Why do we worship God? Does God need to be worshipped? Throughout the Bible, people performed sacrifices and other acts of ritual worship. Today, Christians gather each Sunday for worship services. Here are four wrong reasons why some Christians think they ought to worship God (though most would never admit it):
Mistaken Reasons to Worship
- Groveling Before God. Is our worship based on fear? Too often we model our worship after the way peasants might do obeisance to a king, groveling at the feet of their sovereign. Our praise can sound like commoners flattering their monarch. In the old days, they did this to show proper deference, and to keep their heads. We must realize that God is not the Queen of Hearts. God will not scream, “Off with their heads!” The term “fear of the Lord” is better understood as reverence, rather than quaking in our shoes.
- Manipulating God. Do we worship to grease the wheels of God’s generosity? God does not need to be buttered up, as if the Benevolent One could be coerced into doing our bidding with flattering words. If human rulers can recognize sycophantic manipulations, how much more can the Omniscient God see through our motivations? Our modern sense of worship often involves layer upon layer of flattering phrases. But we cannot make God answer our prayers with sweet talk. Jesus said God makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the righteous and the wicked alike (Matthew 5.45). God gives good things and allows bad things for all people—no amount of adulation will get you the items on your Christmas list.
- Stroking God’s Ego. Does God have a fragile ego that needs to be stroked with our worship? God doesn’t feel bigger when we abase ourselves. It doesn’t make God feel better when we call ourselves filthy wretched sinners. But if we recognize that we are the beloved children of God, we will also understand that God does not want us to see ourselves in that way. God does not have an ego that needs to be caressed by our self-abasement. If you are a parent, how might you feel if your children approached you in this way, groveling and flattering as if they believe you are so trivial as to require homage to make you feel big? Yeah—God doesn’t like it, either.
- Something to Prove. Do you need to prove your God to be the biggest god on the block? The Hebrew scriptures are filled with stories like Elijah’s contest against the prophets of Baal. God is jealous, and the prophet is insecure. It’s not enough for Elijah to know how great God is—he has to prove it to the world. But the New Testament tells us to have the same attitude as Jesus, a non-grasping, non-jealous, humble presence. If God possesses every virtue, then look to Jesus to model those traits. In humility, Jesus submitted himself to death on the cross. Since Jesus is humble, we know that God is humble—and doesn’t need to win a contest to prove who is supreme. God has nothing to prove—so our worship should have nothing to prove, either.
None of these are good reasons to worship God. Unfortunately, the church has inadvertently communicated these mistaken notions to parishioners. Nobody thinks these things in the front of their brains, but in the back of our minds, we may have these hidden motivations. So, if these aren’t the best reason for worship, why should we worship God?
Why Should We Worship?
When I tell my wife I love her, it’s not because I think she doesn’t know. I do it because I need to express my love. We worship God for the same reason—not to grovel, flatter, stroke God’s ego, or prove something to others. And certainly not because God needs us to express our love. We do it because we can’t help ourselves. Jesus said we should worship God in spirit and truth. This means we do it out of an overflow of our hearts. Worship is enjoying the presence of the One you love—because there’s nothing else you’d rather do.
The marriage vows in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer use the old English phrase, “with my body I thee worship.” The word worship has to do with someone’s worth or worthiness. It involves telling and demonstrating to them how much they are worth to you. The old wedding vows equate making love with worship. So, you might say that, in whatever form it takes, spiritual worship is making love with God.
Ways to Worship
We generally think of worship as the church service on Sunday morning. Or you might expand this to your personal prayer time when you tell God how mighty, powerful, beautiful, majestic, worthy, and wonderful God is. Most people think of singing as part of worship, both in corporate and individual settings. But let me suggest three other ways to worship: giving, contemplative prayer, and service.
- Giving: Sharing with God. When you love someone, you want to share with them. God has shared everything in the universe with you. The air you breathe, the water that hydrates your body, the food that sustains you—all are a gift from God. When you give to a church, a charity, or an individual in need, you are sharing with God just as God shared with you. This ebb and flow of resources expresses that just as you have freely received, you can freely give (Matthew 10.8).
- Contemplative Prayer: Making Love with God. As a form of worship, contemplative prayer speaks nothing but immerses itself in the presence of the Divine Lover. Unlike petitionary prayer which asks for a blessing and is attached to the outcome, contemplative prayer asks for nothing and is content with the outcome. In contemplative prayer, we understand that God does not need to be flattered, nor do we need to grovel. Instead, it is like two friends simply sitting together and holding hands without saying a word. Or it is like a spirit-bound couple making love. Simply sit, a tuning your heart to God, and breathing deeply as the Holy Spirit fills you. Don’t say anything. Don’t ask anything. If any thoughts enter your mind, simply smile at them, and let them go. Contemplative prayer is the believer simply letting the love in their heart flow toward God and letting God’s love ebb back into them.
- Service: Partnering with God. The Hebrew prophets expressed that God desires mercy, not sacrifice (Hosea 6.6). Jesus echoed the same (Matthew 9.13). When we take care of the needs of others, when we mentor others, when we work for justice, equity, and peace, then we partner with God in the expansion of the Realm of God. Instead of elaborate ceremonies, God wants collaboration so that we can bring about the kin-dom (relatedness, oneness) of heaven on earth.
Here I Am to Worship
An entire generation has been raised on the 2001 Tim Hughes praise song, “Here I Am to Worship.” Its lyrics say:
Here I am to worship
Here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that you’re my God
You’re altogether lovely
Altogether wonderful to me
There’s nothing wrong with singing this or any other song that declares God’s amazing qualities. When you do it as a genuine expression of love to God, the Creator of Music smiles. But when you do so, remember that there are many other ways to worship than just singing. You can also worship God by giving, serving, and simply spending time with God in silence. I’m sure you can think of still other ways to worship—not to grovel, manipulate, stroke God’s ego, or prove anything. Simply put, worship is making love with God, and there is nothing more beautiful than that.