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When I was a child, my parents used to take us to the Brown County State Park in Indiana, and we would spend Sunday morning in the swimming pool. It was great family time, and my father frequently commented about how nice it was to have the pool to ourselves while all the “religious nuts spent the ir time in worthless worship.” Our culture as a whole has viewed church services as generally worthless, and many churches have tried to make their service a time of entertainment to get people to attend.
People have found many substitutes for worship, including football and other professional sports, water sports, casinos, pop psychology, the entertainment industry, politics, animals, and self-help groups. Those activities are the beneficiaries of people's time and energy leftover from non-involvement in worship. Lost in all of this is that the need for worship is built into us.
What is unique about humans? It is not our bodies or our strength or our brain size. Humans are unique in their spiritual properties. Atheists will object to that word, but whatever you call it, there is a quality in humans that makes us different from the animals. It allows us to experience and express beauty and to appreciate art and music. It gives us a concept of self and motivates us to be willing to suffer and die for a belief system, to experience guilt and sympathy, and to have a love relationship that is not sexual. The word “soul” identifies the presence of these qualities, and that word is not just a religious term. It is used in the entertainment industry and even by leading psychologists. Attempts to attribute it to the brain have been universally disappointing.
From a biblical standpoint, the concept of being spiritual is the key to understanding what it means to be human. The Bible says, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he them; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27). That is not talking about God's physical image. God is a Spirit (John 4:24), and not flesh and blood (Matthew 16:17). If we were all created in God's physical image, we would all be identical twins — created in the same physical image. We are spiritually in God's image, and we ARE all identical twins spiritually — identical in value and function (Galatians 3:28).
God has provided food for our physical bodies, and our physical energy comes from physical food. Without that food, we would die. Our appetite drives us to secure as much food as is necessary. Our spiritual self also needs food, and we all have a need and desire for that spiritual food. The problem is that not all the food we eat physically and spiritually is good for us or satisfies our hunger. Someone told me that celery has a negative calorie count. It takes more energy to prepare and chew the celery than the celery produces in our digestive system. I do not know if that is true, but the point is that some foods are not that nutritious, and we could not survive if they were all we had to eat.
The same thing is true of our spiritual needs. We all have a hunger to fill the spiritual void in our lives. If that void is not filled, the results are catastrophic. As our culture has drifted away from the meaningful worship of God, our mental health as a people has diminished. Not having our spiritual appetite satisfied, means we simply increase in hunger. The substitutes for spiritual food leave us empty and even desperate. As our spiritual hunger increases and is not met by the substitutes, we turn to destructive alternatives such as alcohol, drugs, cults, sexual alternatives, aberrant religions, and for some, suicide.
Worship is not for God's benefit. The God who created the cosmos does not need me to praise him. God does not have feelings of inferiority or inadequacy. He does not have a bad self-image or need to have his ego salved. The worship to which we are called is for our benefit because our spiritual nature requires that we look to a higher power. Many groups like Alcoholics Anonymous incorporate that phrase into their rules for those struggling with problems related to what people have substituted for religion.
The teachings of Jesus Christ centered around human spiritual needs. He warned us that “the traditions of the elders” and the doctrines associated with those traditions would harm us. In Mark 7:4-7, Jesus warned against following human rules that contradicted the Bible. Paul, in Colossians 2, repeated this warning. The biblical concept of worship involves reading God's Word, learning, encouraging, and participating (1 Timothy 4:13). Hebrews 10:24-25 (NASB) tells us to “stimulate one another to love and to good deeds” by meeting together. James 1:27 defined religion as visiting the fatherless and widows in their distress and keeping oneself untarnished by the world.
We need this kind of worship to feed our spiritual nature. Without it, we starve to death spiritually, and no substitute helps. That worship is not just a Sunday morning thing. Hebrews 13:15-16 tells us to sing and praise God CONTINUALLY, which is not corporate worship. In Matthew 6:6-8, Jesus tells us to enter into your closet, shut the door and pray to your father in secret. Do not use vain repetitions … much speaking does not do anything … and your Father knows what you need. Our personal prayer is to be personal, private, current, and without show or pretense.
Another major act of worship in which we all need to participate is giving. Again, this is personal and private, and it is necessary for us to feed our souls. Hebrews 13:16 tells us, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for God is highly pleased with just such sacrifices as these.”
My favorite analogy for this is two bodies of water from the time and geography of Jesus. One is the Sea of Galilee, a beautiful life-filled oasis that people come from miles around to see and enjoy. Its waters are full of life, and it blesses everyone who comes near it. The other is the Dead Sea. It is an ugly, lifeless place that migratory waterfowl detour around to avoid being near it. Only brine shrimp inhabit its waters. What is the difference between the two? The same river feeds both lakes, and they receive comparable amounts of water. The difference is that the Sea of Galilee has more water flowing out of it than comes in from the river. Rainfall, springs, and other streams constantly refill the lake, and it is fresh and beautiful. The Dead Sea has no outlet. It takes and takes and takes but never gives. Because of that, it is ugly and lifeless, and as its name implies, dead! Giving is an act of worship. God tells us to give, not because he needs our money, but because we need to give. If we do not learn to give, we become as lifeless and ugly as the Dead Sea, and people will avoid us. It truly is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7) because he knows our spiritual makeup will suffer and die if we do not develop that characteristic.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman that “true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). Our corporate worship is essential and brings us together and unifies us with fellow Christians. Sharing the blessing of Christ's sacrifice is critical (1 Corinthians 10:16-17), but our worship must not end there. Understand that worship is to benefit you. Do what you read in God's Word, not what other humans tell you to do. Make learning, reading, and encouraging a part of your worship activity. Make worship a part of your day — every day. Sing and pray and give every day. You can do these things as you drive from place to place. You can use quiet times to do these things. Make giving a part of every day, but not just money. Give your time, kindness, support, compassion, and self-sacrificing love. Set aside time to do these things and your spiritual health, and everything that goes with positive spiritual health will reach levels of joy and contentment you can only dream about.
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Scripture links/references are from BibleGateway.com. Unhighlighted scriptures can be looked up at their website.