Worship is a sacred dialogue. It is humankind’s response to a holy God. He alone is the initiator, and man is the responder. Worship in its most basic sense is glorifying God. This certainly implies that all of life is worship. Paul says as much in Romans 12 when he tells us to present our bodies as living sacrifices, which is our spiritual act of worship. It is indeed an action and not only an action but a continuous action, implying that we are called to worship God each moment of our lives. Building upon this foundation of worship, however, there is also the aspect of corporate and personal worship, both of which are crucial to the church and the individual believer. They are subcategories of what I refer to as primary worship (or lifestyle worship), but they are reflections of it as well. We often focus on the secondary issues of worship and to the detriment of the church. In fact, the secondary issues we tend to focus on (issues such as style of music and attire) are often not crucial to carrying out the primary purpose of worship, namely responding to a holy God. If anything, the fact that we focus on these issues reveals more about our hearts in that we attempt to please ourselves instead of the one worship is designed for. We must focus solely on a holy and triune God and his desires. It is about him at all times, and we must never waver from that. In order for that to happen, we should be biblical, meaning that scripture should be the acid test by which we measure our worship. The model we use must be scripture. What does a biblical model of worship resemble then? I submit that Isaiah 6 is an astounding model to use when determining what biblical worship looks like. This particular passage of scripture clearly presents a biblical model of worship, one which we should take note of and examine our own hearts and worship to fit.
Isaiah 6:1-8 (ESV)
Isaiah's Vision of the Lord
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
Isaiah's Commission from the Lord
8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
Worship Is Initiated by God through His Revelation (vv. 1-3)
It is crucial that we realize this sacred dialogue called worship is initiated by God through his revelation of himself. We merely respond to who he is. We do not initiate this dialogue in any way; nor will we ever. Worship will always be a response to God. We are told that Isaiah’s vision occurred in the year that King Uzziah died. Why is this even mentioned? What is the significance of King Uzziah’s death? Uzziah was king of Judah in the 8th century BC. Although Isaiah prophesied to this kingdom, much of his message was very relevant to the northern kingdom of Israel as well, which was eventually conquered by the Assyrians during his ministry. During Uzziah’s reign, prosperity was prevalent. It was the theme of his kingdom for much of his reign. However, 2 Chronicles 26:16-21 gives us some perspective on why his death was so significant.
2 Chronicles 26:16-21 (ESV)
Uzziah's Pride and Punishment
16 But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. 17 But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the LORD who were men of valor, 18 and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD,but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the LORD God.” 19 Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the LORD, by the altar of incense. 20 And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the LORD had struck him.21 And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king's household, governing the people of the land.
Uzziah’s reign was significant because in the midst of prosperity, he grew prideful; then he fell. Perhaps the people, Isaiah included, put their faith in their leader and in their political authorities rather than in the one who had blessed them. This happens to us more often than we realize. Usually it is subconscious, but it certainly happens. Consider what could happen to a people in prosperity. Often the result is pride, which eventually leads to destruction. Thousands of years later we still have not learned this either individually or as a nation. It is a cycle. God blesses us; we grow in pride; we fall; and he restores us. Oh, if we could avoid the pride, we could avoid the fall. Perhaps you are at a Uzziah moment in your life where God has blessed you. Be careful to continue in humility and a realization that God can take it away at any moment.
It was during this time that Isaiah had an incredible vision of God. Notice that everything in this vision was focused on God and his holiness. Even the seraphim continuously sang, “Holy, holy, holy.” It never became old because no matter how much it is acknowledged, it will never be enough. God can never receive enough praise from his people. It is impossible because he is worthy of so much more. Everything that occurred was a response to him. Yet how often do we respond to ourselves in worship instead of to a holy God? We do this by complaining about the music or the sermon or the comfort of the pews. There are so many ways we make it about us instead of making the subject and object of our worship holy God. He is the initiator, and he has certainly initiated worship whether we realize it or not. Maybe many of us do not realize this initiation because we are not looking for it. The seraphim said in verse 3 that the whole earth is full of his glory. In other words, we do not have to look very far to find it. We are just often oblivious to it. Perhaps we should seek the ways in which he is initiating worship in our lives.
