What you might get out of worship

After several decades of participating in worship and leading worship, I have come to the conclusion that we get out of worship what we put into worship. 

If we put into worship merely token devotion to God, we will get out of worship a token—a souvenir worship program or a souvenir memory of having attended church this week.  If we give to God superficial, surface-level, distracted attention, we will receive from worship surface-level joy, superficial spiritual nourishment, and distracted serenity. 

If on the other hand, we pour our heart into worship, we will receive, in turn, the very heart of God poured out to us.  If we sacrifice to God our time and offering and attention and energy, we will receive in abundance the gifts of the One who sacrificed His very life for us.

The good news is that no matter how much of ourselves we give to God in worship, God gives more of Himself to us in return, for God has so much more of Himself to give away than we do!

Any gift we make to God is miniscule compared to God’s incredible gifts to us.  We are like a boy thinking that giving his mom a handmade lanyard compares to the multitude of gifts she has given to him.  Billy Collins, Former Poet Laureate of the United States, depicts this in a poem which concludes with these stanzas:

She gave me life and milk from her breasts, and I gave her a lanyard.

She nursed me in many a sick room,

lifted spoons of medicine to my lips, laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,

and then led me out into the airy light and taught me to walk and swim,

and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.

Here are thousands of meals, she said, and here is clothing and a good education.

And here is your lanyard, I replied, which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart, strong legs, bones and teeth,

and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,

and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.

And here, I wish to say to her now, is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,

but the rueful admission that when she took the two-tone lanyard from my hand,

I was sure as a boy could be that this useless, worthless thing I wove

out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

Psalm 132 reflects the same dynamic.  It opens by recalling how King David wanted to build a house for God.  From David’s perspective, a temple would be a wonderful gift for God.  But the best constructed building for God is really nothing more than a lanyard for a mother.  Walls of gold cannot impress God, for even the backroads of heaven are paved in gold.  Carved doors, ornate walls, bronze pillars, and even golden cherubim are but a preschooler’s art project compared to God’s awesome masterpieces of the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Mt. Everest, leopards, angel fish, and butterflies.  Nothing we give to God can compare to what God gives to us.

The psalm begins with the recollection of David’s desire to give a good gift to God, but it goes on to detail God’s commitment to pour greater blessings on us.  Verse 13 states, “For the Lord has chosen Zion,” and in verses 14-16 God announces, “This is My resting place forever; here I will reside, for I have desired it.  I will abundantly bless its provisions; I will satisfy its poor with bread.  Its priests I will clothe with salvation, and its faithful will shout for joy!” 

All of this serves to confirm that we will get out of worship what we put into worship.  If we give our hearts to God in worship, God will pour out to us in abundance the riches of His heart.

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