Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
God, who started Reclamation War by choosing a man and the Holy Land, later expanded His army by calling a people, the man’s descendants. As God was returning them to the Holy Land, after their deliverance from Egypt and rescue at the Red Sea, Moses led them in a song of praise. Our text, a key verse from that song, indicates the importance of worship in Israel’s relationship with God.
Exodus 15:2 “The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my
salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an
habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him.”
Exodus unveils the steps God took His people through to make them a world-impacting force. Before giving them the land, the symbol of His intent to reclaim the whole world, God emphasized to Israel the importance of worship.
First, they needed redemption, to be called out of Egypt, out of “lostness” as it were. Their service began with worship, with being redeemed by shed blood, set apart to God as a chosen people. The act of worship we call salvation, having a personal love relationship with Jesus, is always a prerequisite to all else we do.
Second, they needed to learn obedience. God gave Israel the ten commandments. Holiness matters most. Obedient living is an essential aspect of worship.
Third, they needed corporate worship. God had them build a Tabernacle, a structure to pull them together, bringing cohesion to their worship of God. Let us never forsake assembling ourselves together. We are meant to share community.
Once Israel mastered redemption, obedience, and corporate worship, they were ready to be a blessing. After they moved past mediocrity, God used them.
Rahab the harlot cast her lot with Israel because she saw God in them (Joshua 2:8-10). She heard about the mighty acts God performed among them.
Ruth, willing to leave her people because she saw attractive godliness in Naomi, said not only, “Your people shall be my people,” but also, “and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16). The God manifest in Naomi was the draw, the attraction.
What about us? What margin of difference is needed to set us apart from mediocrity, to warrant God making us a blessing, using us as His representatives?
We all have ideals of what successful Christians should be like–Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, a staff member, Sunday School teacher, a godly lay person. We must reduce the difference between where we are as contrasted to our ideals.
Don’t expect God to reproduce mediocrity. We must, by God’s grace, do something about us. Jonah had to be changed before he could go to Nineveh. He had to overcome racism and ethnocentricism, to rise to the point he could say, “Salvation is of the Lord.” God used Jonah, when worshiping aright, mightily, but as his life fell out of sync once more, he was useless again and sat under a gourd.
In the Christian life, all roads lead back to worship. This is well illustrated, as Spurgeon noted, by the seraphim in Isaiah’s famous vision. He was allowed to see them not just for special effect, but as examples of what Isaiah himself was to be. They were on the wing, ready for any errand, and adoring God as they waited.
Their effectiveness began with their being near the Lord. Ours does, too. Can we remember a time when we were closer to God than we are right now? If yes, do something about it. Our calling is to progression, not regression.
The seraphim were burning ones. This is what the word seraphim means. They were creatures of fire, ablaze with ardor. God, a consuming fire, can only be mightily served by people on fire. Lethargy and halfheartedness are disallowed, a farce before Him. May we, like John the Baptist, be burning and shining lights.
The seraphim have six wings. With two they fly. They are full of life and motion. Some who claim to know the Lord seem motionless and inactive. They are more sloth than seraph, more weight than wing. Worship is not exhausted in adoration and intimacy. Love requires more. It calls for action. If I decided to hold Ruth, hug Ruth, praise Ruth, be with Ruth, and do nothing else, it would be a stunted love. Love begins and flourishes in holding, hugging, and praising, but has to move on to actions on behalf of the beloved. I go to work, and do dishes.
Two wings cover each seraph’s face, a statement of adoration for God’s supreme beauty. Even angelic beings are stunned by His dazzling brightness.
Two wings cover their feet. Though sinless, the seraphim are modest and humble, not wanting God to see “less comely parts.” Do things in our lives need to be “covered,” removed so God won’t have to endure the pain of seeing them?
In the seraphim, Isaiah and we see how worship is to be manifest in our lives–close to God, ablaze, active, adoring Him, humble–all are essential ingredients to true worship. The key to success is the union of contemplation and work in proper proportions. The most successful believers effectively wed the two.
Few are more famous for their lifetime of works than John Wesley. His accomplishments were prodigious, yea legendary, but this man famous for his deeds claimed, “My one aim in life is to secure personal holiness.”
The greatest missionary/pastor duo of all time was William Carey and Andrew Fuller. The former went to the mission field, the latter stayed home to raise financial support. Together they launched the modern missions movement. They worked at staggering levels. But there was more to them than only works.
As William Carey was dying in 1834, the Scottish missionary Alexander Duff came to pay his respects. Duff kept bragging on the legendary missionary until Carey finally whispered, “Mr. Duff! You have been speaking about Dr. Carey. When I am gone, say nothing about Dr. Carey. Speak about Dr. Carey’s Savior.” Therein we catch a glimpse of Carey’s lifelong secret of success: a passionate love for Jesus. Carey’s life work was missions, his life worship was Jesus. Everything sprang from his love relationship with Jesus.
Meanwhile, back home, after twenty years in the missions enterprise, Fuller’s health collapsed. He had a pulmonary attack from which he never fully recovered. Sensing the damage, he wrote, “If I should die, I shall be able to say to the rising generation, “God will surely visit you.” A work is begun that will not end till the world be subdued to the Savior.”
At this critical moment, when his body was already about to be offered, news came that a disastrous fire had destroyed Carey’s publishing house in India.
It became Fuller’s last great cause. Having taken an oath to help as long as he lived, Fuller mustered his last ounces of strength to the task. The money was raised, the print shop rebuilt.
Andrew Fuller could now go to Heaven in peace. On Sunday morning, May 7, 1815, sick and weak in his house which adjoined his church, Fuller woke when he heard his people singing.
He said to his family, “I wish I had strength enough to worship. Come and help me.” They propped him up in bed and for thirty minutes he silently enjoyed the songs of his flock, and then went on to sing his own song in Heaven. What Fuller did at the end of his life demonstrated that worship had been the power source for his lifetime of works.
Much needs to be done. Cries of hurting people haunt our sleep, begging us to awake and labor in their behalf. Work work work beckons to be done.
We have sung a promise to God, “We’ll work till Jesus comes, We’ll work till Jesus comes, And we’ll be gathered home.” We intend to keep our promise.
We admonish one another in song, “To the work! To the work!. . .Let us do with our might what our hands find to do. . . .To the work! To the work! Let the hungry be fed; To the fountain of life let the weary be led. . . .To the work! To the work! In the strength of the Lord, And a robe and a crown shall our labor reward.”
To the work we daily and gladly go. But in the midst of our working, let’s remember to keep worship uppermost. Holiness matters most. Maintain strong devotion for Jesus. Live beyond mediocrity. As is oft said, if our output exceeds our intake, our upkeep will be our downfall. Or, to state it another way, God will go with us no further in public than we have gone with Him in private.