God’s People See Him for Who He Is and Themselves for Who They Are (vv. 4-5)
In this process of worship, once God has revealed himself, thus initiating a dialogue and response from his people, we, his people, see him for who he is and, therefore, see ourselves for who we are. The second part of this is perhaps the most crucial, but it can only happen when we see God for who he is. This is why we must strive for accurate and biblical worship. If we worship the God we want or the God in our minds, we will fail to see God for who he is and, therefore, fail to be changed. We must seek God himself first and foremost, and then and only then will we see ourselves accurately, which at least at first is not pretty. In this vision, Isaiah saw God in all of his holiness and splendor, and it caused him to realize his unworthiness and cry out and confess. He realized not only that he was unclean but also that his people were unclean. No one is worthy to stand in the presence of God. That is one reason Christ’s atoning sacrifice is astounding. We can now stand before him knowing that we are forgiven and clean through his substitutionary atonement and the wrath of God poured out on his son. We must first realize though that apart from seeing God accurately, we cannot see ourselves accurately. What happens when we see God for who he is causing us to see ourselves for who we are? The only option for us then is repentance. Many are familiar with the Jesus trilemma once made famous by C.S. Lewis. He said that in all of Jesus’ claims including his claim to be God, he was either a liar, a lunatic, or he was exactly who he said he was, which means that he is Lord. When we see him for who he is, our only appropriate response it to make him Lord of our lives, for we have seen his glory and our weakness. He is magnified and we are diminished, but only in him are we made whole.
God Cleanses His People (vv. 6-7)
God is the only one who can cleanse us, and once we repent, he is willing and able to do so. The fact is that we have not worshipped if we are not changed in God’s presence; it is imperative. In this passage, the seraphim touched Isaiah’s lips with a coal and cleansed him. Notice what happens though. The seraphim assured Isaiah that his sin has been atoned for and his guilt has been taken away. This is important for us as believers in Christ’s sacrificial atonement, for not only is our sin forgiven but our guilt has been taken away. It is far easier to accept God’s forgiveness and even other people’s forgiveness, but to forgive ourselves is very difficult. Many of us live in a constant state of guilt when it has already been taken away. We are forgiven, and if there is any lingering guilt, it is not of God. Claim that promise, and live in freedom from guilt. Any remaining guilt after God’s forgiveness is not of God. The beautiful thing is that we have been forgiven and our guilt has been taken away, and now we can live as holy people. Repentance has often been described as turning around in the opposite direction. The acid test of repentance is change. Certainly God works on us each in different ways, but the idea is that God through Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit is constantly changing us and making us more like him so we must not only repent but also keep repenting. Our lives are in a constant state of repentance. If we have been cleansed, there will be evidence. Change is crucial to worship. God cleanses us, and part of our responsibility in this worship process is to be changed.
God’s People Are Called and Sent (v. 8)
If we are changed, action is the next step. In verse 8, Isaiah boldly proclaims that he will go where the Lord sends. The Hebrew context is not Isaiah merely saying, “Here am I,” in a passive manner, but rather he says, “Behold me.” In other words, he is not passively sitting and waiting just in case God wants him to do something. He is actively pursuing God and crying out for him to notice him and his willingness to serve. It is similar to the tax people who dance on the sidewalk to get attention as the cars pass. Isaiah wanted desperately for God to know that he is ready and willing. Is this your cry, or are there stipulations with where you will go? Will you do what the Lord wants irrespective of money, location, or comfort? This is difficult. Many of us say that we are willing to go, but then we find ourselves making excuses when God is calling us to do something difficult. External factors should not be what determine our going. John Piper has written a book entitled Don’t Waste Your Life, and the idea is that if we are not giving our lives solely for the purposes and glory of God, it is a waste no matter what we do. Unfortunately there are many Christians who waste their lives, and many of them think they are doing the right thing because they are successful, they are making a lot of money, and things are going well in their lives. Reality is that God is likely calling his people to do things out of their comfort zone more often than we realize; we are simply stuck in our own desires to realize it though. God might not be calling you to give your very life in a closed country, but he might be. It may seem far-fetched, but don’t dismiss things like that so easily. Be open and willing to go where he sends and do what he calls you to do. The evidence of worship is rooted in action. Here am I, Lord, send me! Behold me, and send me!
Isaiah 6:1-8 gives us a biblical model for worship. In this sacred dialogue we have the privilege of playing a role in, God is the initiator, not us. Seeing him for who he is should cause us to respond in an appropriate manner, which requires us to also see ourselves for who we are, ultimately leading to his cleansing and forgiveness and our obedience. This is the pattern of worship: it begins with God’s initiation and ends with our obedience. We should say with glad hearts, “Here am I, send me!”