The Centrality of Worship

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This post is from an upcoming book called “Discipleship Begins with Beholding.”

Because humans seek out beauty and emulate what fascinates them, worship is central to discipleship:

Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.1

The crisis of this age is a crisis of worship, and therefore the fundamental human sin in the Bible is idolatry. Idolatry is more than worshipping physical objects, it is worshipping anything that is not meant to be worshipped. Humans are made to worship and they will worship even if they do not recognize it. For example, the obsession with celebrities and other powerful or gifted people is worship. Our idolization of gifted athletes is worship as well. There are certain degrees of worship, and a person does not worship a celebrity the way they would a perfect, divine being but their affection, devotion, and joy in that person are in fact worship.

When we are not fascinated with God, we worship all sorts of things including political movements, celebrities, and sports teams. Whatever we find fascinating, majestic, beautiful, and powerful, we will end up worshipping and the turmoil we experience in this age is the ongoing effect of misdirected worship.

Throughout the Bible God commands worship which leads some to accuse God of being arrogant and egotistical. However, those who accuse God of arrogance and hubris because of His repeated commands do not understand who He is, nor how the human heart works.

God is often criticized for demanding worship, but in reality God’s command to worship is the kindest command He can give.

There are several reasons the command to worship is an expression of God’s affection for us. First, whatever we worship, we will become like. Worship leads to imitation, and marketers know this perhaps better than anyone. As a result, they constantly get celebrities and athletes to endorse products, knowing we will purchase products simply because the celebrity uses it. We may not need the product and the celebrity may not be qualified to evaluate the product, but that is irrelevant because we want to become like the objects of our worship.

For example, shoe companies will pay millions of dollars to a sports star to get the athlete to wear their shoes because millions of people will wear those shoes because that person wears them. Those shoes will not really do anything for the people who purchase them. A person is not going to suddenly become better at sports because they wear the same shoe as a sports star. However, marketers know that our worship of sports stars fuels imitation and we will buy their shoes even though those shoes will not produce any real transformation.

In affluent societies, consumerism is a religion and a form of worship.2 As you enter the mall (or shop online) you find images of celebrities and models who are presented to us as demigods who are images of near perfection. These images are beautiful and as a result we long to imitate them and we are invited to emulate them through purchasing. This act is an act of worship because it is an to imitate an object of beauty we have beheld.

If we cannot recognize malls, online stores, and sports stadiums as arenas for worship we do not understand the true nature of worship. When God commands us to worship, He invites us to become like Him. Worship is a profound privilege that does not devalue us; it elevates us.

Second, when we worship we give the object of worship power and influence over our lives. Again, consider the incredible influence celebrities and other people exert over our lives. In liberal democracies when elections are held candidates typically get well-known and powerful people to endorse them. For example, they typically seek the endorsements of athletes, actors, and entertainers, but from a logical point of view these endorsements make little sense.

For example, an actor is skilled in imitating another person and an entertainer knows how to make music. These talents differ completely from the skills necessary to lead a government. A government leader needs to be skilled in solving complex problems, have an excellent grasp of budgeting, know how to navigate large organizations, and manage bureaucracy. In short government leaders should be excellent administrators who understand accounting which is a skill set very few celebrities possess.

Though celebrities are not qualified to evaluate government candidates, their endorsements are valuable because our worship of them gives them incredible influence over our lives. This influence is constantly manipulated by businesses and political campaigns.

When God commands us to worship, He knows that will give Him profound influence over our lives. When humans do this it is genuinely egotistical, but God is completely different from us. He is the only person in the cosmos that naturally seeks the good of others, even at the cost of His own life.3 He is the one Person we can yield to because He will always use His power over us for our benefit. Those who critique God for this overlook the fact that they will worship something because humans naturally worship and any object of worship other than God does not ultimately have our best interest in mind.

Third, worship is intensely pleasurable. While there are those who demand expressions of worship, true worship is voluntary, and it is pleasurable. People are not forced to worship celebrities. They naturally find them beautiful and enjoy searching out their lives and trying to imitate them. You do not need for coerce fans to worship in a sports stadium. They gather to gaze at the beauty of the athletes and experience the pleasure of the game. No one instructs fans to release their shouts of praise when their team scores. They naturally erupt in praise as an emotional overflow of their delight from what they have seen.

The command to worship is an invitation to pleasure. Every other object of worship is infinite, and furthermore not worthy of our worship. God is infinite and offers us infinite pleasure. Worship is an unending journey of discovery because the beauty of God is inexhaustible.

Humans were made with endless cravings. Whatever satisfies only lasts for a moment and never leaves us completely content. The most basic human desires like social interactions, rest, food, or sex can all be satisfying in a moment, but not ultimately satisfying. The craving will always return.

We were made with infinite desire and only an infinite being can satisfy infinite desire.

We were not made to experience something and be satisfied because our capacity for pleasure is much greater. God made us to continually pursue and enjoy deeper dimensions of pleasure. We are not machines who have a need for periodic maintenance. We are emotional creatures with a profound capacity for ongoing delight. Men will take incredible risks in life to pursue their pleasure. They will risk everything for the promise of satisfaction, and this is all an expression of appetites designed to be fulfilled in God. Worship is the doorway to that fulfillment.

God made you to enjoy intense pleasure and worship is the entry point to the deepest pleasure the human heart can experience because everything enjoyable in the created realm reflects Him. Our daily pleasures are evidence of Him; they are breadcrumbs designed to draw us to the foundation of desire. God enjoys His people and finds incredible pleasure in them, and we were made to find corresponding pleasure in Him. People typically think sacrifice is the greatest expression of love, but it is not. People can sacrifice for things they believe are right, but do not love.

The greatest expression of love is delight. When we take delight in someone we display the depth of our affections. If God is the one we love the most and if He is the most beautiful person we need to ask do we take delight in Him? In context to our discussion we should ask do our discipleship methods lead us to take delight in God? Delight is the highest expression of affection for God and all ministry whether it is personal conversations, teaching, preaching, or worship leading should lead a person to take delight in God.

If we are leading people to obedience but not delight we are misguided. Of course, if we lead people to delight without obedience, it is licentious, but among Christians who love the Bible and seek to obey it, obeying the bible without delighting in God is probably a much more common problem.

True worship is an expression of beauty, desire, and pleasure. These are basic human cravings and God commands us to fully satisfy these cravings by worshipping the only One who can truly satisfy our longings.

Worship is foundational to discipleship because:

  1. It leads us to become like God, which is the ultimate aim of discipleship.
  2. It gives God profound influence over our lives, and discipleship produces a people who obey all that God commands.
  3. It directs us to the infinite pleasure of discovering who God is. The pleasure of beholding God will naturally produce imitation and obedience.

Music is an important aspect of worship, but worship is more than music and not all religious music is worship. We must realize worship plays a profound role in discipleship. It stirs our emotions; it instructs us in theology; it gives us a picture of God; and it moves us to respond to God. While teaching is important, worship typically affects us more than teaching. Therefore, if our “worship” does not align with these three objectives then it is not true worship and we need to make necessary adjustments.

Singers, musicians, and songwriters must approach their craft as a discipleship medium, not a medium for religious entertainment.

Worship, like all other ministry, should lead us to behold God which in the foundation of our own discipleship. Whether it is music ministry, prayer meetings, teaching, or pastoral ministry, every expression of ministry should lead people to behold God.

  1. John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993/2003), 17. ↩︎
  2. James K. A. Smith has written extensively on consumerism as worship and the affects on discipleship in his volume Desiring the Kingdom. ↩︎
  3. For example, see Phil 2:5–8. ↩︎


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