Cultivating a Life of Worship

In Luke’s Gospel, we find the story of Jesus visiting the home of two sisters, Mary and Martha. There we encounter an occupied and frustrated Martha, whom we envision rushing to and fro, preparing and serving food and drink to the Lord. For her, the pressure was mounting to be a proper hostess, fulfilling the cultural expectations of her day. Her sister, on the other hand, had taken a seat at the feet of Jesus. Such a position, in that time period, was only appropriate for a male to assume. Aghast at her sister’s behavior and lack of help, Martha protested to Jesus, saying: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me” (Lk. 10:40 ESV).

Mary had assumed the role of a student, attentively listening to the teaching of the Rabbi. She was delighting in His presence. No preparation was as important. No cultural expectation was more pressing. No obligation to her sister was more commanding of her attention. Jesus was her focus, and His being there was her priority. Despite her sister’s objections, Jesus revealed that Mary had chosen “the good portion,” and it would not be taken away from her (Lk. 10:42 ESV). Her heart was inclined toward Him, and she was a ready, willing, and attentive vessel, eager to receive. This account reminds us of the words of the psalmist: “One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Ps. 27:4 ESV).

Submitting ourselves before the Lord in worship, with attentive ears and hearts, is the place wherein we also find the fullness of joy—in His presence (see Ps. 16:11). Just like Martha was consumed with what seemed to be the best and most culturally appropriate thing––preparing for the Lord––we can similarly find ourselves missing the point, unknowingly. He is the best thing. He is our portion (Ps. 16:5). He is our strength and our shield (Ps. 28:7). He is the resurrection and the life (Jn. 11:25). He is our peace (Eph. 2:14).

In the Westminster Catechism, it is said that the “chief end” of humanity is “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” This is to say that our primary purpose in creation is to reflect God’s glory and to delight in His presence, forever.

Many things are crucially formative for our love of Christ and our attentiveness to His presence, including prayer, the study of the Scriptures, fasting, etc. These spiritual practices are essential to our formation and discipleship. But, the main thing in each of these practices is to worship Christ Himself, to reflect His glory in the earth, and to enjoy Him. A love for the King cultivates a love for His kingdom. A desire for His presence and our abiding in Him, by the Holy Spirit, is that which causes us to bear fruit in our lives—to grow more and more into His likeness. As Jesus states in John 15:5: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (NRSV).

To abide in the Lord implies a staying power, not a momentary or occasional connection. The branches of the vine cannot bring forth a harvest if they do not remain connected in perpetuity to their source, for the branches have no sustenance or life apart from the vine. In this way, we must not think of worship as a momentary or occasional activity that we engage in, but rather the primary and defining purpose of our lives. Understanding that our very existence is for His glory and to enjoy Him forever challenges the notion that worship is something that we participate in once a week in corporate services, or only when we pick up the Bible to read or pray. Like Brother Lawrence (1977), we must learn to practice the presence of God in all things and at all times, understanding our lives to be perpetual worship unto the Lord—whether we are attending to the mundane tasks of everyday life, or experiencing a mountaintop moment in our journey of faith. All of life is an offering of worship. All of our lives must be a sacrifice of praise.

One of the many ways in which I cultivate a life of worship is through song. As a singer, pianist, and songwriter, I resonate with the words of the prophet Isaiah: “the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation” (Is. 12:2 ESV). I understand music to be a powerful resource through which I position myself at the feet of Christ, reminding myself that in Him I live and move and have my being (Acts 17:28). Moreover, I experience the Lord Himself to be the song in my heart. I sing because He is my song. I play the melodies on the piano because He is my melody. Through song, I refocus my heart and mind on Him and who I am in relation to Him.

Music may not be a primary way through which you position yourself at the feet of Jesus. Maybe for you it is through art, prayer, dance, study, outreach, etc. These and many other practices of the faith assist us in cultivating a “worship-full” life. The means should not become the end goal, however, such as Martha caught up in her preparations. Though well-intentioned, she lost sight of what was most important. However, it is through these practices that we can foster a greater passion for the Lord and His presence. We can grow in our love for the One who loves us.

In worship, we also come to a revelation of His great love for us, which we cannot help but respond to through our own love for Him and for others. As John writes: “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19 NRSV). A life defined by worship is a life that will also demonstrate the love of God, both for self and for others, because in loving Him we learn who we truly are, and we gain a proper perspective and understanding of the value of others, and of all creation.

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