
… bearing fruit in every good work.
What does that mean? In his letters, Paul talks about two different ways that believers bear fruit. One is in our own changed character. The other is in the changed lives of other people. It's not entirely clear which of them is uppermost in his mind here. He's probably thinking of both.
In Galatians 5.22-23 Paul says:
… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
That is, our lives are fruitful when our character becomes more and more like the character of Jesus. That's the work of God's Spirit within us. That's why Paul is praying about this. He's asking God to do this in them. That's the fruit of our own changed character.
The other kind of fruitfulness – the changed lives of other people – Paul has already been thanking God for back in verse 6 of Colossians 1:
All over the world this gospel is producing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth.
The emphasis there is not on individual growth in Christ-likeness but on the spread of the gospel from life to life. More and more people are hearing the gospel and trusting Christ as their Lord and Saviour. That's what happens as each one of us does the work to which God has called us for the sake of his kingdom. We bear fruit 'in every good work'. Have you got last week's 40 Days of Purpose memory verse stuck in your mind?
For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2.10).
We please God when we're fruitful. We're fruitful when we do what God made us to do. What we do flows from who we are. The influence that we have on others will depend in the end on the character of our own lives.
I cannot possibly talk about fruitfulness without mentioning my allotment. Gardening is frustrating and satisfying. When you carefully prepare the ground and plant seeds and they don't come up at all – that's very frustrating. When they come up but then come to nothing because they don't develop properly – that's very frustrating. When they grow but in the end only produce a fraction of the fruit that they should – then at least you've got something but that's frustrating too. When they come up and develop into healthy plants and produce an abundant crop - that's intensely satisfying. That makes all the slog worthwhile. That pleases me no end.
What's God thinking as he looks at our lives? Is he frustrated? Or is he taking pleasure in seeing the fruit coming on? We're worshipping when we're making sure that God can take pleasure in us because of the fruit that we're bearing. So what aspect of your character are you going to work on next, with God's help? How are you seeking to influence others towards Jesus? We please God when we're working for him.
Secondly, WE PLEASE GOD WHEN WE'RE GETTING TO KNOW HIM BETTER
Back in verse 10 again, Paul says that we please God when we're…
… growing in the knowledge of God…
How are we going to do that? Two ways. First, we have to get to know more and more about God. Secondly, we have to get to know him better and better personally. Knowing about him is necessary but it's not enough. We have to know him person to person – in a living relationship.
How do we get to know more about God? Through the Bible. The Bible is God's autobiography. In the Bible God is saying to us, 'Here's what I'm like. Here's what I've done. And here's what I'm planning to do. If you want to know about me, here it is.' So reading the Bible, hearing it taught, studying it, memorising it, and meditating on what it says is all about getting to know God better. And he takes pleasure in us when he sees us doing that.
I've recently been looking through the contents of a battered old leather suitcase that was found in my uncle's house recently. It's full of the personal papers of my grandfather. He was a vicar. Some of them are public papers - articles and press cuttings. Some of them are private - letters and notes. Some of them are very intimate – things he wrote just for himself, for instance when one of his sons was killed in an accident as a student. Reading through them, I've got to know more about my grandfather. I knew him when I was just a boy, before he died. I wish I could talk to him now, man to man. That will have to wait for heaven.
The Bible is all God's personal papers, public and private. This book is the battered old suitcase that contains within it everything you need to know about God. He wants us to read through it all, and build up a clear picture of who he is. But we don't have to wait for heaven to talk to God. He doesn't just want us to know about him. He wants us to get to know him personally better and better. That's what prayer is all about - sharing our lives with him - talking to him. And obeying him is all about taking his hand by faith and trusting in his direction for our lives. He says to us, 'Come this way with me.' We please him when we walk close to him.
Another way of putting this is that we should love him. That's the 40 Days memory verse for this week – Mark 12.30:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
I heard somebody talking about the time when he was going out with the girl who became his wife. He was working all week on a farm to support himself and at the weekend he was pastoring a small rural church. He had no free time. His girlfriend lived several hours drive away. So every week, after church on Sunday, he would drive hours to where she lived, spend the evening with her and her family, and then drive hours through the night, arriving back just in time for the early start on the farm, without having had any sleep at all. He would do anything to spend time with her. That's what love is like. Otherwise rather uncommunicative young men start to talk and talk and talk to the young women they're beginning to love.
Ben Kwashi is the Bishop of Jos in Nigeria, where persecution can be fierce and the pressures on Christians intense. I heard him speaking last week. One of the things that he said in passing was that, despite a lot of talk, very few western Christians were prepared to go out to Nigeria and spend time with them in the midst of the pressures and the dangers. But he spoke too about missionaries who had gone out years ago to tell them about Christ and who had lived with them and died among them.
When you love someone, you'll want to spend time with them and talk to them. When you do, they're pleased. When we love God, we'll spend time with him. When we love God, we'll talk to him. When we do, he's pleased. We please God when our knowledge of him is growing.
Thirdly, WE PLEASE GOD WHEN DESPITE EVERYTHING WE KEEP ON GOING
Paul prays that the Colossians will please God in every way (verse 11)…
… being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience…
He wants them to keep on trusting God through all the circumstances of their lives however difficult they may be. He wants them to keep on living for Christ however provoked they are by the people around them.
There's nothing particularly demanding about being here and singing songs and hymns that express deep love for God. At times we can even find ourselves deeply moved. But what is the test of the reality of such words and emotions? The test is whether our love perseveres. When it gets costly to love, then what? As the years go by, then what?
