If Worship Is All About Him, Why Does He Make It All About Us?

I can remember several times as a kid when my mom gave us gifts on her birthday.  Three hundred and sixty-five days out of the year this wonderful woman spent just about every waking minute serving her three rambunctious and oftentimes thankless sons.  And on the one day of the year she had every right to receive and not give, she still chose to give.  Why on earth did she do this?  Because that’s who she is.  She is a giver by nature.

God is a giver.  He’s the giver.  Several passages in Scripture describe Him as a fountain.  (See Jeremiah 2:13).  Have you ever tried to shove a pebble into one of those wall jets in a pool?  What happens?  It shoots right back out every time.  Similarly, no matter how much we attempt to give God we somehow end up with even more.  It’s the way He is.  He can’t be any different from how He is and He likes it that way.  God has given and continues to give us so much.

In the previous article, “Why Worship is a Personal Matter (But Not a Private One),” we looked at how God uses the corporate worship gathering to build up His people.  Certainly, when we come together to worship Him it should be all about Him and only Him.  But there’s this problem: He’s a giver.

Like my mom, but to an infinite degree, when we draw near to make a big deal out of Him, He finds a way to turn it around and bless us.  To put it another way, when we draw near to the infinite fountain of life and love, with our “spoonfuls” of worship in hand, we shouldn’t be surprised if we end up getting a little wet.

This is just one of the reasons why I believe it’s so important to God that His people, the individual and the collective, are built up in corporate worship.  As we set our hearts on lifting Him up, He sets His on building us up.

We draw near to Him in worship to give, not to get.  And yet, the throne we draw near to is not just a place of giving, but of receiving.  “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Love is a fountain, not a vacuum.  Similar to the loving mother who’s personal joy is tied into the joy of her children, God takes great delight in our joy.  This blows me away every time I think of it.

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Jesus Didn’t Give Us a Sip, He Gave Us the Source

Don’t you love the Holy Spirit?  As long as I’ve been a follower of Jesus I’ve found myself drawn to books, teachings, articles etc… on Him and His work in our lives.  There’s a lot of great teaching out there and frankly, some that’s a bit wacky.  Undoubtedly, the best teachings on the Holy Spirit came from Jesus Himself.

I’m sure many of us are familiar with the story in John 4 commonly called “The Woman at the Well.”  Here is an example of how Jesus can pack volumes of truth into just a few sentences. Isn’t He amazing?

To refresh our memories, this passage finds Jesus and His disciples traveling from Judea to Galilee.  It’s high noon and they decide to make a rest stop in Samaria.  The disciples are on a food run and Jesus is sitting by Jacob’s well, exhausted and thirsty from the journey. Apparently, Jesus didn’t pack a bucket and rope that morning so He was at the mercy of whoever the next person was that would come to draw water.

Enter the Samaritan woman.  Let’s call her Samantha.  Seeing that Samantha has a bucket and a rope, Jesus asks her if she would kindly draw some water for Him to drink.  She balks at the idea because Jesus is from “the other side of the tracks.”

Jesus responds masterfully by turning the tables on her.  He informs her that He, actually, is the one with access to thirst-quenching “water” and if she knew this, she’d be the one doing the asking.  He goes on to explain the special qualities of this water, the most extraordinary being its ability to quench thirst once and for all.

Think about this for a moment.  Imagine you’re at a gas station, pumping gas, when a weary, hungry looking transient approaches you and asks for some change.  You tell him you can’t give him anything for one reason or another.  He then responds by informing you that he’s actually a billionaire and if you asked him, he’d give you some “magic” change that would settle all your debts and, oh yeah, never run out.  What would you be thinking at that moment?  Exactly.

I can picture poor Samantha at this point picking up her bucket and slowly backing away from the “nice man.”

Right before losing her, Jesus shows His cards.  In order to give credibility to His unbelievable claim, perhaps, He reveals Himself as a prophet.  It works.  Samantha loosens her kung-fu grip on her bucket and decides to stick around a bit longer.

Let’s consider Jesus’ claim.  Unlike Samantha, you and I have had the privilege of reading John 7:39 where John gives us the key to understanding this passage.  Simply put, the water that Jesus offers is not literal water, but the Holy Spirit.

Jesus claimed that this spiritual water, the Holy Spirit, can quench the deep, inner thirst shared by all humanity, once and for all.  What a claim!  So…how does that work?

On the day of Pentecost, Peter informed the bewildered multitude that when one turns from themselves to God, and is baptized for the forgiveness of sins, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).  This “receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit” is the same thing Jesus referred to as drinking “of the water that I will give him” (John 4:14).

The incredible thing is that when Jesus offers us this “water,” He doesn’t just give us a sip, He gives us the Source! We have an immeasurable source of living water living inside of us that will never run dry!  Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, it’s there for the drinking!

This is true on good days and bad.  This holds true when we sleep through our alarm and miss our morning time with God.  It’s true on days when the gloomy clouds of our emotional funk block out the sun’s rays. The spiritual thirst that once plagued us never has to be experienced again.

