I’ve done it before, many times before, where I bemoan the enthusiasm of sporting events and concerts, and the “deadness” of Sunday morning worship. It’s an easy comparison, but it isn’t a true comparison. I want to quickly give 5 reasons why this is so.
- God doesn’t call us to excitement nearly as much as he calls us to awe. That’s not to say that God doesn’t do exciting things, but those things that God does usually leaves people speechless or in humble gratitude, not high-fives and chants of “we’re number 1!” Praise does not have to be shouts; it can be whispers. “You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel,” (Psalm 22:23, ESV)! In this parallel stanza, we see the idea of fear linked with the idea of awe. In between, we see the idea of praise and glorify linked as well. Fear leads to praise and glory, but in the sense of awe.
- God is not a man; He is not a “superstar.” While God’s fame is what He spreads, He isn’t some superstar up on stage making a spectacle of himself/herself. God isn’t in the business of entertaining people; he is in the business of redeeming a people for Himself. Thus God is not some commodity of entertainment; we don’t simply go to a God concert each Sunday to see Him perform and cheer Him on. “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker,” (Psalm 95:6, ESV).
- When we worship God, His holiness is our focus. When I watch a football game (college or NFL), I’m not focused on the team’s holiness. I’m focused on if they are scoring points and if they are making a good defensive stand. When coming to worship the Lord, I am to worship Him with a view to His holiness. This means I am to worship Him with a view to His purity and a view to His distinctness. After all there is none among the gods like the LORD (cf. Psalm 86:8). Therefore, when I worship Him, I should worship Him in purity and distinction; I ought not worship or praise Him like I do my favorite sports team. “Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth” (Psalm 96:9, ESV)!
- God is to be worshiped in spirit and truth, not physically and falsely. That isn’t to say that we can’t use life our hands or arms or sway to the music. These can be outgrowth of spiritual worship. However, God is not as much interested in the physical as He is with the heart. Hence, He would rather have a contrite spirit than the physical act of sacrifice. He would rather rather see a contented spirit than just a one’s physical restraint from thievery. So in worship, our focus is first and foremost on the spirit and the truth. That means, as D. A. Carson wrote, “The worshippers whom God seeks worship him out of the fullness of the supernatural life they enjoy (‘in spirit’) and on the basis of God’s incarnate Self-Expression, Christ Jesus himself, through whom God’s person and will are finally and ultimately disclosed (‘in truth’); and these two characteristics form one matrix, indivisible.” (Pillar NT Commentary: The Gospel According to John)
- God is to be worshiped in all of life. Somewhat based on Carson’s quote; we don’t worship God once a week like He’s a football game or a concert performer. My heart is with the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturdays and the Atlanta Falcons on Sundays (or Mondays/Thursdays depending). But I don’t carry them around in my heart the other days of the week, or even the other hours of those days. Let’s be honest; sports are forgettable, but not so with God. We may remember high-lights or low-lights, but the games and feelings are temporary. The worship of God is more than high-lights and definitely more than feelings.
As Chris Tomlin would sing, “You and I were made to worship,” and there are times when worship will involve shouts of victory, but that is often done in private moments and not corporate worship. Let us not seek to go to a corporate worship service looking for a venue to “lose ourselves,” but rather to find ourselves in Christ; awe-inspired worship of Christ our Lord.
That being said, I’m not giving permission for churches to worship without joy or that it is okay to have deadness in our worship. We are to rejoice always (Philippians 4:4), but the joy of a touchdown and the joy of a newly redeemed soul generally express themselves differently. But also remember that just because a church has a “rousing” worship service, does not mean that the church is alive and well; it could be a facade for its deadness. “I know your works,” Jesus said to the church in Sardis. “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” (Revelation 3:1, ESV). Looks can be deceiving. A joyful but solemn service can be a church more alive than a “lively” but apathetic one.
All in all, let’s just stop comparing worship to sports and concerts. It ought not be like those, any more than the worship of God ought to be like the worship of idols.