"Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me" (Matthew 15:7-8)
I want to talk to you about mental distractions during prayer and worship - especially in the house of God. Jesus called people hypocrites who came into His presence mouthing words of praise, but whose minds and hearts were preoccupied. He spoke directly to them, saying, "You give Me your mouth and your lips - but your mind is somewhere else. Your heart is nowhere near Me!"
What about you? Most likely, you are present in God's house for an hour every week. So, your body is in church - but where is your mind? Your mouth says, "I worship You, Lord" - but is your heart a thousand miles away? Where do your thoughts take you during worship and praise?
Does your mind become drawn to personal or family problems? Do you become preoccupied with a business matter that's been hounding you? How distracted do you get during that hour in church as the congregation draws near to God's majesty?
You may answer, "Everything my mind focuses on is God's business. I care for my family, and I do my work as unto Him. So my thoughts aren't evil. They're focused on my calling and my obligations. I just come to church with so much on my mind. That can't be so bad."
Yet, keep in mind that the people Jesus addressed were worshipers who had "drawn nigh unto Him" - believers who had gathered in God's name to worship corporately. Jesus said they honored Him with their words. Maybe they even raised their hands and praised loudly. Indeed, what He describes sounds like great, forceful worship.
But where was their mind, their heart, as they worshiped Him? If they were distracted in thought, then their worship was hypocritical - worthless! Their bodies may have been in the sanctuary - but their hearts could have been anywhere else in creation.
We Have Not Even Begun To Understand
How Seriously God Takes This Matter of Worship
- and How We Are to Draw Nigh Unto Him!
It is not a light thing to come into God's house! If you attend a church where people are merely playing games - where the pastor delivers a short sermonette, eager to get it over with - then the devil probably doesn't bother with you. But if you go to a church where people are set on worship - a place God has blessed with the anointing of His Spirit - it is absolutely dangerous to come into His presence lightly! "Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the Lord spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified..." (Leviticus 10:3).
The Lord had said to Moses, "I will not be treated as an ordinary person! If you're going to enter into My presence, you must come before Me sanctified. All who approach My holiness must do so with carefulness and thoughtfulness - because of My glory and majesty!"
The Bible warns against hasty, rash worship: "Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth..." (Ecclesiastes 5:2).
We are not to utter anything in the Lord's presence without our heart and soul in it.
Yet what a babble of praises Christians pour out - so little of it connected to our hearts! What a river of thoughtless hallelujahs and songs are mouthed by people whose thoughts ramble away like wild horses. Beloved, that is taking the Lord's name in vain! And - "...the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain" (Exodus 20:7).
In the Old Testament, the least flippancy in worship was severely judged. God quickly punished those who were careless in approaching His presence:
- In Leviticus 10, Aaron's two sons, Nadab and Abihu, went into God's presence nonchalantly. They did their temple duties by rote, with no awe or respect for the things of God. In fact, they didn't even think the Lord would take notice if they rushed into His presence offering strange fire. So they hurried in, anxious to get back to their fornication outside the tabernacle:
"And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord" (Leviticus 10:1-2).
God slew them on the spot! He was saying, in essence, "I'm going to show every church age, every future child of Mine, that My people must be sanctified when they draw near to Me!"
- Uzzah was struck dead when he took lightly the ark of God, which represented the Lord's presence. He thought it was no big deal to reach out his hand and steady the ark to keep it from falling. But God judged his irreverence on the spot - and Uzzah died immediately!
- The Bethshemites also approached the ark without reverence. Bethshema was a Levitical town, where the people had a priestly background. They knew God's commands respecting the ark. Yet, rather than showing an awe and respect for it, they were merely curious about it.
The Canaanites had just returned the ark, because so many people in Canaan had died. And now the Bethshemites said, "We've heard all about the ark. But what's it like inside?" Someone lifted off the mercy seat and peered in. People then must have lined up for hours to get a peek inside the ark - because Scripture says 50,070 of them died! God slew them all because they took the ark lightly, not honoring the majesty of His presence.
Afterward, someone said, "Who can approach this holy God?" And that is exactly what God wanted - a holy fear in the people's hearts, so they wouldn't take His presence lightly!
If you were to walk into St. Peter's Cathedral here in New York City, you would hear a holy hush. Yet in many evangelical churches on Sunday morning, you hear only babbling as you walk in. Beloved, we need to enter God's holy place with a reverent heart!
