An End In Itself
Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool. Psalm 132:7)
We do not eat the feast of worship as a means to anything else. Happiness in God is the end of all our seeking. Nothing beyond it can be sought as a higher goal. John Calvin put it like this: “If God contains the fullness of all good things in himself like an inexhaustible fountain, nothing beyond him is to be sought by those who strike after the highest good and all the elements of happiness.”
True worship cannot be performed as a means to some other experience. Feelings are not like that. Genuine feelings of the heart cannot be manufactured as stepping stones to something else.
All genuine emotion is an end in itself. This does not mean we cannot or should not seek to have certain feelings. We should and we can. But in the moment of authentic emotion, we are transported (perhaps only for seconds) above the reasoning work of the mind, and we experience feeling without reference to logical or practical implications.
This is what keeps worship from being “in vain.” Worship is authentic when affections for God arise in the heart as an end in themselves.
If God’s reality is displayed to us in His Word or His world and we do not feel in our heart any grief or longing or hope or fear or awe or joy or gratitude or confidence, then we may dutifully sing and pray and recite and gesture as much as we like, but it will not be real worship. We cannot honor God if our “heart is far from [him]” (Matthew: 15:8).
Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth. This cannot be done by mere acts of duty. It can be done only when spontaneous affections arise in the heart. And these affections for God are an end in themselves. They are the essence of eternal worship.
When we think about true worship, our attention is drawn to heaven for there the inhabitants have been delivered from any effect of sin and self. They have come fully into the likeness of Christ Himself.
“Beloved, we are [even here and] now children of God, and it is not yet made clear what we will be [after His coming]. We know that when He comes and is revealed, we will [as His children] be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is [in all His glory].”
1 John 3:2
Gone is the self-centered, self-seeking desires for there will be nothing that any could desire. Everything we can imagine and more will be available. Gone will be lack and suffering and death and evil and such and in their place will be fullness and joy and peace.
Our gathering will not be designed to provide us some blessing or help but it’s full and only purpose will be to worship and glorify and honor God. We will do so with pure hearts for our hearts will have been purified. We read the description of this worship in Revelation.
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And after turning I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the midst of the lampstands I saw someone like the Son of Man, dressed in a robe reaching to His feet, and with a golden sash wrapped around His chest. His head and His hair were white like white wool, [glistening white] like snow; and His [all-seeing] eyes were [flashing] like a flame of fire [piercing into my being]. His feet were like burnished [white-hot] bronze, refined in a furnace, and His voice was [powerful] like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword [of judgment]; and His face [reflecting His majesty and the Shekinah glory] was like the sun shining in [all] its power [at midday]. When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. And He placed His right hand on me and said, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last [absolute Deity, the Son of God],
At once I was in [special communication with] the Spirit; and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with One seated on the throne. And He who sat there appeared like [the crystalline sparkle of] a jasper stone and [the fiery redness of] a sardius stone, and encircling the throne there was a rainbow that looked like [the color of an] emerald. Twenty-four [other] thrones surrounded the throne; and seated on these thrones were twenty-four elders dressed in white clothing, with crowns of gold on their heads. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes all over and within [underneath their wings]; and day and night they never stop saying, “ Holy, holy, holy [is the] Lord God, the Almighty [the Omnipotent, the Ruler of all], who was and who is and who is to come [the unchanging, eternal God].” Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanksgiving to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and they worship Him who lives forever and ever; and they throw down their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they exist, and were created and brought into being.”
And when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb (Christ), each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of fragrant incense, which are the prayers of the saints (God’s people). And they sang a new song [of glorious redemption], saying, “Worthy and deserving are You to take the scroll and to break its seals; for You were slain (sacrificed), and with Your blood You purchased people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. “You have made them to be a kingdom [of royal subjects] and priests to our God; and they will reign on the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and [the voice] of the living creatures and the elders; and they numbered myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands (innumerable), saying in a loud voice, “Worthy and deserving is the Lamb that was sacrificed to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” And I heard every created thing that is in heaven or on earth or under the earth [in Hades, the realm of the dead] or on the sea, and everything that is in them, saying [together], “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb (Christ), be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped [Him who lives forever and ever].
After these things I looked, and this is what I saw: a vast multitude which no one could count, [gathered] from every nation and from all the tribes and peoples and languages [of the earth], standing before the throne and before the Lamb (Christ), dressed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands; and in a loud voice they cried out, saying, “Salvation [belongs] to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb [our salvation is the Trinity’s to give, and to God the Trinity we owe our deliverance].” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the [twenty-four] elders and the four living creatures; and they fell to their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and majesty and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might belong to our God forever and ever. Amen.” Then one of the elders responded, saying to me, “These who are dressed in the long white robes—who are they, and from where did they come?” I said to him, “My lord, you know [the answer].” And he said to me, “These are the people who come out of the great tribulation (persecution), and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb [because of His atoning sacrifice]. For this reason, they are [standing] before the throne of God; and they serve Him [in worship] day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them and shelter and protect them [with His presence]. They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any [scorching] heat; for the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of the waters of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes [giving them eternal comfort].”
