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Sunday, August 29, 2010

What Not to Do in Worship

David was a man after God’s own heart, a shepherd, a warrior, and a great king, but he was also a composer, a musician and a worship leader. His attempt to bring the symbol of God presence among His people in II Samuel 6:1-15 displays two basic lessons of what “not” to do if we are to worship God as He desires:

1 David again brought together out of Israel chosen men, thirty thousand in all. 2 He and all his men set out from Baalah of Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim that are on the ark. 3 They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart 4 with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. 5 David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals.
6 When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. 7 The LORD's anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.
8 Then David was angry because the LORD's wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah.
9 David was afraid of the LORD that day and said, "How can the ark of the LORD ever come to me?" 10 He was not willing to take the ark of the LORD to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it aside to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. 11 The ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the LORD blessed him and his entire household.
12 Now King David was told, "The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God." So David went down and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

The moving of the ark of God to Jerusalem was to be one of the high points of King David’s early accomplishments. For years the ark had been at the house of Abinadab, and perhaps the most natural question is, “How in the world did it get there and who is Abinadab?” Great questions, so let’s briefly review some history found in I Samuel 4-7. As a young boy, Samuel grew up under the High Priest, Eli, after his mother and father had dedicated him to the Lord. Eli’s sons were corrupt and did not follow God’s commands, nor had little respect for the ark of God. When the Philistines attacked the Israelites, Hophni and Phineas, Eli’s sons brought the ark of God into battle, not because they trusted in God, but more likely like a good luck charm. They placed their trust in the ark and not the God of the ark. The battle ended with the ark being captured and Eli’s sons being killed. Eli, himself, died when he heard that the Philistines had taken the ark.

The rejoicing of the Philistines soon turned into panic as the ark was passed among their five major cities and tumors began to break out on the people. Fearing that this might be from the hand of the Israelite God, the leaders of the cities got together and decided to a test. They would place the ark on a new cart with oxen that had never been yoked, place an offering of gold with it and let them go. If they wandered about with no real direction, the tumors and trouble would just be coincidence. But, if they took to the road that led to Israel, then they would know that it had been from the hand of God. They did what they planned and the oxen went straight down the road to Israel, to Beth Shemesh and eventually to Kiriath Jearim to the house of Abinadab on the hill. It remained there at least twenty years until Israel requested a king, [I Samuel 7:2] as well as the forty years that Saul was king, and until the first 7 years of David’s reign in Hebron, most likely 67 years in all.

When David had unified the kingdom under his rule, he wanted to bring the ark of God to his own city, the City of David. As we have previously seen, David gathered thousands of his best soldiers, composed special psalms, and filled the air with praise and adoration to bring the ark to where he lived. David’s heart was longing to be in the presence of the symbol of the presence of Jehovah, the ark. David did exactly as the Philistines and placed the ark on a new cart, led by the sons of Abinadad, Uzzah and Ahio with great celebration and worship. Unfortunately, when the ark reached the threshing floor of Nacon, a rocky place that would have been used to beat the stalks of grain to separate it from the chaff, the oxen stumbled. Immediately Uzzah stretched out his hand to steady the ark so it would not fall off the cart and God struck him dead on the spot. Needless to say that put a damper on the celebration and they stopped the procession leaving the ark at the nearby home of Obed Edom. Three months later, David attempts the move again, but this time following the biblical mandates of using only Levites carrying the ark with poles. Again there was celebration, but this time with obedience and sacrifice.

We have already mentioned that David’s failure to follow God’s instructions put those around the ark in peril. All the adoration, praise, singing, rejoicing we can possibly make cannot replace being obedient. Remember Samuel’s warning to King Saul, when he failed to be obedient to what God had called him to do: “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” [I Samuel 15:22] Though David was a man “after God’s own heart,” even though he was the “sweet singer of Israel,” even though he was doing everything with worship and praise, and even though it was done with the best intentions, it was not blessed at first because he failed to be obedient. He failed to search the commandments of God and seek His direction and instruction. How many times do we ask God to bless our plans, rather than seek God’s heart and direction about a specific direction?

Not only is it important to seek to be obedient and follow the instructions God gives, but there is another aspect of the story that is worth pondering: Uzzah and Ahio’s own attitudes. The ark had been in the possession of their household since its recovery from the Philistines [1 Samuel 6] and remained their for at least 20 years of the life of Samuel the prophet, the 40 years of Saul’s reign and the first 7 years of David’s kingship. There was probably never a time in their life that the are had not been in their home. They had grown up with the ark around them all the time and most likely, it had become commonplace to them. They began to take it for granted. It lost its specialness. So much so that Uzzah felt no hesitation in reaching out to steady it. How important for those of us who virtually live in the things of God, not to begin to take them for granted, lest we be guilty of the same sin.

What does this mean for us today? All the good intentions we might have and all emotional furor we might muster cannot replace the simple act of being obedient to what God has called us to do. Worship is not a substitute for obedience. The truth is that worship completes and expresses itself in obedience. We must never confuse the fruit of worship with worship itself. Regardless how deep our feelings of awe and wonder, or even rejoicing may be, if they do not result in obedience, we have not understood what worship is and what God is doing as we worship. The goal of worship is not that “I feel better,” but that we recognize more of who God is, what He has done and that the nature and character of Christ be formed in us so that God is glorified and the world is drawn into a relationship with Him.

Secondly, the more we invest our lives in the things of God, the greater the danger of beginning to take those things most dear to us for granted. When we were first appointed as missionaries, we were given the advice to take as many pictures of what we see early in our months of service, because the longer that we were there, we would begin to overlook the things around us. I realized how true that was each time someone from the States would come to visit and begin to make remarks about this thing and that and I scarcely was aware of it, since I passed by it every day.

As we become busy with the details of planning and rehearsing the music, sermon preparation, microphones, projections, and pulling countless of other things that command our attention on as we ready for worship, it is easy to “get the details right” but “miss the boat” because we lose that sense of “specialness” as we deal with the holy things of God. None are exempt from the temptation of taking the things of God for granted, but for those who are called to a specific public ministry, the danger is especially great. Even if you are “just an ordinary member” of a church, it is possible become so accustomed to what is happening in worship that one can forget the privilege of being in corporate worship, or even indifferent to the moving of God’s Spirit.

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