Worship - Every Christian's #1 Priority
by Pastor Brian Steeves
Picture this in your mind: All the saints throughout the entire sweep of history are gathered. All the people of God from all the ages, together in one place, in heaven. All the angels are also present. Have you got the picture? What a vast multitude this is — millions and millions of redeemed souls, together with the heavenly hosts of angels, assembled in heaven before the throne of God — assembled for worship — praising God for His absolute perfection, bowing in recognition of His unrivaled sovereignty, celebrating His infinite goodness.
Can you picture this scene, in your mind? One day, you won’t have to, because one day, we’re all going to be there, in person. The apostle John described a scene very like this in Revelation 19:1... I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God!” .... 4And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne, saying, “Amen! Alleluia!” 5Then a voice came from the throne, saying, “Praise our God, all you His servants and those who fear Him, both small and great!” 6And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! 7“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”
Can you imagine such a heavenly congregation singing “The Hallelujah Chorus” or “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” or “Crown Him with Many Crowns” — or perhaps some heavenly hymn even more wonderful? The thought of such a worship experience sends chills up my spine and gives me goose bumps.
What is the chief end of man? Consider the message of God’s Word: Ephesians 1:11-14 NKJV 11In ... [Christ] we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, 12that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. 13In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
Revelation 14:6,7 NKJV 6... I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth — to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people — 7saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”
1 Corinthians 10:31 NKJV ... Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
What is the chief end of man? The Bible is really quite clear. As the Shorter Catechism expresses it, man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.
That’s how we shall spend eternity, in our heavenly home — glorifying God and enjoying Him. But, of course, we need not wait until we reach heaven. In fact, the Bible is equally clear about this: Our highest priority, now and forever — our number-one goal today, tomorrow, the day after — our chief end is to give glory to God immediately. “... Whatever you do (present tense), do all to the glory of God.” [1 Corinthians 10:31 NKJV]
So, everything in our lives — every thought, every decision, every habit — all our relationships and our whole life’s agenda — everything about us should honour and glorify God. But — this is important — God receives the maximum glory when we worship Him.
What’s worship? We generally think of this hour we spend together on Sunday mornings as our worship. But do we not worship God at other times, too? For example, when we say grace before a meal — isn’t that worship? Or, when we have our daily devotions, in private or as a family — isn’t that worship? Or suppose you’re walking down a lovely forest trail or looking up at the stars in the night sky, and you’re suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of the power and majesty of God, and you praise Him for His magnificent handiwork — right there, spontaneously — isn’t that worship? In all of these instances, the answer surely is “yes!” Yes, we worship God every time we acknowledge Him in prayer. We worship Him by seeking Him in our private devotions. We worship Him at various other times and moments when His greatness and His goodness just seems to break in on our thoughts. And we worship Him when we come together as a church at 11 o’clock on Sunday morning. What is worship? Worship is acknowledging God for who He is and giving Him praise. Worship is thinking about Him, listening to Him, and praying to Him. Worship is intentionally giving God all the credit, all the honour and all the glory for every blessing you enjoy. And, certainly, worship needs to be a “24/7" thing in the life of every Christian — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The fundamental principle is this: “... Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
So worship ought to be an everyday thing in our lives. But does this mean that all forms of worship are equally valid? Does it really matter how I worship, as long as I do worship? When 11 a.m. Sunday morning rolls around, can’t I worship God just as legitimately by staying home and watching some of the religious programs on TV, or by having a devotional time on my own, or by going for a walk and enjoying God’s creation? We’ve said that worship is an everyday thing — that God can be worshiped anytime, any place — spontaneously, right where we are, in a variety of ways. We’ve said that we ought to glorify God in everything we do. So, what’s the big deal about a one-hour service on Sunday morning?
Listen carefully — you need to understand this. And you need to explain it to anyone who’s absent this morning — it’s critically important. Yes, all worship is valid if God’s glory is the end in view. All such worship honours God and pleases Him. But all worship does not give God the same degree of glory. The purpose of worship is to bring maximum glory to God. Private worship brings God glory, to be sure. But public worship — corporate worship — the kind of worship we share at the church on Sunday morning — brings God greater glory — in fact, far greater glory.
Certainly, God calls us to know Him in a personal way — to know Him in the private moments of our lives. Just as certainly, our worship, if it’s sincere, must flow from our knowledge of God — from our personal relationship with Him. True worship is a response. It is the response of one who has met the Creator, who has received grace and mercy and salvation in Christ, who has intimate, personal dealings with the Lord of the universe. Worship is really just the natural response of one who has met God and come to know Him. And the better we know Him, the more enthusiastically we shall worship Him.