Then the seventh angel sounded [his trumpet]; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom (dominion, rule) of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell face downward and worshiped God, saying, “To You we give thanks, O Lord God Almighty [the Omnipotent, the Ruler of all], Who are and Who were, because You have taken Your great power and the sovereignty [which is rightly Yours] and have [now] begun to reign. And the nations (Gentiles) became enraged, and Your wrath and indignation came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and [the time came] to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints (God’s people) and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and [the time came] to destroy the destroyers of the earth.”
Then I looked, and this is what I saw: the Lamb stood [firmly established] on Mount Zion, and with Him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had His name and His Father’s name inscribed on their foreheads [signifying God’s own possession]. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of great waters and like the rumbling of mighty thunder; and the voice that I heard [seemed like music and] was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne [of God] and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased (ransomed, redeemed) from the earth.
After these things I heard something like the great and mighty shout of a vast multitude in heaven, exclaiming, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory (splendor, majesty) and power (dominion, might) belong to our God; because His judgments are true and righteous. He has judged [convicted and pronounced sentence on] the great prostitute (idolatress) who was corrupting and ruining and poisoning the earth with her adultery (idolatry), and He has imposed the penalty for the blood of His bond-servants on her .” And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! Her smoke shall ascend forever and ever.” Then the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures also fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah (praise the Lord)!” Then from the throne there came a voice, saying, “Praise our God, all you bond-servants of His, you who fear Him, the small (common) and the great (distinguished).” Then I heard something like the shout of a vast multitude, and like the boom of many pounding waves, and like the roar of mighty peals of thunder, saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, [the Omnipotent, the Ruler of all] reigns. Let us rejoice and shout for joy! Let us give Him glory and honor, for the marriage of the Lamb has come [at last] and His bride (the redeemed) has prepared herself.” She has been permitted to dress in fine linen, dazzling white and clean—for the fine linen signifies the righteous acts of the saints [the ethical conduct, personal integrity, moral courage, and godly character of believers]. Then the angel said to me, “Write, ‘ Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me [further], “These are the true and exact words of God.” Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he [stopped me and] said to me, “You must not do that; I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers and sisters who have and hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God [alone]. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy [His life and teaching are the heart of prophecy].”
In heaven we will not ask ourselves what we got from our worship. We will not define worship as something that personally benefits us and is in keeping with our preferences. No, a thousand times no! Our focus and purpose will be the attempt to offer thanksgiving, praise and adoration to God who redeemed us, delivered us, saved us, loved us, and brings us to be with Him throughout eternity. Though many have tried to make heaven about us, the reality is that heaven is all about God. Yes we will walk on golden streets, live in mansions and eat from the tree of life. Yes the city of New Jerusalem will be a place beyond compare. Yes we will see and be with our loved ones. Yes there will be many things we will experience. But all of these pale in comparison to seeing our Lord and Savior face to face. In that moment, in the presence of Him and the fullness of His love, with overflowing hearts, we will worship fully and in truth. The question is: do we have to wait till then or can we at least to some degree worship now? Yes we can if we so choose to do so. No it will not be orchestrated by some worship leader. Yes it is more than mere singing songs, gathering together, hearing sermons and even more than any form of expressive response. For the worship acceptable to God comes from the heart of one who worships without any other reason than their love of God. They have no ulterior motive, no expectation of receiving, no personal preference, just a heart of gratitude and love toward Christ.
In the conversation with the woman at the well, as she and Jesus talked about which was the proper place and the proper form of worship, we read the instructions of Jesus:
“23 But a time is coming and is already here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit [from the heart, the inner self] and in truth; for the Father seeks such people to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit [the Source of life, yet invisible to mankind], and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Whether we gather for worship in a building or a parking lot, or virtually or collectively or individually, true worship focuses fully on exalting God. Whether we sing ancient hymns or the latest contemporary songs or anything in between, the object must be to glorify God rather than satisfy us. Whether we listen to sermons or use discussions or dialogue as a means to hear the gospel, our ultimate desire must be that in all things Christ is exalted. Whatever activity we call church it must at the end in someway glorify God or it is not truly the work of God.
So I ask us even on this Monday as we begin another week before we gather as the family of God, whether virtually on Wednesday or drive-in on Saturday or electronically on Sunday or drive-in or in the sanctuary at 10:30, will we choose pure heart worship? Whatever the format, style of music or ritual will we enter fully with all our being given to worship? Will we engage our mind, our spirit, our soul, our body to worship? Will we allow our gratitude and thankfulness move us to emotional worship as an end in itself? While we may gather needing some touch, some word, some help from God, will we not be content unless we have honored, exalted and worshipped Him without reservation. Let worship and worshippers arise until the King of Glory comes into our gatherings. Let praises give up until the presence comes down and may we each experience a visitation of the Lord in our hearts. Let’s get ready, let’s rehearse now for the grand moment when we see Him face to face at the throne.
Dr. John Thompson