The Life of Worship: The Greatest Commandment

I love my wife. I love her a lot. We have been married for 36 years. We have known each other for almost 45 years. She is my best friend. There is no one I would rather spend time with. No, things are not always smooth and tranquil in our relationship, but we are committed to one another, for life. And I do not want it any other way.

Now, I could be committed to staying with Cheryl, honoring my marriage vows to remain true to only her. However, in our relationship, I could keep myself closed off and isolated from her. I could withhold my love and affection. I could go about my life and never do any acts of kindness for her. I could take care of my own needs and neglect hers. On the other hand, I could be unfaithful, and not remain true to the commitment I made to be faithful to her all the days of our lives together. At the same time, I could do all kinds of wonderful things for her, showering her with gifts, attention, and affection, while being unfaithful.

In both of the situations, there would be a disconnect. Whether one way or another, my wife would be getting part of me, but not all of me. My life would be a contradiction. The actions of my life would be in opposition to each other. I would not be fully devoted to her as my wife. Unfortunately, when it comes to our relationship with God, we frequently have the same disconnect. Well, maybe I should not speak for you. For me, there is.

“And he [Jesus] said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.’” Matthew 22:37-38

The Westminster Shorter Catechism states that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” This is basically a restatement of what Jesus is saying in the passage above, which He is quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, where the Jewish nation is given this command to love God with their heart, soul, mind, and strength. Moses gave the command to the people, as God had given it to Him. Jesus confirmed and validated it as the greatest commandment. Therefore, as those created by this Almighty God, this is our highest call.

There are many commands and principles in the Bible. Sometimes, it is hard to keep them all straight. However, Jesus said this command, and the next greatest command, which is to love our neighbor as ourselves, encompass all of the Law and Prophets. In other words, every other commandment given by God falls under these two (Matthew 22:37-40). For me, this is freeing. I don’t have to remember a long list of dos and don’ts. I give myself to Him through a life of love and devotion and He will work in me to fulfill the whole of His law.

On the other hand, it is an enormous task. To love the Lord with my whole being is a great challenge. In fact, on my own, it is impossible (more on that next week). It involves a total and complete devotion to the Lord.

It involves loving the Lord with my mind. This means that I seek to know Who He is in a greater way on a daily basis. I must pour His truth into my mind, conforming my thinking to His thoughts. But growing in knowledge is not enough. As my knowledge of God and His character and ways increases, my devotion for Him should grow as well. My relationship with God should become deeper and richer. My love for God and my joy in Him should be expanding every day. Then, as my knowledge and devotion deepen, I should grow in my giving myself in service and living out my life in obedience to God, loving God with all of my soul and strength.

The conflict arises when we think we can have one of these aspects without the others. Even though we don’t think it, practically we live it out. Ultimately, we live a lopsided life, overemphasizing one aspect of our lives. We get a lot of head knowledge, but have little love for God or don’t live in obedience. Or maybe we love God, what we know of Him anyway. But we don’t grow in our knowledge of God and the faith, so our love is ignorant and uniformed and we often live lives based on our own wisdom or fantasies, rather the truth. Or maybe we are very busy serving God, but we don’t spend time renewing our minds with His Word or we have little devotion for Him. Our service has become obligation, not a life lived in joy and love for God.

All of these options are less than best. That is why I think God contained all of the aspects into one command, to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Without one, the others are incomplete. The result is a relationship that is lacking and not fruitful, just as marriage that is not fully devoted in all aspects.

God wants all of us, not just part of us. It is not that God is needy or greedy. He knows that there is no greater fulfillment and joy for us that can be found in any other person, place, or thing. Our highest joy is found in loving Him with all that we are. The pursuit of the life of worship begins with this call. Let us seek to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. There is no higher calling.

Together for His glory…

The Life of Worship – What is It?

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24

Over the past 30+ years, I can’t tell you how many books, articles, sermons, and seminars I have read or listened to on the topic of worship. There are a lot of convictions, declarations, and opinions – some good, and some not so much. I know I have definite convictions on the subject. The majority of my ministry has been spent being involved in studying and seeking to worship and lead worship in a manner that is pleasing and exalting God. Looking back over the decades (I can’t believe I can say that – decades!), there are some things I think I got right. There are other areas that I stumbled through. Today, I am still on the pursuit – some days are better than others.

The declaration made by Jesus, in the passage above, is a radical shift from what people of His day thought about worship and religion. It is a radical shift from what most of us believe. Even for those of us who know all of the right answers, in our hearts, there is always a battle going on. There will always be a struggle to worship God in spirit and truth. The world will not do us any favors in this. They will try to shift our focus to anything but Jesus. To live a life of worship, we must be diligent. In fact, if don’t intentionally pursue it, it is not going to happen.

