By Steve Wyatt
God made us to worship him. Which means we need to get worship right. But at least four factors push worship out of proper focus.
The No. 1 reason God gave you his breath is to bring him pleasure.
“All things were created by him, and for him” (Colossians 1:16, King James Version; author’s emphasis).
How much of “everything” is included in “all things?”
Including you! You were made for God. You live for God. Your dreams and passions, what you’ve become and still hope for, is bound up and building toward this purpose: bringing pleasure to God.
The No. 1 command for how you should spend your breaths: “Love the Lord . . . with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
According to Jesus, how much of you should be engaged in loving God?
When asked about this No. 1 command, Jesus didn’t mumble. He flatly stated, “Even if you blow everything else, don’t blow this! Whatever else you do, make sure you love me (and bring maximum pleasure to me) . . . with ALL!”
Therefore, the No. 1 activity you should undertake as you expel your breath is worship.
Your “job one” is to give God your heart-filled, truth-driven, Spirit-empowered LOVE response—and ascribe to him maximum glory for who he is and for what he has done!
Nothing—absolutely nothing—pleases God more than to watch you lost in wonder and in praise! And there is no higher calling, no greater honor, no nobler task to which you could devote your energies and time than to speak love and bring glory before our God!
So . . . if all this is true—
If pleasing God is humanity’s No. 1 purpose . . .
If loving God is humanity’s No. 1 command . . .
If worshipping God is humanity’s No. 1 assignment . . .
Then we humans better get worship right! Right?
This priority comes into even sharper focus when we realize bad stuff happens when God’s people get fuzzy about worship. Dissension and conflict erupt. Confusion runs rampant and ministry gets garbled. This can lead to frigid hearts, stubborn spirits, unresponsive passions—and worst of all, we can miss out on the very reason we breathe.
How can we know our worship focus is getting fuzzy?
• Worship gets fuzzy when our worship focus gets crowded.
Everybody worships something. Trace history’s timeline and you’ll find gazillions of oddly shaped altars and crudely fashioned idols. That’s because every culture, tribe, and remnant of humanity has evidenced an obvious appetite for worship.
Grab a globe and give it a spin. Stop it with your finger and wherever it lands, you’ll find worship.
Why do humans crave worship? God made us that way. Remember, we were made “for him.” When he made us, he “set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
And though our hardware comes equipped for worship, what about the software that helps focus our worship toward God? That’s an after-market install—and it’s why people wind up worshipping all kinds of freaky stuff, like NFL teams, retirement plans, and Justin Bieber.
So, how crowded is your worship? Follow the trail of how you spend your time, invest your affections, expend your energy, dole out your cash—and at the end of that trail you will find a throne. And whatever or whoever is on that throne, that’s what you value—the thing, person, or place you worship.
No, you don’t use worship terminology. You don’t bow before your smartphone or sing praises to your biceps or shout hallelujah to your pay stub—but the trail never lies. You may claim to value something else, but the volume of your actions shouts so much louder than your words.
The apostle Paul said, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth. . . . He himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. . . . In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:24, 25, 28, author emphasis).
Meaning? Worship him. Do an uninstall of your current system software, and value, instead, the One who gave us crashing surfs and majestic mountains. For he alone is worthy of your praise.
• Worship also gets fuzzy when it becomes too casual.
In Exodus, God had just delivered Israel. The Israelites crossed the sea and Pharaoh had been defeated, so Miriam grabbed a tambourine, started dancing, and shouted, “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously!” (Exodus 15:21, English Standard Version).
Mark that. Because that’s the first corporate worship service—ever.
But soon after this, the Israelites arrived at Sinai for another worship service. Moses told the people to spend the next three days getting ready for church. When this service began, there were no tambourines—just thunder and lightning plus a dark, thick cloud (see Exodus 19:10-25).
No wonder everybody trembled. And they started whining.
“Let’s get outta here! I don’t like this worship service. I want tambourines! This mountain music is way too loud!”
“I don’t like it when Moses leads worship. When’s Miriam up? She’s far better!”
“Mountain worship is rigid. Heavy smoke, long readings—pass!”