The Puritans spent all day Saturday preparing for Sunday worship services. It was a holy thing for them to go into God's house, and they took care to sanctify and purge themselves before the Lord. They prayed, "Oh God, don't let me walk into Your house loosely!"
You may answer, "But this is a day of grace. God doesn't slay irreverent worshipers in His presence today." The truth is, God's judgment is far greater today. Careless worshipers are now slain spiritually - and it is a slaying unto death!
You see, the more irreverence for God's presence creeps into your heart, the less reverence you practice. And that irreverence only increases, until eventually you approach God's presence with total thoughtlessness and carelessness. It all leads to spiritual death!
You may think your thoughts are beyond judgment. But God looks upon and listens to the heart: "For the word of God is...a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart....all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:12-13).
We Are Commanded to Worship God in Spirit and In Truth!
Would you dare walk into church on Sunday morning carrying a straw dummy, set it down in your favorite seat, then go home and watch TV? Preposterous, you say? A mockery?
If your heart is not engaged in worship - if your mind is not present, your thoughts not captive to the obedience of Christ - you might as well put a straw man in your seat. At least it's more honest than coming into God's house with no mind and heart!
What kind of blasphemy would it have been for the Levites to fill their censers with sulphur instead of sweet-smelling incense? Yet, that is exactly what we Christians do! We bring into God's presence sulphur-filled censers - that is, minds which are filled with all kinds of sinful, proud, out-of-control thoughts, and we allow them to ramble freely. What horrible sin - to attempt to worship with our minds captivated by the spirit of this world!
Christians are now in such a hurry they don't even want to get out of their cars. Some churches offer drive-in worship, where people can roll down their windows and listen to a service through a speaker. Other Christians don't even get out of bed to go to church. Pastor Smiling Sam brings his soothing message right into their bedroom, on TV!
How will these people stand before the judgment seat of Christ and answer His command: "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching" (Hebrews 10:25).
How can such believers say they love Jesus, and yet not want to be with God's people?
On the other hand, literally millions of so-called Christians gather for an hour every Sunday morning for what is called "worship service." Thousands of choirs voice praises to God, with instruments blaring, soloists singing, songbooks flipping open, congregants praising.
Yet, much of this so-called worship never gets past the rafters! Instead, it falls flat on the ground - unheard, unaccepted, a total loss. Why? It's because people's minds are on football games, sports, television. Wives fret about their Sunday roast. Their lips and mouths speak praises - but their hearts are far from Jesus!
Indeed, many worshipers are diseased with what I call "spiritual madness." Madness is a disarray of mind - wildly fluctuating thoughts, short interest spans, no consistent chain of thought. And, similarly, "spiritual madness" is marked by roving, frenzied thoughts, the mind making trips around the world - all the while the mouth worships and the lips sing praises. That is spiritual madness in the sight of God!
Try sitting for one hour in the Oval Office of the President the same way you do in the Lord's presence. Stare up at the ceiling, gaze out the window, sigh, let your mind wander, slouch in your seat, close your eyes and lay your head back. Within minutes the President would buzz his secretary and say, "Get this character out of my presence! What's he doing here?"
"Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness it is! and ye have snuffed at it [that is, sighed and taken heavy breaths], saith the Lord of hosts...thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the Lord....offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of hosts" (Malachi 1:13, 8).
God is saying, "Try to treat your governor the way you treat Me. Act in front of some well-known person the same way you act before Me. See if either of them accepts your behavior!"
God does not accept weak, boring, halfhearted worship! And the reason many Christians do not worship in church with power, excitement and zeal is because they have no intimacy with Jesus at home. Those who have learned to worship and focus on Jesus privately don't need a pastor to pump them up when they come into God's house. They bring their own fire - a fire ignited in the secret closet of prayer!
True worshipers can't wait to get to church, to praise the Lord among God's people. Nobody has to lure them with concerts, entertainment, hype. Yet most churches today are run like airline companies offering "frequent flyer mileage": Come to church every Sunday and pile up free points. Earn double bonus points for midweek service. Earn triple bonus points for prayer meeting. Beloved, this hype only inhibits true worship!
All of this has to do with prayer as well. So often when we approach God's throne, we quickly become distracted in the holy place. We pray wonderful words, our lips move - but soon we realize our mind is somewhere else. Such distracted praying is unacceptable - a waste of time!
