It may be claimed that the ideal, even true, public act of Christian worship has three basic component parts -- Praise (including adoration & thanksgiving), Instruction ( Bible readings & sermon) and Prayer (petition & intercession with confession of sin). Yet the three are not in equal proportions, for the Instruction & Prayer are subordinate to Praise.
After all, Praise is the giving honor unto the Lord God simply and solely because it is due to his Name; and it is this Praise which blends and unites the offering of worship on earth with that of the angels in heaven. The Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is to worshipped, praised, and adored because of Who he is and because of who we are, dependent creatures. God as the LORD, the Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity, is excellently and supremely adorable for he is perfect in his being, his relations and his ways.
One of the serious temptations facing Christians on earth is this. That of engaging in worshipping for a purpose other than that of simply and solely rendering and giving and ascribing unto God the praise due to his Name, as Creator, Redeemer and Judge of the universe.
Centuries ago this temptation came in two forms – “worship God to go to heaven” and “worship God to escape hell.” There is a legend associated with St. Theresa which illustrates these temptations.
As she lay asleep, the vision of a strange and awful woman passed before her. In one hand she carried a pitcher of water and in the other a pan of flaming fire. When the Saint asked her in fear and trembling where she was going with her mysterious burden, she replied: “I go to burn up heaven and to quench hell, that henceforth men may learn to worship God, not for any hope of future reward in the one, nor for fear of threatened torment in the other, but what He himself is – for himself alone.”
As we all know the commandment is to love God with total heart, soul, mind and strength not for reward but simply because God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is supremely lovable, and if supremely lovable then also supremely adorable and praiseworthy.
Of course, the fact of the matter is that we are less than perfect creatures who suffer from the disease of sin. Thus right motivation in acts of worship is something that we grow into as we grow in grace and knowledge. However, if we know what the true direction and content of worship is we can be prepared to recognize and face temptations to change worship into an act done for ourselves rather than for God.
If we worship merely to gain heaven and escape hell, then we fall prey to temptation. Also -- and here we move into the twenty-first century and the “worship services” so popular in the West -- we fall prey to temptation if we take part in acts of worship as if they were a leisure activity for Sunday mornings, or a weekly community-building exercise, or a regular developing of self-esteem and self-realization, or even as a means to a good end (e.g., mission or social service).
Let the words of the woman in the Saint’s dream ring in our ears: “… worship God …for what He is—for himself alone.” Let these words cause us to look carefully at what we call worship services so that we seek to ensure that their primary movement is in terms of “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and always, even unto ages of ages. Amen.” When the Church and the individual Christian gets Praise right, then other things from petition to mission fall into place. When Praise is not first and foremost then everything is skewed!
Advent 1 , December 2004 The Rev’d Dr. Peter Toon