Biblical Worship 1: Paradise

Today’s post will begin a 6-part series of posts exploring some elements of what we call “Biblical foundations for worship.” These are principles or practices that we see in the Scripture that have implications for how we approach worship in our lives today.

Today, we start at the beginning…the very best place to start.

In Genesis, we find the first words of the Bible telling us a very important thing about God: That he was there in the beginning. Now this may seem too obvious to even mention but it is actually really powerful. God was there before anything else was there. This is a foundational verse that helps reinforce the truth of God’s eternality that we embrace. It all started in the beginning. And what does he do in the beginning? He creates life.

Now, it’s very important to note that God did not create anything out of need. He existed before time and before creation, in perfect satisfaction and joy within himself. He wasn’t lonely, he wasn’t bored, he didn’t need someone to talk to. He created, out of the overflow of his abundant love and happiness, people and things to reflect his image and bring glory and praise to him.

As we explore the account of creation we find this phrase repeated: “God saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:9; 1:25, to name two). Now, if you’re like me, you may read that and think, “Good…for what?” And not to be presumptuous and question God, but why does God have to congratulate himself on what he made? If he’s God (and he is), you’d think that he would already know that what he made is good…in fact, it was better than good, it was perfect. So why does he go to the trouble of telling us it’s good?

I think we get a clue in chapter two verse eighteen, in the famous passage that single guys love to quote to vindicate their singleness: “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18, emphasis mine). So if it was not good for the man to be alone, we can imply from this verse that the things that were good (plants, animals, fish, food, etc) were good because they were good for the man. God didn’t need gold, plants or rivers to supply him with money or water or food. So what was good wasn’t just good because he liked it, it was good because it was useful, namely, to sustain life for his crowning created beings: people.

Here’s my point:

God’s desire has always been to create an environment where human beings can live and thrive in his presence.

The world that we see around us is the ideal environment for human beings to live in. Just ask someone from NASA how many places they have discovered in space that would be conducive to human life. The list is a short one. God’s desire has always been to create a place where we can fellowship with him and thrive.

As you probably know, this perfect paradise was short lived. Sin caused a fracture in the fellowship that left us ashamed and separated from God. There will one day be a restoration of paradise in the new creation (Rev. 21:1). But until that time, God has given us a little glimpse of paradise: Worship. Listen to the words of biblical scholar Allen Ross:

Communion with the living God is at the heart of all worship; and where God is present with his people is a sanctuary…The temple was not just another place of worship but a reminder of God’s creation in its pristine order, [it was] a little Paradise. Like the Garden of Eden, the sanctuary was the place where heaven and earth converged.

Did you catch that? What we see in worship is both a recalling of the original created Paradise and a looking ahead to the Paradise that is to come in heaven. Now I don’t have time to list all the evidence that the Bible gives us that show that the Garden of Eden was an early sanctuary, but consider these briefly: The man and woman were sent out of the garden at the eastern side (Gen. 3:24); the entrance to the tabernacle court was on the eastern side (Ex.38:18-20). God communed with man in the garden (Gen. 3:8) and in the tent of meeting at the center of the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34-38); At the center of the garden was a tree and a river that split into many rivers (Gen. 2:9-10) and at the center of the heavenly sanctuary there is a tree of life and a river that flows out from the throne (Rev. 22:1-2). See the pattern? God’s design is for us to have life to the full (John 10:10) and that happens in his presence (Psalm 16:11)

This has massive implications for worship! It tells us (at least) three important things:
1. God wants to commune with us.
He has taken the initiative to fellowship with us. That’s amazing!
2. We are at home when we commune with God.
 When we worship, we find who we were made to be.
3. Worship is a taste of heaven, the paradise we were made for.
We will come back to this often. Worship (not singing) will be the
primary activity of eternity, and that is really good news. It means we
can literally taste heaven right now as we worship.

So next time you worship, whether in private or in a gathering of believers, remember that it wasn’t just some guy’s idea to stand up with a guitar and sing. Worship is God’s design and if we have eyes to see, the evidence is all around us. So let us press on to know the LORD because he has extended his invitation to us and made a way that we can enter in and find all that we need in his presence.