As an observer of the Christian scene for most of my life I have often noticed that God’s people are often more taken up with working for Him than with worshipping Him. But when we put work first and worship second then we get it wrong.
The most important aspect and the central focus of the Christian life is not what we can do for Him but what He has done for us. When we get that the wrong way round and we will most definitely experience spiritual problems.
Sometimes in the past when I visited a church, I have been approached by a missionary couple who tell me that they are about to be invalided home because of overwork or burnout. When talking to them I find that, though they have been working for God, they have lost touch with Him in worship. They have been trying to be a spiritual palm or an open flower, but because they did not pursue the first and foremost the act of worship then the other things just did not work out.
One of the verses of Scripture I often refer to when talking to individuals or groups of people about this subject is this, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The central focus of the Christian life is not what we can do for God but what He has done for us. If we reverse that we will end up becoming spiritual causalities.
C.S. Lewis put it well when he said, “Put first things first and you get second things thrown in. Put second things first and you lose both first and second things.” I remember a story about an old Welsh miner who used to get up in the testimony meetings in his local church and say, “I worship God almost every moment I am awake. I live in the presence of worship. I carry a constant thought in my heart that is there when I awake in the morning and still there when I go to sleep at night. That thought is this; it was Jesus my Saviour who wrought this change in me.” That is what I mean by worship, the awe of God constantly being celebrated in the heart.
Oswald Chambers said, “The biggest competitor for devotion is service.” Do we put the emphasis on service at the expense of worship? Always remember we are not working to be saved, but working because we are saved.
Os Guinness in one of his books refers to a man going to the Far East to study different religions. He came back to the United States with this statement: “When I meet a Buddhist priest, for example, I meet a holy man. When I meet a Christian leader I meet a manager.” He saw how the work orientation, rather than worship, absorbs many of the church’s leaders. How sad is that.
Pastors are particularly vulnerable to falling into the activist trap by reason of the fact that in today’s world they practice their ministries in an atmosphere of ‘compulsive activism.’
People nowadays seem to almost have a nervous breakdown if they miss one section of a revolving door. Almost everyone seems to be rushing here and there and pastors are expected to follow suit. To all overworked pastors and church workers our Lord says the same thing as He said to His disciples: ‘Are you tied? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me, watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace’ (Matt. 11:28-28). The rhythms of grace.’ What a beautiful expression! Those rhythms flow more easily when worship is first and work second.
I appreciate so much what Eugene Peterson says about worship: “Worship is a meeting at the centre so that our lives are centred in God and not lived eccentrically. We worship so that we live in response to and from this centre, the living God. Failure to worship consigns us to a life of spasms and jerks at the mercy of every advertisement, every seduction, and every siren. Without worship we live manipulated and manipulating lives. We move in either frightened panic or deluded lethargy as we are, in turn alarmed by spectres and soothed by placebos. If there is no centre there is no circumference. People who do not worship are swept into a vast restlessness, epidemic in the world with no steady direction and no sustaining purpose.”
The worship of God saves us from egoism. It is part of our human nature to identify with any cause we take up. Psychologists warn us that the self-regarding principle is always present and more so when service and not worship is our primary concern.
If service is first and worship second then it will not be long before one finds the self-insinuating into the situation. We get caught up in a battle for our own point of view, and tend to live on the praise of others. We can easily abandon projects because of, as one writer put it, ‘the stupidity or cupidity of others.’
But we are insulated from all that when worship comes first. God is then our whole reward. Our work is being done for God’s sake. If others appear ungrateful for the service that is being given, the ingratitude may hurt but it will not be devastating to the soul. Certainly it can never tempt us to abandon a task which God has set.
Many years as a pastor and a counsellor have shown me that such qualities as purity of motive, tenacity of purpose, indifference to reward, self-effacement in service, are all at their highest in those who serve others as a consequence of their worship of God.
As I bring this discussion on worship to it conclusion, let me return once more to the image of the carved figures on the walls of Solomon’s temple. What do the images of the cherubim, the palm tree and open flower carved on the walls of the house of God in both its inner and outer rooms mean? That who experience God in worship will find that experience will lead to service for Him and service brings beauty where ugliness reigns.
We are called by the sacred symbolism of Scripture to be involved in renewing the world and we can on do that when, like the cherubim, we offer the highest worship of which we are capable. And as we respond like the palm tree moved by the wind then our lives will bring beauty where ugliness reigns and spread the perfume of the loveliness of Christ in this damp, dark dungeon we call the world. We are called to be nothing less than worshippers, workers and witnesses to His grace. But worshippers first.
By Rev. Eric D. Maefonea