However, I've told the people who listen to me teach that nobody should accept what I say without searching the Scriptures to see if what they've heard from me is true. In a similar manner, we ought not to assume everything a worship leader says, even in his prayers, is based on truth. Though the worship leader was sincere, the premise of his prayer, in my opinion, is not based on biblical truth.
Our worship is never for God.
Let me explain.
God is the all-sufficient, infinite and resourceful Creator of the universe. He needs nothing from me, including my worship. Doubt this is true? Listen to these verses:
"The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath." (Acts 17:24-25).Worship was never designed to give God anything. Why then does God seem to require praise and worship from us if He doesn't need it? C.S. Lewis answers this question in his amazing little book Reflections on the Psalms. Lewis confesses that he was once bothered by what he calls "God's incessant demand that we tell Him how good He is." Listen to Lewis describe how reading the Psalms caused him to view God in an unfavorable light.
"We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence, or delightfulness. We despise still more the crowd of people around every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity who gratify that demand. This picture began to emerge in my mind of God that was ludicrous and horrible .... God says in the Psalms, "Whoever offers Me thanks and praise, he honors Me." It seemed to me like God was saying, "What I most want is to be told that I'm good and great." I found this extremely distressing. It made me think what I least wanted to think about God. Gratitude to God, reverence to Him, obedience to Him; I can understand that, but not this perpetually eulogy."
Lewis was bothered because it seemed that God was demanding our praise and worship because God needed it; similar to an insecure person needing compliments. However, the more Lewis studied the Bible, the more he began to understand that his view of God was wrong. Lewis came to see the biblical truth that God was in need of nothing, even our praise. Lewis then reached the understanding that worship was designed to give us what we need. Listen to Lewis:
"In worship, it is God who gives, and it is we who receive. The miserable idea that God should in any sense need or crave for our worship like a vain woman our compliments or a vain author presenting his new books to people who never met or heard of him is implicitly answered by the words from Psalm 50:12: 'If I be hungry, I won't tell you.' Even if such an absurd deity could be conceived he would hardly come to us, the lowest of rational creatures to gratify his appetite.C.S. Lewis, the incredible and talented writer of many books, then summarizes his argument that God is never in need of our worship with a vivid analogy that draws a mental picture that instantly causes me to see the silliness of saying God wants my worship because He needs my praise or that He needs my devotion.
I don't want my dog to bark approval of my books."
Bingo. Think of the implications to both your private and corporate worship if what Lewis is saying is true. If we don't come before God in worship for His sake, then for what reason do we worship? If God is self-sufficient and cannot be served by human hands, then why do we worship God at all? Lewis reasons worship was never designed to give God approval, honor, or compliments, but it is an avenue through which our full hearts can burst out in love, praise and adoration of the One who infinitely and eternally loves us and gave Himself for us. The all-sufficient God doesn't need it; those who are inwardly bursting with joy do!
"The most obvious fact about praise, whether of God or anything, strangely had escaped me. I thought of praise as compliment, or approval, or giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise, unless shyness or the fear of boring others, is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise; lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game.... except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible."
"I had not noticed either just as men praised whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join us in praise it. Isn't she lovely? Wasn't it glorious? Don't you think that magnificent? The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about."
"I think we delight to praise what we enjoy, because the praise not merely expresses, but completes the enjoyment. Praise is joy's appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are, the delight is incomplete until it is expressed."
"If it were possible for a created soul fully to appreciate, that is to love and delight in the worthiest Object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, that soul would be in supreme be-attitude."
"Therefore, to see what this doctrine really means, we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God; drunk with, drowned in, dissolved by that delight, which far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression. Our joy no more separable from the praise in which it liberates and utters itself than the brightness a mirror receives is separable from the brightness it sheds."The Westminster Confession says it best: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." What too few of us realize is that these two things (i.e. "glorifying God and enjoying Him") are actually the same thing, for they are the inseparable parts of real worship. ""Only when I truly enjoy God in my life will I ever really glorify God in my worship." My enjoyment of God is never really complete unless there is an outlet through which I can praise God! Where there is no intense and personal joy from the continual discovery of God's great grace in Jesus, there will be no external and exuberant corporate expression of God's magnificent glory through worship.
