Worship: Is God worth it?

One of the great opportunities we have in these unprecedented times is to ask, “what lessons should we be learning?”.

There are lessons to be learned just about everywhere: how to strengthen our health system, how to better care for the elderly, how to make low-paying jobs worth more than the emergency response benefit, and how to respond to the brutality and injustice shown to other people made in the image of God.

And, as people in whom the Spirit of God is at work, we must also ask “what is God saying to the church in this time?”.  We know from his word that God always works some ultimate and eternal good out of even the most dire human circumstances, as long as we love him and follow where he leads.[1]

While God no doubt has many lessons for us, one jumps out at me this morning: why do we worship?

Struggling to Connect

For a lot of us, Sunday mornings had been a comfortable routine for as long as we can remember: familiar songs, familiar words, a well-worn pew in a beloved building dedicated to the glory of God and the worship of the church, familiar faces and the warm welcome of people – brothers and sisters – you know would be there for you, to celebrate with you when you’re happy, and to lift you up when you’re weak.

And, of course, we’ve done the best we can: by the grace of God we’ve managed to stay connected on Sunday mornings, to stay connected by phone and now dropping in on one another all week long.  We’ve kept calm and carried on; we’ve made do as best we could.  And, thanks be to God, we’ve become more visible and more involved in our community than we have in years, with more parishioners volunteering in new and different ministries every day of the week.  We’ve had people digging in and learning to study the Bible as a message that applies to our lives today, and we’ve had people asking hard questions and inviting God’s gift of healing into their lives, not just for their bodies, but doing the greater work of healing the memories that hold us down.

It one way, the pandemic has been good  – this is our moment, and we’re stepping up, boldly, in the name of Christ.

But, if I’m being honest, Sunday mornings have been hard, and I say that as a priest whose work is the worship of the church. 

It was one thing when the weather was icy and cold, but if I’m being honest, the idea of talking to a camera, or even setting up church on the lawn, just doesn’t “do it” for me.  I can only imagine what it’s like on the other side, watching on a screen in your living room, or batting away flies outside under the sun.  If I’m honest, one of the thoughts that crosses my mind is, “I don’t get much out of this”… and I’m sure I’m not alone.

It’s ok for us to admit how we’re feeling: God is truth, and He knows the secrets of our hearts anyway.  But once we name our perception, our task as disciples, as students and apprentices of Jesus, is to learn to see things as God does.

What is worship?

I think all of us naturally think about worship as something for us.  We come to be fed, we come to learn, we come to feel the support of our church family.  We come to sing uplifting songs.  We come looking for something familiar, something stable when the world is spinning, something that will fill us up to face the week ahead.

In short, we come to worship because of what worship gives me.

So then, when I don’t feel like I’m getting anything out of it, it’s easy and even natural for me to excuse myself and choose something that feels more beneficial instead.

Indeed, an entire generation has done that, as churches everywhere have grey heads and young families, but very few in the middle, usually because they “got more” out of some other option for Sunday morning.

But in this time of revaluating everything, if we stop and listen to God’s word and the faith of his church, we learn a hard lesson: worship isn’t about us.

If I get fed, if I learn something, if I come away refreshed and ready to face the week ahead, those are added bonuses: but they’re not the point. 

Worship, rightly understood, is only every about God – he is the one and only worthy of all worship, he alone is worthy of praise, and he not only deserves but commands that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and not just once in our lives and not just when we feel we need him, but that He would lay claim on one day each and every week as we proclaim the resurrection, eat the bread of heaven, and tell one another the old, old story, for the cares and concerns of the world cause us to forget so soon.

Even the word “worship” is all about God.  It means “to ascribe worth”, to declare that the thing we worship is worth our time and our talent and our treasure.[2]  Worship has nothing to do with how I feel or what I get out of it – in fact, any time my thoughts or my excuses circle back to me, I can be assured that I’ve been held captive by the sin of pride, as I’ve allowed my understanding of the world to have me and my feelings at the centre. 

