If the focus shifts onto our giving to God, instead of His giving Himself to us, one result is that subtly it is not God who remains at the center but, instead, the quality of our giving. Are we singing worthily of the Lord? Are our instrumentalists playing with quality fitting a gift to the Lord? Is the preaching a suitable offering to the Lord? This all sounds noble at first. But little by little the focus shifts off the utter indispensability of the Lord Himself and onto the quality of our performances. And we even start to define excellence and power in worship in terms of the technical distinction of our artistic acts.
Nothing keeps God at the center of worship like the biblical conviction that the essence of worship is deep, heartfelt satisfaction in Him and the conviction that the pursuit of that satisfaction is why we are together.
Third, Christian Hedonism protects the primacy of worship by forcing us to see that the essential heart-act of worship as an end in itself.
If the essence of worship is satisfaction in God, then worship can’t be a means to anything else. You simply can’t say to God, “I want to be satisfied in You so that I can have something else.” Because that would mean that you are not really satisfied in God but in that something else. And that would dishonor God, not worship Him.
But in fact, for many people and pastors, the event of “worship” on Sunday morning is conceived of as a means to accomplish something other than worship. We “worship” to raise money; we “worship” to attract crowds; we “worship” to heal human hurts; we “worship” to recruit workers; we “worship” to improve church morale; we “worship” to give talented musicians an opportunity to fulfill their calling; we “worship” to teach our children the way of righteousness; we “worship” to help marriages stay together; we “worship” to evangelize the lost among us; we “worship” to give our churches a family feeling, etc., etc.
In all of this we belittle worship and God. Genuine affections for God are an end in themselves. I cannot say to my wife: “I feel a strong delight in you—so that you will make me a nice meal.” That is not the way delight works. It terminates on her. It does not have a nice meal in view. I cannot say to my son, “I love playing ball with you—so that you will cut the grass.” If your heart really delights in playing with him, that delight cannot be performed as a means to getting him to do something.
I am not denying that vital corporate worship might have a hundred good effects on the life of the church. It will, like true affection in marriage, make everything better. My point is that to the degree that we “worship” for these reasons, it ceases to be authentic worship. Keeping satisfaction in God at the center guards us from that tragedy.
Piper, John. 2001. The Dangerous Duty of Delight. Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers.
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