Sunday, February 10, 2008

Worship: Looking Closer

Worship: the topic won't leave me alone. Neither will the concept. And most of all, neither will God's call - in His word, in His people, in my heart by the prompting of His spirit. The other day at an organizational meeting, the topic arose again - the distinction between worship and singing, in that case, and how worship is expansive and indeed all-encompassing in many ways.

John Piper once commented that "Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn't" (Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of Christ in Missions). I think he's precisely correct: if we truly were worshipers of God - as He calls us to worship Him, not as we have decided to - then "missions" per se would not exist: the outpouring of all that was in our hearts would be a natural response, and the gospel would advance mightily because that is who God is.

So I want to challenge you to examine the nature of worship with me. Let me first make clear my position (definitionally, which is to say, not comprehensively but nonetheless accurately):
Worship is the proper ascribing to God of His glory (that is, the fullness of His attributes and character) by the thoughts, words, and actions of created beings; inclusive of but not limited to specific acts and times of praise.
Breaking this down, there are a number of points to examine, each of which will be expanded upon at greater length over later posts. To begin, however, I'll take a look at them at a basic level.

Proper: worship is not something to be done haphazardly. It is to be reverent, filled with awe at who He is, and it is to conform to the patterns He has given us. It is not simply whatever we want it to be. Even the sub-aspects of it - praise, art, and so on - are not to be done out of our own understanding, but submitted to Him, in accordance with His character and His revealed will. Consider, for example, the incredibly detailed instructions He gave for the building of the tabernacle or the temple, and then remember Christ's words to the woman at the well, calling us to worship in spirit and in truth. Hebrews 12:28-29 sums up this point nicely, calling us to an acceptable worship, with reverence and awe - for our God is a God of fire. (For an interesting study, look at how many times people in the Scriptures bow when they worship. For another study, at least as important, look at how many times God is called a jealous God ["whose name is Jealous"].)

Ascribing to God: this is pretty straightforward. Worship is not about us. At all. It involves us, as we're the ones doing it. But it's not about us: it is entirely centered on and focused on Him. Our part in it, our role even in our thoughts and words is our response to Him. The Psalms are like this: they often begin with a statement of the psalmist's situation or complaints, and then turn to worship: reflecting on God and who He is, not on the psalmist or his status any longer.

His glory: several points are worth noting here. First and foremost, the glory we offer to Him is His already: we can in no way increase His glory. Our offering is but a reflection to Him of the glory that is inherently His: for He is the God of glory. We do not make Him more glorious by our worship, but it is a glorious thing that He allows us to be a reflection of His glory! Further points are related to the meaning of glory itself. Looking at the Hebrew idea of glory, we note first that it carries with it a notion of immense weight. Glory, especially that of God, is not a trifling matter: when the glory of God, the Shekinah, fell on the tabernacle or the temple, it came not merely as brightness but as fullness of presence that is unbearably intense and incredibly present. We must also understand that God's glory is not merely glory as we think of it, as beauty and radiance: it is the very fullness of His character. God's glory is the reflection of all that He is, every aspect of His incredible character on display.

This leads us directly into the next points: how we worship.

Thoughts, words, and actions: worship is not something we do on Sunday mornings. If you only worship when at church, there is a serious problem with your spiritual life and your walk with God. Worship is to be lived out, not "experienced" (some church advertisements for their Sunday service to the contrary). We are to offer our bodies to Christ as living sacrifices and holy temples: but sacrifices and temples are for worship. Ultimately, our every thought should be to the glory of God. That is not to say that every thought should be of Him, but over the course of our lives as we are sanctified, more and more of our thoughts should be in accord with His will and His ways. Words and actions that are glorifying to Him will follow naturally as well as we are sanctified - indeed, as our thoughts are brought in line with His. As we are conformed to the image of Christ by the renewing of our minds (note the reference is the same as that of our being living sacrifices!), our words will change as well, since the come from the overflow of the heart; and our actions are but the execution of our wills. All of this is to come together until, ultimately, our entire lives are one continuing act of worship - as they will be in Heaven when sin no longer keeps us from Him.

Not limited to specific acts of praise: as I mentioned last time, worship is not limited to praise, and it's certainly not limited to particular times and instances. It is, optimally, the defining characteristic of our lives. Every action, then would be worship, even those not specifically acts of praise: for if we were truly holy and sanctified, every piece of art, every hour of work, every diaper changed, every task accomplished would be done in such a way and with such a heart that God would be glorified - His character reflected rightly for all to see. Specific acts of praise would be a staple of our existence, too, for in a truly sanctified existence, our thoughts would ever turn to the goodness of God and His holiness and majesty. Song, picture, dance, carpentry - all would be glorious acts of praise; but our lives would be worship all in all, not just those specific acts.

So let us learn to practicing living out worship as it is meant to be: let us offer to God an acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire!

- Chris

1 comment:

Jessica said...

"if we truly were worshipers of God - as He calls us to worship Him, not as we have decided to - then "missions" per se would not exist: the outpouring of all that was in our hearts would be a natural response, and the gospel would advance mightily because that is who God is."

It ties in with "Life a Flame" (funny how that works). If we truly grasped all that God is. If we understood worship for what it is and practiced it toward Him our lives could not help but radiate Him. The world would be changed because we would be changed. We can never expect to bring about in others what we have not experienced ourselves.

That's deep. Thank you.