Worship is not something we do or something that feeds us; worship is what we give.  Our task, as God’s people, is to ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; to bring and offering and come into his courts; to bow down before him not for what he has done for us, but simply because He is God and we are not; He is powerful and we are weak; He is merciful, and we stand in need of mercy before the one who knows the deepest secrets of our hearts.[3]

It’s a hard message, especially if we’ve been doing it backwards most of our lives.  But I believe it’s also a wake-up call.

A Biblical Understanding

Worship becomes so much clearer if we turn from our familiar patterns and look with fresh eyes at what God says in his word.[4]

In Abraham taking his son Isaac – a story that should rightly challenge us and raise all sorts of questions – we see the realities of worship laid bare.

God called Abraham to worship him upon the mountain of the Lord; to present himself along with his son – the son Abraham had longed for in his old age, the son who literally represented everything Abraham had in the world, and his entire hope for the future. 

It’s truly painful to read – I can’t even imagine the grief in Abraham’s heart as he brought all of his hopes and dreams, bound up in the person he loved more than anything else in the world, and carried to the Lord.

But, Abraham said, “we will go over there, and we will worship”.

That’s Abraham’s act of worship – no uplifting songs, no fuzzy words of comfort, no goal of being filled up for the week ahead.  Rather, simply and only because God is God, Abraham shows us what it means when we say “I surrender all”.

Abraham says (in his actions) ‘I will worship, I will give God the honour and glory due his name, even though it looks like it will cost me everything. I will worship, not because of what God gives me in return, but I will ascribe God’s worth simply because God is worth it.’

And, of course, we know God doesn’t desire burnt offerings; as we see with Abraham, the only sacrifice truly acceptable to the LORD is the one that the Lord provides. But that’s the point: if God is worth it, if God is who we say he is, then worship is nothing short of our being willing to give him everything we have, and more than that, everything we love

I can guarantee that nothing about Abraham’s walk to worship that morning made him feel good; it certainly wasn’t what he wanted to be doing.  But the call to worship is just that: a weekly reminder that “I surrender all” really means surrendering all; to weekly take ourselves off the pedestals we build and return to the Lord, not for our benefit, but simply because God is worth our time and our effort; to weekly remind ourselves that God alone has been our help in ages past, and in spite of the work of our hands, he alone will be our hope in years to come.

What about worship?

So, if you’re like me, and Sunday morning on a screen, or on the lawn just doesn’t do it for you, or even if the thought of returning to the church building without any singing or greeting one another doesn’t seem like something we’d get much out of, it’s good for us to name that. 

We should name how we’re feeling, but then we need to call it like it is.

We aren’t Christians because we enjoy church services.  We’re Christians because we said “I surrender all”, and God said “come, my child, and feast at my table”, and then “go, make disciples of all nations”.

We need to confess our frustration, and remind ourselves, time and time again that we worship simply because God is worth it.  As Paul said in Romans, we come obedient to the command of God, and present ourselves – surrender ourselves, laying ourselves down as willing servants before a gracious master.[5]

Of all the lessons to learn from COVID, this is a lesson that we – the Church – have needed to learn for generations, and it only continues to show God’s wisdom that he could use something as awful as a pandemic to help us see how the sin of pride and individualism has even infected what we do on Sunday morning.

The reality is, whether we’re online or on the lawn, whether we’re back in church or away at the cabin, worship isn’t something we do for our benefit.  Whether we’re in our pews, on vacation, or watching in your pyjamas with your morning coffee, God commands us to keep the Lord’s day, gathering with even one or two others to proclaim his greatness, to offer ourselves and all that he’s given us, and to tell the old, old story to our children, to the world, and to ourselves, for we forget.

By the grace of God, sometimes it builds us up.  Sometimes we leave re-charged.  And sometimes, let’s be honest, it’s a chore, especially toting young children along on a sunny day after a stressful week.  But whether it’s in the pews, online, on the lawn, or by yourself with your Bible and a prayerbook for 15 minutes at your campsite in the woods, when it comes to worship there should only ever be one question: is God worth it?

…And it’s only after we say “yes” that we realize the great blessings he has in store for all who follow him.

Looking for help structuring worship at home or on Sundays away from church during these strange times? Check these out!

Home Prayers (PDF) from the Book of Alternative Services

Forms of Prayer to be Used in Families (PDF) from the Book of Common Prayer


[1] Romans 8:26-30

[2] For a helpful discussion, see John Piper at Desiring God.