But another constituency was thinking,
“This mountain stuff is right on!”
“I didn’t like it when Miriam was gyrating everywhere. Besides, tambourines are old school!”
Of course, that stuff happened! These people had been slaves, and then they find themselves in the very presence of God! And yet, they were unimpressed!
Why did it happen?
Because we humans approach worship like it’s a movie or a concert—we view worship. Then, after it’s over? We review worship.
Whenever you enter for worship, you are coming into God’s presence—every bit as much as when Israel gathered at Sinai. Sure, we’re always in God’s presence. But when we come for corporate worship, it’s different.
We speak with one voice as a mighty mass of worshippers and sing to the God who made the heavens and earth, the God who shook mountains and roared like thunder, the God who holds your life in his hand, who sent his Son to die for you. God shows up in that place where you worship every bit as much as when the smoke rolled and the mountain shook!
So don’t casually come to worship. And no, I’m not talking about dressing in jeans. I’m talking about your heart.
Don’t just get your body to worship; prepare your spirit to show up, too! Get your heart properly prepped, just as God told Israel to prep.
Then, once the service begins, invest in the experience. “Make his praise glorious” (Psalm 66:2).
And that’s your job, by the way. It’s not your pastor’s job to make sure you get goose bumps. After all, you are not the object of worship, God is!
• Worship gets fuzzy when you think like a consumer.
If I hear the music I want to hear, it will be a good service.
If I don’t, or if the volume is too loud, or the sermon is too long? . . . I can’t worship!
How sad to think I would refuse to make God’s praise glorious, simply because I don’t like that song or those instruments or the worship dude. Seriously?
I understand there is personal taste. There’s stuff our church does that I don’t like, either! And I’m the pastor!
But worship isn’t about what you get out of it. It’s about you giving God the glory he deserves! So we come fully loaded with passion for him, and we engage in every moment, using every available resource—even those we don’t prefer—to exalt and value him!
We prepare our minds, hearts, voices, and bodies. We use technologies, artistries, verbal messages, and anointed prayers. We joyously collaborate with a full palette of diverse skills and expressions, because all of them are given to us to make his praise glorious!
But it’s about him, not you. Sure, one week you may be absolutely dumbfounded by God’s holiness, and, like Isaiah, cry, “Woe is me.”
The next week, you’ll be blown away by his compassion, just like the woman in Luke 7, who threw herself at Jesus and blurted out every sin she’d ever committed.
But there will be other times when it’s all about the joy of the Lord—like David, who danced before God with all his might.
And whether you get weekly shivers or not, don’t become a consumer! Because worship ain’t a movie! It’s what we all do for God; in other words, you are every bit as much on stage as Johnny worship-dude. And if that isn’t your heart when you prepare for worship—you don’t get it.
And you need to get it.
• Worship gets fuzzy when it becomes too confining.
We humans get so caught up in modes of music and dress and who’s the chef cooking this weekend’s meal, but Jesus says to forget that, because “true worshipers . . . worship the Father in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23).
It’s not about Miriam or the mountain.
It’s not about tambourines versus dancing.
God is bigger than that. Way bigger. Truth is, he couldn’t care less how we worship him.
Through the years, I’ve worshipped in every kind of church imaginable: huge churches and tiny churches, emotional churches and staid churches, traditional churches and contemporary churches, dirt-poor churches and churches with marble bathrooms. I’ve been in churches that raised hands in worship and I’ve been in churches that wouldn’t raise their hands to go to the bathroom. Yet, in every one of those churches, God was there. He was!
I’ve experienced worship in very unusual venues and witnessed some very unusual practices. Yet, every time I released my heart to worship, I was moved.
I remember one service when I couldn’t stop crying, even though there was nothing about the service that was comfortable or familiar to me. I was totally out of my element. But because I engaged in it, God showed up! That’s why Jesus talked about worshipping in Spirit and in truth. And when that is our only focus, the fuzziness lifts. And the presence of God falls down.
Steve Wyatt is lead pastor and teacher at Christ’s Church at the Crossroads in Anthem, Arizona. He is author of five books and serves as chairman of Standard Publishing’s Publishing Committee.