The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains that the chief end of man is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” While, I have heard this line of theology repeated many times, I have never truly understood the scope of its theological depth. To be honest, worship is something that has often been very difficult for me. Coming from a long line of Germans and Irish, we have never been an emotional people, and thus I have always felt that I never quite felt worship in the truly deep and transcendent ways. Thus, I have always struggled with worship and what it is truly supposed to look and feel like.
In Theology: A Very Short Guide, David F. Ford develops worship as an organizing and totalizing principle of human life. In this explication of Christian theology, Ford explains that we live in a world of “multiple overwhelmings,” the particularly modern human condition of having to face and parse the incredible complexity and inundations of our world. Within this, he defines religion as an “‘overwhelming’ which embraces your whole life as an ultimate reality (Ford, 50).” Of course, in our human condition, this ultimate “overwhelming” need not be religion at all, but in fact the various corrupted idols, empty pleasures, or imitations we place as the sole priority of our lives (and which pale in comparison to the goodness of God). Conversely, true Christian worship is a fully orbed orientation of praise, thanks, intercession, petition, and confession towards God which permeates all of our life, not just Sunday morning. Ford continues on to contrast this type of worship against our age’s (and every past age) worship of false gods and idols in wealth, sex, ego, and power, etc. As Bob Dylan sang, “you gotta serve somebody,” for all humans are engaged in worship of something, and to be honest, most of us are engaged in some form of systematic idolatry.
Worship of course at its core is the assent that God is good and Jesus is King, and while worship on Sunday morning takes places in the physical acts of kneeling or of raising hands, and the verbal agreements in prayer and song, Ford is clear that worship is much more. In a sense, worship takes God seriously, and it desires God. Furthermore, all desiring is for God, and is only good when finally found in God, and not in mere corruptions and lies. If then the presence and the reality of God is desired on Sunday morning, should not it also be desired in all facets of our Christian lives? Thus, Ford brings us to an understanding of worship deeply tied to ethics and morality. For an encompassing “overwhelming” of worship towards God to be fully the end point of our existence and the beginning point of our salvation and goodness, then worship is “a fundamental forming and sustaining of good desiring… about the divine (Ford, 57).” If we are fully worshipping God, it will influence the moral and ethical decisions we make on a daily basis; how we spend our money and time, what we think of our neighbor, our thought lives, etc.
Conversely, the antithesis of this sustained desiring of God is the false worship of idols and the production of evil. When our desirings are not towards God, then they are after things that are less than, and contrary to God. These become tangled horrors run amok, even within the banality of everyday life. Is it possible that evil is so ingrained in our world, that much of it passes by without notice? The remedy then of the evil we face in our world, is to orient humans away from false gods and empty idols, to the life encompassing worship of God. The Old Testament has never seemed more pertinent.
This understanding of worship, ethics, and evil has given me new perspective and life on how worship can be transformative and permeate our lives for the better. It is forcing me to look deep within to the idols that I am comfortably worshiping, and try to replace them with a deep, full worship of God in mind, body, and spirit. Pleasure, comfort, success, acclaim, entitlement, happiness, security.
I believe it also forces us to look a fresh at the problems we face in our local societies and global world. How can the theology and practice of evangelism be better formed to take into account the essence of true and false worship? How do we help non-worshipers of Christ, understand the imperfection of their idols, and reorient themselves towards God? What idols do our churches need to repent of? Where can we allow more worship to permeate and affect our lives so that our lives are an integrity of desiring God?