[3] Psalm 96

[4] Genesis 22:1-14

[5] Romans 6:12-23

Remembrance: A Call to Duty

925 years ago, the Church, entangled with kingdoms and governments, called for crusaders, saying it was a Christian man’s duty to fight for the name of God in the Middle East.  About 2 million died.

401 years ago, the Thirty Years’ War erupted in Europe, a war between Catholics and Protestants.  Each church and country declaring that it was a man’s duty to fight for their understanding of God.  About 5 million died from fighting and famine.

105 years ago, clergy in pulpits across this country proclaimed that it was a person’s Christian duty to defend the global empire that secured our prosperity, as the “war to end all wars” erupted, and some 24 million combatants and civilians lost their lives, and 214,000 Canadians – then over 2.5% of our population – were killed or wounded.

80 years ago, once again, the Church declared that it was a person’s duty to take up arms, not in the name of God or Empire, but for the cause of “Freedom”, as a full 10% of Canadians entered the armed forces, as upwards of 100 million people worldwide lost their lives directly or indirectly in that war.

Then, as we entered the Cold War, opinions changed.  The Church, and society at large, was unsure of its position, until, around 1985, when the churches of North America generally agreed a Christian’s duty was, as we recited last week in our Baptismal Vows, a duty to “strive for justice and peace among all people”, while “persevering in resisting evil”.  Tens of thousands of Canadians still answered their country’s call to serve in Korea, then the Gulf, then Yugoslavia and Somalia, returning home broken and bruised, but now without the heroes’ welcome or widespread support that helped their parents’ generation return from World War II.

And, the story continues, as our country and her allies deployed again to the Middle East, and even today, our Armed Forces list 33 ongoing peacekeeping and other operations at home, in Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

There’s no question.  War is a difficult and complex matter.  And there’s also no question, as we look back, that whenever the church forgets its purpose and identity and simply becomes a shadow or echo of the state, our fallen humanity, our temptations to pride and greed lead us, over and over again, down the dangerous path of thinking that God is on our side, as though we were the ones with the eternal plan.  We forget so quickly that the good news is the opposite: that God calls and invites us to be on His side.

Why we Remember

On this Remembrance Sunday, the Church calls us to gather with several intentions. 

First, as the People of God have done since Issac told Jacob about God’s Covenant with Abraham, we gather to recite the story of how we got here; a story that includes both great blessings at God’s hand, as well as great atrocities in the name of ‘empire’ as certain regiments were deemed less valuable based on their heritage, and sent to their doom. 

As the prophets of old recounted both the good and the bad to call God’s people to obedience, it’s our duty to remember the good and the bad, as we look back and see that there is no “war to end all wars”, and until Christ returns, no amount of deterrence or rational debate can save a distraught people from following the rantings and calls to war of a crazed leader.  We gather to remember our story.

Second, we remember not just our history, but the great sacrifices of those who gave so much.  And perhaps we serve their memories best if we don’t romanticize it too much.  They were brave, they were courageous, they fought for the cause of freedom against oppression and evil.  But they were also curious, in search of adventure, excited to leave their small quiet town and see the world; young men and women – even boys lying about their age – who, serving their country, traded youth for the horrors of war, as many never came home, and all came home changed, wounded by the physical and psychological scars of warring humanity.

And, having remembered our story and having recalled the sacrifice of those who died, thirdly, this is a day of prayer.  This is a day of longing, as we pray that these sacrifices will not be repeated.

Church and State:
‘Already’ and ‘Not Yet’

War, it seems, is an inevitable fact of life in our fallen world.  And it is good and right for us to honour those who serve, protect, and defend us from threats foreign and domestic.  As we are taught by the scriptures, the worldly authorities are a part of the God-given order – even though crowns and thrones may perish and kingdoms rise and wane.

And if there’s a lesson a Christian today can learn from the long, sad history of the church and state as strange bedfellows in support of war, it’s that the Christian position, the Gospel position, our position, doesn’t fit well in any worldly camp.  In no way can the Body of Christ justify marching out in the name of worldly empires: after all, we must remember that our conflict is not against flesh and blood – our fellow humanity; no, our conflict is against evil and the spiritual forces of wickedness.

