The Priority of Worship in the Local Church

by Austin Thompson

What is Worship?
Worship is an important aspect of the Christian life. Biblical worship can be simply defined as ascribing to God that which is true of Him. The scope of biblical worship consists of God’s holy character and all its implications as well as His sovereign activity in redemptive history. For the Christian, worship is not just somewhat important, or very important—it is supremely important. Worship is rooted in the value of God Himself and His infinite worthiness. One of the many profound pictures of worship in Scripture is described in the fifth chapter of Revelation:

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever.” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshipped (Rev 5:13-14).

What an amazing sight—every creature in existence worshipping God with undivided attention and affection. With our hearts inflamed by the greatness of God as displayed in the passage above, I want to invite you to pray with me as an offering to God before we take a moment to meditate on the immense privilege and responsibility of worship in our everyday lives.

Heavenly Father, thank you for this day that you have made for your glory. This day is a gift, and it started really early. Boy would it be nice to get an additional hour of sleep each night. Wait…did I close the garage before I left home? I’ll send the neighbor a quick text…I’ve finally made up my mind—these shoes have got to go. They don’t fit my feet and they make a strange noise when I walk on the bathroom tile. I wonder if my child will need me to pick them up early from their extracurricular activity tonight…I’ll just hang out in the car until they’re done…I’ve been picking at this hangnail for three days now and I can’t seem to…Whew!..Praise the Lord! Oh right…thank you for your merciful grace. I ask all of these things in the name of Jesus, Amen.

What is the current state of our worship?
If you are at all like me, the attempt to worship the God of the universe often goes the way I just described. While technology and the instant gratification it provides our senses may be a large factor in weakening our ability to focus, the root of the problem is far deeper than any smartphone app. The main problem in presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, is the same as it has always been—it is an issue of the heart. Hear the Word of the Lord to His people through the prophet Isaiah:

“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?” says the Lord…“Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.”

Isaiah 1:11,13

“…they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.”

Isaiah 58:2-3

In the midst of their solemn attempts to worship God, Israel was tried and found guilty by the Lord for their hard-hearted hypocrisy. On the outside, Israel’s posture before God was often exceptional—they were consistent in offering sacrifices to God, they fasted regularly, and they faithfully observed each feast and Sabbath. However, on the inside, Israel’s posture before God was non-existent. They were whitewashed tombs that were inwardly filled with all the evidences and effects of death.

When followers of Christ allow relationship to become religion and reverence to become routine, they cultivate hard-heartedness that is abhorrent in the sight of God. Attending church and Bible studies throughout the week become tasks that are checked or badges that are worn for boasting. Worship through singing provides opportunities to grumble about how the vocal range of the song doesn’t fit the voice, complain about the song’s style or genre, display one’s vocal ability with the hope of gaining a compliment from someone nearby, or just singing for the love of singing. Offertory becomes a time to cultivate anxiety, worship our finances, or to consider how sacrificially one is giving in relation to his brothers and sisters in Christ in the surrounding pews.

The preaching of the Word becomes a time to determine if the pastor knows more about a specific passage than the listener, or if he expressed the truth of God’s Word in the most efficient way, or an opportunity to merely gain knowledge about the Bible with no plan for intentional application of the principles that accompany it. The closing song becomes an opportunity to go to the bathroom before it gets crowded or to start making lunch plans for after service. When these patterns become present in a congregation, they cannot expect to receive favor and blessing from God, even though they are regularly attending, singing, giving, listening, and serving.

Cultivating a Heart of Worship
It is crucial that Christians cultivate a heart of worship before God. The Father is presently seeking those who worship Him in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23). Make no mistake, God is not mocked—never was there a person with hands folded and head bowed in prayer whose thoughts and intentions were veiled from His sovereign eye (Heb 4:13). Therefore, we must pursue the resources that are available in Christ to guard us from the devastating effects of hard-hearted worship.

  • Pray for help! — Everything in the Christian life is ultimately dependent upon the power and purposes of God (Rom 8:29-30). Justification, sanctification, glorification—these would be empty terms devoid of God’s sovereign activity. The first step (other than salvation) towards cultivating a heart of worship is beseeching God to create one in you for His glory. God is delighted to work in His people when they pray for growth in accordance with His will. Are you distracted? Do the challenges of life consistently prevent you from focusing on the one thing that is most important for a believer? Ask God to strengthen your ability to focus and worship with undivided attention!
  • Confess! — When we confess our sin, God is faithful to cleanse us from all unrighteousness and restore our fellowship with Himself (1 John 1:6-9). God is delighted to display the riches of His mercy in providing forgiveness to those who are contrite in spirit and humble in heart (Ps 51:17). Are there things you love more than worshipping God? Do you want your worship to improve? Confess to God your failed attempts at worship, your hard-heartedness, your divided affections, and ask for His forgiveness. The restoration He provides will bless your soul and your future attempts to draw near to the throne.
  • Be proactive! – Proverbs exhorts believers to guard their hearts with all diligence, for from the heart flow the springs of life! (Prov 4:23). One of the greatest causes of hard-hearted worship, an insensitivity to the Spirit, and a lackluster love for God, is a lack of intentionality. Failure to prioritize God, to read Scripture, to pray, to seek accountability, and to do other things commanded in Scripture will eventually cause even the most zealous followers of Christ to slowly suffer the consequences of passivity, slothfulness, and the deceitfulness of sin. Do you want to experience rich, worshipful moments with your Lord and Savior? You must be proactive in taking up your cross and prioritizing Him above family, friends, material possessions, hobbies, extracurricular activities, competitions, career, education, and anything else in life.

The Priority of Worship in the Local Church
Not only is God worthy of worship; He demands it. Scripture makes it clear that God will share His glory with no one (Isa 42:8) and He commands mankind from Genesis to Revelation to praise Him and Him alone. The Church exists solely for the purpose of worshipping God and ascribing glory to Him in this life and in the life to come, making worship the highest priority in everything it does. This is evident in all three areas of the Christian life—God is glorified when we exalt Him, God is glorified when we edify members of His body, and God is glorified when we evangelize and proclaim the good news of the gospel to the lost.

In order to bring God the glory that He is due, our worship must be pure, undefiled, and undistracted in His sight. This is an impossible task apart from the power of God as He dwells in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. The promise of the New Covenant is the provision of a heart of flesh and the personal presence of God to empower His people to love Him and keep His commandments (Jer 31:31-33; Ezek 36:26-27). Paul echoes this importance of the Holy Spirit in bringing glory to God through the church in Ephesians 3:20-22, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

In closing, I want to propose a self-examination of the heart. Scripture is filled with passages that speak of self-assessment for the purpose of putting off sin and growing in holiness. By yourself, make a list of all the major areas of responsibility in your life. Take careful note of the areas where your worship is thriving and where it is suffering. Pray to God about the current state of your worship before talking to anyone else. Afterwards, discuss the matter with your spouse and/or accountability partner to ensure that someone can hold you accountable as you seek to maintain the areas where worship is happening and make progress in the areas where worship is not.

Similar to the first step of church discipline, when believers are faithfully cultivating a heart of worship in private first, corporate worship has the opportunity to flourish and bring glory to Christ. When believers forsake personal worship and only engage in corporate worship, the body of Christ will not function as it ought. Therefore, let us encourage one another to persevere in the discipline of offering acceptable worship to the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit, according to our responsibilities and press on toward the kingdom of God.

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