by Kelly Carpenter
Wired to Worship
The Westminster Confessional states this: The chief end of man is to worship God and enjoy Him forever. Our intended design was to have unbroken communion with God whereby we would worship and enjoy Him forever.
Of course, the fall of man changed all that. We became darkened in our understanding of who God is. Yet, because we are "wired to worship" there will always be objects of our attention and affections. And if it isn't the true God, then it is some god of our own making.
One can't turn on a television without being bombarded with the world's gods. We idolize entertainment personalities, sports heroes, political figures, famous preachers, and the list goes on.
We allow ourselves to be shaped, influenced, and motivated by those people or things that we give our affection to.
At some point, we discovered the true God, and we soon learned that we are to worship Him alone and turn away from all the little gods we have allowed to influence and define us.
Our Concept of God
Once we have figured out who the One True God is and have decided to worship Him, our lives can come into proper order and we should be able to worship Him in spirit and truth.
Not so fast. Do we truly understand this God that we worship? Yes, we do, to a certain extent. Part of our journey is to come to a greater knowledge of Him. But our understanding also includes many misconceptions of who God is. Part of our learning process is to unlearn our misconceptions of Him.
I believe that how we worship is based upon our conception of who we worship. In other words, our conception of God will drive the way we worship Him. Let's explore some of the common conceptions and misconceptions of God and how that effects our worship.
God as Tyrant
Some people think that God is angry at them all the time and just waiting to pounce on them when they make one little mistake. They are more familiar with the God of judgment than the God of mercy. This thinking can go back to a tyrannical authority figure in a person's past, or an angry and abusive father. But it can also stem from a lack of understanding about grace.
Regardless of the cause, this concept of God can cause us to live in a cycle of guilt and condemnation.
How does this effect our worship of Him? We are afraid. We cower before this big angry God, feeling totally unworthy of Him, painfully aware of all the ways we have let Him down. If we don't experience His touch, then we figure that we probably didn't deserve it. We may not attempt to draw close to Him, but rather wallow in our shame, because we think God wants us to feel miserable about our shortcomings.
God as Aloof
Remember the song that went, "God is watching us from a distance...". This expresses a philosophy called "Deism" which believes that God created the cosmos, set it in motion, and then walked away from it all. God is not directly involved with His creation, so it's up to us to sort it out. Surely we who know Christ don't view God this way. Yet if we are honest with ourselves, we would see all the ways we keep God at arms length. We run to Him when we get into trouble or calamity strikes, but if life is going smoothly we assume that God doesn't want us to pester Him with our little trifles.
How does this affect our worship? If we think that God is unconcerned with the details of our life, then we can view worship as a "take it or leave it" proposition. I may not be in the mood to worship or God doesn't seem very near at the moment. It's no big deal. God is too busy to be interested in whether I worship Him or not. He expects us to grow up on our own. All this sentiment is a waste of His and my time.
God as Familiar
On the other end of the spectrum is a God who is all too familiar. Yes, Jesus can be, among other things, our friend. Yet, sometimes we take this too far. We think of Him as our "buddy" Jesus that we keep in our pocket for good fortune. He makes sure we get those good parking spaces and he makes the sun shine today just for us.
The all-too-familiar God evokes worship that is devoid of reverence and fear. The familiar God makes it too easy for us to treat that which is sacred as profane. Our very relationship with God is sacred, yet we dirty it if we tolerate sinful behavior in our lives and think that God is going to gloss over it because He is our buddy.
God as Accountant
Then there is the God who is keeping score. There are spiritual laws that God and man are bound by and can be set out in a series of formulas. We do this and God will do this. We do that and God will do that. We've got God figured out because He has made it very cut and dry about what He expects from us. And we apply this thinking to worship as well. We enter through the gates of thanksgiving and into the courts of praise--or is it the other way around? We better get this down. We don't want our worship to be invalidated.
