I will write over the next few weeks about our worship. As we think about the purposes of worship, there are several important principles. First, the object of our worship is the Triune God. We worship God the Father, through Christ the Mediator, by the Spirit (Ps. 100; John 4:22-24). Hence, our worship must be God-centered and not man-centered. Is this truth not obvious? If we are to come into His special presence with the service of our worship, if we are to fasten attention on Him, to adore and praise Him, and to commune with Him, then worship must be God-centered. It is exactly at this point that many today have gone astray. There is much confusion today in worship because of the neglect of this principle. Many are asking, “What am I going to get out of it?” “What kind of buzz am I going to have?” “Am I going to leave self-affirmed, feeling good about myself?” “Am I going to be moved?” If we seek these things, we are coming for all the wrong reasons and are asking all the wrong questions. Our questions ought to be, “What glory will abound to God?”, “How will His name be blessed, and His loveliness portrayed?”
When our worship is God-centered, a wonderful thing happens. We acknowledge that worship is not to be emotionless. As we fix our attention on God and seek His glory and commune with Him, we will be moved to the depth of our being; we will be exuberant; we will rejoice with trembling; we will serve the Lord with fear. Indeed, we shall be moved in the very depths of our being because we sought Him. Is not this analogous of a marriage relationship? If, in a marriage relationship, the spouse seeks his or her own satisfaction, well-being, and fulfillment, the marriage will be a wreck. But if, in the marriage relationship, the spouse seeks the well-being and satisfaction of his marriage partner, he will be fulfilled. Worship works on a similar plane. When we forget ourselves and seek God, He will be honored, and we will be blessed.
The second thing to keep in mind is that worship is by nature covenantal and not evangelistic. We are to come to God as Father. Again, the church is making the mistake of turning corporate worship into an evangelistic enterprise. This change of focus explains much of the confusion in worship. Christians wrongly are designing the worship service to be a means of reaching the lost; therefore, the worship service is structured with the unconverted in mind. No one should question the sincerity of such attempts, but I ask the very simple question: if an unconverted person comes to your worship service and leaves comfortable or feeling good, who has not been present? God! No unconverted person can come into the presence of God and feel good or fulfilled. He might leave hopeful, if he has begun to understand the hope of the gospel. But if the Holy Spirit does not work favorably, he will either be nonchalant (Matt. 13:19) or angry (Lk. 12:49-53). The Word of God suggests that people will be saved as we focus on God in our worship (1 Cor. 14:24, 25).
In May, 2004, I had the privilege of ministering in Israel. While there, I stayed with one of the families in the congregation. My first night in their home, they invited me to attend a birthday party for one of their children. I had a good time. But, you can imagine that I did not quite fit in. I do not understand Modern Hebrew, so I did not always understand what was going on, nor could I sing the songs. Some of their games were strange to me, as was some of the food. Now, imagine if, as the family thought about these cultural problems, they began to change the birthday party to suit me. That would have been great for me. But, by the time they finished, it would not have been a party for their child; it would have been a party for me.
When we change God’s glorious and holy celebration into an outreach enterprise, He is no longer the center of attention. He is no longer honored and glorified in our worship. If we are going to worship well and correctly, we must recover the true purposes of worship and their attendant principles. We must understand that we serve the Lord in His special presence and we serve Him by adoring Him and giving thanks to Him, praising Him, and communing with Him. As we do so, He changes us. And thus, our worship will become increasingly God-centered and covenantal.
These principles do not give us an excuse to ignore the visitor that is unfamiliar with our worship. He will not understand what we are doing; consequently, it is incumbent on us to explain what we are doing, to relate what we do so he will understand. To return to the illustration of the Israeli birthday party, a member of the family sat with me to translate and explain the games. They made me comfortable without changing the focus of the party. When I preach in foreign countries, I need a translator. It is good to have a translator for those who visit our worship service: the one that leads worship can do that or others may sit with visitors and explain what is being done. But structure the service for God and not for men.