Why Do We Worship?
Last week the elders had the privilege of "attending" Together for the Gospel, which this year was streamed online because of Coronavirus. One of the weightier, denser talks was a lesson from Dr. Albert Mohler on the glory of God. He hit a lot of Scripture passages (we joked at the time that he referenced every passage that had the word "glory" in it), and I don't know that I could do justice to a summary of it, but one small component of it that has been rattling around in my mind is about the innateness of God's glory. God's glory is derived from His nature and is reflected in His character and His works. He can't not be glorious. He can't not be worthy of glory. Furthermore, God is not only justified, but right both to exalt Himself to a position of glory and to demand we likewise exalt Him. That is why he can justly be a "jealous God." Jealousy should not be confused with envy. Envy is wanting something another has that you do not. Jealousy is wanting to keep what is rightfully yours. And all glory is rightfully God's.
Obviously, the ramifications of this for our corporate (and private) worship are immense, but I want to focus a single, yet I think transformative, detail and that is the purpose of worship. It's easy to give a churchy answer here and opine that we worship to glorify God. Yes, indeed! But what does that mean, both in a literal sense and in its implications for practical application. Specifically, I want to think about one potentially wrong motivation in worship that has become ubiquitous in contemporary worship: that we worship to connect with God.
Don't misunderstand what I'm saying. I'm not saying that we can't connect with God during worship or that it's wrong to long to connect with God or even that worship can't or shouldn't facilitate that. I'm skeptical of it as a motivation for worship. Note even here I'm not willing to outright state it shouldn't be a reason for worship because there are potentially a variety of motivations for yearning for intimacy with God and some are undoubtedly pure and selfless. Our human state is such, however - and here I believe I am not only projecting my own experience - that we have a hard time being selfless. This is the problem with intimacy as a motivation for worship: we should never trust ourselves to yearn for intimacy for the benefit of anyone besides ourselves.
When we worship to achieve intimacy with God, is it because we believe that intimacy somehow glorifies God (it can) or because it satisfies some desperate part of our being? Even here, you can see why it is dangerous to speak about this in absolutes because it is God who puts that desperation for Himself into us (what has often been called the "God-shaped hole"). I think the danger in intimacy as a motivation for worship is that it can make worship about me and how I feel and whether I am fulfilled and satisfied, and that's not what glory is about! Glory is about who God is and what He's done! And yes, there is an inevitable correlation between what He's done and who He's done it for (us!) that implies that our position before Him and our intimacy with Him are relevant to worship, but they should flow out of our awe for God's character and works rather than the other way around. God is worthy of glory regardless of how we feel, but here's the magnificence of God's design: when we worship Him wholly, it is in that moment that we achieve truest intimacy with Him and are thereby satiated by Him. So yes, there is intimacy in worship, but it is moved by the Spirit working in us to bring us into union with Him, not by us in some vain attempt to coerce it from Him. When you come to worship, your first step should be to lay aside all self so that the one and only focus of your heart is to honor and glorify the God who created all things and who holds all things together, the God who knows and plans every day of your life. When you do this, I guarantee you cannot fail to feel connected to God.