Chapter 3 – Worship and the Christian Life
Worship is that activity by which believers come into God’s presence to converse with Him. In worship they praise and honor Him as well as listen closely to His Word. It is a corporate activity. God has called His people together to worship Him, so it is as one body that they worship.
It is very common nowadays to hear Christians equate worship with Christian living. The following comments no longer surprise: “I can worship God while I am driving to work.” “It is important to make certain that you do everything in a worshipful manner.” “All of life is worship.” Are these accurate statements?
If God, being everywhere, nonetheless chooses to manifest Himself in a special manner when His people assemble together, and if public worship is therefore a unique meeting with God, then these statements are somewhat misguided. Christians should be very clear on this: All of life is not worship.
I am not saying that the rest of life is unimportant. Nor am I saying that any part of life should not be service to God. I am merely saying that worship is something distinct within the Christian life – an activity of another quality than the rest. Worship is the high-point of the Christian’s existence, but he does not live perpetually on the summit.
A Bit of History
Long ago the apostles taught that every action of a Christian should be done in such manner as to glorify God. In teaching on the issue of Christian liberty, Paul, though far from any topic touching on worship, nevertheless urged Christians to do “whatever” they did “to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31) He clearly taught that the mundane matters of everyday life are arenas in which Christians can and must give glory to God.
Eventually, though, as had been prophesied, men came into the church teaching that common, everyday matters like good food and marriage were “unspiritual.” Truly holy persons would not indulge in such things, and in abstaining from them they would glorify God. Paul said such men were enthralled to “the teaching of demons” (I Timothy 4:1), but the Catholics called them “saints.” Thus began a period of history in which ordinary Christians were taught that God was only honored in “sacred” activities. Those who labored in the work of the church were holy, while those who worked in mundane tasks only truly served God when they worshiped.
When the Reformation came, this false teaching was one of many to be addressed. Reformed churches emphasized that all of life is lived “before God” and that He is to be served in the mundane tasks of life as well as the sacred. In emphasizing this, Reformed churches began to use language which called into question whether anything is truly mundane. If I can eat and drink unto the glory of God, is that really a mundane activity? Certainly it is not so in the sense that Catholicism had taught. The idea that all of life is “sacred” (in the sense that God is served by all things done rightly) may have contributed to a blurring of the distinction between worship and the rest of life.
The same problem remains with us in various forms today. Some Christians have been led to believe that what God wants from all of us is a life of full-time service to the church. If some are not called to any “ministry,” their spiritual strength is suspect. The best of God’s kingdom are those who grant Him the best service, and that is done through full-time ministry.
Such a mentality can have a crippling effect on Christians. Not everyone is called to full-time ministry (James 3:1), and many who pursue it will not ultimately find employment in the church. A sense of profound unease can linger for a lifetime in those who worry whether they are among “God’s best”!
It is imperative that the church respond to this falsehood. Whatever we do, even our eating and drinking, may be done to God’s glory! Mankind is called to subdue the earth in which he lives, and one might serve God in a great variety of employments. What He requires of us is righteous living in accordance with His commands. In this sense, everything which the Christian does, provided it is not sin, is “sacred.”
Catholicism teaches that to glorify God you must be engaged in some sort of worshipful activity. Some evangelicals teach that to really glorify God you must work full time for the church. Both teachings are unbiblical. Christians are to serve and glorify God in everything they do. To do so it is not necessary to identify all of life as worship. Worship is something distinct, a unique meeting with God that is not possible every hour of the day.
Remember that worship is an appointment with God. While He truly is everywhere and we live always before His face, it is also true that He chooses to manifest Himself at a certain time and in a certain way. That special manifestation is the defining occurrence of worship. God promises to manifest Himself when His people meet together to praise Him. Since we cannot do this constantly (nor should we), most of life is not worship. Service to God, yes, but not worship.
Rather, worship is the centerpiece of our lives. It is that hour for which the believer longs all week, the time of entering together with the church into the presence of God to call upon His name and to hear Him speak. Even ministers who spend their week reading and contemplating God’s Word do not actually worship until they gather with the church. The corporate nature of worship makes it a distinct experience for everyone.
God’s people have always longed for worship and seen it as the pinnacle of earthly existence. In an earlier post I directed you to Psalm 84, which speaks of the Psalmists longing for the place of worship. Look at how the same passion for worship permeates Psalm 100. Men are called to “come into His presence.” In worship we “enter His gates” and “His courts.” This is no small thing for men to do, and it is done in an ecstasy of joy.
We must understand that everything in life is not worship to properly appreciate how wonderful worship is. All week we go about our mundane tasks, serving God, yes, but without the unique closeness to Him that characterizes worship. Then God calls us to His temple, which we enter as we assemble with our brothers for worship. We go in to meet with the LORD who is good, whose “steadfast love endures forever.” How can we not make a joyful noise?