Worship Is an Act of Reversal

The gathering together of the church for worship is an act of reversal; it is an act of reversing our loves.

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “We don’t go to church to worship, we come to church already worshiping.” Our days are not marked with worship*less* moments. We are always giving our hearts in worship towards some end — like running water that must move and wind around and fill up, worship is ever flowing out of us. When sin entered the garden, Adam’s and Eve’s worship wasn’t diminished, it was simply redirected.

Augustine defined sin as disordered love. Sin has everything to do with love. God created us to worship him as an end in himself, and he designed us to love people and this planet in a way that would magnify his goodness and greatness. Such a disposition would create the deepest happiness in our souls. But sin entered our hearts, and those loves became reversed. We now love the world and ourselves as an end, and we view God as a means to that end.

Augustine knew the depth of this disorder, and the havoc it was wreaking in his own life:

Let these transient things be the ground on which my soul praises you (Psalm 145:2), God creator of all. But let it not become stuck in them and glued to them with love. . . . For these things . . . rend the soul with pestilential desires; for the soul earnestly desires to be one with them, and take its repose among the object of its love. But in these things there is no point of rest because they lack permanence. (Confessions IV. x. 15)

The Fight for Order

Our hearts have a God-designed relentless propensity to cleave and unite to God himself. But because of sin and its distortion of our loves, we glue these transient things to ourselves and perpetually tear our souls apart. However, when the Spirit of God awakens us to see our Father’s faithful love in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, he enables us to see Jesus as our glorious Savior. This divine gift of grace begins the reversal process in our souls, and everything we do from that point on is a progression of love and enjoyment and delight in God as the end for which we were created.

Gathering together as the church is one way we fight for ordered love in our hearts. When we come together, we prompt each other, “Look up! Behold our God!” The writer of Hebrews reminds us of this in Hebrews 12:18–21. The people of Israel had their eyes fixed on a minuscule, insignificant, man-made golden calf when only a foot to the side was smoldering, burning, trembling Mount Sinai.

Now, before we look on them with judgment, asking, “Where was your faith, Israel?” we should be mindful of how easy we too drift into impatience with God — which inevitably results in us carving up our own plans and our own idols that gratify and please us in some fleeting insignificant way because they lack permanence.

Singing Is a Remarkable Means

Coming together to sing and pray and read and commune is a means of redirecting our hearts to God’s glory, cultivating the necessary patience to wait on God. It informs our lives to appropriately respond to God’s work, and it disciplines us to participate in the life he is calling us to lead.

The gathering reminds us that we are to sing the way Paul desires us to sing in Colossians 3:16–17 and Ephesians 5:18–21 — overflowing with love for Jesus. In fact, we learn that much of what it means to be filled with the Spirit is related to our singing. When the church sings, she makes melody with the heart. This is why Bonhoeffer called all singing in the church a “spiritual performance.”

Underwhelmed hearts produce third-rate melodies. We cannot truly sing a song from the heart unless Christ has overwhelmed it. There is only melody where there is love for God — however varying the love for him might be. When we lift our voices together in song, we proclaim that the object of our love is the one who has made all things, the one who never passes away. We take our affections off of these transient things and put them on our God. Singing is an outward practice of the church that points to the inner reversal of our loves. We not only corporately proclaim this reversal of loves to encourage one another, but the very act of singing itself fortifies and deepens our own personal inner reversal. Singing is a wonderfully remarkable means toward unity and personal deepening.

Beautiful and Luminous Beyond All Things

If we move beyond the singular act of singing to living worshipful lives, how can we know if our song is authentic — that our worship is faithful? One answer we see in Scripture is that a heart that overflows with love for Christ worships God in thankfulness and gladness (Psalm 100:2; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).

Charles Spurgeon called gladness the litmus test of authentic worship. There’s an old legend that the Queen of Sheba went to visit Solomon to bring before him various complexities. She brought him two bouquets of flowers — one artificial and one real. The artificial arrangement looked convincing, and she challenged him to discern which was real. Solomon couldn’t do it. He then had an idea. He ordered that the windows be opened so the bees could come in. Every bee flew to the genuine bloom for the honey, the sweetness of honey. Gladness is the honey to our worship. True believers worship God because they love worshiping him. They don’t love being in love with him, they love him. They’re happy to do it. There’s a spirit of thankfulness and gladness about them.

True believers worship God because they love worshiping him.

“So,” says Spurgeon, “does that which you profess to posses ever cause you delight?” Is the weekend gathering marked by thankfulness? The church is no place for gloomy, pouty Christians. We come in and meet one another, and sing our songs, and hear the truth of God proclaimed, to look at what Christ has done for us. Look at what he’s saved us from for an eternity! Look where he could’ve left us and didn’t! Be glad! There are few things more evangelistic than a community of God faithfully, gratefully, happily worshiping the triune God.

We gather to pray and commune and proclaim and teach and sing to stir our hearts to stop hoping and clinging to what’s transient, and to deepen our love for him and strengthen our bond as brothers and sisters. We gather to fight for ordered love to resound in our hearts. We gather gratefully to point one another to our supreme Joy. Let us pray that we would say with Augustine, “no object of love is more healthy than your truth, beautiful and luminous beyond all things.”

(@josephtenney) is the music and arts pastor at Church at the Cross. He lives in Texas with his wife, Kimberly, and their two girls, and is a singer-songwriter in their band March of Morning.