Obedience to God’s designs is in itself an act of worship. Worship without obedience is merely hollow flattery. Yet both worship and obedience are less than Christian if they do not spring from the one root, love of God. (Magnificat, July 18, 2019, p. 272)
Biblical authors have a lot to teach us about the what, where, how and why of worshiping God. One psalmist instructs us to worship the Lord God constantly. “We are to “bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall be always in [our]mouth” (Psalm 34:1). St. Paul teaches us that the Lord taught: “Every knee shall bend before me, and every tongue shall give praise to God” (Romans 14:11). 1 Chronicles 16:8-12 defines praise as follows:
Give thanks to the LORD, invoke his name; make known among the peoples his deeds. Sing praise, play music; proclaim all his wondrous deeds. Glory in his holy name; rejoice, O hearts that seek the LORD! Rely on the mighty LORD; constantly seek his face. Recall the wondrous deeds he has done, his signs, and his words of judgment.
The notion that every knee shall bend before God can be a stumbling block for many — especially unbelievers and lukewarm Christians — for different reasons and a variety of misunderstandings. I personally remember (in the eighth grade) Sister Norbert comparing Heaven to Mass. She said that Heaven will be a perpetual Mass — with endless song. That didn’t sound blissful or heavenly to me; rather it sounded boring and LONG and sacrificial given the fact that Mass was still mainly being said in Latin, and a three-hour-long fasting rule (at that time) was in place before receiving Holy Communion. When I was quite young, I remember fainting during Mass and waking up as two men carried/dragged me out of church — with one shoe off and one shoe off. I was completely mortified by that experience and didn’t understand or appreciate St. Norbert’s description of Heaven. So I carried some negative views about Heaven into adulthood. Would Heaven be boring? How could we sing praises to God 24/7/365? Why did God need so much worship? I didn’t know what to do with these negative thoughts.
C.S. Lewis offered me clarity as he wrote about his own struggles with worship, faith and Heaven. I would like to share some of his thoughts with you in this article. Perhaps they will help if you — like me — harbored concerns about worship and Heaven. Thoughts can easily turn into stumbling blocks which interfere with our personal relationship with God if/when we don’t get the answers we need and deserve. Stumbling blocks inhibit our desire and ability to worship God — freely, faithfully and fully.
C. S. Lewis formed the opinion that constant praise of anyone isn’t good — even God — writing the following.
We routinely reject those who seek and expect praise and congratulations. We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence or delightfulness; we despise still more the crowd of people round every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratify that demand. (C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 1958, p. 80.)
So he (and I) questioned why God wants, seeks, and commands us to praise him ‘at all times’? The answer to this set of questions comes from God Himself when He reminded St. Catherine of Siena (many centuries ago) of this: “I Am Who Am; you are she who is not”. This statement from God can answer our question as well. It should be understood this way: I am all knowing; I know what is best for you — Catherine — and you [the reader]. I AM does not need the praise ; yet I command you to praise me for your own sake. I AM your God; you are my people [with a stiff necked heart]that often need reminders of who I AM and who you are not.”
Lewis revealed other objections about worship while writing the following. “I find it hideous that God is honored by human thanks and praise.” Lewis seems to object to God’s acceptance of praise from lowly creatures (humankind). Perhaps he can’t imagine God receiving any good thing from human praise. Lewis also wondered if God asks for praise just because He can (command us to do so). None of these arguments stuck with Lewis as he came to believe that God is the Great I AM and we are the he and she who is not. In other words, “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
Lewis was also bothered by the thought that many people worship God to gain brownie points and favors from God. This thought again puts God on the same playing field as the silly woman who praises a friend in hopes of receiving flattery about herself. Before coming to a full faith, Lewis seemed hellbent on equating worship of God with flattery and false adulation.
Lewis also wondered if “God demands praise from the living supplicants [worshippers]because condemned souls in Sheol can’t give praise” (“C.S. Lewis on the Practice and Theology of Worship” by Justin Taylor at TheGospelCoalition.org; October 20, 2015). In my opinion, this thought is his most derogatory one (with regard to God Himself). It verges on disbelief in a good, holy God. At any rate, Lewis’s opinion paints God as a needy, clingy, and jealous god. Fortunately, Lewis received the Sacrament of the Anointing before his death. He did not allow his questions about faith and worship to deter his Faith and Love for God.
