- God's mandate corrects any and all self-centered approaches to worship. It reminds us that we don't worship the Lord to have our needs met or to feel better about ourselves or to get something out of it, though each of those objectives may be reached during times of praise. Instead, we worship in obedience to God's Word, regardless of how we feel.
By Sam Hamstra, Jr.
For one reason or another, we get out of bed on a Sunday morning and head off to a place called church, where we gather with some people to worship the Lord. From our perspective, it seems like we decide to worship the Lord, but the longer we are at it, the more we begin to understand that God calls us to worship Him. So, while it initially appears otherwise, we conclude that our worship begins, not with us, but with God. We reach that conclusion because the Scriptures teach that God calls us to worship, more specifically, the Father who created us, in cooperation with God the Son who has redeemed us and God the Spirit who sustains, this God initiates our worship. He does so in three ways.
First, God the Father initiates our worship by creating us to worship him. In his Worship Reformed, Hughes Oliphant Old succinctly summarizes that truth with these words: “We worship because God created us to worship him. Worship is at the center of our existence, at the heart of our reason for being” (1). The Westminster Short Catechism echoes Olds’ sentiment pronouncing that our purpose as humans, our “chief end,” is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” The apostle Paul argues this point in his letter to the Romans. Romans 1:18-23, he teaches us that every human being witnesses the invisible qualities of God in creation and should, therefore, worship Him instead of idols. In other words, when we live as God designed us to live, we witness how God’s glory shines over all the earth, discover that his love is higher than the heavens, affirm that his faithfulness reaches to the skies, and, for those reasons and more, glorify the Lord. As the Psalmist once sang:
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon, and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
…O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:3-4,9)
There is another layer to the truth that God the Father initiates our worship. God the Father, who has created us to worship him, has created us in his image or likeness so that we can worship him (Gen 1:26). Animals, in contradistinction to human beings, cannot worship God. However, because we have been created in the image of God, we may communicate with God, pray to God, and worship God. As Geoffrey Wainright observed, “humankind is seen through Scripture as made by God sufficiently like himself for communication to take place between the Creator and the human creature, a personal exchange in which each partner is meant to find satisfaction” (Christian Worship, 9). This means we don’t have to make worship relevant. For human beings created in the image of God, worship is as relevant as bread and water. We have been designed to worship. We want to worship. We need to worship. It is necessary for being human. To this point, Thomas Long writes,
“When all the clutter is cleared away from our lives, we human beings do not merely need to engage in corporate worship; we truly want to worship in communion with others. All of us know somewhere in our hearts that we are not whole without such worship, and we hunger to engage in that practice. Thus, planners of worship do not make worship meaningful; worship is already meaningful” (Beyond the Worship Wars, 17).
Unfortunately, the image of God within us has been distorted and disturbed by sin. So, left to ourselves, we fail to fulfill our purpose of worshiping the Lord in spirit and in truth. In response to our condition, God the Father, in a manner of speaking, recreates us for worship. He does so through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. A.W. Tozer asks,
Why did Christ come? Why was he conceived? Why was he born? Why was he crucified? Why did he rise again? Why is he now at the right hand of the Father? The answer to all these questions is, “in order that he might make worshipers out of rebels; in order that he might restore us again to the place of worship we knew when we were first created” (Worship the Missing Jewel, 217).
Tozer’s words affirm those of the apostle Paul who teaches us that the Lord saved us from our sins, adopted us as his children and indwelt us with the Holy Spirit “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph 1:6). Lest we doubt Paul, the apostle Peter echoed his teaching: “You are a people who belong to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet 2:9).
God the Father, then, initiates our worship, not only by creating us in his image for that purpose but by saving us for worship. God invites us to respond to his saving grace in Christ with gratitude. His salvific grace, then, prompts our praise. We witness the dynamic relationship between salvation and worship throughout the Scriptures, but particularly in the narratives surrounding Christ’s birth. Each person or angel who heard the message of salvation praised the Lord! Mary sang, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47). An angel of the Lord joined a great company of the heavenly host and praised the Lord (Luke 2:9-12). Astrologers from the East found Jesus and worshiped Him (Matt 2:11). Seems safe to conclude that those whom God saves worship Him! Walt Wangerin captures that conviction with this prayer:
“O Lord, you are the musician, and we are all your instruments. You breathe, and we come to life. You breathe, and we are horns for your glory. You blow through the winds of the spirit, and we like chimes cannot keep silent. You pluck the strings of our hearts, and we become a psalm. You come, and we must sing” (Preparing for Jesus, 82).
Even now, we, who have been saved by grace, delight in the presence of our Savior and glory in the beauty of His holiness. Those impulses will remain with us through eternity for in heaven, we, with all the angels and all the saints, will worship the Lord singing, “Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever” (Rev 7:12). Until Christ comes again, sin continues to derail God’s plan for us. Paraphrasing James K.A. Smith, our love becomes disordered; it gets aimed at the wrong ends and enjoys the wrong things (Desiring the Kingdom, 52). Consequently, instead of worshiping the Lord, we worship ourselves. Influenced by the ever-present power of sin, we enjoy the blessings of the created world and the comforts of our redemption while failing to worship God, the giver of every good and perfect gift. For that reason the Lord has not only created and saved us for worship, he also commands us to worship Him.
Scripture includes numerous commandments regarding worship, many of which may be found in the Psalms. In Psalm 113, for example, we read: “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord all you peoples! From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised!” God’s mandate corrects any and all self-centered approaches to worship. It reminds us that we don’t worship the Lord to have our needs met or to feel better about ourselves or to get something out of it, though each of those objectives may be reached during times of praise. Instead, we worship in obedience to God’s Word, regardless of how we feel. We worship the Lord even when it seems like an irrelevant waste of time. Why? Because God the Father calls us to do so. Our response to His grace and mercy is a loving act of obedience to the Father who has loved us in Christ and who lives with us through the Spirit. Consequently, we ought to worship the Lord even if we don’t get a thing out of it.
We need to worship the Lord and, consequently, find satisfaction and joy through worship. When we worship with God’s people we get something out of it. Our needs are met. We feel complete, even happy. When we worship we know a little bit about the Psalmist’s claim that a day with the Lord in worship is better than a thousand doing something else. When circumstances hinder us from gathering with God’s people for worship, we long for our return. And when we contemplate the future, we freely borrow the words of the Psalmist who said, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (27:4).
Sam Hamstra, Jr. author of What’s Love Got to Do with It?: How the Heart of God Shapes Worship (Wipf & Stock, 2016), is the Director of the Master of Arts in Worship degree program at Northern Seminary (Lisle, IL), as well as the founder and president of ChapterNext, a pastor-search and church staffing firm. To find out more about Sam, visit www.chapter-next.com.