Have you ever been swept up in a moment of worship and declared something radical to God?
Maybe it was, "God, you can have all of me!" Or, "I surrender everything, Lord."
Maybe you didn't even have the words to describe it, but you felt your heart bow deeply and wholly to God in that moment.
Maybe you were at a Christian conference, or a great worship service at church. When you returned home, what happened next? Did you see God begin to invade your life? Did you see your prayers being answered like never before? Did you have a new and burning passion for God?
Maybe you did, but I daresay many of us have come home to the same life, the same habits, the same struggles. I know I have. It almost feels like worship didn't "work." It almost feels like that prayer was just a moment in time.
I once heard the prayer of surrender described as the most dangerous prayer you can ever pray. The prayer when you tell God He can have control over anything in your life, and you really mean it.
Yet I would argue this is actually the easiest part of worship. When our emotions are running high, when we are swept up in the music and the lyrics and the congregation and the Spirit, it is easy to declare our promises to the Lord--just as it is easy for lovers to promise their eternal love to one another in the the heat of passion.
This was the case with the people of God in the Old Testament. Throughout the time of the Kings, the Israelites had many spiritual "highs." They would gather together, drawn back by a righteous leader or King like Moses or David, and worship God. They would sing, make music, and feast. They would re-pledge their loyalty to God and their desire to follow all his laws and ways. In the heat of the moment, they would make many declarations of their utmost surrender.
Yet when they returned to their homes, they returned back to their old ways.
I believe that many of the Israelites really did mean what they uttered to God in those moments of worship.--just as we do too. They really did want to give God their whole lives. So do we. So why do we fall back into the same habits, or stagnation, or frustrations, instead?
In the case of the Israelites, they wanted God to fully inhabit their people and their nation and their lives. But God couldn't--because there was already something else there.
What we fail to consider is that sometimes God wants to fill us afresh, but WE are filling our lives with so much of the wrong stuff that there's no space left for the right stuff.
In other words, worship MUST include a tearing down in order to build up.
A Story of True Worship
I want to tell you a story to show you what I mean.
In the time of the Old Testament, in the time of the Kings of Israel, there was a King named Hezekiah. After a series of terrible and unfaithful rulers, Hezekiah was a righteous king. He wanted to restore proper worship of God to Israel.
Other kings had tried to restore proper worship--but they had failed.
They failed because the Israelites would always return to their homes and then worship at the high places--altars they set up for themselves outside the temple. These high places were an abomination to God, and He continually asked His people to tear them down. Yet most kings who wanted to restore worship didn't go that far.
However, Hezekiah's worship was different, it was set apart from those who had come before him.
Hezekiah's worship was different because it was the total clearing out, the destroying, the dismantling of all that was unclean to God in his Peoples' life.
Hezekiah's worship started with preparation. He prepared a place for God by clearing out the temple, which had been polluted by statues and idols of other gods:
"They brought out to the courtyard of the Lord’s temple everything unclean that they found in the temple of the Lord." 2 Chronicles 29:15-16
When Hezekiah had prepared a place for God, He called all the people together, and they sacrificed. At this time, they had to kill an animal on the altar of the Lord in order to make atonement for their sin. They couldn't enter into the presence of the Lord without this offering.
When the place had been prepared, and the sacrifice was made, then Hezekiah and His people worshipped before God with singing and dancing, and more offerings. They were even able to celebrate one of the holy feasts, the Passover, for the first time in many years.
But what's truly amazing is what happened next:
"When all this had ended, the Israelites who were there went out to the towns of Judah, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles.
They destroyed the high places and the altars throughout Judah and Benjamin and in Ephraim and Manasseh. After they had destroyed all of them, the Israelites returned to their own towns and to their own property."
As a part of their worship, the Israelites destroyed what was not of God in their lives.
They sang and they danced--and then they forcefully, violently, smashed up the idols they had been clinging to.
For the first time in many years, all the high places were destroyed. And that meant when the Israelites went back to their homes, there was nothing left for them to go back to worshipping outside of God.
What are you going back to?
My question for you today is this:
Are you leaving yourself the option of something to go back to that's not of God?
The Israelites never really followed through on their declarations of full surrender to God, because they always had idols waiting for them at home.
Hezekiah's story shows us that true worship starts when we intentionally clear out what is not of God in our lives. And true worship ends with destroying any stronghold that stands in the way of our full surrender to God.
Is there something in your life you need to destroy, smash up, forcefully throw out? Something in your life that's been keeping you from really living? Something that's been keeping you in bondage for too long?
Maybe it's a relationship you know is not God's best for you. Maybe it's crippling self-doubt. Maybe it's the porn or alcohol addiction. Maybe it's the hours you spend on Netflix. Maybe it's the emptiness or negativity you feel because you think what you do everyday couldn't matter to God.
Whatever it is, God desires that you experience the beauty, the freedom, the wonder, of a life of TRUE worship. A life FULLY surrendered to God. He desires healing and wholeness for you. And the way that worship derives its true power is by destroying the old to make room for the new. Something must die for a new life to be born.
Jesus knew this was the case in John 12:24 when He said,
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."
Death produces life. We must destroy in order to rebuild. We must become empty in order to be filled.
There's something in your life that God wants you to destroy, pour out, or be rid of in order that you can experience life like you've never felt before. .
When worship doesn't "work," sometimes it's because our worship stops at the doors of a church, or at the end of our quiet time. Even if we are seasoned Christians, no matter where we are on our faith journey, we can always seek to surrender more of ourselves to God.
God Is On Your Side!
I want to end by encouraging you--your worship doesn't have to be perfect in order to be heard and honored by God. In other words, He knows you are a work in progress! In fact, Hezekiah himself was acutely aware of this reality. He knew that when the people were gathered, many of them were unclean to God. This is what He prayed:
“May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people."
God sees your heart. If your heart is truly set on worshipping Him and getting rid of what is not good in your life, He will help you. He is a loving God abounding in mercy. He WANTS to fill you up! He WANTS to help you clear out the junk drawer of your life so He can put things of value there instead.
Another encouraging truth? Jesus has already provided forgiveness for whatever is not right in your life. You know that animal they had to sacrifice in order to worship? That was just a placeholder for Jesus, who died in order that EVERYONE could then enter into the presence of God with singing and dancing. So don't let the Enemy keep you from being honest about the baggage in your life. You've already been forgiven.
So clean out your heart and prepare a place for God.
Receive and accept the sacrifice that Jesus made for you.
Sing, dance, and worship the Lord.
Then return home, and tear down anything that hinders you from pursuing God with the power of the Holy Spirit.
I promise you will see the power of God move like never before!