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Worship – just why?

Worship. What’s that all about, then?

I wonder if some of you look at some of my writing, tweets and so on and wonder why I’d want to worship God – especially when I am so often in pain. What is it about worship which catches hold of me so? Isn’t a God who requires worship somewhat arrogant, egocentric even? Why would I want to worship a God who loves to be adored?

These are questions I’ve been asked and I’ve addressed in my own mind. Coming fresh from an incredible and powerful week of worship at New Wine and not being able to get to church today due to injuring myself on the last night (I know, I know, what a numpty) I thought I’d explore something of it here.

What is worship, and why on earth would we do it?

If you ask this question, you’re in good company. My favourite writer, C.S Lewis, asked it repeatedly when he was an atheist. He thought Christians were at best daft and rather delusional. He looked at all the commands to praise God in the Psalms and was turned off by the idea of a God who ‘needed’ worship in this way. He thought God seemed like a vain person searching for compliments, someone whose ego needed regular stroking. No thanks, he thought, I don’t want any of that. I’m my own autonomous person; I will not massage the fragile ego of this needy deity.

But later on, C.S Lewis was radically converted to Christianity. In looking back on his view of worship, he saw that he’d missed the point. He’d thought it was all about having to placate God, and nothing about us. He’d forgotten that the act of praise actually does something in our own spirits, and that when we praise someone – our child, for example – it doesn’t fill us with resentment at having to make our child happy, but instead fills us with even greater love and a sense of appreciation and contentment. Praise is not something which is outside ourselves, but something which flows from the deepest parts of us – and pours riches on us.

We are wired for worship.

Instead of God requiring worship for his own fragile ego, God has created us to find riches for our souls in the place of worship. So many of us are searching for that thing which will fill us, which will create peace in us and enfold our souls in rest and in a sense of rightness and satisfaction. We’re longing for the void in us to be filled and so we try to fill it. We fill it with stuff, with experiences, with relationships – but nothing quite hits the spot and so we try harder. We look beyond the stuff we have and go for more.

But I believe we can only find that sense of absolute filling – the wholeness in the centre of our beings – in knowing God and worshipping God. In worship, we are concentrated on God, but in a profound mystery that looking to God transforms our own inner beings and soothes our wildest pleaces. Worship heaps great treasures on us because our souls are created to worship.

Worship heaps great treasures on us because our souls are created to worship.

But what is worship?

My teen son asked me if we had to sing songs for eternity in heaven. He wasn’t convinced by this idea. He’d somehow grasped the idea that worship was just singing. But, while sung worship can be an astounding and transformative experience, it’s not just about that. In Romans 12:1, Paul talks about true worship:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.

But what does this mean?

It obviously doesn’t mean that we go and sacrifice ourselves on the nearest altar. That would just be messy. There’s something more profound at work here: a reality that when we turn our minds, hearts, bodies and souls towards God, then we are worshipping in truth and being transformed. When we stop trying to pursue the thing which will bring us happiness or fill up that empty space, and instead give all we are to God, we are coming into the greatest freedom we can know on this earth. We’re coming into the liberty which Christ has offered us, the staggering beauty of knowing that we are God’s beloved child and we are forgiven and accepted. In living lives of worship – not just singing songs – we are entering into that freedom every day by making active choices to live turned towards God instead of towards ourselves. And in God’s topsy-turvy economy, our restless souls are stilled by taking our eyes off us.

Sung worship is simply an expression of a life of worship.

It’s an intentional decision to come into God’s presence with thanks and praise, with adoration and with the raw truth of who we are and how we are. Worship doesn’t require us to pretend, to sing songs of joy and just gloss over our pain. The greatest songs of worship are to be found in the Psalms, and they are brutally honest. The Psalmists scream out at God, they shriek their pain, they make no excuses for the stark reality of lives lived in suffering and injustice. But what they all do is turn to God. They turn their faces away from them and towards God and in doing so they find their bleak places soothed and their longing places filled to overflowing.

They turn their faces away from them and towards God and in doing so they find their bleak places soothed and their longing places filled to overflowing.

Why do I go to New Wine and belt out my worship with passion and longing? Because it does just this: it fulfils and upholds me. It turns me from looking at me and restores my soul. It draws me into the eternal song which is always sung; the song around the throne where myriads upon myriads join together in crying ‘Holy, Holy, Holy.’ It lifts me and humbles me, blazes through my mind and my heart in echoes of the glorious hope I’ve only ever been able to find in Jesus.

I don’t worship because God is a narcissistic attention-seeker. I worship because I am created to and because it imbues me with life and gorgeous freedom. But more than that, I worship because it isn’t actually about me: it’s about the God who loves enough to fling himself from glory into dust, who loves us so achingly and desperately that he’d die for us, who longs for us to come into all that we are made for and all that we are purposed for. I worship because it’s about God, because on gazing on God’s holiness I am turned from my own pain and my own sense of there not being enough.

I worship because God is worthy of my worship – and what it does for me matters nothing within that.

I worship because God is worthy of my worship – and what it does for me matters nothing within that.

I love that God made us for worship. Love that God longs our lives to be both celebration and real shared pain. Love that worship can be grounded in who we are and what we are facing, and is never simply words on a screen which we can’t relate to. It’s actually been in my most painful times that I’ve experienced the truth that worship is healing and peace-filling. Somehow, the greatest treasures are to be found in our darkness; the greatest light to be found when we are surrounded by cloying gloom. I want to encourage us all to reach for God’s saving light, wherever we find ourselves, because it is the only thing which will reach our broken and shipwrecked hearts.

I want to remind us all of this Psalm to close this post. It expresses the reality of our human condition: a searching for more. A longing for filling. A knowledge that we are dry and thirsty. But then a glorious realisation that the love that is better than life is holding us and containing us, filling us and satisfying us, even in those places we can’t imagine any light to flood in.


You, God, are my God,
 earnestly I seek you;
  I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
  in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.

I have seen you in the sanctuary
 and beheld your power and your glory.
  Because your love is better than life,
      my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
  and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;
   with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

                                               (Psalm 63:1-5)

What is worship for? Experience of worship at #nwunited18 and thoughts on how worship heaps riches beyond compare on us. Click To Tweet Why worship? Isn't God just being narcissistic? Why all these posts about lovely New Wine worship? What's that all about then? #nwunited18 @NewWineEngland Click To Tweet

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    • liz

      Yes, community is a beautiful thing. It’s one reason I love the sung worship at places like NW – the sense of joining in with thousands, it’s incredibly powerful and beautiful. Thank you.

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