Worship and the Glory of God

Image credit http://www.vallejointl.com/ponderings/hands-lifted/

I am forever indebted to Pastor John Piper for relentlessly repeating his life’s mission in his books and sermons, so much so that this phrase still sticks in my head and heart:

“God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him.” 

What a statement. What a goal for life! If I could sum up what I believe to be my life mission, it would be somewhat related to that. I love worship, but not because I love music or work in vocational ministry. My deepest desire is to see (and delight in) God’s glory and to see (and help) others do likewise.

What is God’s glory?
Glory may be confusing to some. My favorite definition of God’s glory, while I can’t recall the source, is “the public display of his holiness.” God is holy. Holy means “set apart,” “other” or “above.” God exists on a completely different plane, above and beyond any other being in the universe. His “above-ness” is ontological (related to the essence of his being), not (necessarily) spatial. In other words, it’s not that God exists at a higher altitude than anything we could reach with our best rocket or space shuttle. His very essence is of a superior quality and purity than anything else, ever.

God’s glory can also be thought of as his fame or his renown, the ever-increasing revelation of his greatness and uniqueness as God. He displays his holiness (God-ness) through his word and his works, most specifically in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ continued in the ongoing work of the church. As people grasp who God is and what he has done (albeit in a very superficial way this side of heaven), God is shown to be great. His fame spreads, his glory is revealed.

What is Worship?
Worship must be understood as a total life orientation, not as a single act (i.e., singing) or as a group of acts (i.e., a church service). Worship is about the “first-ness” of God in all things, as my friend Chris likes to say. Bob Webber has famously written, “Worship does God’s story,” meaning that worship is both a remembrance/celebration of and participation in God’s saving acts throughout history. Worship glorifies God because it puts us in proper alignment with the greatest Being in the universe: He is first in all things.

A lot of us get confused when we fail to delineate personal worship from corporate worship. Worship, broadly defined, includes all of life and in fact all of history, summed up perfectly in Jesus. Are you in Christ? Then you are, theologically speaking, “in worship.”

In much of its use today however, the word “worship” tends to refer to a specifically corporate activity (church), or, even more specifically, a type of song that could potentially be sung in a corporate activity (“worship music”). We need to re-train our use of this word. To think of “worship” as meaning only singing or only a genre of music is akin to thinking of the word “food” as meaning only a hot dog or only a piece of pizza.

What do we need?
The greatest need of every person (and the eternal purpose of all creation) is to see God’s glory. The goal of corporate worship and the fight of the Christian life are the same: to see and to believe. Jesus said that the work of God is believe in him (John 6:29). Paul wrote that when we behold the glory of God with the hazy veil of sin and death removed, we are changed into his likeness (2 Cor. 3:18). Acts of worship like songs, prayers, sermons, and communion are all ways in which we grasp at telling our selves, each other and the world around us to behold and delight in the glorious Creator above all else.

That’s what I want to see as a leader in the church. Corporate worship should be a gathering around the public display of God’s glory, a group celebration of the greatness and works of our God. The celebration ought to be enthusiastic (joyful) because there is nothing greater than God and there is no greater purpose for our lives. Daily living should be filled with seeing God at work, seeing his way as best, and believing in him through obedience. Worship should produce in us, above all else, joy. Joy is the rest and unshakable inner happiness of the soul, and true joy is only found by being satisfied in God.

I love Piper’s statement because it is the mission statement of worship: to put God first in all things, in my heart and in that most precious of all group activities, corporate worship. My prayer is that in all of our lives and in our weekly gatherings we would do just that, joyfully celebrate the glory of God.


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