Each week we gather corporately to worship God. It is very easy to forget the essence of what worship is. Soon it can become focused on external things like 11am, 6:30 pm, order of service, or certain practices. Obviously anyone can show up for such things and God has ordained that we do so, but not just anyone can worship. Philippians 3:3 is very clear that true believers “worship in the Spirit of God.” Only believers have the Spirit and true worship comes about “by the Spirit.” In John 4 as Jesus was explaining to the woman at the well what would be true of those who drank of the living water He provided, He taught that everyone who drinks of the living water truly worships God in spirit (genuine internal worship) and truth (genuine internal worship according to God’s revealed truth).
We learn about the nature of worship all throughout Scripture, but there is a remarkable example of true worship in the life of Job. God sovereignly allows Satan to test Job’s devotion to God. His loss is cataclysmic from the material loss to the much more devastating loss of his children. What would his response be? This is where we learn much about worship:
Job 1:20-21 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. 21 He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
Just consider some of the important principles that we learn about worship from this example:
Worship is not about us: If it was Job would not be worshiping. If worship was about Job then Job would not have “shown up” that morning. Things were not going well and we know from the opening narrative that God sovereignly allowed Satan to test Job in this way (Job 1:6-12). When you gather on the Lord’s Day for worship is your primary orientation “me and what I can get out of it for my felt needs and how others can make me feel?” If we gather in such a spirit, we are not worshiping no matter how much we call it worship. Worship is not about us, it is radically centered upon God.
Worship is not human invention: In other words, it is not a plastic grin and trumped up happiness, it is not an atmospheric manipulation for the purpose of being worked up into a frenzy of “worship.” Why do I say that on the basis of these verses? Because Job worshipped, but there were no plastic grins, no fake happiness, no dependency on the right “atmosphere.” Job was worshiping but for many Christians it would be hard to describe what he did as worship because we tend to be so misdirected about what true worship is. He is worshiping with great sorrow and loss. If we do not have a category for true worship in the context of suffering and loss then we do not understand true worship. True worship has various shades of color and one of the deepest hues of true worship is only possible in the context of deep loss. If we do not recognize this deep hue of worship then it is not likely that we have grasped the others because all the hues of worship are Spirit produced not humanly contrived.
Worship is nurtured in the heart consciously aware of dependence upon God: Job acknowledged that he came with nothing and he would go with nothing. He then acknowledged that all that he had was from God and that since all that he had was given by God, God in His mysterious wisdom and goodness could chose to take it away. Worship flows from a heart that refuses to live in a fake reality that proposes that we are in charge of our own destiny; that we have made a way for ourselves by ourselves; and that we will be able to keep all that we have. No, true worship strains to keep seeing true reality by faith: That God has given us all things and that God is in charge from the first to the last. This is who God is and this is the God we worship. We worship Him because of who He is. The fuller we are of ourselves the less we are able to recognize who He is and worship Him rightly.
Worship is about calling attention to God’s blessedness: We do not bless God because we can affect His blessedness. We bless God because He is the fountain of all blessedness. In worship we call attention to God’s native goodness. And in this context it is important to note that true worship does not judge God’s native goodness by our supposed goodness and wisdom of how that has to be carried out in this earth. In other words, true worship calls attention to God’s native goodness even when that goodness seems at the present moment to be at odds with everything that feels good to us. At the heart of seeing God’s blessedness in the face of deep loss is to recognize why we can even worship Him in the first place. The center piece of our worshipping God as the truly blessed One is what we know of the cross. As we look at the cross we see the simultaneously darkest and brightest day of history when humanity’s rage against God culminated and the Father turned His back on the Son. All of this was for the purpose of saving us from our sin and this sin cursed world that is so full of suffering-the very suffering that tempts us to question God’s goodness. We can call attention to God’s blessedness even in the context of this sin sick world that is full of suffering because at the cross we see God’s blessedness in graciously paining Himself to rescue us from our sin induced and deserved present and eternal pain and judgment. Worship is about calling attention to God’s blessedness and the heart of that blessedness is displayed in the substitutionary cross work of our Savior Jesus the Christ.
Worship is possible in every circumstance: If true worship can flow from the context of deepest sorrow, then true worship can and must happen in all circumstances. Sometimes we get trapped into thinking that as difficulties come our way we cannot worship because we are taken away from the nice and tidy ways that we have been accustomed to worshiping God personally and corporately. Job’s example clearly shows us that God is magnified when we point to His blessedness even when the words seem painful to say and when our human reason seems to contradict the very words of faith that we are uttering.
So the next time we gather for corporate worship, have sustained personal time of worship, or are in communion with God in worship throughout life, keep these things in mind:
- Worship is not about us
- Worship is not human invention
- Worship is nurtured in the heart consciously aware of dependence upon God
- Worship is about calling attention to God’s blessedness
- Worship is possible in every circumstance
True believers truly worship “in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:3) and do so truly in every circumstance.