O, how often do we focus on the form of worship and not the essence: we focus on the outward when God looks at the heart. We, far too often, think of worship as a means of accomplishing some other (good) end. John Piper is helpful with this warning and exhortation:
“…focusing on the essence of worship as satisfaction in God is that it protects the primacy of worship by forcing us to come to terms with the fact that worship is an end in itself.
If the inward essence of worship is satisfaction in God, then worship can’t be a means to anything else. You simply can’t say to God, I want to be satisfied in You so that I can have something else. Because that would mean that you are not really satisfied in God but in something else. And that would dishonor God, not worship him.
But in fact for thousands of people and pastors, I fear, the event of ‘worship’ on Sunday morning is conceived of as a means to accomplish something other than worship. We ‘worship’ to raise money; we ‘worship’ to attract crowds; we ‘worship’ to heal human hurts; we ‘worship’ to recruit workers; we ‘worship’ to improve church morale. We ‘worship’ to give talented musicians an opportunity to fulfill their calling; we ‘worship’ to teach our children the way of righteousness; we ‘worship’ to help marriages stay together; we ‘worship’ to evangelize the lost among us; we ‘worship’ to motivate people for service projects; we ‘worship’ to give our churches a family feeling, and so forth.
In all of this we bear witness that we are confused about what true worship is. Genuine affections for God are an end in themselves. I cannot say to my wife, ‘I feel a strong delight in you so that you will make me a nice meal.’ That is not the way delight works. It terminates on her. It does not have a nice meal in view. I cannot say to my son, ‘I love playing ball with you so that you will cut the grass.’ If my heart really delights in playing ball with him, that delight cannot be performed as a means to getting him to do something.
I am not denying that authentic worship may have a hundred good effects on the life of the church. It will – just as true affection in marriage makes everything better. My point is that to the degree that we ‘do worship’ for these reasons, to that degree it ceases to be worship. Keeping satisfaction in God at the center guards us from that tragedy.
Therefore…focus on the essence of worship, not on the form."
- John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, p.265-66.
In our private and public worship, let’s continue to ask God to increase our satisfaction and delight in Him. Let’s ask God to help our worship terminate on Him, for his sake, and not for the sake of anything we could receive from his hand.