Think about it: When the soul departs the body, all that remains is a dead carcass. And so it is with prayer and worship: When your mind departs from your praying, all that's left is a worthless carcass. Your prayers have no life!
Does God bless and honor those who merely show up in His house? Not if we've left our mind somewhere else! We don't get "spiritual credit" just for planting our body in a pew. Our bodily presence is of no value if we show up drowsy, distracted, half asleep. It's as if we expect God to hear prayers we don't even hear as we pray them! We want Him to accept worship we don't even remember offering.
Why are we so distracted in worship and prayer? Let me give you some reasons:
1. We Fail to Bring Every Thought Captive
to the Obedience of Christ!
Our minds have a natural tendency to wander and drift. Often we can't sleep because we're unable to shut down the barrage of thoughts that invades our minds. It happens to students in school; they can't keep their minds on the lessons. I call these "unwilling distractions."
As I sat in church during worship recently, I was flooded with invading thoughts - thoughts of ministry, my next sermon, church finances, the need for more space. These are all important things. But my mind was totally distracted from worshiping the Lord. I had to fight off these things and keep bringing my thoughts into captivity!
When God communed with Abraham and made covenant with him, Abraham killed five animals and laid them out as a sacrifice. Scripture says that - "...when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away" (Genesis 15:11).
That is exactly what happens to us during worship! Thoughts fly down on us like bothersome birds, interfering with our intimacy, trying to devour our sacrifice. And, like Abraham, we need to drive them all away.
Yet there are also "voluntary distractions." This is when a person allows his thoughts to drift in and out. Sometimes he is focused on worship - but most of the time he allows other thoughts to intrude. He praises only in spurts because his mind drifts in and out of the service. Eventually this person will lose all focus - and he'll end up out of it completely!
Every time I shut myself in to pray, within ten minutes my thoughts begin to run off in all directions. I hear my mouth worshiping the Lord, but my mind is completely on something else. I try fighting off the flood of thoughts, but even more come pouring in. And so it is with me in God's house. I can be praising the Lord, full of love for Jesus - and suddenly my mind begins chasing after some other matter.
That is the flesh wanting our attention! It constantly wars against our spirit. Our wandering thoughts aren't always of the devil. Sometimes they simply crowd in on us - thoughts of business, family, problems, difficulties. But they must always be brought into captivity - because we are at war!
The flesh will always try to interfere with our worship. It intrudes, crying, "Look at you - you're too tired! Your eyes are closing. Don't give the Lord such a weak offering. Go to bed now. You can pray later when you're more alert."
But if we allow the flesh to have its way, we'll never pray! We are commanded to resist the flesh, to stand up against it. And so we have to keep bringing Jesus back into focus. We are to keep our mind centered on Him. And soon God's fire will fall on our holy sacrifice!
2. There Are Satanic Distractions!
"And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him" (Zechariah 3:1).
Satan will resist every true worshiper who draws near to God! James instructs: "...Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God..." (James 4:7-8).
James presupposes that when you draw near to God, you are going to be attacked by the enemy. So he warns, "First, fight Satan - put up all your resistance - because when you worship with all your mind and soul, he's always going to oppose and distract you!"
Satan's chief work is to hinder prayer and corrupt pure worship - especially in those who are serious about following Jesus. Whenever the Holy Spirit moves in Times Square Church - when all minds are focused on the Lord, and He is receiving pure, unadulterated worship - Satan uses everything in his power to try to disrupt it!
A few weeks ago, a demon-possessed man sat down in the front row. And right at the peak of worship - just when the glory of the Lord was manifesting in great power and authority - this man went into a demonic frenzy. Six of our workers had to remove him - and he actually bit several of them as they carried him out.
(We didn't know at the time whether this man had AIDS. We feared for our workers, because medical experts recently proved that a person had contracted AIDS through a human bite. We prayed as the demoniac was tested - and thank God, the tests were negative.)
Half an hour later, the demoniac didn't even remember what he had done. Satan had tried to distract us from what God was doing, to take our minds off the Lord. But it did not work!
A few months ago, a man got up in the middle of our service, went outside, picked up a garbage can and smashed it into a car windshield. Then he calmly walked back into church and sat down. The police had to come into our meeting and take the man out!
These distractions happen all the time. Demon-possessed street people walk in, take a seat and fall asleep. But just as our worship begins and the Lord begins to receive our praises, the devil wakes these people up. They begin cursing, making a scene - trying to disrupt!
