Something remarkable, even unimaginable will take place when you gather with God’s people this weekend. Most of us have lost our sense of wonder and awe with what’s happening, but it’s a phenomenon worth rehearsing. God has transformed helpless, hardened sinners into joyful, outspoken worshippers.
The book of Zephaniah offers a great set of prescription lenses through which to witness the glory of corporate worship, wherever you worship. Zephaniah exposes the darkness and wickedness in man’s rebellion against God — just how unlikely, even impossible heartfelt worship really is. But he also writes about the God who turns hardened hearts and overcomes the worst and most perverse corruption in us. God takes mouths that once mocked him, and fills them with the sweetest admiration and praise.
What Poisons Our Praise
We’re familiar with lots of verses from the Prophets — descriptions of the Messiah, promises of lasting peace and joy, commentary on God’s grace and mercy. The verses that aren’t often read in services or plastered on inspirational coffee mugs are just as important to the story, though.
“I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. . . . “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. . . . those who have turned back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him.” (Zephaniah 1:2, 4, 6)
Why was God so furious? What would cause God — “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6) — to bring such swift and awful violence against the world — his people and the nations around them? Three answers Zephaniah gives are pride (Zephaniah 3:2), complacency (Zephaniah 1:12), and an obsession and dependence on the things of this world (Zephaniah 1:18). Three answers Zephaniah might rightly (and tragically) give of the church still today.
When we lift our voices in dependence, joy, and worship, we are experiencing the most unlikely twist in history.
The people were prideful — indulging in other gods (Zephaniah 1:5), defying God’s justice (Zephaniah 1:12), opposing his word (Zephaniah 2:5), and rejecting his correction (Zephaniah 3:2). Pride is the poison of worship. It pretends not to need God, and chooses selfish, dangerous paths rather than the life God provides. They were complacent — putting off truth, justice, and holiness for another day — not believing God would or even could judge their sin (Zephaniah 1:12). And they obsessed over possessions, looking to finer homes, more wine, and extravagant wealth for protection and satisfaction (Zephaniah 1:13, 18). They were confident and comfortable, but they were also condemned to severe punishment — to destruction at the hands of the most powerful Person alive, the awesome God they had offended and assaulted.
The Divine Speech Class
While God watched the whole world soak themselves in sin — in pride against him, complacency despite him, and contentment without him — he had his eyes and heart on a few. He had decided, wholly apart from what they deserved, to rescue and repurpose men and women for praise. He would rip the rebellion from their hands and put a new message in their mouths.
“At that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.” (Zephaniah 3:9)
These are the seemingly small, but spectacular and eternal miracles populating the pews on Sunday morning. When God’s children, with hearts full, lift our voices in dependence, joy, and worship, we are experiencing the most unlikely twist in history. We who hated God — who preferred money, sex, and self over him — now wholly live for him and exult in his presence. God has authored a surprising and sublime ending to our story.
Joy in God, Joy of God
Worship itself is a most sensational miracle — a heart revived and given an eternal and glorious purpose. But the dream come true is that this worship not only satisfies God, it also satisfies us — far beyond our wildest imaginations.
Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. (Zephaniah 3:14–15)
The safety and happiness of knowing God as ever-loving and ever-present will satisfy the deepest, most desperate longings in your soul. When you meet this God and know more and more of him, you won’t have to tell your heart to rejoice. It will be full and overflowing. Joy is the spontaneous song of the saved, the never-ending condition of the acquitted.
And even more amazingly, there is One who goes before us, above us, and beyond us in our joy.
The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
As you walk into corporate worship this weekend — especially as you sing God’s goodness back to him — know that he rejoices over you, too. His love for you is the surest. His joy in you is the fullest. His song over you is the loudest. Therefore, in worship, we are truly living a dream come true.