The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 6: Joy in Worship (3 of 3)
All my life I’ve had a tendency to seek approval through accomplishment rather than to embrace God’s truth that I am approved just because I am His child. There’s nothing else I need to do to deepen His love for me. Absolutely nothing. No works will make Him love me more. No additional prayers can entice Him to favor me any better. No amount of study, knowledge, or wisdom will cause Him to hold me any closer. He loves me as much now as He has ever loved me, and as much now as He ever will. But because I equate lack of action for laziness, I compensate by keeping busy, to the detriment of my relationship with my God and His people. Instead of sitting at His feet and just loving Him, I spend too much of my time and energy trying to win His approval. But this is not what God intended when He created us. “’Be still,’” the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 46:10, “’and know that I am God.’” Be still. And worship.
When we turn away from the “better part” and shift our attention to the distractions of the world, we put ourselves in danger of worshiping something other than God; we become idolaters. Like the Hebrews worshipping the golden calf, or like the Pharisees worshipping their manmade layers of rules and regulations, we shift our natural desire to worship away from God and toward anything and everything which distracts our attention and energy away from God, like money, sports, our houses, our jobs, even our dreams if not centered in God’s will. The love of money may be the root of all evil, but the worship of God is the beginning of all life. God made us to worship–and we will worship–but only worshiping the better part will bring us true joy.
What does God want from us when we worship? He wants us. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship,” Paul told the church in Rome (Romans 12:1 NIV). In view of God’s undeserved gifts–His mercy–the only true and proper worship is the offer of our very life to the One who created us. He wants our very being. “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” God told the Hebrews through Hosea (Hosea 6:6 NIV). And as we slough off our Martha busyness and put on our Mary reverence, joy is the natural outflow of our actions.
As I researched this book, I found that, by far, the majority of instances of the word “joy” in Scripture are within the context of worship, praise, and celebration of God. The Psalms especially attest to joy in worship as David and the other psalm writers sang God’s praises and released God’s joy in their hymns; worship leads to joy, and joy leads to worship. “But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you,” wrote David, “may those who long for your saving help always say, ‘The Lord is great!’” (Psalm 40:16 NIV). “Worship is aligning our mind’s attention with our heart’s affections,” said Michael John Clement, Worship Pastor at New River. “Praise is the language God gives us to communicate with Him. Worship is the action. Let us sit back and watch God be God.” Yes . . . let us watch God be God.
One morning, as I lay in bed praying, I told God “I really don’t know how to worship.”
“Yes you do,” He assured me. “You’re doing it now. You’re trusting me.” I may not “get” worship fully yet. I may stand unmoving in church except for the pumping of my right leg to the beat of the music on Sunday morning. I may look around in wonder at the folks who jump and wave their arms and shout at the ceiling, eyes closed, tears streaming down their cheeks, the ones who truly get it and are not just putting on a show. I may not worship out loud in my prayer language or wave my Holy Spirit fingers in the air. But, as Mark Driscoll, Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, said: “worship is not merely an aspect of our being, but the essence of our being as God’s image-bearers” (theresurgence.com, Worship and Idolatry series). We worship because we’re made in God’s image, we pour out because God pours in. Our life is one of continuous worship; it’s what we do, it’s who we are.
King David described in Psalm 22:3 that God is holy, “Enthroned in the praises of Israel.” God dwells in the praises of His people! God’s presence is real in the hearts of those who exalt Him. I may not get worship fully yet, but as I continue to walk in His presence, even on a dark road with the Milky Way flowing over me, as I reach up to give myself to Him, with hands open to receive, He opens my heart a little more with each encounter. Who knows? Maybe someday you’ll see me turning cartwheels in the aisles at church too.
Copyright © 2014 David C Hughes