This is not to say we will never experience thirst again.  It just means that when we do, it will not be because of a lack of “water.”  What Jesus meant was that whoever drinks of the water He gives, will never have to be thirsty again.

Here’s another way to look at it.  When Jesus sat next to Jacob’s well, He wasn’t thirsty because He lacked water.  He was thirsty because He lacked access to water.  Similarly, when we experience spiritual thirst, and yes it’s a part of the Christian life, it’s not because we lack “water” but because, for whatever reason, we are having trouble accessing it.

In a future post, we’ll look at some of the ways we can access this infinite supply of living water and how it relates to worship.  But for now, would you just take a moment with me to thank God, that the Holy Spirit, the source of thirst-quenching living water and everything we need for a godly life (2 Peter 1:3) resides within us?

The same Spirit that hovered over the waters in Genesis 1, releasing God’s creative power into the formless void, resides in you.  Not a portion, not a measure, but in fullness.

Jesus didn’t just give you a sip, He gave you the Source.  Drink deep my friends.

Photo by Steve McCaig

Why Worship Is a Personal Matter (But Not a Private One)

In my previous post, “Why Worship Makes Sense,” we looked at the “why” behind worship.  Now let’s look at the “why” behind worshipping together.

Years ago, some friends and I were on a ski trip and were feeling particularly excited about Jesus and what He was doing in our lives.  We decided that we were going to talk to as many people about Him that day as we could.  In all transparency, this is not something I do regularly.

Two of us were on a shuttle when we struck up a conversation with another passenger.  At some point in the conversation, we asked him if he had a personal relationship with God.  Disgusted by our intrusiveness he responded, “I do have a personal relationship with God but it’s just that, it’s personal.  I don’t talk about it with people I just met on a shuttle.”

Whether we were being insensitive or not, his response has stayed with me all these years.

Our relationship with God is indeed a personal one.  It’s defined by our own personal choices, not someone else’s.  We can access His presence any time and anywhere we like without the need of a mediator other than Jesus.  We will stand alone before His throne one day.  For all of this, I am thankful.

However, as personal as our relationship with God is, it is not to be kept private.  The same goes for worship, which is an integral part of our relationship with Him.

God has designed things in such a way that I can only go so far in Him on my own.  We are each called to cultivate a life of prayer and worship that is “in secret” (Matthew 6:6) and in community, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).

The apostle Paul defines the “why” behind coming together in 1 Corinthians 14.  This chapter is the “crown” of a four-chapter section of his letter to the Corinthians dealing with their gatherings.  Seven times in this chapter he uses the words, or a variation of it, “build up.”

He reveals his measuring stick for the gathering of believers:  Are others being built up?  Are they being encouraged?  Are they being reminded of who they are?  Are they being healed?  Are they being filled and empowered?  Are they being set free?  This is the “why” behind our gatherings.  Therefore, it’s also the “why” behind worshiping together.

Like David, we need to know how to build ourselves up in the Lord (1 Samuel 30:6). There is a height, however, that will only be reached in community.  The One who dwells in eternal community has designed it this way.

Worship is personal.  But it’s not to be kept private.  We can only go so far on our own.  Let us not neglect worshiping together, as is the habit of some, but let us build each other up and all the more as we see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:25).

Why Worship Makes Sense

Worship just makes sense. I’m not sure if a better answer is available to the question, “Why worship?” The poet states it this way in the opening of Psalm 147, “Praise the Lord…a song of praise is fitting.”

Have you ever put on an old pair of shoes weeks after replacing them? It’s a homecoming for your feet. Those old shoes, despite their worn tread and “toe window,” fit so well from months, or years, of studying and conforming to every curve and nuance of your foot. Similarly, there is no activity that fits the human soul so well as worship.

Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, children are taught and expected to say, “Thank you” in response to a kind gesture. This idea that kindness shown should be acknowledged and reciprocated with gratitude is wired into the human psyche.

When we realize the absurd amount of kindness God has shown us since birth, and how futile an attempt to “balance the books” would be, there’s nothing left to do but worship.

We are designed to tremble and express admiration before greatness. The dumbfounded response, “whoah,” made by the millions who have stood before the Grand Canyon’s South Rim is an exercise of their inherent worship muscle.

After a string of commands to worship the one true God, the author of Psalm 96 gives his reasoning in verse 4, “For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.” In other words, immense admiration is appropriate when faced with immense beauty.

I have found in my own life, as a general principle, that when I do the thing that makes the most sense, other things seem to fall into place. Likewise, when I do something nonsensical, something inevitably breaks down.

In a nutshell, this is the story of humanity. Paul states it this way in Romans 1:21, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Our choice to not do the one thing that made the most sense was followed by the complete unraveling of our humanity and all creation. Place a shirt’s top button in the wrong buttonhole and all successive buttons will be out of place as well.

We worship God because it makes sense. However, this doesn’t mean that our worship will always make sense to others. Mary of Bethany was chided by Judas for wasting such an expensive bottle of perfume on Jesus’ feet (John 12). David was despised by Michal for his outlandish display of worship (1 Chronicles 15). If we could ask them why they did what they did I’m sure we would hear something like, “It just made sense.”

Friends, let’s be sensible people.