Thankfully, God is gracious and merciful. He knows our weaknesses. When we slip, slide, fall, or even run away, His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-24). He is the God of new beginnings. He delights for us to delight in Him, because in Him He knows we will find our greatest joy and satisfaction.

Over the next few weeks, I will share thoughts about the life of worship. As I have said here before, I do not claim to be an expert. I do not claim to even live this well. One of the reasons I call this blog “In Pursuit of the Life of Worship” is because that is exactly what it is for me. It is a pursuit. A journey that will last my lifetime and beyond. Sometimes, I think I get it right. Many times, well, let’s just say I have a long way to go.

However, I want to live out this life in a way that glorifies God and brings me to a deeper, richer knowledge and love for God. So, I keep moving on. And I encourage you to do the same, as you encourage me to do the same. Together, we join the most glorious pursuit of all – to know and love the One Who spoke all things into existence, holds them together by the power of His Word, and has redeemed us by His Own blood. This is Someone worth pursuing a relationship with.

Together for His glory…

The Idols in Our Lives

John Calvin said, “The human heart is a factory of idols. Every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.”  It is a good reminder for me of how prone I am to set up idols in my own life.

Idolatry is mentioned frequently in the Bible. As you read through the passages of the Old Testament, it was a constant failing of the nation of Israel. Despite continual warnings from God, the people repeatedly returned to idolatry. Today, God is still warning us about idol worship. It is not an issue of the past, nor does it only apply to religions who worship idols or other gods. It takes place in our meetings, small groups, worship services, Bible studies, devotion times, or as we live out our daily lives. As we go through the next few weeks, I will examine some of the idols I have recognized in my own life. Today, I want talk about why idolatry is something to be taken seriously.

Idolatry is the worshiping, valuing, or treasuring of anything more than God. When this happens in our lives, it warps our worldview. It skews our perspective and permeates the various aspects of our lives. It impacts our desires, pursuits, our families, our friends, our church, and our relationship with God.

God’s relationship with His people is often referred to in terms of a marriage. It is no surprise, therefore, that idolatry is frequently presented as spiritual adultery (Jeremiah 23:9-12; Ezekiel 16:30-43; Hosea 2:16-20; Hosea 3:1-5). In the New Testament, the church is referred to as the bride of Christ. Thus, as in a marriage, we need to guard our hearts and minds against those things which impact and damage that relationship. Otherwise, the results can be significant and devastating.

God is God. He alone is God. He is the creator and sustainer of all things. God, in Christ, is our Redeemer. All things are from Him, and through Him, and to Him (Romans 11:36). He alone is deserving of glory and praise. He is passionate about His glory and will not give it to anyone or anything (Isaiah 42:8). Therefore, if something in our life reigns higher than God, we have given it the glory of which God alone deserves.

As believers and followers of Christ, we are set apart for God alone. Anything that takes the place in our lives reserved for God becomes a barrier in that relationship. Therefore, idolatry hinders and damages our relationship with God. Our pursuits and affections are driven by something else other than God and His desires for us. Our perspective becomes earthly rather than heavenly and eternal (Colossians 3:1-17).

Idolatry hinders the work of the Spirit in our lives and ministry. We begin to make decisions for our families and churches based on worldly principles rather than the truth of God found in His Word (Galatians 4:8-9; Hebrews 5:11-14). We can even find ourselves in a position where we are fighting against those who are following God’s will for the church, all the while, thinking we are on a noble mission.

In addition, our growth in Christ is hindered because we are finding our strength and wisdom from the wrong source. The Word instructs us to be rooted in Christ and in His Word. We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This transformation will deepen our relationship with God and produce lasting fruit (Colossians 2:6-8; Romans 12:1-2). Idolatry produces no good fruit and nothing that is eternal in our lives (Luke 6:43-45; John 15:1-5).

Ultimately, idolatry results in stealing any true and lasting joy from our lives. There is nothing in this world that will satisfy our needs and desires as God can. Anything else will fall short. This world has nothing to offer that will last. It is a dry and weary land, with no water to quench our spiritual thirst. God will truly satisfy our souls (Psalm 63:1-8; John 4:7-15). The lie of idolatry is that it will satisfy. But it never does. In the end, we are left with empty hands and empty hearts. Scars from the devastation of sin are also left in the wake of idolatry.

God loves us with an eternal love, beyond our comprehension. He has gone to great lengths to redeem us and bring us into a glorious relationship with Him. The cross of Jesus Christ, and the price paid there, gives testimony to the depths God has gone to bring us back to Him. I pray that we, in our pursuit of the life of worship, would take hold of the greater joy offered to us. Let’s not be satisfied with anything less than what God desires for us. Let’s find our true and lasting joy in Him, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Together for His glory…