Why Worship?

by Matthew W. Bassford
via His Excellent Word

There has literally never been a time in my life when I wasn't regularly attending worship services with the Lord's people.  Even when I was a little kid, even when my parents were members of a little congregation in New Jersey that was lucky if it broke 20 attendees on Sunday evening, even then, if the doors were open, we were there.  For me, the pattern of regular attendance continued after I left home for good, 20-plus years later, and I suspect many here can say the same.

However, a pattern of regular attendance at worship services is not the same thing as regularly worshiping.  Jesus says in John 4 that true worshipers worship God in spirit and in truth, and it's entirely possible for us to be speaking truth with our lips while our spirits are a thousand miles away.  True worship, by contrast, involves all of our being, and it's a process that requires effort.  Why do that?  Why invest ourselves that way?  Why worship?

For God's Sake

There are many possible answers to that question, and I want to begin this morning by looking at the answers that have to do with God.  First, we ought to worship because IT'S WHY WE WERE CHOSEN.  Peter makes this point in I Peter 2:9.  This is a verse that we're familiar with for some uses.  It tells us, for instance, that all Christians, rather than just a tiny subgroup of Christians, are part of God's royal priesthood.  It identifies us as God's holy nation under the new covenant just as Israel was God's holy nation under the old covenant.  However, it also tells us the reason why God made us a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people for His own possession.  It is so that we can proclaim the excellencies of Him who did these things for us. 

If we aren't proclaiming those excellencies from the heart, this is not some kind of minor infraction.  It's a rejection of the purpose for which God saved us.  It would be like if a local business owner bought ad space during some TV show, and he watched the show, and the ad never came on.  The business owner calls the TV station, and they say, "Yeah; we didn't feel like running your ad tonight."  The business owner is going to be livid!  He's going to demand his money back at the very least!  They had a job to do, and they didn't do it.

So too, we have a job to do.  We have to praise and worship God.  If we don't, like the business owner, God is going to demand back what He paid for us, and none of us want that!

Second, we ought to worship God because HE DESERVES IT.  There are so many passages that make this point, but let's look at Psalm 105:1-6.  Of all of my memories as a Mizzou fan, probably my favorite is when Lauren and I went to watch the Tigers play Texas A&M in Columbia in 2013. Mizzou won the game and clinched the SEC East on a breakaway touchdown run by Henry Josey.  I'm a pretty reserved guy, but when that happened, I screamed my lungs out along with everybody else in the jam-packed stadium.  What had happened needed to be honored.

If that's true for Henry Josey, who was last seen playing for the Toronto Argonauts, how much more true is it for God?  God's handiwork is everywhere, from the sun overhead to the air we breathe.  He's the reason why we breathe that air.  I can spend 20 minutes roaming around the house hunting for some tool I need, but God knows literally everything. 

What's more, He is a good God.  Every good thing that the most wretched, wicked human being on earth has, God gave to him, even though he was wretched and wicked.  When we were dead in our wickedness, God gave us His Son to redeem us.  Every day, He fills our lives with blessings that we don't even notice and couldn't count if we did.  In return for all that He is and does, our heartfelt worship and thanksgiving really is the very least we can offer.  Daring to come here on spiritual autopilot, or not even to come here at all, is the depth of ingratitude.

Third, we worship God because IT PLEASES HIM.  Look at Psalm 69:30-31.  This is a fascinating text.  Even today, as all of you wholesale beef-buyers know, a whole cow isn't cheap.  3000 years ago, an ox was incredibly valuable.  If people had one at all, they used it to plow their fields.  Only the very wealthiest people could afford to offer an ox as a sacrifice.  The parents of Jesus, by contrast, could manage a couple birds.  Sacrificing an ox was a big deal!

And yet, the psalmist says that what really pleases God is not the whole bull with horns and hoofs.  It is the sacrifice of praise that even the humblest, poorest Israelite could offer.  It's possible to drag your animal to the altar for any number of reasons, some good, some not, but no one can offer a song of true thanksgiving except from the heart.  People say sometimes that the Old Testament was about outward show, but that's not true.  God has always wanted the heart, and so when we pour out our hearts in worship before Him, we can be certain that He is pleased with that.

To be honest, I don't completely understand why this is so.  When I go out in my backyard, I don't particularly care if the grasshoppers out there are singing sweetly just for me.  They're beneath me.  I'm indifferent to them.  And yet, even though God is much farther away from us than we are from the grasshopper, He is not indifferent.  He cares, and cares deeply whether we praise Him.  He loves us, so our worship matters to Him.  That, friends, is an awe-inspiring thought!  It is also a thought that should inspire us to worship.