That's why worship in many churches is either on life support or dead. It has nothing to do with Saint guitars versus Steinway pianos, videos versus violins, or any other differences in style. Though many call the disagreements over 'contemporary' and 'traditional' styles of worship 'wars,' in reality, the real war in worship is the internal battle in me. God calls me to rest in Him, to enjoy Him, to be so captivated and enraptured by His love and grace for me, that I will burst unless I actively worship God and give expression to what's happening in my soul.
Worship is inner health made audible. If there is no soul-tingling, mind-bending, emotion-touching, will-transforming enjoyment of God, then there is no soul-tingling, mind-bending, emotion-touching, will-transforming worship of God! Worship of God is non-existent when enjoyment of God is non-existent. Sure, I can sing songs, play music, and 'do church,' but if there is no understanding of what it means to be fully satisfied in God, then there will be no desiring to publicly express my praise and gratitude in real worship of God.
When I was discussing this issue with Rachelle she asked me about Matt Redman's popular song entitled We Are Here for You. The title seems to indicate the song is built on the false premise that God needs our worship. However, when you read the words of the song, you realize Matt Redman is saying "We Are Here for God," like one would say "I'm going to Braum's for ice cream," or "I'm going to the store for milk." There is something in worship that I need. I'm going to worship because I must express how great God or my heart will burst! I am so captivated by who He is to me, that I must tell others about Him and encourage others to rest in Him and worship Him. If I can't worship, then I'm not happy! I must worship! I need worship!
Worship is for me!
The real worship war taking place every Sunday morning is the same battle that takes place within you every day. It is the fight to learn what it means to enjoy God and His love and grace for you, and rest in Him and not your own performance or lack of it. Worship is designed to be the consummate expression of those who are bursting with love for God!
It's okay for people not to sing in corporate worship. There are times I don't feel like worshipping. That doesn't affect God. It just shows me I'm losing the internal battle. My soul isn't healthy.
So, back to where we started this post. When a worship leader says, "These praises are for you, God" as if God needs my worship, I cringe. I am the one who needs worship and praise, or if I'm not into worship and praise, my thoughts should be on what's going on inside of me! Why am I not delighting in God and His love for me? For a better understanding of this profound principle, I would encourage you to watch my friend Sam Storms as he beautifully and verbally articulates this doctrine via video.
It will change the way you worship.
Addendum: In the comment stream of this post, an excellent question is asked that serves as a great illustration of this principle.
Question: - "But isn't it possible to say "These praises are for You, God," and mean something other than "You need our praises?" If we look at the praises as gifts of love, then "These praises are for You, God," is like saying, "These flowers are for you, honey." The point is not so much what is given, as the fact that something is given. Even if she doesn't like those kind of flowers, a wife will appreciate the love that prompted them. Even so, I think, does God.
My Response: - "I understand what you are saying, but it is precisely the opposite of what I am proposing as truth. God appreciates, loves, cares, guides, protects, embraces, delights in, and sings over His people whether we give him beautiful flowers, ugly flowers, or NO FLOWERS at all. He doesn't need our worship to feel loved or to respond to us in appreciation. God's love is not drawn out by our loveliness, but eternally flows from within Himself like an artesian spring. Therefore, my worship is but an expression of my understanding of His unknowable and unconditional love for me (see Ephesians 3:14-21). Worship bursts forth from me as my consummate delight of God! He loves me whether I worship or not. :) When I don't worship, I'm losing the battle of enjoying God and His love! This will take a while to digest. If you ever see it and believe it you will be genuinely set free, for the truth always sets one free."