(This service is filled with music and the Sanctuary Choir will sing Total Praise by Cymbala immediately before the beginning of the message. The song is very powerful and will serve in function as the introduction to the sermon.)
How do we take this moment, with the incredible song still ringing in our ears, from this place and this service into our everyday lives? The invitation to total praise is more than a song. It is our Biblical call this morning. Please pray with me. Our great and gracious God, we lift our eyes and our voices to you in worship. We know that you give us peace that helps us withstand life’s storms. You are the source of our strength and the strength for our lives. We come before you in awe and wonder. We come to you with hearts to praise you and with souls that seek you. Be with us now. Speak to us now; for we are yours through Jesus Christ. Amen.
I love what we do in this room. I love the music we sing together, the songs that we experience side-by-side. I love the heart of worship that is lived out in song and sermon, prayer and praise. I cannot imagine to ever again having worship defined by one style of music and one predictable structure that we repeat over and over again. Authentic worship draws us together across generations and draws us to the feet of God. Each week I long for the worship we experience together in worship. It is a part of what powerfully nourishes my walk with God. But, we too often define worship as solely and wholly as what happens in this room. I believe one of the core missions of every believer is to live a life that reverberates in worship in this room and across the whole spectrum of our lives.
In Ephesians 5 we listen as Paul tells the all of those at the Church at Ephesus, Be very careful, then, how you live. Paul sees two potential ways of life. One way leads you to emptiness – the other to a life in the spirit and a heart for worship. He tells them that there is a choice to be made and they are to live —not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. This is where preachers of another era, and perhaps even some in ours, would begin to preach about the evils of our world. Their voices would raise and in a shrill falsetto begin to whine away about the evils of alcohol; of the path of darkness lined with wine, women, and songs. To be honest, I think this is the easy way out and misses the heart of what Paul teaches. Paul lays two ways of life side by side. One way leads them to live like the unwise and the foolish – those who choices lead them a lot of places, except where the really need to be. In contrast Paul offers them a life like the wise, those who make the most of every opportunity, and those who understand what God’s will is for them. Paul taught them, and tells us, that they have to choose whether they will live a God directed life or one that fills time, but ultimately is unfulfilling. He wants it clear that there is really only one choice would bring them joy.
Paul seizes upon an illustration that everyone listening would understand; 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. The contrast could not be more profound. On one side you have the one amused, bemused, and confused by a night defined by drinking. It leads to finding yourself in the wrong place, with the wrong person, doing all the wrong things. We see the impact. It is unmistakable. We witness broken promises, broken marriages, broken people, and ultimately broken lives. Paul contrast a night filled with wine, with a life filled with the Spirit – the very presence of God. Paul then desires what a life that reverberates in worship. He describes it this way; be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I love how Eugene Peterson depicts these two verses in his interpretive translation, The Message. He offers; Don't drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ.
The picture I see when I read this passage is life that looks like a Broadway musical where every important moment is defined by a song and where everyone of us play a leading role. Paul is describing an everyday kind of worship that overflows in our everyday lives. It is a worship born in a heart of gratitude. Paul sees us celebrating in worship every time we see each other because of everything God is doing in our lives. The songs we sing bubble up from the depths of our hearts and burst from our lips as naturally as we breathe. It is a heart for worship that looks for any and every excuse to lift our hearts and voices in praise to God. Yes, we worship corporately in this place, but our life is to be filled with worship that defies time or place and flows from our daily walk with God. It is a Spirit filled life of total praise.
I believe the reason that Paul used the image of song to describe a life that reverberates with worship is because he understood the unique role singing plays in our spiritual story. Carolyn Gillette is a co-pastor of a Presbyterian church in Delaware, but is better known for the more than 150 hymns that she has written and that have been used in congregations all across the country. In an article commissioned for the Baylor Center for Ethics she wrote and article on why we sing as a people of faith. Something she said in the article resonated deep within me. She states. “When we come before God in worship, why do we sing rather than merely think or talk with one another? We sing because music is a gift from God. It is a language that God has given us to express our deepest longings, our greatest joys, and our most profound trust in the One who created us and loves us unconditionally. Like all gifts from God, it is one that God calls us to use with gratitude.”[i]
Somewhere deep within us we know that that worship is not a one hour a week experience. Somewhere deep within us we know that God deserves our songs of praise. Somewhere deep within us we know that Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf is worthy of singing about; that through Jesus we have found forgiveness and the promise of life now and life forever and that is worthy of our praise. But sometimes we get so busy doing life - of doing the regular routines of life - that our songs seem to be drowned out. Some have become so accustomed to stifling their songs in fear of what other might think that they have forgotten how to sing. Some have limited their worship to this place and this time for so long that the idea of worship reverberating across the whole spectrum of their lives seems too foreign, too passionate, too “something” that the idea of singing seems ridiculous. There are as many rationalizations and excuses as there are people, but these reasons and excuses only serve to divert us from living the lives of worship we were created for. Anytime and every time we allow anything to silence our song of praise we cheat ourselves for experiencing the fullness of joy God intends for us and the joy our songs of worship brings to the heart of God.
So, it is time to let loose and sing, to claim that precious gift of God that lets us express our deepest longings and our greatest joys. It is time to seize the life in the Spirit that reverberates in worship in this room and across the whole spectrum of our lives. It is time to sing out from the depths of your heart, whether your voice is young or old, beautiful or sour and off key. It is time to sing songs of praise for everything thing God is doing in your life. Sing songs celebrating God’s love and forgiveness. Sing sings of the depths of God love and the breadth of God’s grace. Sing songs of God’s provision and God’s wonderful acts in your life. Sing songs that bubble up from your heart. Sing songs in this room and in this hour – but do not stop here. Let your songs flow into every moment of your life and everywhere you find yourself. Sing, because it is time to worship. SING!