Like God-as-tyrant, we have this feeling that unless we've got everything right then our worship will be unacceptable to Him and we won't experience His presence. However, if we have gone through the checklist and determined that everything is okay with God, then we expect that God is going to come through for us in our worship times to bring His blessing and His presence. After all, we've done everything necessary to earn it.
God as High King
Stephen Lawhead is one of my favorite Christian authors. In his trilogy "The Song of Albion" he describes the mythological otherworld of ancient celtic lore. A place where the sky is bluer and the grass is greener and life is more vibrant than in our own world. He describes the main character meeting the High King of this realm.
When the bard (i.e. priest) finished, he took his place at the right hand and a little behind the king’s chair. The horn sounded again and Meldryn Mawr himself appeared, a very Sun King: his clothing was immaculate, and his countenance brilliant. He wore a crown, which appeared to have been made of oak-leaves and twigs dipped in gold. His dark eyes scanned the throng before him, confident and wise. The force of his presence filled the entire hall, drawing all attention to him; I could not look away.
Imagine being in the presence of such a High King. Would you not be filled with wonder and awe? Fear and trembling? The author describes how warriors would swear fealty to the King. They would lay their head upon the king’s chest. This reminds me of the disciple John, resting his head upon Jesus’ chest during the Last Supper.
Here is a picture where devotion and dedication is expressed in an intimate manner. The High King of Heaven is worthy of all honor, praise, and devotion. In contrast, we are unworthy. Yet instead of being unapproachable, He accepts our allegiance through an intimate expression. He has allowed us to become citizens of the Kingdom of the Universe.
How does this image of God affect my worship? I am awestruck by His beauty, His radiance, His majesty, His perfection, His sovereignty, His unlimited love…and the list goes on forever. We see just a part, through a mirror, dimly, and yet this is what we see. Imagine when we are face to face with our High King. I only hope that we will receive the gift of expanded language so we can come closer to describing Him as He Is.
God as Father
It was Jesus who first referred to God as "Father". And it was Jesus who painted such vivid pictures of this Father-God, the most memorable of which is the story of the Prodigal Son. Here we see the father always looking down the road, longing for his wayward son to return. We see his outstretched arms when his son finally comes home. We see the redemption and the celebration.
We are told that as earthly fathers know how to give their children good gifts, even more so will our Heavenly Father lavish His wonderful gifts upon us, not the least of which is a token of the God-head Himself, the Holy Spirit.
For God to be our Father, we must recognize that we are His beloved sons and daughters. This brings us both privilege and freedom.
How does this affect my worship? I can be a child who delights in his Father. I can sit in Daddy’s lap. I can know His protection, feel His nurturing, and learn from His wisdom. I can rest assured that I will never be abandoned or abused I am safe and secure. I am the apple of His Eye. As a little child blesses her earthly parents with a crude crayon drawing, I can bless my Heavenly Father with my feeble tokens of worship. He delights in me.
A Child of the High King
I love to put these two images together: God as High King and God as Father. The truth is that He is both of these things to us. We are beloved sons and daughters of the High King of Heaven. We honor Him, we revere Him, for He is the King. Yet we are close to Him and enjoy His tender love, for He is our Father.
I want to live for this King. I want to be obedient to Him. I want to please Him in all that I do. He is worthy of all that I have to give.
God as Redeemer
These are but a few negative and positive concepts of God; the list is by no means complete. But we can’t forget the God who so loved us that He gave His only Son so that we could enter into eternity now. We can’t have a relationship with the King of the Universe without our Kinsman-Redeemer. God is a God of justice but He is also a God of mercy.
As I come before my Father, the High King of Heaven, I must not forget the price He paid so that I could have the confidence to enjoy His presence. We stand before Him as beloved sons and daughters who have been saved from the fire of eternal separation from Him. My heart is filled with thanksgiving and profound relief that I have not been abandoned to a life without Him.
So the next time you engage in worship, please consider who is this God we worship. Do we worship Him in truth? Pray that God will open the eyes of our hearts so that we may see Him better; and see more of who He truly is.