Lewis had also wondered whether God preferred praise to gratitude, reverence, or obedience. Clearly, the answers are found in the New and Old Testaments. God declares:
Now, if you obey me completely and keep my covenant, you will be my treasured possession among all peoples,c though all the earth is mine (Exodus 19:5)
And in the New Testament, St Paul writes:
Everything indeed is for you, so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4:15)
Many more passages teach us about the importance of putting on the virtues of obedience, trust, honor, love, and gratitude to God. In fact, we are taught that authentic worship requires reverence, obedience, gratitude and praise from each and every heart that loves God.
Obedience to God’s designs is in itself an act of worship. Worship without obedience is merely hollow flattery. Yet both worship and obedience are less than Christian if they do not spring from the one root, love of God.
Obedience is as necessary to authentic worship as is the other virtues. It influences how and why we worship God. In turn, the how and why we worship God, modifies and fortifies our obedience — and gratitude — and reverence with respect to God.
This brings to mind the buzz about the latest “Bachelorette” show. Headlines read: “‘Bachelorette’ star sends contestant home after sex before marriage spat, feud spills into Twitter.” The rift between the contestant and the bachelorette basically boiled down to the same question Lewis had with regard to what God prefers: worship or obedience or gratitude or reverence. The bachelorette seems comfortable suggesting that God prefers praise (and doesn’t worry about personal sins) whereas the contestant maintains that rightful worship of God requires our obedience to His commandments.
C.S. Lewis, the psalmists, and all the saints would agree with the position that God has no preferences for one virtue over another. When we are obedient to God’s ways, designs and commands we worship Him authentically. When we fail to be obey God’s ways, designs and commands, we will fail to worship God rightly. Even worse, we will end up worshiping ourselves or false gods since we are made to worship, according to Bishop Barron. The bachelorette is not the only person confused about rightful worship of God and its connection to putting on personal virtue.
Like C.S. Lewis, may we all come to understand the importance of praising God and realizing:
In the process of being worshiped, God communicates his presence to mankind. Praise is not for His sake but ours; it is bound up with the very giving of God himself to us! (Reflections on the Psalms, 93, emphasis mine)
C.S. Lewis finally also understood that “all enjoyment spontaneously [both in the natural and supernatural world]overflows into praise. The world rings with praise — lovers praising their beloveds; readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game — praise of the weather, wine, dishes, actors, motors horses, college, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rate beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. We not only spontaneously praise what we value; but, instinctively urge others to join in our praise. Isn’t It glorious? Isn’t that magnificent?” (Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 95, emphasis mine)
This realization unlocked the Psalms for Lewis because they enthusiastically implore others to praise God.
Lewis noted that his “general difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurd denying to us, as regards the Supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what we indeed can’t help doing, about everything else we value. Praise does more than express enjoyment, it actually completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation” (Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 95).
The Baltimore Catechism also says the same thing but in different ways, in questions 3 and 4.
Why did God make us? God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven. “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9).
What must we do to gain the happiness of heaven? To gain the happiness of heaven we must know, love, and serve God in this world. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20)
To know, enjoy, love, and serve God in this life and the next is the essence of worship. And Heaven is the place where we “will be able to fully worship God — in spirit and in truth. We shall know that these are really the same things. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him” (Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 95; emphasis mine).Heaven will never be boring or dull or too long. It is where we will finally meet God face to face. It is the place when we will be able to fully enjoy the Great I AM – who is all knowing, all loving, all great, all good, all glorious, all everything. … And so we will finally break out freely in song to fully worship and praise God, our beloved Creator and Lord — without reservation or concern or doubt. We will fully enjoy God. And He will fully enjoy us too.
How do you worship God? Why do you worship the Lord your God? Where do you worship Him? Do you have a duty to worship God? Why or why not? What is worship? What say you? Have your thoughts on praise and worship changed after reading this article? If so, praise God, If not, praise God. Give thanks to God for He is Good. Amen. Amen. Amen.
Copyright 2019 Linda Kracht