September 5: Rethinking the Priority of Worship (1/4)

September 5: Rethinking the Priority of Worship (1/4)

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Audio of Scripture readings, sermon, and prayer only

Sermon: Rethinking the Priority of Worship

Other messages in this series

Scriptures: Psalm 42; Mark 12:28-31

Pastor Drew shared the following introduction to this sermon series during the time of welcoming and announcements:

From time to time you’ve probably heard pastors ask the question, “Why do you go to church?” For most of us, spending an hour of our Sunday morning here at church is a well-worn path, and some of us may even have a clear idea about our reasons for doing so. But how much do we really understand about this thing we do on a weekly basis?

For example, if you had to put pen to paper and write out a definition of ‘worship,’ I bet you’d find it a lot more challenging that you might initially think. If we got into a discussion about what this worship service is supposed to accomplish, we’d quickly discover that the responses would be all over the map. What makes worship good? or bad, for that matter? Why is it that one person leaves a worship service feeling flat and unaffected while another person leaves that same worship service inspired and highly energized? How do we account for so many different styles of worship, and should a church ever consider altering their style? And if so, for what reason? And finally, how important is worship really?

I’ll let you in on a little-known secret. People who study church statistics and trends have had to update a few times through the years their definition of a “regular” churchgoer. Many years ago, a regular churchgoer was someone who went to every week. Weekly participation in worship was the norm for the majority. As lifestyles began to change, they noticed that attendance dropped a bit, and being a regular churchgoer meant going at least three times a month. A while later, it was decided that if you go to church at least twice a month, you’re a regular churchgoer. This brings us to the secret I mentioned, which is that statisticians now tell us that a regular churchgoer is someone who worships a least once a month.

For those who attend a Sunday worship service on average of once a month, I’m not saying it’s not important to them. Because it may be very important to them, but it’s just that their personal circumstances make it impossible to attend any more than that. So, it’d be inappropriate to judge anyone’s motives by their attendance record. But at the same time, I do think that church membership rolls are full of people who can be there more often but simply choose not to. Again, I’m not judging. We don’t know the reasons. But here’s what we do know: generally speaking, people will make time for what’s most important to them—whatever that may be. You and I will find a way to work into our busy schedules those things that are a priority to us.

Today, I’m beginning a 4-week sermon series on the role and purpose of worship for the Christian. And just to be clear, even though I’ve just now been referencing the Sunday corporate worship experience, we’ll be looking at worship in its broadest sense, of which the Sunday morning worship service is just one part. Today, then, I’ll begin by looking at what Scripture tells us about importance of worship for the Christian.

If you’re house caught on fire and everyone who lives there is safe and accounted for, and you had time to rush back in save only one thing, what would it be? Family photos? Jewelry? Your legal papers? Your brand new 70-inch flat screen television? Your priceless musical instrument? A piece of furniture that’s been in the family for generations? A beloved pet? Answering this question kind of gets at what’s most important to us.

Have you ever tried to pare down your wardrobe? I don’t know about you, but in my experience, that can be a difficult thing to do, especially if what you’re being encouraged to let go of has meaning attached to it. Even if you hardly ever wear it, parting with it feels like you’re parting with an important piece of your past.

Pastor Drew's University of Michigan Marching Band Jacket
Pastor Drew’s University of Michigan Marching Band Jacket from 1984

I have with me today something I wore throughout most of my college years. It’s my UofM Marching Band jacket. I played in the drumline in my freshman year, 1984. I have two patches on the sleeve. One for when we played at the game when the Tigers won the World Series. And the other in celebration of going to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, where we played against (and lost to) Brigham Young University. You can see that it fits me a little tighter than it did back then. I’m pretty sure I haven’t worn this jacket since I graduated from college. The truth is, I’ll probably never wear it again—unless I decided to play in the alumni band at a homecoming game. But knowing myself, the likelihood of that happening is pretty slim. But throw it out? How could I? And yet, what reason do I have to keep it? I guess it’s safe to say that at this point in my life keeping this jacket is still a priority for me.

