First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday ~ August 16, 2020)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
Ecclesiastes 5:1-7; Hebrews 4:14-16
Today we travel on through our series in the book of Ecclesiastes, and we get to chapter 5. I believe, as someone said to me after worship last Sunday, this series is timely for God’s people because it takes our eyes off the vanities of this life to what is enduring and lasting. Ecclesiastes may seem to drive us to despair, but in reality, it gives birth to an unfailing hope. It’s the hope of God’s presence, sovereignty, and faithfulness. Ecclesiastes tears down, but it also builds up. It helps us to figure out what we should keep and what we should throw away. Ecclesiastes speaks about the true meaning and purpose of life and where to find it.
Ecclesiastes chapter 5 begins a transition from the vanity of life in the world to the everlasting value of worshipping our Almighty God. As you may have noticed, God is mentioned 6 times in 7 verses. It’s a shift from the temporary to the eternal; from what is meaningless to what is purposeful. Ecclesiastes chapter 5 invites us to think about the value and importance of worship. No vanity in worship. In chapter 5, the Preacher gives us some valuable advice as when we come to worship. How can we make the most out of our worship experience? How can we allow God to transform our lives as we encounter Him in worship?
Wisdom for Worship
While you and I are still living through the difficulties of a broken world, God wants us to be refreshed, renewed, and energized when we come to worship Him. In His providence, God has set aside the Lord’s Day as a time to present ourselves to Him in corporate worship.
But a true and authentic worship experience requires preparation; serious and real preparation. When proper preparation is overlooked, great blessings are missed. God never intended for us to show up for the worship service then we exit the same way we enter – unmoved, unchanged, unaltered – and, we’re happy to return next time.
The problem is most of us will be content just to be there; content with a “nice” service. A few, however, seek more. And those few leave wide-eyed with wonder of having experienced worship rather than merely endured worship. King Solomon, writing three thousand years ago, gives us some helpful instructions in order to encounter the Almighty God when we come into His house. In Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, the Preacher offers four important ways to enhance the quality of our worship, but for the sake of our time, I will cover two today and two next Sunday.
First: Get Ready to Meet God
The destination of worship is to meet God. When you come to worship, be ready to meet God. The Preacher wrote in Ecclesiastes 5:1, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.” The phrase “guard your steps” means to proceed with reverence, to walk prudently, to tip toeing into the presence of God. We come to the presence of God with dignity and respect. We approach God with the same care as Moses when he encountered God in a burning bush and took off his shoes. He was on holy ground, and he knew it.
Someone once said, we “do church” as many “do lunch,” casually and unprepared. Our hearts and minds are not ready to encounter the Most High. We don’t anticipate God’s presence or voice. Consequently, we’re unable to experience the presence of God that will stir our souls, change our lives, and satisfy our hunger for meaning.
Let me encourage you to come to worship prepared to encounter God. Pray before you come so you will be ready to pray when you get here. Read the Word during the week so your heart will be soft when you worship with the body of Christ. Come hungry. Come willing. Come expecting God to speak. Come anticipating a memorable experience with the Creator of the universe.
Second: Listen to God
The Preacher offers further instructions for experiencing God in worship. In Ecclesiastes 5:1 he says, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God; to draw near to listen is better than the sacrifice offered by fools.” The second advice is to listen to God. The Bible has so much to say about listening. In 1 Samuel 15:22, Samuel said these words to King Saul, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”
Often times, the Prophets criticized the people of Israel for “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” God wants us to listen to Him. The Prophet Isaiah wrote these great words to the nation of Israel; a nation that turned its back on God and whose heart grew dull. In Isaiah 48:17-18, God says, “This is what the Lord says — your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea.”
Sometimes we drag ourselves to the Lord’s house, we are physically present, but our minds are somewhere else. Yes, my friends, sometimes instead of listening to what the Spirit says to us, we proof the bulletin for typos or we make the grocery list, or our to-do list for next week. And before you know it, the service is over and we got very little out of it or nothing at all because our minds were elsewhere. The Prophet Hosea says, “They sow the wind and we reap the whirlwind” Hosea 8:7. We were not good listeners for sure.
Friends, I encourage you today to examine the quality of your worship. When you show up for worship, do you get ready to meet God? Do you get excited to encounter the Most High? Are you listening to what the Spirit is saying? Solomon concluded this passage by two important words: “Fear God.” I like how the Message translation puts Ecclesiastes 5:7, “But against all illusion and fantasy and empty talk. There’s always this rock foundation: Fear God!”
The Hebrew verb “יְרָֽא” “Ya-ra”, to fear God, does not mean dread or terror; it means holy awe and respect. It’s that deep sense of living in God’s presence and beholding His awesomeness. In other words, we are to take God seriously. Our temptation is to take God too lightly. It’s true that the author of Hebrews 4:16 encourages us to approach the throne of grace with boldness, but we should never forget that God is the Almighty who has no equal. We’re to approach Him with respect and reverence. To Him alone be the glory now and forever more. Amen!
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