Thursday, August 18, 2011

What it means to worship God

Why does God demand our praise?
(Adapted from “Desiring God” by John Piper, The Mission Statement of Bethlehem Baptist Church)
C.S. Lewis, when he was exploring Christianity as an agnostic, found one thing about the Christian faith most disturbing. He found it strange that all religious people should clamor for us to “praise” God; and still more odd that God should demand praise from us. He says we all despise the man who “demands continual assurance of his own virtue, intelligence or delightfulness,” and that we despise even further the crowd of people around such a one who gratify that demand. That was the picture he was getting of Christianity; that of a God who was saying, “what I want most of all is to be told, I am good, I am great.”
What Lewis came to understand is that God’s revealing of Himself to us, accomplished most clearly in our praise and worship of Him, is the most loving act God can do for us. God’s demand that He be praised works toward our highest good; namely, our exposure to His greatness, purity and glory. God is the beautiful, all-satisfying object we all truly need.
Lewis goes on to describe his misunderstanding of God’s desire for praise as likened to a vain woman fishing for compliments, and then offers up this pivotal quote:
But the most obvious fact about praise-whether of God or any thing-strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise-lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game-praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least . . . I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise what ever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: "Isn't she lovely? Wasn't it glorious? Don't you think that magnificent?" The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can't help doing, about everything else we value.
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. (C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, [New York: Harcourt, Brace and World 1958], pp. 93-95.)
What Lewis is saying is that our delight of God is only partial until it is voiced in praise. Our praise of God deepens, completes, fulfills, and even consummates the joy that we have in Him.
Thus, God’s desire that we praise Him serves to expose to us the most profitable, valuable, desirable and needed object that Humanity can experience. His self-revelation to us and His demand that we interact with Him through praise is the most loving thing God can do for us.