That’s why some people find church boring and worship irrelevant. They’ve not really met God or come to know Him. That’s also why, once you’ve met God and come to know Him, you can never be content with private worship alone. As we worship God privately, as we grow in our knowledge of Him, as our desire for His glory increases, we long for a kind of worship that we cannot give when we are alone. Do you know what I mean? Charles Wesley, the hymn-writer, expressed it this way:
O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise.
Wesley sensed the inadequacy — the insufficiency — of a single tongue, his tongue, to give God the glory of which He is worthy. I can praise God with my tongue, but as I come to know Him and to understand His dominion and power and majesty, one tongue or even two or three tongues is just not enough, it seems. “O for a thousand tongues” — O for a large crowd, a great multitude, a vast throng approaching that heavenly congregation in which we will all one day participate.
Our worship here in Kingston is far from perfect, like that of any local church, whether it be Erb’s Cove Baptist or Trinity Anglican or King’s Valley Wesleyan. Our worship on this side of eternity falls far short of perfect. Let’s be honest — our earthly worship can never be more than a pale shadow of the glorious worship of heaven. All the same, it’s the closest we can come to experiencing the joys of heavenly worship.
If you’ve read the Church’s January Newsletter, you may have noticed the somewhat grandiose designation the deacons and I have given to the year 2004. The heading for the article reads “2004 — the Year of Worship.” Our hope is that together, by increasing our attendance at Sunday worship, we will bring greater glory to God. Over the last couple of years we have averaged about 65 at Sunday services. Wouldn’t it be great if, in 2004, we raised that figure to 75 or 80 or higher? With much prayer and a renewed commitment by us all, we might well be surprised by the worship attendance. Remember William Carey’s famous words: “Attempt great things for God and expect great things from God.
We can draw an analogy between attendance at worship and attendance at a sports event: Suppose a hockey team has a home game scheduled for Saturday night — a crucial game, a “must-win” situation. The team absolutely must win in order to make the playoffs. The team will want a good turn-out of its fans. It will hope for a “packed house” on Saturday night. What if, when the referee drops the puck for the opening face-off, the stands are less than half full? All those empty seats be disheartening to the home team. The players will feel discouraged and deflated even before the game begins. But if, at the opening face-off, the stands are packed with excited fans, shouting and cheering — if it’s standing room only — this will be a real pick-me-up for the local team. The cheering will spur the players on, causing them to put forth just a little extra effort. And in a close game, it can even make the difference between winning and losing. The number of fans present reflects their esteem for the team.
In a similar way (without pushing the analogy too far), the number of worshipers present (as well as the enthusiasm of their worship) on Sunday morning reflects their esteem for God. What does it say about our commitment to God if, on a Sunday morning, half our pews are empty? What brings greater glory to God — for the sanctuary to be packed or for it to be half empty? What does our attendance say to a visitor or a newcomer? Will a visitor receive the impression from our attendance that we love God passionately and are whole-heartedly committed to Him? Does the fullness of our sanctuary on Sunday morning reflect honour and glory to God? Or is the number of empty pews an embarrassment, reflecting dishonour on God? Do you see how our presence or absence on Sunday morning really does work to bring glory to God — or not?
And so, the hymn-writer Isaac Watts wrote,
Come, we that love the Lord,
And let our joys be known;
Join in a song of sweet accord,
And thus surround the throne.
“Let our joys be known.” Our joys cannot be known if we stay home and worship in private. “Join in a song ... and thus surround the throne.” It’s much easier to surround the throne if we are many rather than few.
As you come to know the glories of your God and King, as Jesus charms your fears and bids your sorrows cease, and as you experience the triumphs of His grace, you will worship God on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday — all through the week. But you will not be content with mere private worship — with personal devotions — not even with mystical experiences of the presence of God. Instead, you will long to give God yet greater glory. You will earnestly and sincerely desire to join with others of like precious faith and to unite with them in their worship. It will be increasingly unthinkable to forsake the assembling of ourselves together as is the manner of some. And so you will present yourself faithfully at the assembly of your brothers and sisters, at the agreed time and place. You will view the worship of your church as a celebration of the great God you love and serve — and as a foretaste of the worship of heaven. What true child of God would want to miss out on this?
And, as you look forward to that heavenly choir, your attitude will be that of the hymn-writer:
O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise.
Your attitude will be that of the psalmist:
Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands!
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before His presence with singing.
Know that the Lord, He is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His mercy is everlasting,
And His truth endures to all generations.
the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.