At some point in your life, you may have been as I was (and so many in our churches still are!). Anytime you heard the word worship, you assumed that word mostly referred to singing, clapping, and talking to God. Worship is actually much more than that: True biblical worship encompasses our entire lives. In fact, in his book The Ultimate Priority, John MacArthur Jr. explains that for our worship to be “whole-life” it must include three aspects or directions. Most certainly, we worship God when we focus directly on him, pointing our worship upward (as we normally think of worship). However, we should also worship God inwardly. The third direction we should worship him is outwardly, to those around us.1
Three Directions of Worship
You might think of three-directional worship like this: Imagine you say to your boss, “You are the greatest boss to ever walk the face of the earth. Furthermore, this is the best job I’ve ever had or ever will have. In fact, I practically worship at your feet for just letting me do this job every day.” (Am I laying it on thick enough yet?) OK, having said such a mouthful upward toward your boss, how should you behave when no one’s looking? If you really meant what you said, you’ll talk well of your boss and your job when your boss isn’t around, and you’ll work hard and enthusiastically even when no one’s watching you. Why? Because inwardly you really do love your boss and you want to please him or her.
Now let’s take this idea a step further. Let’s say you’re in the service industry, and your job involves assisting other people. Every time you cheerfully seek to help someone, every time you go out of your way to meet someone’s needs, you are outwardly honoring your employer and saying by your actions how much you appreciate working for him or her. In much the same way, our God is honored—or worshipped—not only by what we say to him, but also by how much we love him on the inside and by how we respond to those he died for.
Let’s take a closer look at the inward and outward directions of worship.
The inward direction of our worship refers to who I am when no one is looking. It’s not really difficult to lift up praises to God when we’re at church or around other Christians. In those environments we’re encouraged, even expected, to do so. But what about when we’re in the privacy of our own homes, browsing the Internet, or glancing though a magazine on the newsstands? Are we being careful to please God with our private thoughts, with the things we see, with the places we visit? (Ouch!)
Worshipping inwardly by being good is perhaps the litmus test for all of worship. If our hearts’ desire is to please God, we can no longer enjoy our former sins. Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” This refers to a change inside of us. According to Psalm 51:16-17, God wants a broken and contrite heart more than our outward sacrifices. He knows that if our hearts are purely devoted to him, that can’t help but affect our outward behavior.
Please read Proverbs 4:23. A wellspring is the source from which water flows. Likewise our hearts are the source of all our thoughts, motives, and actions. The importance of this inward direction of worship cannot be overemphasized. As I read 2 Chronicles 16:9, I find that God is searching the earth not to support those who sing the best or shout the loudest. Rather, he seeks for those “whose hearts are fully committed to him.” As worshippers and worship leaders, that must be our foremost goal. Without that commitment, all other expressions of worship are actually sickening to God (Amos 5:21-23; Psalm 51; Revelation 3:16). (In a moment you will be asked to respond to today’s lesson, but if you sense God’s leading now, skip to “My Daily Surrender,” and write what’s on your heart. Please don’t put if off, even for a few moments.)
Now let’s consider the outward direction of worship. There are actually four distinct outward ways we can bring glory to our Lord, and they all have to do with our relationships with other people.
First of all, God is worshipped when we share our faith with someone or in some way play a part in a person’s coming to know Christ. In Romans 15:16, Paul says God gave him the “priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel…so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God.” What a privilege to take part in such an offering! Once we’ve helped someone become eternally trans- formed, we’ll be hooked on sharing our faith for life.
Second, we worship God when we help others. These days, old-fashioned neighborly help can be hard to find. And if we’re really honest, most of us are OK with that trend. We often lack the motivation to lend a hand. We build privacy fences so we don’t see our neighbors, and then we fill up our schedules so we don’t have time to notice if they need our help. But as followers of Jesus, we can’t afford not to be the good Samaritans he has called us to be (Luke 10:33). Jesus clearly taught us to give “a cup of cold water” in his name (Matthew 10:42).
Please read Philippians 4:14-19. Notice that Paul described the Philippians’ gifts as “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (verse 18). Giving financial aid to those in need is a third wonderful way to express our love for God. However, it’s imperative that we be cheerful when we give, not grudging, because that represents the real motives of our hearts (2 Corinthians 9:7). Once again, God considers our willing and compassionate hearts as the source of true worship.
The fourth way we worship God outwardly is by being sensitive to our weaker brothers and sisters. The entirety of Romans 14 focuses on strong and weak Christians. According to verse 13, we are to “live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall” (NLT). Verse 18 shows God’s view of this: “If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God” (NLT). For some reason, my father (who was not a Christian) didn’t think Christian women should wear shorts. So when I was growing up, I never saw our next- door neighbor wearing shorts. She chose not to wear them in front of my dad because she didn’t want to offend him. That’s the kind of selfless sensitivity God honors in us—and is honored in.
The entire Pure Praise study is based on 2 Chronicles 20. Thus, I want to close this lesson by focusing on Jehoshaphat, that story’s main character. The Bible says, “Jehoshaphat was a good king, following the example of his father, Asa. He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight” (1 Kings 22:43, NLT). He was obviously a man of character, a good man on the inside. He also respected his people and taught them the Word of God (2 Chronicles 17:7). He protected them. In fact, he had over a million men ready and willing to fight in his army! No wonder he was “highly esteemed” by the people (2 Chronicles 17:5, NLT). In short, Jehoshaphat not only said he loved and honored God, he exemplified his passion and commitment to God by who he was and how he acted toward others. He was a man who worshipped God in all three directions—with his whole life.
NOTE: This article is an excerpt from Pure Praise: A Heart-focused Bible Study on Worship by Dwayne Moore (Group, 2009), Week 1, Day 3. Used by permission.
1 John MacAruthur Jr., The Ultimate Priority (Chicago: Moody Press, 1983), 14-16.
About This Column:
Building Strong Worshipers is a regular column presented by Pastors.com, in partnership with Next Level Worship, a ministry providing quality training resources for churches and church leaders. Go to NextLevelWorship.com for free materials and coaching for the Pastors.com community. The articles in this series are written by church leaders committed to intentionally training people about worship. Their churches are reaping the benefits—and they gladly pass on ideas and suggestions of how your church can too!