As I labored over the book Vertical Church (David C. Cook, 2012) this past year, I realized I couldn’t have written the book even a decade earlier. I wasn’t ready. Now 25 years into what I intend by God’s grace to be a lifetime in one church, I’ve made enough mistakes and learned enough lessons to pass them on to a larger audience than the one which has made this journey with me. “Unashamed Adoration” is a central pillar in an understanding of the church that is all about the glory of God. As I say earlier in the book, if a church is without the glory of God, anything else it might feature is vanity and chasing after wind. The chapter behind this article is the first of four seeking to explore God’s answers to the question: What brings Your glory down? We have our first answer from the lips of Jesus Himself: “worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
Although I can now see how God was whetting my appetite for worship during my adolescence, it really wasn’t until a trip to California as a young pastor when the Holy Spirit met me powerfully and tuned my heart to sing his praise. I was taken one Sunday to Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa. At the time I had no idea I was entering a church just ten years into the twentieth century’s greatest outpouring of conversions, church planting, and original worship.
That night the worship was strange and sweet as I sat quietly near the back like a kid on a bike with training wheels at the Tour de France. The experience of worship shattered my previous assumptions of what church could actually be. Just a couple of guitar players on stools but their sweet simplicity set my biblical worship “bar” at a whole new level. More than just the platform talent though, it was the worshipers all around me looking up, raising their hands or kneeling, quietly singing with an expression, that shouted their sincerity. I had never witnessed such Jesus joy reflected on every face I could see. It was the first time I remember raising my arms above my head in worship or feeling my cheeks wet with tears of Christ love. There was a purity and quiet passion that flowed first into me and then out through me with a depth that felt physical.
Worship: The Most Powerful Thing We Do
When Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21), He was punctuating the absolute centrality of worship as the determinant for every human future. Worship or adoration is the most powerful expression a human being is capable of. When worship is directed to an unworthy person or object, we call it idolatry. Idolatry, not pride, is the root of all sin. Pride is the wrong view of self that fuels idolatry, but the ultimate sin is the actual act of placing anyone or anything on the throne that is God’s alone: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 2:3). Jesus reiterated that reality, circling “Love the Lord your God” as the greatest commandment (Mt 22:34-40; Mk 12:28-34).
The highest human experience is to express our love to the most worthy object of that affection. In the elevation of Christ’s worthiness, our greatest joy is discovered. The greatest sin, then, is directing that adoration elsewhere; not only because it insults God, but also because it insulates our hearts from the delight we were created to revel in. But when a believing community amplifies worship as their ultimate priority, they are shaped by that adoration into the most powerful human force possible.
This is a sample of the feature article in the current issue of Worship Leader magazine. To read this article and to get more just like it, subscribe today!
This article has been adapted from Vertical Church (D.C. Cook, 2012), chapter 5. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture bolded and from ESV.