The Highest Priority
However we approach the issue, there is no altering the highest priority of humankind. We can try as hard as we like, but we’ll never twist the definition of our purpose on Earth to read, "I am here to shop" or "I exist to make money." Sure, shopping and making a living are part of the fabric of our lives, but they can never be the main reason that we are here. That place is reserved for something special: worship.
Worship is the highest priority of the human race. It is what we were created for and it is why we are here. Worship is our defining characteristic. The big question throughout our history has never been, Will we worship? Instead, the issue we’ve always focused on, what will we worship? Think about it: We all worship something. Hindus worship, Buddhists worship, Muslims worship, materialists worship, Marxists worship and even Yankee fans worship something or someone. This has been true for centuries, and it provides much common ground between ourselves and that cast of thousands we read so much about in the Bible, the Israelites. Throughout their history, as depicted in the Old Testament, if they didn’t worship the Lord their God, they very soon found other things to worship.
But the priority of worship doesn’t stop there. Not only has God made it our highest priority, but He has also called us to a lifestyle of worship, to be at it around the clock. Does that mean that we are never without our iPod, blasting inspirational praise and worship tunes? Thankfully not, as God has a bigger idea of what He wants from us. Jesus said in Mark 12:29-31 that the greatest commandment in the whole law is that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. That is a commandment to worship. To love the Lord our God with all that we have is to develop and maintain an intimate relationship with our Maker. Above all else, that’s what God wants.
My background is in the Anglican Church; I’ve been working within it for years. There are some aspects of the Anglican liturgy that I love, because they are so rich. The prayer of thanksgiving, which we say when we break the bread, reads, "It is our duty and our joy, at all times and in all places to give [God] thanks and praise, holy Father, heavenly King, almighty and eternal God." 1
Sometimes thanking God seems a little removed from the more obvious expressions of joy - when did you last hear of drugs that made you feel thankful all over? Sometimes thanking God may feel more like duty than joy, but it is both our duty and our joy. Throughout the centuries, from the Old Testament until today, Bible teachers have stressed this point. While reading up for this book, I came across a quote from Graham Kendrick, suggesting that if we really worshiped as we should, there wouldn’t be any need for evangelism. 2 Now, the prospect of an evangelism-free life could have you pounding the wall either with rage or delight. But the point is that if we really worshiped as we should, if we loved God as we will love Him in heaven, our worship would be so inspiring that people would flock to Him.
In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster says, "The divine priority is worship first, service second." 3 When we commit ourselves first and foremost to worshiping God as He deserves, then the acts of service will follow. Put another way, God desires intimacy with us first and foremost. Put yet another way: Do you remember Mary and Martha (see Luke 10:38-42)? Which one did Jesus commend? Jesus commended Mary instead of Martha because she sat and listened to His words, despite the fact that Martha had busied herself with all the work and preparation. In other words, "When God has our hearts, our hands will surely follow!"
A Definition of Worship
Perhaps this would be a good time to get back to basics and find out exactly what worship is. Put simply, worship is to give God what is rightfully His. And what does the Creator of the universe deserve? How about adoration, praise, thanks and love? Those are a few of the things that He is worth, and they help define the way that we should be relating to Him.
Another defining characteristic of worship is that it must come before everything else. That doesn’t mean that we ought to have our ears permanently clamped between two worship-blaring headphones. What it means is that we need to have our hearts right. If we are first of all lovers of God, people who are devoted to praising and worshiping Him, then our deeds will be powered by the right motives. When we get our priorities right and put the worship of God first, then everything else falls into place. When we put other things first - even other good things; other good, Christian things - then everything falls apart. It’s as simple as that. St. Augustine (a very ancient guy) had a great phrase. He said: "Love, and do what you like." 4 By that he meant that when we truly love God, we’ll want to do things that please Him.
At Soul Survivor we believe that our first calling is to be worshipers of God. When the people of Israel turned away from God and replaced Him with idols, everything fell apart. We are trying to avoid that particular trap by making God the central focus of our lives.
