Why Worship Is God-Centered

Much of modern American “worship” is focused on the worshipers themselves, rather than on the one true and living God. Worship experiences are measured by whether the people in the pew like it or not, or whether it fulfills their personal longings and expectations. There is no shortage of churchgoers who judge a worship assembly solely by what they “get out of it.”

We have no quarrel with the idea per se that worship is beneficial. The One who created all things is not “served by men’s hands as though He needed anything” (Acts 17:25). True worship, as given by God, not only praises the Fount of every blessing but is edifying to those who offer it. Our hearts swell with gratitude and awe when we lift up our voices in praise, when we humbly bow in prayer, when we partake of the body and blood in memory of our Savior, or when we prostrate our hearts at the preaching of truth. These things are good for us! We identify with the longings of the Psalmist who said, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1). There is no question that we have an innate need to worship a Higher Being.

When this need is not fulfilled in legitimate expressions of adoration, however, the void is filled with man-centered perversions. Jesus had a discussion on this very issue with the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar. She argued, “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship” (John 4:20). Jesus replied, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24).

The Dictionary of New Testament Theology says that those who worship God in spirit and in truth are not merely “those who worship in sincerity and inwardness. The Samaritans are not criticized for lacking sincerity. True worship is that which accords with reality, which men grasp on the basis of revelation” (Vol. III, p. 890-1). The Samaritans who worshiped at Mount Gerizim, whose temple has been destroyed by John Hyrcanus around 125 B.C., worshiped the Lord, emphasized circumcision, kept the Sabbath, observed kosher laws, and even looked for a Messiah. Yet Jesus said, “You worship that which you do not know.”

If God really has objective reality, and isn’t just a product of our idolatrous imaginations, then we must be open to the idea that He communicates exactly how He wants to be served. In the Bible, He does just that. He gently tells us, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9). The problem is, as Helmut Thielicke observed, “When God’s thoughts are actually higher than our thoughts, we regard him as being refuted. For under all circumstances we want our thoughts to be the program according to which God operates.”

In perhaps no greater way do we manipulate a “god” of our own imaginations than when we propose to dictate what kind of service we will and will not render. This certainly includes the terms on which acts of worship are offered. However it makes us feel, worship is “vain” if it does not conform to the will of Christ (Matthew 15:9). True worship honors God, not self.

Mike Wilson