Satan will do anything to disrupt pure, dedicated worship - because he fears it! He'll shoot subtle darts into your mind, injecting all kinds of unfinished business. He'll replay every problem, every worry, every failure of the past week. And he'll play on your emotions, replaying images in your mind like a motion-picture machine. He'll whisper:
"How can you worship, you hypocrite? You sinned yesterday! You're a phony. You can't raise your hands and praise the Lord, because you're unworthy. Others around you live in victory. But you're the only one who's failing God!"
Satan wants you to be a despairing, defeated believer - so wrapped up in your problems, so distracted by the cares of life, you cannot worship God with all your heart and mind. But beloved, you must hear this Word again: God looks at your heart!
Are you repentant, full of godly sorrow? Have you run to Jesus for cleansing? Have you called on the Holy Spirit for help? If so, then resist the devil's lies! Lift your hands and worship your Savior. Don't be distracted!
3. Finally, I Want to Talk About Those Who
Have Gone Beyond Distraction In the Holy Place
- to a Condition of Total Neglect Of the Lord!
"Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? yet my people have forgotten me days without number" (Jeremiah 2:32).
Oh, how this passage frightens me! I quote this verse whenever I miss my daily time of prayer because of busyness. It always drives me back to the secret place, crying, "Oh Lord, I don't want to forget You!"
This verse is even more frightening when we consider the context of the passage. God is saying to His people, "I planted you as a noble vine, a wholly right seed. You started right, and you had My touch. You once were holiness unto Me, and I blessed you. But now you have forsaken Me! You don't worship Me anymore. You have foraken the fountain of Living Water!"
"...thy backslidings shall reprove thee...it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee...thou are turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me...How canst thou say, I am not polluted...for (you) have turned (your) back unto me... In vain have I smitten your children; they received no correction...my people have forgotten me days without number" (Jeremiah 2:19-32).
God's people were no longer going to His house to worship Him. They had become lazy about the things of God, having forgotten all His blessings and judgments on them. They neglected Him for days on end, pursuing their own pleasures. And, worst of all, they said, "...I am innocent...I have not sinned" (verse 35).
Many people who think they are saved are going to miss heaven, because their distraction has turned to neglect: "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation..." (Hebrews 2:3).
Neglect here in Greek means "carelessness." This verse speaks of those who allow the Word of God to drift from them!
If you don't worship God with all your mind and heart, little by little neglect will creep in - and you'll begin to worship merely out of habit. Yet, how will you escape the Lord's judgment? How will you escape His disfavor, His wrath?
Test yourself by God's Word:
- Do you come boldly and regularly into the holiest by the blood of Jesus? (Hebrews 10:19).
- Do you consistently draw nearer to God in full assurance of faith? (verse 22).
- Do you hold fast to Him, without wavering? (verse 23).
- Do you assemble together with other believers? Or have you forsaken assembling with the saints? (verse 25).
You say you are saved, that you love Jesus. So I must ask you: Do you worship Him daily, with all your heart - in Spirit and in truth, with no distractions? Do you dig into the Word of God as if your life depends on it? Or do you go for days without opening your Bible, without praying to Him in your secret closet?
God wants us to know that His house is a house of worship. And we are going to be judged by how we value worship and how we approach His presence. We are not merely to sit and drink in; we are to bring a sacrifice! We are to set aside all flesh and cry, "Lord, I'm here to burn as a living sacrifice for You. I give You my hands, my voice, my thoughts - everything, Jesus. Consume me as a sacrifice of praise to You!"
That's the kind of praise God inhabits. So when you come into God's house this week, raise your hands and say, "Oh Jesus, I'm not where I should be - but I love You! Cleanse me, sanctify me. Give me clean hands and a pure heart. And don't let the devil touch my mind! Put a wall of fire around my thoughts. And let me bring the offering of a focused, full-minded praise unto You!"
God won't allow you to sit in your seat anymore and let your mind wander. He loves you - and He knows the power that pure worship releases in your spirit. It makes you stronger than any lion, bigger than any giant. It pulls down every wall and every stronghold - because it makes you a pure-hearted, single-minded worshiper of Him! Hallelujah!
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This material is solely for personal use and is not to be posted publicly on other web pages. The Lorain County Free-Net Chapel holds exclusive rights from World Challenge, Inc. to publicly post these messsages on its web page. You are free to download, copy, print and distribute this material, so long as you do not post it on a different Internet site. You may, however, link this site to reference these messages.
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