When I meet with couples for pre-marriage counseling, at some point I raise the topic of how marriage is intended to change their priorities. It’s a bit oversimplified, but my main point is always this: before you get married, your life pretty much revolves around yourself. Decisions are made based on what’s in my best interest. Choices are made based on what I want to do. But marriage changes all that. Being married means your life is no longer about yourself. Now it’s about the two of you. Decisions are made based on what in our best interest. Choices are made based on what we want to do. Marriage means that my priority changes from me to us. To take it one step deeper, we could even argue that a God-honoring marriage means my priority changes from me to you.

There’s a lot in life that vies for our attention and demands a priority. And the fact is, there’s a lot in life that is important. Problems often arise when our priorities begin competing with one another. Such as when the priority of one’s family life is in competition with one’s job. They’re both important, right? They’re both a high priority? But we all know how things can slowly evolve, and the demands of work increase over time. And before we realize it, our family priorities are taking a back seat to our work responsibilities. I’ve been there, and for me it resulted in burn-out and a three-month renewal leave during which I had to give some serious thought to what my true priorities were. It didn’t happen quickly, but eventually I did get my priorities straightened out, and it’s made for a much better home and work life in the years since.

When it comes to priorities, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Christians maintain that God should be our first priority; that he should have our highest priority in life. What that looks like in real life is something that takes a whole lifetime to figure out and put into practice. When Jesus takes up residence within us, we eventually become aware of a struggle taking place internally in which we slowly learn how to acquiesce to the authority of Christ over ourselves. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Living a life fully for God is the goal for all of us. And hopefully, by the time we take our final breath, we’ve gotten a lot closer to doing that than before.

boy holding paper hand with index finger sticking up; "God is #1" written on hand

So, if God is supposed to be priority #1, then how important is worshiping God? It’s priority #1. They go hand-in-hand. Worshiping God is how we live out our relationship with him. This means that when it come down to all things we can do in this life, worship is designed to be the Christian’s highest and first priority.

Before saying more about that, maybe we should take a moment to clarify what we’re talking about. How would you define worship? Well, that depends upon whether or not we’re talking about worship as a verb or as a noun. As a verb, the Oxford dictionary defines worship as the act of “showing reverence and adoration for a deity.” As a noun, worship can be defined as “a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual.” These definitions can be helpful, but in some ways, worship defies definition because ultimately, worship can only be experienced. But, like most life experiences, we need to be able to give it a definition to help us better understand the experience.

The English word ‘worship’ comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word which is translated ‘worth ship.’ The Anglo-Saxon word implies the recognition of and the response to the innate worth of God. On a practical level, when we value the worth of someone (or something), we usually do something to demonstrate their (or its) worth. This idea is clearly found in Psalm 96:8, which says, “Give to the Lord the glory due his name! Bring gifts! Enter his courtyards!” This verse suggests that those who truly value God are the ones bringing him offerings.

We also get some insight into the meaning of worship by looking at the words the Bible uses for it. In the Old Testament, there are two main Hebrew words for worship.  The first Hebrew word means ‘to bow down, or prostrate;’ and the second means ‘to serve a superior.’ Similarly, the New Testament also has two main Greek words. The first Greek word means ‘to come forward to kiss the hand as an act of adoration;’ and the second means ‘to serve.’

From these four words we can see that at its core, worship has a two-fold characteristic. First, worship is an attitude of the heart. And second, worship is actions of service. The definition of worship presented by Ralph P. Martin shows these two aspects: “Worship is the dramatic celebration of God in his supreme worth in such a manner that his ‘worthiness’ becomes the norm and inspiration of human living.”

Here are a couple of other definitions of worship.

  • Barry Liesch: Worship is the act of declaring to God his worth, affirming who he is and what he has done, and responding to him in praise, adoration, thanksgiving and awe. To worship God is to fall down before him and to serve him.
  • Carol Mundy: Worship is a response to God’s presence – loving him for who he is.
  • Bruce Leafblad:Worship is that process in which we make God first in our lives.

Worship is that process in which we make God first in our lives. I like that definition.

