Every summer during my college years, the city of Birmingham would host a citywide crawfish boil. It was a ton of fun. There were tables full of succulent Mississippi Mud Crab as well as beverages, and there was always a stage with a live band playing. My buddies and I went every summer during college.
I remember one summer in particular there was a band playing the song “Highway to Hell.” A multitude of people around me were singing the song at the top of their lungs with their hands raised. I saw the irony of the moment. These people were worshiping. For some, the reality of that soaring chorus was closer than they might have cared to admit, yet they sang it with pride. They were bowing down to the idol of self. They were worshiping at the altar of “immediate self-gratification.”
In Unceasing Worship, Harold Best points out that “When we sin, worship does not stop; it changes directions.” Basically, it’s impossible for us not to worship. It’s in our DNA. Whatever we think of when we are at rest is what we worship. Whatever our resources and time go to is our god. We have to be cautious of what our motivation is because, even if it results in a good deed, it could turn out to be false worship. We are always worshiping; even in sin, we worship.
The problem with sin is that we are worshiping the wrong thing. When we worship sin, we worship a false god, idols that are not worthy of our worship. It’s been said that “We worship our way into sin, and the only way out is worship.” That’s a helpful and sobering thought. When we sin, we are saying to that false god “You are worthy of my worship. So I will follow you, give my life for you, and I will be all about you.” The problem with that is that these idols always leave us empty. They never deliver on their promises.
The beauty of the gospel is that it hijacks our worship and aims it at the One in whom our worship finds its consummation of joy. Jesus always satisfies and He always keeps His word. We were made for God. We were designed to worship the only One who can wake us out of our sin-filled slumber and point our affections to Christ.
People often ask me “What do you think would help me worship better?” My response is always the same: steep your heart in the gospel and dive deep into the waters of grace. If preachers can say that there is nothing better to preach on than the gospel, why do we as worship leaders think that we have something better to sing about? Why do we as believers think we need to spend our time reading “gospel-lite”/“self-help”/“here’s how to be happy” books? We need to run to the cross every day. We need to spend time at the cross being broken over our sin and repenting of our transgressions. We can rediscover anew every morning that God loves us fully in Jesus. This will enable us to aim our worship at the One who is worthy of our worship.
When we recognize this, it will do nothing less than enhance our worship gatherings as we, a bunch of “gospel-full” people, gather, about to burst if we don’t respond corporately with our brothers and sisters. When we worship our way into sin, we need to run to the forgiving arms of our Father. We confess, repent, and accept the free forgiveness that is always there. Because our Father throws our sin into the depths of His sea of forgiveness, we humbly and joyfully worship. Just as the people at that concert were sadly worshiping a lifestyle of “I’m god, I’m the captain of my own soul” by singing of the reality of their hell-bound race - as if they didn’t care - we can sing freely of a blissfully different reality as those who have been bought by the precious blood of Jesus. For our worship has been hijacked by the gospel and has been rightly aimed away from sin and damnation. Our worship has been aimed rightly at the King of Kings so that we too can stand and sing out with hands raised because we have been forgiven.
We too have a future feast to look forward to. Not a feast of crawfish, but a feast with a Savior and His precious bride. At this glorious feast, we will fall on our faces and we will worship.