Call a Night of Worship in a contemporary church, and you should plan to warm up your vocal chords and tune your guitars. Call a Night of Worship in Bible Times and you should plan to grab a goat and a sharp knife. Either way, you’re hoping that whatever rises, whether it’s sound waves or goat smoke, God is pleased.
We all know that worship is more than singing songs or making sacrifices. If our expressions don’t match our actions, God is not fooled. Just like Laurie wouldn’t be a huge fan of cards and presents if we both knew I was cheating on her, God probably prefers us to keep the guitars in their cases until we are committed to him from the heart.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! Amos 5:22-24
But why do we worship? In my opinion, there are right and wrong reasons, each reflecting the theology of the worshipper and the character of God. I think these motivations matter.
Because God Demands It:
I don’t really like this reason. It makes God seem either arrogant or insecure, neither of which is fitting for an omnipotent, transcendent being. In fact, it sounds more like something Satan would do, not a God who Jesus showed to be meek and humble in heart.
If my dad demanded that I constantly tell him what a good provider he is, or how patient he is when he teaches me, or how nice the lawn looks when he’s done with it, most people would consider my dad a pretty needy guy, not a good, stable, unselfish father with reasonable demands. Then again, my dad is not the God of the universe.
When I researched this question online, the most common answer to why God demands worship is that he is worthy of worship. Websites quoted verses like: “Come, let us worship and bow down…” “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name…” as if these verses were written by God himself, not fellow worshippers. Does God really want to be called “the Famous One”?
However, when God established the sacrificial system on Mount Sinai, he was not only giving the people a way to absolve their sins, he was giving them a way to express their worship. Jesus did not demand worship, but he also did not reject it. In fact, he embraced and admired it.
He even told the woman at the well that God was eager for true worshippers, not those who would come to this or that mountain with this or that goat, but those who would present their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. In other words, he was eager for the Church Age to begin.
Is it possible that the encouragement to worship in Scripture is coming mostly from fellow worshippers, and that, although God wants worship, just like anyone in an intimate relationship, he does not demand it?
Because God is Incomprehensible:
I love those science shows that try to grab your elastic brain and stretch it over a giant concept, like the size of the universe, or the speed of light, or the bizarre, unpredictable subatomic world. When I am sufficiently awed, I usually kneel down right in front of the TV and . . . worship?
Being in awe of something remarkable, like a unique talent or unbelievable achievement, does inspire accolades and applause. That’s why so many people in Scripture will praise God for his Creation, his mind-blowing power, his patience and compassion, and so many other things. We should praise God for who he is and what he does.
However, I don’t think we should praise God because he is incomprehensible. That’s not a good reason to worship. If I close my eyes and sing a worship song because God has no beginning and no end, that’s like me sending Laurie flowers because I don’t understand her immune system.
Because God is Good:
I want to worship God because, after all these years, stretching all the way back to early childhood, he has been very real to me—kind and gentle, yet also strong and demanding at times, like a real father. I have also learned so much in Bible study, and in fellowship with other believers, and in my life experience that has impressed me with a persistent awe of who he is, and what he does, and what he will do.
So many great reasons to worship, and I often sense such a warm response when I do, whether I’m singing songs, or surrendering my finances, or serving others, or just trying to be obedient day after day after day.
I will never worship God because he is sitting on a giant throne with his arms folded demanding a new song. Or because he is so far beyond me that I have no choice but to fall on my face like a worm.
I will worship God because he is good. And, yes, he absolutely deserves it.