We are a fame-obsessed culture. How do I know? Because with four seconds of effort Cristiano Ronaldo can post a picture to 323 million followers of his luxury, pillow-top mattress installed in his initials-emblazoned private jet which happens to be the most expensive private jet sold to an individual in the world. In another two seconds, Katy Perry can show more than a hundred million people the new designer outfit she put on her dog Nugget. I’m not knocking Ronaldo and Katy (especially if you guys are reading this). I know they have problems too, and the glitz isn’t all we think it is. Rather, I’m knocking our obsession with celebrity and fame.
If there is one truth about humanity, it’s that we know how to worship. Why else do I know more details about Jay-Z’s personal life than I know about my neighbor who lives two doors down the street? We can’t help it. We worship. It’s in our wiring. It’s just a matter of what and whom we worship. It’s critical to get this right because what we worship both reveals the state of our soul and determines the direction of our lives.
When I find myself lost in a celebrity binge—“What did they say, what did they eat, what did they buy now?”—I end up feeling hollow and trapped within the limits of my little life. As author Greg Beale said in his book by the same title, we become what we worship. If we worship striving for our own gain, we get emptiness because, as Jesus said, “We can gain the whole world yet lose our soul” (Matthew 16:26, my paraphrase). Our hearts have been pointed in the wrong direction.
You’ve probably heard the word “worship” associated with the church sing-along time. Or if you’ve paged through the book of Psalms, which I’ve mentioned earlier in this book, you’ll realize it is a collection of “worship” songs as well as prayers. It is probably the first hymnal we know of. Take a look at these verses:
Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.
Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.
Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
This is just a sampling. The pages of Scripture are brimming with the concept of worshiping God. When you start to unpack all of it, you realize it isn’t intended to be just a small add-on activity before the church announcements. Worship is the baseline of our existence. Like a tree always reaching toward the sunlight, we are designed to always reach toward the God of heaven in worship.
Why Do Christians Worship?
Let’s pause. For years, I couldn’t really understand worship. I thought the whole following Jesus deal was about love. Why in the world would the loving God who redeemed me turn around and ask me to worship him? Isn’t that complete arrogance or pride? I mean, that’s what demagogues and dictators do: seek to be worshiped. Why would the God who calls me his beloved child, who wants a relationship with me, start telling me to praise him? That doesn’t sound like a good father.
These questions stunted the growth of my heart. I was so put off by broken displays of power and pride in our world that I withheld worship from God.
Until I had a breakthrough. Sarah and I have an understanding. When her birthday comes, I must give her one thing. Presents are good, and yes, she wants them, but if we are in a financial bind, skip the presents, maybe even skip the party. But don’t ever skip a handwritten card. Once I bought her a very nice present but forgot the handwritten card; it didn’t go so well. Sarah’s birthday card is a chance to tell her how much I love her and how thankful I am for our relationship. I’ve learned to go a little further now. I add affirmations about her characteristics that I most admire.
I say things such as, “Sarah, I appreciate your kindness; you are always there for your friends. I admire your perseverance; you don’t give up when you know something is important. I respect how well you listen to me and others; we feel loved by you. You are gorgeous, I can’t stop thinking about you . . .” Okay, enough of that.
Communicating this kind of admiration and praise, I noticed, actually rebounded back to me. The act of writing or speaking those words grew the affection in my heart for Sarah. Negativity has the same but opposing effect. If we speak and dwell on frustrations or say hurtful things about others, it compounds the negative view we carry toward those people.
By speaking affirmations and praise, our love and respect grows, and it flows both from us and back to us. This could be one of the explanations behind worship. Literary giant and my writing hero, C. S. Lewis, points out:
The most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise . . . The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least . . . Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible . . . I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about . . .
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed . . . The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him. (C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt Press, 1958), pages 93–95.)
To enjoy God means that we experience the love, peace, fulfillment, truth, expansive pleasure of his presence and blessings and unconditional love in our lives. God knows that if we don’t worship him, we are actually cutting ourselves off from his very presence—the enjoyment of himself. He is able to be more present in our lives the more we worship him. This is one reason God invites us to worship him—because, in worship, we experience more of him and grow in full enjoyment of him.
Another reason is rooted in the very definition of the word “worship.” Worship means to acknowledge worth. That’s why when we think of praising God and compare it to praising Aaron Rodgers, it’s just silly. (It is always silly to praise anything connected to the Green Bay Packers, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make here. No offense, my Cheesehead friends.)
Some of what we worship in this world has worth. A shiny new Tesla, a well-timed three-pointer, a singer or film director or professor or kind cashier. All have some worth, but none has all worth and none is perfect. We can’t attribute human characteristics or behavior to God. We can’t attribute human fallibility to him. In fact, there is nothing on this earth any of us have ever experienced before that compares to Christians worshiping God; it is a completely otherworldly concept.
All the worship and praise of cultural icons is like ash and dust compared to worshiping God. Worship of the created is a shadow compared to worshiping the Creator. All things, including people, are finite and are covered in tarnish. Yet, God has pure value and endless worth; he is incomparably great and unexplainably close. God is worthy of our worship unlike anything or anyone else.
Listen to the great worth of Jesus which the apostle Paul describes in Colossians 1. Hearing these words unlocks an innate response of worship in my soul.
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
When you first begin to worship God, it feels admittedly strange, incompatibly confusing with the rest of life and what we’ve known. Never have we praised something truly worthy of glory, until now.
And yet, there is an undercurrent beneath our worship which feels like the most natural, human, wired-into-our-very-being thing we have ever done. It’s as if we were made to do this. Like a newborn clinging to its mother, we know worship of our good, loving, and powerful God is what we were intended to do. The most appropriate words I’ve ever spoken are words of worship to God. The most stirring songs I’ve ever sung are praise to my heavenly Father. You and I were designed to glorify him and, in that, we can enjoy him and his presence.
Here’s the final reason for worship I’ll mention. Worship is a compass. The magnetic pull and rotation of the earth always points a compass back to true north. (Unless you are stuck in Jules Verne’s novel Journey to the Center of the Earth, then it points south!)
Remember the idolatry we discussed in chapter four, Your Greatest Threat? Idolatry is when we turn to the created to get what only the Creator can give. Ill-placed worship is giving to the created what only the Creator deserves. Idolatry and worship have an interconnected relationship. When we turn to some broken thing, our worship flows back out to broken things and we end up broken—a shipwrecked soul, disconnected from our true purpose. But when we turn to the Creator, our worship flows up to the Creator and we experience all enjoyment.
If you are wondering, “How’s the health of my soul?” just look at your worship, and it will accurately tell you. Is praise of God flowing freely? Is his honor and the joy of his presence in your life pouring from your lips? If not, there’s a broken connection.
Worship will always be the compass back to north, back to the way we were intended to be. Worship cuts off the process of idolatry and allows us to turn back to our good Creator to get what only he can give and to give what only he deserves. Worship is the way back home.
This is an excerpt from Craig Springer’s new book, How to Follow Jesus: A Practical Guide to Growing Your Faith (Zondervan + Seedbed). In How to Follow Jesus, Craig Springer, executive director of Alpha USA, one of America’s most effective evangelism movements, explodes numerous myths surrounding the Christian faith that create unnecessary obstacles to growth, including: illustrating that sin and temptation are not the greatest threat to a flourishing faith, forgiveness means going through rather than around our feelings, and how disappointment in the church may be the essential step in growing a foundation for life-changing community.
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