You have many things to offer this world. You are passionate, energetic, intelligent, compassionate, and knowledgeable. You want to work hard and contribute to society, generate wealth, improve learning. You have a lot to offer this world.
Now, before you feel too good about yourself, let’s refine this truth by asking ourselves a difficult question. Ask yourself this: ‘Do I have anything of eternal value to offer this dying world?’ Think about this for a moment.
Do you agree with me that we have nothing of eternal value to offer this dying world, unless we are in a loving relationship with Jesus. I think we must start with this realisation. We cannot move on until we grasp it.
All of our work must flow out of a deep, loving relationship with Jesus. All of our work must flow out of worship. There can be no exceptions. There can be no rationalisations, no sophism. It is our first obligation. That’s why the first law of the soul is to worship God. Before we reach out to the world, we must reach out to God.
We are often in great danger of putting urgent duties before the important things. But who is it who has loaded us with so many impossible tasks to do before breakfast? It is not God who did this. We are loaded with tasks assigned by our inner compulsions. And these tasks are made heavier by the pressure of our circumstances.
We have to learn to see through this mist and identify what is important rather than merely urgent. Maybe you are saying to yourself right now that I’m overlooking the fact that work can be worship.
Paul says this in Romans 12:1 – “Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.”
Yes, of course you can worship God by singing in the band, teaching a class, designing an aeroplane, welcoming people, preparing lunch, visiting the sick and so on. Yes, but the point I am trying to make is that is all starts with our attitude. It all starts with our heart.
We start with a heart of worship, and then our work can be done for God and can be an act of worship. Work can only be worship when you have the right attitude first. This is true however spiritual that work might appear to be.
Paul was a man who worshipped. Just before his mention of work as worship in Romans 12 is a passage of worship at the end of Romans 11. We can only imagine how Paul was worshipping God in prayer when he was caught up to the third heaven in 2 Corinthians 12.
1 Kings 6:29 says that King Solomon “decorated all the walls of the inner sanctuary and the main room with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers.”
Well, you may say, that’s nice to know; but I’m not really into interior decoration. Tell me something important. OK, I shall. On the golden walls of the temple Solomon had these figures carved for a greater reason than that it was the fashion in those days and he thought they looked nice.
The palm tree is a symbol of work. The flower is a symbol of witness, spreading the sweet fragrance of God wherever we go. But in first place, of prime importance, are the cherubim. They are the symbol of worship. Worship was put in first place by Solomon at God’s instructions in the temple. And down the ages theologians have said the same thing, God wants us first and foremost to worship him.
Now, why does God want this so badly? Does he need it? Is he egotistical? No, that only shows our self-centred way of thinking. The biggest benefit of worship is ours, not God’s. When we enter into worship we open up a channel of communication with God, and God uses that channel to come to us and give himself to us.
Selwyn Hughes says that most personality problems arise from a failure to truly worship God. He says that people with deep emotional problems generally do not know what worship is.
If you doubt that God is completely good, if you harbour any suspicion about God’s goodness, you will be unable to worship. You cannot worship God unless you trust him. You may be able to stand up and sing songs of praise with everyone else, but without trust you cannot worship. A major reason for distrust of God is ego, but so many people use other reasons as an excuse. They say they have been hurt in the past and so now they are unable to trust God.
Ego means we believe our interpretation of events rather than God’s. When a bad thing happens to us, we lose trust in God. Instead of doubting our eyes, we doubt God. Maybe in God’s eyes it was actually a good thing. You have to be humble to worship God.
We are called to trust God – even when it makes no sense. And to doubt our own intellect – especially when it makes perfect sense.
The concept of God that you nurture in your heart is essential to your ability to worship. If you have a faulty concept, it will be hard or even impossible to worship God. There are people who, for example, falsely see God as distant and judgemental and punishing. Some falsely see him as always criticising us for lack of prayer, lack of love, lack of Bible reading. And some people falsely see God as a critical ogre.
We need to see God as he really is – patient, loving, trustworthy, kind, generous, good and reliable. Doubts and misgivings will sabotage your attempts to worship.
God is most definitely good, and you need to be convinced of this. But you mustn’t think that because he is good he will do things the way you want.
There are many people who have given up on God, and say it is because God failed to keep his promises to them. But in most cases God never made such promises. The promises were imagined by people who did not understand God. Bad things are constantly happening to good people. Faithful people die of cancer, are injured in car accidents, have their children kidnapped, or suffer abuse and persecution.
But unless you realise that however unsafe it is to follow God, God is always good, you will struggle to worship him.
You are guaranteed to have spiritual problems when you think that what you can do for God is more important than what he has done for you. Or to put it another way, you’ll always have trouble if you put work before worship.
1 John 4:19 says – “We love because he first loved us.”
Service is good, but not at the expense of worship. We are not working to be saved. The Bible calls for us to be holy, not to be managers. Pastors and missionaries are particularly vulnerable to this trap, feeling pushed on by all around to be more active. And that leads all to often to burn-out or a nervous breakdown.
In the Message translation of Matthew 11 Jesus said: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Don’t you like that image of ‘the unforced rhythms of grace’ instead of work. When service is first, we get caught up in defending and promoting our own point of view. We fight for recognition and praise from others. And we easily abandon projects.
When worship is put first, those things don’t matter. We are saved from them. God is our whole reward. Everything we do is for him. We’ll never be tempted to give up because other people don’t approve of what we are doing, or value it.
You will find that purity of motive, tenacity of purpose, indifference to reward, and self‑effacing service are traits of people who worship first. And who serve second, based on their worship of God.
Yes, Solomon’s temple had palm trees and flowers. Yes, we must work and witness. Yes, we must always start with the cherubim. We must always begin with worship.
Worship is the first of the spiritual laws. When we worship, then we can bring beauty to this ugly world. We can spray heavenly perfume onto this world of decay. We are called to be worshippers.
The first law of spiritual success is to worship. Be a worshipper before everything else.