We were created to worship God; we were made with a yearning for intimacy with our Maker. He made us in His image so that we could have relationship with Him. When, for whatever reason, we turn from God, we will always try to replace Him with something else. Our God substitute could be anything from sex to ambition to other religious figures. Whenever the Israelites took time out from God, they were sure to end up sick, fighting or in trouble. When they went back to God, things always got better. Relationship with God is the heart’s true home.
In Jeremiah 2:13 the prophet proclaims the following words: "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." If we forsake God, the spring of living water, and try to find our own water, we’re digging our own cisterns. This is a helpful picture, as it shows God as a life source, a vital component to our survival. When we ignore Him, we find other things to serve as our life source. The trouble is that you have to go a pretty long way to beat the "spring of living water." Tapping into substandard and impure substitutes guarantees us nothing but trouble. We eventually find that all our God substitutes are like broken cisterns. They don’t hold water and cannot quench our thirst.
Often the things out of which we try to squeeze satisfaction are good in their rightful places, but their rightful places are where they need to stay. For example, how on earth could football, shopping or ambition ever act as the main purpose of life? Even if you put them all together and form a syndicate, these things are pale and narrow in comparison to God’s great richness and diversity. No, we were made by God and for God. He gave us plenty of toys, but He only gave us one purpose.
Since I’ve been a Christian, God has healed me of many things, but perhaps the most amazing was my tendency towards possessiveness. This was something I had to get healed of when I first became a Christian. My background contains a fair amount of brokenness, and because of that I used to get possessive about people, believing that they didn’t like me and would leave at any time. It was a fear that drove me, and I can point to things that happened when I was very young to identify its roots.
When I was five and it was time for me to go to school, I had my first shock. I hadn’t mixed with any other kids until then, and I did not have any English-speaking friends. I could only speak Greek at the time, and I can still remember my first day at school. I can see myself sitting on my bed and my mum tying up my shoelaces, putting these strange clothes on me and then taking me to school. I remember the tension that had been building up in the house, and how when I arrived at school all the other kids seemed so much bigger than I was. I was frightened by the screaming and shouting on the playground. I was unable to understand what was going on.
For months I was crippled by shyness because I couldn’t speak English. I couldn’t communicate, and all I did during the breaks was walk up and down the playground on my own. I was scared of all the other students. They would play football; and I would long to join in, but I couldn’t, because I simply didn’t know how to play. Years later, as I started to build relationships, those feelings of isolation and loneliness resurfaced whenever I began to make new friends. I would do anything to keep them as friends, and I was in what seemed like a perpetual state of panic. If I saw any of my friends getting on well with anyone else, something inside me would knot up and I would panic, convinced that they didn’t care about me and would soon leave me alone. I felt as though other people always understood each other better than I could, that they were much happier without me and that I was destined to feel like an outsider for the rest of my life.
I developed a safety strategy to keep myself from ever getting hurt: If I felt that someone was about to reject me, I would reject him or her first. I would withdraw and punish them with my silence. At one point I went for two years without speaking to anyone in my class at school, and I hardly spoke to anyone in my family. I completely withdrew into myself and was consumed by my inner feelings. My parents didn’t know what to do. They tried to get me to talk to my brother and sister, but I just couldn’t.
It has taken years of finding Jesus as the source of my life to move on from those feelings. I feel like I am the living embodiment of the phrase "broken cisterns" - I know that on my own I simply would not have made it this far. Finding Jesus meant finding life, although it didn’t mean getting fixed immediately. Even now, though I have come so far, I am still vulnerable to some watered-down versions of those old feelings. But when those old feelings resurface, I have a choice to make: Do I turn to God or do I run away? Turning to God means looking to Him to affirm me. It means finding Him as the spring of living water as I pour out my heart in the intimacy of worship.
- The Archbishop’s Council for the Church of England, "Prayer A," Common Prayer: Daily Worship, www.cofe.anglican.org, 2000-2004. http://www.cofe.anglican.org/worship/liturgy/commonworship/texts/hc/prayera.html (accessed December 21, 2004).
- Graham Kendrick, Learning to Worship As a Way of Life (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1985) n.p.
- Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988) p. 161.
- Saint Augustine, "Saint Augustine Quotes," BrainyQuote. 2004. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/s/saint_augustine.html (accessed December 20, 2004).