Learning to Call Worship a Delight
Learning to Call Worship a Delight
God commanded Israel to keep the Sabbath rest, doing no work at all (Exo. 20:8-11). Those who flaunted this commandment were subject to the death penalty (Exo. 31:14, Numb. 15:32- 36, Jer. 17:21-27). The Sabbath was to be understood as “the Sabbath of the Lord” (Exo. 31:13, Lev. 23:1), the day God rested from the work of creation. Since the day was special to God, it was to be “holy unto you” (Exo. 31:14). It also featured a “holy convocation,” or assembly, for reading the Law and worshiping (Lev. 23:3). The Sabbath was to be strictly kept, even during times when a work stoppage would be most inconvenient, in planting time and harvest time (Exo. 34:21).
Perhaps no other commandment was so strongly indicative of Israel’s trust in God. We know that often God’s children felt driven to conduct business as usual on the Sabbath day, whether by need, or more likely by greed. When Nehemiah found the markets open on the Sabbath, he sharply rebuked the leaders and demanded the gates of Jerusalem be shut and the merchants be chased away from the wall (Neh. 13:15-22). It would take great faith to give up a day’s worth of profits and instead rest contentedly in God and family. It would take great faith to make food and travel preparations ahead of time in order to attend (in the later days of the Diaspora) synagogue assemblies. It would be difficult to view this as a blessing.
Even more so, part of the Sabbath law demanded the fields lie fallow every seventh year, a Sabbath Year (Lev. 25:1-7). The people had to eat what they had stored in previous years, and forage for what grew wild. This level of trust in God’s promise to provide (Lev. 25:20-22) could become a matter of life or death! Perhaps that’s why Israel rarely observed this Sabbath Year once they entered the promised land. Nevertheless, God had been serious about the Sabbath Year, and their failure to observe it was one of the main reasons God booted them off the land into Babylon (Lev. 26:33-35). God decreed a seventy-year captivity to make up for the 500 years’ worth of Sabbath Years that had been neglected (2 Chron. 36:21).
So far, we’ve meditated upon the Sabbath as an obligation, a command, a test of obedient faith. But now, listen to what God says in Isaiah 58:13-14.
If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot,
From doing your own pleasure on My holy day,
And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, And honor it, desisting from your own ways,
From seeking your own pleasure,
And speaking your own word,
Then you will take delight in the LORD,
And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth.
Perhaps we Christians get stuck in a rut of thinking of our Lord’s Day worship assembly as an annoying duty at best, a hated interruption at worst. (For the record, I know the Lord’s Day is not the Christian Sabbath, and that we are not commanded to cease from labor, but bear
with me, for there surely are good points to be made in a comparison of our obligations on the Lord’s Day and the Jews’ obligations on the Sabbath Day). Perhaps we too, like many of the Jews in the days of the prophets, think of worship as an imposition. Isaiah’s encouraging words help us develop a more positive attitude toward worship.
Worship allows a pause. I am convinced that if God didn’t compel me to take a break from life, I wouldn’t. To “turn our foot from our own pleasure” is a phrase which illustrates organizing the day’s activities (Motyer, p. 363) to include worship in our schedules. Lord’s Day worship (and Wed. too) should be viewed as coming up for a breath of fresh air! But worship is more than just leisure—an hour of reading on the porch swing or playing a video game or a Sunday drive can provide a break. God created us with a NEED to worship, like a reptile needing time in the Sun. Worship offers not merely a change of pace, but a time to recharge spiritual batteries. ONLY worship of God fills this need—not worship of Vishnu, not Buddhist meditation, not exercise, not a nature walk, not TV. If you’ve ever tried to charge an iPhone with an Android charger, you know that some devices require proprietary plugs. Only a connection to God will fit your spiritual batteries!
Worship provides perspective. Worship allows us to put life’s busy obligations on hold long enough to recognize and honor the one who provides life in the first place. I get most of the 168 hours in the week to spend as I see fit (hopefully as a good steward). A call to worship is a “desisting from my own ways” and pleasures to devote myself to thanking the God who blesses me with life, health, and a world of delights to enjoy. Worship shows God we understand the purpose of material things, and it invites Him to continue providing our blessings (Prov. 3:9-10, 1 Cor. 7:31).
Non-negotiable worship keeps us prioritized. Worship that won’t be budged for sports, food, money, or hobbies, keeps our priorities lined up in the correct order.
Regular worship keeps us hopeful. Worship makes sure that our minds never stray too far from our real goal. Imagine trying to cross a stream in one mighty leap; that often ends in a soaking! Worship provides stepping-stones. When it comes to worship assemblies, may my attitude stop being “Ugh, I’m missing out to worship God,” and become, “Yay, I get to worship God! Others are missing out!” When me make worship a delight, we “ride the heights of the earth.” Focus not on what is lost but on what is gained. Worship is a sign of our special relationship to God (Ezek. 20:12). Thank God for the privilege of access in Christ (Rom. 5:1-2). “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1).