What is it to be a worshipper of the one who created the universe? Given the way we do church today it’s not surprising that many see worship and singing as synonymous. Neither is it surprising to note that the ‘praise and worship industry’, if I can call it that, is big business.
Sometimes you get the impression that worship is primarily for us – to meet our dreams and our needs – and that it’s about feeling good about myself, God and the world.
However WORSHIP, like a multifaceted DIAMOND,
is much more than that.
Certainly, singing praise is part of worship, in fact one of its highest forms as C.S. Lewis wrote: “All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise”. For Christians, praise of God is natural, however it is simply not all there is to worship.
When we gather in our buildings on Sunday mornings we call it ‘worship’ acknowledging that every part of our time is part of the act of worship. This includes our praying, confession, silence, being still, scripture reading, listening, taking notes, giving an offering, baptism, playing an instrument, communion, and greeting each other.
Sadly, we easily slip into thinking we have worshipped if we’ve been in the right place doing the right things at the right time. But, this is a very limited view worship. Worship is much more than an event within the four walls of a building.
Earlier this year, Jenny and I had the privilege to visit a number of art galleries across Europe. We saw works of art by people such as Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Renoir, and one of my favourites Van Gogh. While visitng the Louvre we caught a glimpse of Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile as recorded by da Vinci; and on another day marvelled at the perfection of Water Lilies painted by Monet. All these artists are household names, even though many of them died hundreds of years ago.
How is it that we know their names today? Throughout the centuries they have been admired by thousands of people who marvelled at their beauty and grace while acknowledging the skill, genius and character of the artists. The art remains a living legacy to the one who created them. So today in art galleries around the world, works of art are displayed each revealing something special about the one who created them.
Here we see a simple yet profound principal at work: created things reveal things about their maker. Whether that thing is a painting, or a sculpture, a birthday cake, music, a landscaped garden, or a dress, the principal doesn’t change.
The same is true of the earth and the universe, as they too are created things. In Psalm 19 the psalmist says,
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”
In other words, the universe is a giant canvas displaying the work of a creative genius.
A painting is not just the work of an artist, but also reveals the nature of an artist. So too creation declares the essential nature of the one who created it. Paul says in Romans, “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” (Romans 1:20)
Throughout the Bible all things in heaven and earth are consistently implored to praise their Creator. It doesn’t matter whether they are heavenly creatures, angels, celestial bodies (the sun, moon, stars, waters), or the earth and its oceans, skies and land, if they are created they are to praise their Creator. Living creatures are not exempted either. Animals, birds, fish and bugs and everything that moves are called to give glory to their maker.
This is the essence of worship and the foundation of all praise,the relationship between a creature and their creator. That’s why you and I are inherently worshippers. We are the handiwork of a Creator.
What does this mean for our understanding of worship?
It helps us begin to appreciate how worship has more to do with who we are than what we do. How does a work of art bring praise to its maker? How does the Mona Lisa bring glory to da Vinci? By being nothing more than being all that da Vinci painted it to be. The Mona Lisa just needs to be the Mona Lisa.
So too a star needs to be a star, a mountain a mountain, and an ant an ant. ‘Worship’, for them, is about being all they were created to be. It is the same for human beings. Worship is much more than singing in a purpose-built building on Sundays. It is as natural as eating or breathing. Just being all we were created to be we can exalt, honour, and bless the Creator at all times. As Martin Luther said, “A dairymaid can milk cows to the glory of God.”
Conceiving of worship in this light gives new meaning to our understanding that we are a special creation of God’s, made in his image.
While every part of creation displays something of its Creator, there are qualities or attributes of God that can only be seen through humanity. Questions like – What is the Creator like? What is the Creator’s name? What kind of God is the Creator? – are asked by humans alone in all creation. Why do we ask them? It has to do with being made in the image of God.
God’s creativity, fellowship, community, mutual respect, justice, mercy, compassion and industry and so on, are only fully seen in and through humans. Being made in God’s image, we reflect these unique attributes of our Creator in a way no other creation does. Such attributes are more clearly seen in the way we relate to each other than it does in our singing.
From this perspective worship is not a part of life, it is life. In 1 Corinthians Paul writes, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Cor 3:31) The early Christians, liberated from the constraints of the old law, saw their lives as a continuous act of worship. As Romans 12:1-2 Paul clearly states: we are to present ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God – this is our reasonable act of worship.
Nowhere in the New Testament do we find the idea that Christians went to a place to worship. Archeologically there is no evidence that they had buildings purposely built and set apart exclusively for Christian worship. In fact it never says they ‘went to church’! For them worship was a lifestyle reflecting the image of their Creator.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t meet together, in fact the writer to Hebrews is very clear about this (Hebrews 10:24-25). However, the question is what should our gatherings be like? Interestingly, after saying we should meet together, Hebrews goes on to say that we need to encourage one another.
Throughout his letters Paul is clear that the overriding purpose of meetings is for the strengthening of God’s people, the church. In a stinging rebuke of the meetings of the church in Corinth, Paul’s makes clear that their lack of love for each other showed they were living inconsistently with what it meant to be God’s people (Read 1 Corinthians).
Most people today would say that we worship God when we gather together, but the New Testament is clear, we don’t gather primarily for worship. It is true that by gathering we do worship God, but that is not why we gather. We gather for the purpose of encouraging each other and seeing each other built up. As British theologian I.H. Marshall wrote, “While it is true in the broad sense that everything which the Christian does will be ultimately directed to the glory of God, it is simply not the case that the purpose of Christian meetings was understood as being primarily and directly worship [in a ritualistic sense], homage and adoration addressed to God.”
When we gather together we do so as part of the family of God – to meet with our Creator and to meet with others. Our aim is help one another know, believe, and follow him.
Despite what one might glean from church services and Christian books, whether or not you are a real worshiper is not determined by your attendance at church services or how well one might sing. True worship is better determined by how quickly we forgive, how well we handle our finances, and what we do when no one is looking.
Worship is not confined to buildings, and it is much more than music or singing. Worship is what we do as we live for God in every aspect of our lives. So, let’s worship our Creator!
Stephen L Baxter