The other day I went and watched the start of the Great North Run. Thousands and thousands of people all setting off together. Some going fast, some slow, some walking. Some looking fresh as a daisy, some worn out before they'd even got under way. But who got the medals and the T-shirts? What they were doing at the start didn't matter a jot – fast or slow, quiet or noisy, spectacular costume or plain running gear. The only thing that counted was whether they got to the end of the race. Did they make it all the way to the finish line? It's keeping going that counts.
And the test of whether we will persevere is what we do when we don't feel like persevering, because it hurts to keep going. I heard Paula Radcliffe talking about her astonishing world record marathon run in Chicago. She said that about two-thirds of the way into the race, she felt really bad. She wanted the loo. She felt ill. She wanted to stop. But she wanted to win even more. So she kept going.
It's the same with love. It's easy enough to feel an emotional response to someone that gets labelled as love. It's easy for a man to say to his girlfriend 'I love you'. How can you tell if he means it? It's nothing to do with the intensity of the emotion, or the vehemence of the words. I'll tell you if he meant it or not - at the end of his life. Did his love last – that's what counts. Real love lasts. Real love keeps going when it hurts - however much it hurts.
Real faith lasts. Real trust in God keeps on trusting however much trouble it brings – whatever the cost is. And that kind of persevering faith is what pleases God. Our words and emotions of worship are real if what they express lasts. For ever. That's what God's looking for. That's what pleases him.
Are you playing around with Jesus? Are you leading him up the garden path? Or are you in this for the long haul? What's hurting? What do you think's going to start hurting up ahead? And how determined are you– despite the hurt– not to give up? We please God when we keep going.
Fourthly, WE PLEASE GOD WHEN WE THANK HIM FOR ALL HE'S DONE FOR US
Paul prays for the Colossian Christians that they'll please God in every way (from the end of verse 11)…
… joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Giving gifts to people is a pleasure. But why? Surely it's because of two things. First, it's the joy we give – both the immediate joy as the gift is received, and the continuing joy as it's put to use. Then secondly, it's the thanks we get. It's the same with God: it's the joy he gives, and the thanks he gets. He loves to see our joy, and he loves to hear our thanks.
If you're sent a gift, what would prevent you from thanking the giver for it? One of three things. First, if you don't actually receive the gift and realise it's for you and open it, then you won't give any thanks. Then secondly, if you receive it but you haven't a clue what it is and you think it's worthless when in fact it's expensive, then you won't be grateful. Thirdly, you might get it, and know full well what it is and that it cost a great deal, but even then you won't say thank you if you're plain ungrateful.
We have some young relations in our family. I won't be any more specific so they can't be identified. You don't know them. For years we've sent them presents. And in all these years I can't remember a single 'thank you', spoken or written. We presume they get the gifts. Sure, the Post Office makes mistakes, but they're not that inconsistent! But we have no idea whether the gifts are appreciated or not. Does giving those gifts bring us any pleasure? Frankly, no.
Last week I was with a friend when he happened to meet a guy who'd helped him a lot as a young Christian by offering to read the Bible with him each week. My friend greatly valued everything he'd learned from this other guy through that time. This happened over twenty years ago. But as soon as my friend saw this guy he immediately told me what he'd done for him, and thanked this bloke again. We said to him that it was a long time ago. And he said 'I'm going to keep on saying it every time I see you. I'm so grateful for what you did.'
Worship is simply our response to the gift that God has given us in Jesus. That gift is costly and glorious beyond our imagining. He's rescued us from hell and given us a home in heaven; wiped out our unpayable debt; released us from slavery to Satan and set us free to live as his children; brought us out of darkness into light.
Have you received that gift? Have you unwrapped it and made it your own? If you haven't, no wonder you're not grateful. Isn't it time you did?
If you've received it, how well have you understood what a massive a gift it is? The test of that is how great the joy is in our lives. Paul's praying they'll be 'joyfully giving thanks'. That's not superficial, frothy joy, but deep joy - joy in the inner core of our being, that keeps erupting in praise. If you haven't understood God's gift, then no wonder you're not very grateful. Isn't it time you paid more attention to what you've got, and learned more about it and allowed the truth of it to sink into your heart?
If we've received it and begun to understand it, then are we saying 'thank you' at every opportunity? Does thanksgiving to God continually well up within us? We please God when we overflow with thanksgiving. So there's a start to understanding what true worship is all about. It's for life, not just for Sunday services. It's all about pleasing God in every way. And we do that when we're working, growing, keeping going, andoverflowing.
But Paul is clear there are some things we need if all this is going to happen in our lives. Five things.
One: we need the impact of the gospel. In verse 6 Paul talks about the day they heard the gospel and 'understood God's grace in all its truth'. If you haven't felt the impact of the gospel in your life, then you'll never truly worship. Two: we need the prayer of other believers. Paul is praying for them that these things will happen. Let's pray for one another. Three: we need the wisdom to see God's will. Verse 9:
… we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
Four: we need the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul prays in verse 11 that they'll be…
… strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.
He knows it's going to take all the supernatural power of the Spirit of God at work in them if they're going to stick at this hard road of discipleship. And five: we need the commitment to continue. You are reconciled to God, says Paul in 1.23, '…if you continue in your faith…' And again in 2.6:
… just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him …
If we're going to live lives worthy of the Lord – working, growing, keeping going and overflowing – then we need these things: the impact of the gospel; the prayer of other believers; the wisdom to see God's will; the power of the Holy Spirit; and the commitment to continue.
Our purpose is to worship God. We were planned for his pleasure. Will we please him – now and always?