In light of some of the Worship wars recently, I thought I would find something from the man I see as the heir to Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones mantle. These words are so good that I will simply allow him to speak for himself. The full article is well worth a read. He is preaching from Philippians 1. As usual, all emphasis is mine. Somehow these words make all the worship wars melt away . . . .
The intensification of worship as an inner, Godward experience of the heart is seen in the words of Jesus that the hour is coming and now is when worship will not be located in Samaria or Jerusalem, but will be “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-23) . . . Worship that does not come from the heart is vain, empty. It is not authentic worship. It is no worship . . . the essence of worship is not external, localized acts, but inner, Godward experience that comes out not primarily in church services (though they are important) but primarily in daily expressions of allegiance to God – in your sex life, in the way you handle your money, or keep your marriage vows, or speak up for Christ . . . .
Verse 21 describes the inner experience that exalts Christ and is the essence of worship. To see this, let’s take each pair separately, starting with “death” in verse 20 and “die” in verse 21. Boil down the verse to read: My expectation and hope is that Christ will be exalted in my body by death, for to me to die is gain. Christ will be exalted in my dying, if my dying is for me gain. Do you see it? The inner experience that magnifies Christ in dying is to experience death as gain . . . .
.. the inner essence of worship is cherishing Christ as gain – indeed as more gain than all that life can offer – family, career, retirement, fame, food, friends. The essence of worship is experiencing Christ as gain. Or to use words that we love to use around here: it is savoring Christ, treasuring Christ, being satisfied with Christ. This is the inner essence of worship. Because, Paul says, experiencing Christ as gain in death is the way he is exalted in death.
If you have ever wondered where I get the slogan: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,” this is the place. Christ is magnified in my death, when in my death I am satisfied with Him – when I experience death as gain because I gain Him. Or another way to say it is that the essence of praising Christ is prizing Christ. Christ will be praised in my death, if in my death He is prized above life. The inner essence of worship is prizing Christ. Cherishing him, treasuring him, being satisfied with him…
The authenticating, inner essence of worship is being satisfied with Christ, prizing Christ, cherishing Christ, treasuring Christ. When we say that what we do on Sunday morning is to go hard after God, this is what we mean: we are going hard after satisfaction in God, and going hard after God as our prize, and going hard after God as our treasure, our soul-food, our heart-delight, our spirit’s pleasure. Because we know from Philippians 1:20-21 that treasuring Christ as gain magnifies Him, exalts Him, worships Him
Let me draw out some implications of this for worship.
1. The pursuit of joy in God is not optional. It is our highest duty.
There are millions of Christians who have absorbed a popular ethic that says it is morally defective to seek our happiness, even in God. This is absolutely deadly for authentic worship. To the degree that this ethic flourishes, to that degree worship dies. Because the inner essence of worship is satisfaction in God, experiencing God as gain.
Therefore I say to you that the basic attitude of worship on Sunday morning is not to come with your hands full to give to God, but with your hands empty, to receive from God. And what you receive in worship is God, not entertainment. You ought to come hungry for God. Come saying, “As a deer pants for the flowing springs, so my soul pants for thee, O God.” God is mightily honored when a people know that they will die of hunger and thirst unless they have God.
2. Another implication of saying that the essence of worship is satisfaction in God is that worship becomes radically God-centered.
If the focus shifts onto our giving to God, one result I have seen again and again is that subtly it is not God that remains at the center but the quality of our giving. Are we singing worthily of the Lord? Are our instrumentalists playing with quality fitting a gift to the Lord? Is the preaching a suitable offering to the Lord? And little by little the focus shifts off the utter indispensability of the Lord Himself onto the quality of our performances. And we even start to define excellence and power in worship in terms of the technical distinction of our artistic acts.
Nothing keeps God at the center of worship like the Biblical conviction that the essence of worship is deep, heartfelt satisfaction in Him, and the conviction that the pursuit of that satisfaction is why we are together.
3. A third implication of saying that the essence of worship is satisfaction in God is that it protects the primacy of worship as an end in itself.
If the essence of worship is satisfaction in God, then worship can’t be done authentically as a means to anything else. You simply can’t say to God, I want to be satisfied in you so that I can have something else. Because that would mean that you are not really satisfied in God but in that something else. And that would dishonor God, not worship him.
But in fact for thousands of people and pastors the event of “worship” on Sunday morning is conceived of as a means to accomplish something other than worship. We “worship” to raise money; we “worship” to attract crowds; we “worship” to heal human hurts; we “worship” to recruit workers; we “worship” to improve church morale. We “worship” to give talented musicians an opportunity to fulfil their calling; we “worship” to teach our children the way of righteousness; we “worship” to help marriages stay together; we “worship” to evangelize the lost among us; we “worship” to motivate people for service projects; we “worship” to give our churches a family feeling, etc., etc.
In all of this we bear witness that we do not know what true worship is. Genuine affections for God are an end in themselves. I cannot say to my wife: “I feel a strong delight in you – so that you will make me a nice meal.” That is not the way delight works. It terminates on her. It does not have a nice meal in view. I cannot say to my son, “I love playing ball with you – so that you will cut the grass.” If your heart really delights in playing ball with him, that delight cannot be performed as a means to getting him to do something else.
Now I am not denying that authentic worship may have a hundred good effects on the life of the church. It will, just as true affection in marriage makes everything better. My point is that to the degree that we do “worship” for these reasons, to that degree it ceases to be authentic worship. Keeping satisfaction in God at the center guards us from that tragedy.
I simply cannot improve on those words or add to them! Piper’s worship manifesto cannot be improved upon!