For Our Sakes

However, worship isn't something that we do merely for God's sake.  It's also something He asks us to do for our own sakes.  JESUS' DISCUSSION OF PRAYER gives us some insight into how this works.  Look at Matthew 6:7-8.  As Jesus points out here, prayer is not like asking our parents for a snack when we were kids.  There, the point is obvious.  They don't know we're hungry, so we let them know so they can do something about it.  We're imparting information. 

With God, though, that way of thinking simply doesn't make sense.  God knows everything, so He already knows what we need and want even before we pray about it.  We are not conveying any new information.  Prayer, then, starts sounding less like us telling our parents we're hungry and more like our kids telling us they're hungry 30 seconds after the last time they told us.  That's hardly a form of communication that benefits any parent!

Jesus is implying, then, that we pray as much for us as for God, and it follows that the same thing is true of worship generally.  From everything we know of God's character, this makes sense.  After all, if we worshiped entirely for His benefit, His receiving our worship would be a selfish act, and God never acts from selfishness.  The same plan of salvation that reveals His glory reveals His love too.  He loves our praises, but He loves them in part because we benefit from praising Him.

The first of these benefits is that worship EMPHASIZES OUR LOWLINESS.  Consider Isaiah 40:21-24.  This is something that most human beings don't like to acknowledge.  We would prefer to believe that we're the center of the universe, but in reality, next to God, we're no more important than a bunch of grasshoppers.  The most famous people in existence, the greatest works of humankind, are no more permanent than a dried-up tumbleweed.

Worshiping God forces us to own this truth about ourselves, and once we own it, it should change our lives.  If we are in fact the center of the universe, a bunch of conclusions follow from that.  People who are the center of the universe get to do what they want, treat others however they want, and generally live a smug, selfish existence.  This is why our country is headed the way it's headed.  It's increasingly filled with people who think that life is all about them.

However, if God is at the center of the universe, all of those conclusions stand on their heads.  We don't get to do what we want anymore because God is more important than we are.  Other people become important because He tells us that they're important, and what He says goes.  If we believe that God is most important, our lives will be about Him, not us.  This is something that we need to get if we want to go to heaven, and the more we worship, the more we get it.

Second, worship EXPRESSES OUR DEPENDENCE.  Look at Acts 17:24-25.  The God of this text is quite a contrast to the gods of human invention.  They depend on their worshipers to nourish and sustain them.  That's what idolatrous sacrifices are — they're food for false gods.  The God of heaven and earth, however, has no needs at all, much less any needs that we could possibly fill with our puny human abilities.  Rather than taking, God gives, not only to the righteous, but to the wicked.  Every good thing that everyone has comes from Him.  Not one of us would continue to live for a single moment without the blessing of God.

This too is a world-changing realization.  In addition to selfishness, one of the great thought diseases of our culture is self-reliance.  The American ideal is the self-made man who pulls himself up by his bootstraps and makes himself into a success by sheer grit and hard work.  Usually, people who feel that this ideal applies to them look upon those who have less with contempt because the only reason everybody isn't rich is moral failure and lack of willingness to apply themselves.

In reality, though, there is no such thing as a self-made man.  Most of us have benefited from parents, friends, and fellow Christians who have selflessly helped us on our way.  Even if that isn't true, every single one of us has benefited immeasurably from the grace of God. 

As a result, we have no reason to be prideful about our accomplishments, to trust in our abilities to control the future, or to look down on others.  Instead, we go through life humbly grateful for what we have been given, trusting in God to continue to provide.  When we worship, we acknowledge this dependence, and the realization helps us to live godlier lives.

Finally, worship RENEWS OUR HOPE.  Here, let's examine the thought process Paul goes through in Philippians 1:3-6.  He begins by thanking God for all He has done for the brethren in Philippi.  He rejoices in what they are doing now.  Last, he considers the future with confidence, not because the Philippians themselves are so wonderful, but because God is, and Paul is sure that the God who has begun so well with them will bring that great work to completion too.

Really, this concept follows logically from the preceding two.  When it comes to anything important, every one of us is completely at God's mercy.  However, that's not a terrible place to be.  God has both the power to do what is best for us and the love to be determined to do it.  When we acknowledge these things about Him in our worship, it leads us to the logical conclusion that a God who is so great is surely going to have our future under control too.

Christians, then, should be a hopeful people simply because they worship.  It's a terrible thing to see someone who is outside of Christ lose hope.  They anticipate nothing in the future but misery and death, and the realization crushes them.  Worship, though, teaches us to anticipate the opposite.  God doesn't work on our timetable.  He doesn't always give us everything we ask for.  However, we can rely on Him to bless us, both in this life and in the life to come.