The seventh chapter of Luke paints one of the most beautiful pictures of worship and adoration found in the Scriptures. If we look closely we find some essential building blocks for a worshipping church.
Simon, the Pharisee, must have been excited and a little nervous that Jesus had accepted his invitation to come to his house for dinner. The fact that someone of Jesus' stature and fame would be visiting with him would not go unnoticed by the religious community. The real payoff, though, would come from the common people who followed the miraculous. Their recognition would insure Simon's influence in the city.
Jesus arrived and all seemed to be going well as dinner and conversation flowed at a leisurely pace-until the arrival of an uninvited guest. A woman "who had lived a sinful life" (7) somehow found her way into the house and stood behind Jesus. At first no one noticed her, but then she crumbled at Jesus feet and began crying-just a little at first, but it grew into weeping and then sobbing.
Suddenly, she broke open a jar of perfume and began pouring it on Jesus' feet and wiping them with her hair. Then she started kissing them. Simon couldn't believe Jesus was allowing this woman to touch him like that. And it almost appeared as if Jesus was enjoying it! Just then, Jesus broke through the uneasiness and said, "Simon, I have something to tell you." Jesus proceeded to tell a story about two men who had debts canceled by a moneylender-one man had a large debt and the other a small one. Jesus finished with a question, "Now which of them will love him more?"
A few in the room thought Jesus was just being polite, you know, trying to make conversation in hopes that no one would notice a crying, sobbing, wet-haired woman of ill-repute smelling up the room with the scent of Nard. But Simon, unnerved by the question, began to sense that Jesus was up to something. Simon tried to sound convinced. "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled," he said.
Jesus looked directly at Simon. "Simon, do you see this woman?" he asked. The room grew tense. The disciples who were with Jesus had heard that tone before. He was about to bring the hard truth to Simon, and suddenly everyone was listening intently.
In his next words, Jesus described for Simon and everyone else in the room one of the secrets of honest, heart-felt, life giving worship. It was right there for all of them to see, but they were embarrassed by the intimacy of it. The passion of the moment was distracting for them; it was uncomfortable. This woman had done something so beautiful for Jesus, and the only one who recognized its beauty was Jesus himself. Simon and the others were hung up on protocol and religious behavior. They hadn't considered the deeper issues of this woman's heart or the significance of her actions. These matters went unnoticed by the dinner crowd, but Jesus was about to reveal the hearts of everyone in the room.
When the sinful woman knelt down at Jesus' feet she did it out of desperation. Hers was a desperation that drove her to do something out of the ordinary, something that no one else at that dinner was willing to do. Everyone in that room was with Jesus, but only one was attending Him. Only one was worshipping.
Desperation forces us to go outside of the norm, to do things we would not typically do. Desperate people risk more, live on the edge, and are more passionate in their pursuit. They achieve different results than those who play it safe. Yes, it can be more messy and uncomfortable than the well-traveled road, but those who choose desperation over self-sufficiency, find God. And when they find Him, they find that He is pleased with their desperate hearts.
Of course, the trick is to be desperate when you don't need to be desperate. Crises always lead us back to a passionate pursuit of God, because we realize in moments of vulnerability that we cannot make it on our own. We are genuinely desperate. But consider for a moment what would happen in your life, your family, and your church if you found a way to be desperate for Him without having to face the crisis. Simon wasn't desperate for anything that Jesus had. As a result, his love was little.
Simon's attitude conveyed that he had no great need of forgiveness. As a Pharisee, he relied on his own piety and knowledge of the Scriptures to gain God's favor. Sometimes this self-reliance shows up in our worship services. No one is overwhelmed by the Lord. Most are not in awe of Him as they sing and lift their hands. Appreciation is cursory, affection is mild, weeping is non-existent.
At first glance it seems as if Jesus is saying that if you're a terrible sinner then you will be very grateful and love God much. Obviously this is not what Jesus meant. He was not highlighting the significance of the woman's sin with this story. He was zeroing in on Simon's thankless response for God's love and forgiveness. No great need, no great gratitude.
Some churches struggle because they are driven by an overly intense ministry style. Everyone seems to feel the pressure of doing more, giving more and reaching for more, while rarely acknowledging the blessings God has given. The result is overblown, high-pressure worship that's focused on them. Other churches are permeated with a poverty mentality and seem to never get enough. They're always short-handed for Sunday school, and the worship team struggles with commitment. The pastor and the people feel discouraged, and so forget to be grateful for what they have. Gratitude just fades into the background. The result: weak worship focused on them.
Gratitude is the fuel for life-giving worship because it keeps us focused on the favor and mercy that our God has poured out on our lives. This woman had a revelation of who Jesus was and what he had done. An extravagant show of gratitude was her response.
Jesus contrasted the woman's actions with Simon's: "You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet" (44-46). Could it be that Simon did not welcome Jesus into his home properly because he was consumed with himself instead of his guest? At the same time he was embarrassed by the show of affection and devotion that this woman displayed.
Humility is inherent in genuine worship. The very nature of worship is the exaltation of Christ and the humbling of self. This woman was not afraid to humble herself before our Lord in front of others, nor was she bound by the risk of embarrassment in a situation where she had much to be ashamed of.
Our own pride is the enemy of worship.
Arrogance or high mindedness inhibits our expression of worship. Any embarrassment that we might feel in worship is pride sneaking up on us. If our worship ministries are consumed with anything besides Him, a prideful spirit will not be far off. Music, rehearsals, song selection, even our own biblical expression of praise can become a self-absorbed trap where the focus is on us rather than on Him. This sinful woman was not concerned about the opinions of others; she simply surrendered to making Jesus the focus of her worship. Her worship was simply all about Him.
Desperation. Gratitude. Humility --
Three heart postures that can transform your worship and your church. You can't approach the Lord unless you're willing to empty yourself of yourself. You can't enter His gates with thanksgiving unless you understand what a miracle forgiveness is. And there will be no great display of devotion without a sense of desperation. These are three powerful building blocks for a strong foundation in our worship ministries and our churches.
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