So, if we’re going to make God first in our lives, then it only makes sense that we need to make worship our highest priority. Why? Because there’s no other means by which we can elevate God to his worthy place of being #1.

Turning again to the Bible, here’s some examples of where worship was affirmed for its high place:

  • In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus prioritized Mary’s worship over Martha’s busy preparation schedule. In fact, he told Martha that Mary had chosen what is better! (see Luke 10:41-42)
  • In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus defended a woman who, out of the intensity of her adoration, poured precious oil on his head. The disciples complained that the oil should have been sold and the money given to the poor. But Jesus chastised them and informed them that the woman “has done a beautiful thing to me.” (see Matthew 26:10-11)
  • In the Gospel of Mark, a religious leader asked Jesus which commandment out of the entire Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament) was the most important. His response: Love the Lord your God. Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (see Mark 12:30). There are 613 commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures. Out of 613, Jesus said the most important one is to love God with every fiber of our being.

From these examples, then, it seems that Jesus knew and taught that God desires our worship above anything else.

Although I haven’t yet gone down the path of what worship entails, let me say at this point that what we do here on Sunday morning is really just a small part. In two weeks, I’ll focus on the place and purpose of corporate worship, which is probably the kind of worship with which the majority of us are most familiar. But the truth is, gathering together for an hour or two each week is just one small component of the kind of worship which results in God becoming #1 in our lives. If you think about it, how close can we get to God if the only worship we do takes up only a third of one percent (.35%) of our week? If we think in terms of three meals a day for seven days, 1 hour a week of worship is the equivalent of .07 meals a week. Choose one meal, eat less than 1/10th of it, and call it good for the week! So, weekly corporate worship is good, and it’s important, but our worship of God must go beyond what we do here.

Next week, then, I’m going to talk about worship which happens on a personal level. But even that can be a little misleading, because personal worship is far more than sitting at your kitchen table and reading your Bible, praying, and singing a few choruses or hymns. No, it goes deeper than that. Because making God #1 is something we spend our entire lifetime working on, the worship I’ll be talking about next week is what’s been called a “lifestyle of worship,” or a “worship lifestyle.

So, here’s your discipleship task for the week. Between now and next Sunday, set aside a couple times each day to read and meditate on the first two verse of Psalm 42. Just like a deer that craves streams of water, my whole being craves you, God. My whole being thirsts for God, for the living God. When will I come and see God’s face? Speak that statement as an affirmation of what is. “Just like a deer that craves streams of water, my whole being craves you, God. My whole being thirsts for God, for the living God.” Even if you know deep down that you don’t crave after God in that way, pray it anyway, asking the Holy Spirit to begin to touch your heart so that in time you’ll begin to feel more drawn to him, that you’ll sense in yourself a growing desire to spend more time with God. Make these verses your prayer this week. The first step in making worship a lifestyle is to ask God to give you the kind of heart he seeks in a worshiper. If this sounds like something you’d like to do, then I invite you to pray with me…


God, we believe you’ve instilled in every person the intrinsic need to worship; that this need is built into our spiritual DNA. And we know that if it’s not you we worship, it’ll be something else. Money, power, control, material possessions, celebrities, food, sports. Lord, it’s actually kind of frightening how many things in this world we can easily turn into idols. And we confess that this is something we do on a regular basis. So today, we choose to make you our first priority in life. We choose to worship you above all else in this world, including all the good things we have. There’s nothing in this world that’s better than you, so we profess our commitment to growing in grace and love and trust in you. Where in our hearts you’re not #1, we give the Holy Spirit the permission to begin changing our hearts so that we become consciously aware of a growing desire to know you better and walk with you at a deeper level. Where you’re not our first priority, convict us and make us increasingly uncomfortable with that. Lord, we want to want you more; we want to want more of you. So, we proclaim, in Jesus’ name, that you are our highest priority in all of life, and that we will order our lives so that our worship of you in all its various “forms” will be a higher priority as well. We pray in the name of the One who’s worthy of our worship: Jesus Christ. Amen.


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