This next installment of “What our Gathered Worship Should Look Like” has been helped by the internet storm caused by Victoria Osteen (wife of Joel Osteen of “Your Best Life Now” and prosperity gospel fame) because of comments she made in a recent service at Lakewood Church in Houston, TX. In exhorting the audience to participate, she laid out a case for why they ought to be motivated to do so. In sum, she said, affirmatively: “You’re not doing it for God, you are doing it for yourself, really.”
Here is a look at the video clip in question.
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Now, I cannot improve upon the rejoinders to this that have already been made (the “Bill Cosby” response is, perhaps, my favorite), but I want to prompt your reflection upon a serious question occasioned by this sad example of what’s on sale out there in the world of “Christian” programming and what goes on in “churches” in the name of Christianity.
So, do we worship for God’s own glory, or do we worship God for our own good? The Reformed steadfastly affirm that the fundamental purpose of human existence is God’s glory, but we refuse to pit God’s glory and human happiness against one another (as Ms. Osteen, perhaps unwittingly does in her misguided exhortation). The very first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism gets at this. “What is man’s chief end?,” it asks. The resounding answer is: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” In other words, our chief and highest purpose, goal and end in life is God’s glory. That is what we live for. Whereas many of our contemporaries think that God is the chief means to our highest end (happiness), the Reformed do not believe that God is a means to an end, he is The End. He is the reason and aspiration for which we exist. There is no ultimate happiness and satisfaction and fulfillment and joy apart from him.
BUT, the Reformed do not believe that God’s glory and our joy stand in opposition. We do not believe that those two things are in contradiction. Indeed, we believe that they are inseparable. The Reformed believe that it is impossible to pursue God’s glory without our own souls being blessed with everlasting good. We think that our fullest joy cannot be realized or experienced apart from the pursuit of God’s glory. Listen to the answer to the question again: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Man’s chief end (not, notice, ends) involves both God’s glory and our enjoyment of God. You can’t glorify the true God without enjoying him and you can’t enjoy the true God without glorifying him.
Hence, when we gather to worship, we come BOTH to bless God and to receive God’s blessing (Psalm 134). A well-instructed congregation appreciates that Christian worship is both something that we do and something that is enabled by God. And also that Christian worship is both something that we give to God and in which God showers his favors and presence upon us. Worship is offered to God by believers but that does not mean that there is “nothing in it for us.” True worship is both God-glorifying and soul-satisfying. It is tenaciously focused upon God himself, but it is abundantly overflowing with every Spiritual blessing. Why? Because the highest blessing of worship is the blessing of God giving himself to us. Because he is the highest blessing, as well as our highest end. Hence, for the believer, worship is duty and delight, a duty that is inseparable from delight, a pursuit that renders duty a delight.
Speaking of prayer, Samuel Rutherford once said: “I never run an errand to the throne of grace when I do no fetch back a blessing for myself.” In other words, Rutherford is saying even when he was praying or interceding for others, he found that God blessed him. That is true of worship as well. When we give ourselves away to God for his glory, we always get more from God than we give to God. You cannot outgive God. That may sound cliche, but it is true.
Another example of the connectedness of God’s glory and our good, is in the famed Eric Liddell quote. “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” Liddell, the beloved Scottish Olympian and missionary martyr (whose story was told in the movie “Chariots of Fire”) was explaining what motivated him to run. He was doing what God made him to do. He was exercising a gift that God had given him. And when he did so, he experienced the pleasures of God.
Translate that to the realm of worship and here’s how it works. God made us to glorify him. That is what we are for. That’s what we’re here for. “That’s why I’m here,” to quote James Taylor. And when we do what God made us for, when we fulfill the purpose he put us here for, we experience his pleasure, the enjoyment of his glory, the blessing of communion with him. Our highest end cannot be experienced without our highest joy.
There is more to be said about all this. But that is a start. Perhaps Ms. Osteen inadvertently prompted an important discussion.