“Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.” Acts 16:26
This is one of my favorite verses about worship in the Bible. Here’s the backstory: it’s about midnight, Paul and Silas have had a pretty typical day including travel, healing, delivering the occasional girl from demonic possession, riling up the locals with preaching; all of which leads to their inevitable arrest, flogging and prison time. All in all it was a pretty good day. [Insert sarcastic smirk here.]
So, there they sat in prison which I’m fairly certain those were accommodations most of us would find less than acceptable for worship on any given Sunday morning. Heck, it was probably worse than most modern day prisoners would find acceptable in any US penal system facility or even at Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib for that matter.
Nonetheless, there they were. And they did something rather strange, “…Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God…” What, huh? They were worshipping? But, wait, weren’t the pews too hard? Did they really have a band in prison? Where’d they get the hymnals from? Where did they find a projector to put the words on the wall? How did they worship without a decent sound system and good monitors? Really…intelligent lighting in a cave that served as a prison? Who made sure that the heat was working? [Insert another sarcastic smirk here.]
For now, I’m going to let you work that last paragraph out on your own. I’ll write about worshipping in spite of our circumstances in a later post. Today I want to dwell on what happened next.
To illustrate the result of Paul and Silas’ worship I’ll quote William Wallace as portrayed by Mel Gibson in the movie “Braveheart”: FREEEEEEEDOOOOOMMMMMM! (That works a lot better when I preach on this in person, but you get the idea.)
Anyway, it’s commonly understood by us “worship music” types that worship sets us free. But, worship in “truth in and spirit” doesn’t just set those of us up on the stage and in the bright lights free; it sets even those who witness it free, too. In fact, it has nothing to do with worship as performance. Our living, breathing act of worship sets people free, as well.
When a Christ worshipper lives a life that brings glory to God, everyone around them feels the impact…the earthquake.
- When a Christ worshipper humbly ladles a bowl soup at the downtown mission a homeless person is set free;
- when a Christ worshipper visits an elderly shut-in a lonely senior is set free;
- when a Christ worshipper helps a young woman with unruly toddlers load her groceries into her car a mom who may feel the hopelessness of single parenting is set free;
- when a Christ worshipper drives to a crack house in the middle of the night to rescue the son of desperate parents an addict and his family are set free;
- when a Christ worshipper takes in a teenage girl to help her overcome an eating disorder a scared young woman is set free;
- when a Christ worshipper takes a stand between a battered child and their abuser a terrified child is set free;
- when a Christ worshipper prays and sings praise choruses in a prison then prisoners are set free.
In the third sentence of the book “Let the Nations Be Glad” John Piper says, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”
I take this to mean that God’s plan is for us to worship in truth and spirit; when we reflect the glory of God and the beauty of Christ as a matter of course in our life. Worship as a being verb renders pious catch phrases, cliched evangelism strategies or pithy bumperstickers superfluous at best or at worst a distraction. When God’s people are “living sacrifices” of “spiritual acts of worship”; when Christ worshippers live a life that brings honor and glory to God; when we are the being verb “worship” then the earth shakes like an earthquake, strongholds crumble, the Gates of Hell implode, captives’ chains fall off, people are set free from bondage; they’re set free to come home to The Father! Worship isn’t intended to be spiritual jollies for the worshipper, it’s purpose is so that everyone will see the beauty of the Darling of Heaven inthe worshipper. Then those who merely witness worship will be set free, too.
That’s “Why Worship.”