At the same time, we neglect our Gospel call to be a city on a hill, a light to enlighten the nations, and to be the messengers of peace if we bury our heads in the sand; and our task to bring the Good News of peace in Christ to the ends of the earth means that we, like those first apostles, must find ourselves on the dangerous frontlines between justice and injustice, between peace and the evils of war.

And there’s an important theological idea that explains this difficult position in which we find ourselves.  It’s summarized in three simple words: already… not yet.

As we proclaimed last week, Christ has already defeated death and the grave… but we are not yet able to see that defeat on this side of the veil between time and eternity.

God has already built that kingdom where swords and weapons of war are beaten into plows to provide for the needy, that land where lion and lamb, men and women, slave and free, of all races and languages and nations live peaceably side by side, where wars and rumours of wars are no more… but we are not yet there to experience it.

We, here today, are by baptism already made full members of the Kingdom of God, that one true kingdom that endures while all the others, like every nation in history, rises and falls, as one day, even our own great nation will pass away.  But, we are not yet present in that Kingdom, and as such are called to live as resident aliens in this land, subject to its laws, and active in its society.

And that Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, of which you and I are already citizens, has a crucial difference.

In this world, the call comes to serve our country, for patriotism: to serve our fatherland, to serve and protect the crown, the structures, the institutions, and the government.

But the Kingdom of God doesn’t ask for patriotism.  Patriotism is for the kingdoms of this world.

…In junior high English class, we read the classic poem “Dulce et Decorum Est pro patria mori” – it is sweet and proper to die for one’s country; what the poet and World War I veteran William Owen described as “the old lie”, preached from pulpits as young men shipped off to war.

But the message of the Lamb of God, our Lord, is this: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  But, my friends, it doesn’t stop there, for this is no airy-fairy love; this isn’t about positive thinking or happy thoughts.  For he continues, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends”.[1]

This is no catch phrase.

No, the very Kingdom of God – the new Jerusalem, the new Heaven and the new Earth, that country where the lion and the lamb lie side by side – is built around, founded upon, the man who laid down his life for his friends – even Jesus Christ our Lord.

Our eternal hope, our very faith, is founded on the one who willingly, without compulsion, entered a battle that was not his own – but which would never be won without him – so that those who were oppressed by the forces of evil could know the freedom of justice and peace.

And, if we are to be included ourselves, then “friends” isn’t just those with whom we like to spend time; the word there is companions, associates, those who choose to be on the same side.

Greater love has no one than this.

Our Duty

So, even in 2019, with church and society having learned so much about the horrors of war, we as Christians are called to duty.

Not to fight for the name of the God of Peace, as though that’s what God desires. 
Not to fight for the prideful divisions that keep the church divided in ministry and witnesses.
Not to fight for empire, or even for the political ideals of freedom or democracy, as every empire one day passes away.

Our duty, as those already citizens of the Kingdom of God, is to love this hurting world so much that we are willing to lay down our life, in imitation of our Lord.

Our duty, as those blessed with God’s provision, is not to hoard what we have been given, but to sow from our freedom and bounty so that others, even those under oppression in foreign lands, may reap what we’ve sown.  That, as we read in the Gospel, when that great harvest comes, we may all rejoice together in what the Lord has done.[2]

So, this day, let us commit ourselves to remember: to remember the great story, the honourable and the horrific, that has brought us to this day, and let us pledge never to forget God’s goodness to us through it all.

Let us commit to remember those men and women, from every walk of life, who sacrificed for the freedoms we enjoy; those freedoms that, if we’re not careful, we and those who come after us can so easily take for granted.

And, as those citizens of the Kingdom of God, living – for now – as foreigners in this world and, by God’s grace, as citizens of this great land of Canada, let us long for our promised peace, yearning for an end to our divisions, and living as those who, when called, would take up our cross and bear it to the end for the sake of our brothers and sisters.

Will you persevere in resisting evil…?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people…?

To which we responded: I will, with God’s help.

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget.


[1] John 15:12-13

[2] John 4:31-38