A Surprising Way to Worship

Worship = music. That’s often our implied equation. We worship God when we sing. Our emotions are engaged, our hearts are moved as the music and the lyrics come together. We feel closer to God, more engaged—worshipful. After all, we call the musicians the worship team.

Or maybe a bit more widely, we think of everything we do on Sunday morning, collectively, as the worship service. So worship includes the sermon and our giving and prayers, and maybe even our interaction with each other. But it’s still something that is separate, distinct, set aside from the rest of everyday life.

But ironically, it’s a song that reminds me that worship is both far grander and at the very same time, so much more mundane, than I sometimes realize.

‘All Creatures of our God and King’ is a song by Francis of Assisi that we sing at The Crossing. The song encourages the different aspects of creation to praise God: the sun, the moon, the wind, and so on. One of the verses that we don’t typically do takes the song in a different, intriguing direction (you can listen herearound the 1:40 mark).

And all ye men of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye, Alleluia.

Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God, and on him cast your care.
O praise him, O praise him, Alleluia (3x)

I have this vision of a choir: each part of creation has their turn at praising God; they get the chance to take a solo. The sun gets up, then the moon, the clouds, and so on. Each one does what it does best, and God is worshipped by the beauty of what he has made.

Then it’s humanity’s turn. But notice how people praise God. It’s not by lifting our hands and singing. The part that only people can do, the way we praise God is . . . . by forgiving? It’s surprising. Our part in praising God is that we forgive other people. But that seems so mundane, so unexciting.

Yet, if worship is ascribing and showing worth to God, making it clear how there is no one else like him, that he alone is full of mercy and holiness and goodness and needs nothing—if that’s what worship is, then forgiveness makes perfect sense. Because forgiveness is hard; it’s unnatural. Our instinct is for vengeance, for making someone pay for what they’ve done. Left to our own devices, we’ll do unto others as they have done to us.

So when we forgive, we are doing something contrary to expectations, probably contrary to our own inclinations. We do it because we know that we are forgiven. God has not counted our sin against us, but instead has forgiven us, because Christ has taken our place. To forgive because God forgave us shows how much he’s worth. We’re willing to do what is hard, what is unnatural by the world’s standards, because God is worth it. And that is worship.

In fact, there’s a way our forgiveness and suffering (part 2 of the verse) is one of the most worshipful things we can do. John Piper has a brilliant discussion in Let the Nations be Glad, his book on missions, how suffering is worship. Forgiveness and suffering actually show more clearly than almost anything else how much God is worth, precisely because the only reason to do them is if Christ really is Lord and Savior. If he’s not, then forgiveness and suffering for his sake are foolish. We show that he’s worth more than anything else when we forgive and suffer.

To me, this is an encouragement because it reminds me that the hard, mundane slog of life is tied up with how I related to God. When my wife wrongs me (a very rare occurrence, to be sure), and instead of getting mad and responding in kind, I forgive her, then I haven’t just advanced marital harmony, but worshipped God. And when we suffer and yet rely on God and hold on to him, then his great worth is revealed. So every day, each hard situation, becomes an opportunity to worship.

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