“The supreme thing is worship,” writes G. Campbell Morgan in the book Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church’s Great Preachers, edited by Diana Wallis. Any doctrinally sound Christian would agree. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever,” says the first item in the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
But what is worship? How do we learn how we ought to worship God? This is the most important thing that I, or any of us, can ever learn. Psalm 100:2-3 gives a hint: “Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”
Other than a happy spirit and living in a way that is with God and for God, it is the second part of that verse that tells us the secret of how to maintain worship. We are to know whose we are – that we belong to Him. Or as the psalmist puts it, we are the sheep who live in obedience under the care and direction of the Shepherd.
Campbell Morgan describes the attitude of worship in this way:
I worship in the presence of God as I recognize that in him I find everything that my life demands, that I in myself am incomplete. A sense of my need and his resource, a sense that my life finds its heights and its best and fulfills itself in relation to him produces the act and the attitude of worship.
Still, human nature wants to buck the leadership and correction of the Shepherd and assert independence. Giving yourself up to be a sheep in the hands of another is not an overnight phenomenon. I can handle this just fine, I’ll think if left to my own inclinations. But God has a way of checking me with His shepherd’s staff. Little things, problems, and setbacks arise just when I thought I had everything going my way and was capable of handling full control. That’s when I find out my shortcomings.
Suddenly, I’m left grasping at God’s hand and running after His shepherding care, asking Him for help and comfort or to correct what I’ve bungled. This leads to God’s second and sweeter way of reminding me that I am His own. His answers to my prayers bring me up short and remind me, Wow, God is doing these good things in my life. I certainly was powerless, and this could not have happened without Him.
And so ongoing worship really involves a three-step process. I’ve heard it said that gratitude is the source of worship, and I’ve found that to be very true. It’s hard to be worshipful when I’m thinking greedy, self-serving, demanding thoughts. But I’ve also found that humility is necessary before gratitude can be felt. Being grateful escapes me if I feel like I am simply receiving my due rights. Gratitude requires emptiness that can be filled by God.
Or as 1 Samuel 12:24 says it: “Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you.”
In reflection of this, devotional author Andrew Murray writes of humility in language equivalent to the Westminster Catechism: “Man’s chief care, his highest virtue, and his only happiness, now and throughout eternity, is to present himself as an empty vessel in which God can dwell and manifest his power and goodness.” And again, “In man, humility is the one thing needed to allow God’s holiness to dwell in him and shine through him.”
But, still, the root of worship goes one level deeper. While humility must come before gratitude and gratitude before worship, conviction (and repentance) is the beginning of humility. Conviction teaches us humility, that we are not what we ought to be. We are not what we thought we were. We are, in fact, nothing apart from God. We see that all our best efforts crumble.
Our attempts to affirm that we can actually assert ourselves and take over our lives on our own terms are turned topsy-turvy. We see then that God is not just a good thing for us. God is in fact, the Good, our only Hope. Then, we can fall on Him, with true repentance, humility, gratitude, and worship.
As C.S. Lewis once put it, we are all beggars, dependent on God:
If the new Self, the new Will does not come at His own good pleasure to be born in us, we cannot produce Him synthetically. …War and trouble and finally old age take from us one by one all those things that the natural Self hoped for at its setting out. Begging is our only wisdom, and want in the end makes it easier for us to be beggars. …