The first line of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life may be its most profound: “It’s not about you.” Nothing that the church does together underscores this truth more than worship. When the people of God worship together, we are collectively caught-up into the presence of the Eternal One who far surpasses our minuscule, temporal selves.
Sunday is sacred because – ever since the resurrection of Jesus on that first Easter morning – it has been the one time each week when collectively we set aside all distractions. It is on this day that we celebrate the Risen Christ, focusing on God. The hymn by William Kethe calls us to forget self and directs our attention instead to divine Royalty:
Oh, worship the King, all glorious above,
Oh, gratefully sing His pow’r and His love;
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.
The heart of worship: It’s all about God
Note where the focus lies. Each person in the room – be it a small store front with a low ceiling or a sanctuary in a high-vaulted cathedral – directs his or her attention heavenward. Self fades away in the bright light of the God who has no equal. Like the prophet Isaiah, worship properly understood transports us beyond ourselves and takes us to another dimension where we catch a glimpse of the majesty of the King: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of heavenly forces! All the earth is filled with God’s glory!” (Isaiah 6:3, CEB).
This is the first and most important aspect of worship: It is God-directed. Worship entices us to bow our knee before God, funneling our attention not self-ward but heavenward, celebrating the blessings of God with grateful hearts. And yet as we lose ourselves in God’s majesty, something amazing and paradoxical transpires:
Steadfast refusal to focus upon ourselves in the end transforms us!
We see this boomerang effect in Ephesians 3:14-21. Paul offers a prayer, yet it is not a hurried petition, a rote recitation. Rather, it is a prayer that breathes the essence of worship:
“This is why I kneel before the Father.” – v. 14 (CEB)
Paul takes on the role of worship leader, submitting as creature to Creator, bringing us collectively into the awesome presence of Almighty God. Importantly, this God is Triune in nature and being. As Paul genuflects before the Father, he asks Him to strengthen our “inner selves” through “the Spirit” (v. 16). He invites Christ himself to live in our hearts “through faith” (v. 17). Oh, the mystery of the Three-in-One God! And not surprisingly, where this Three-in-One God abides, love is never far away:
“I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers. I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God” (v. 18-19).
If there was any doubt about the corporate setting of Paul’s prayer, it evaporates in v. 21: “Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and always. Amen.”