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Everyone worships. But Jesus tells us that God is seeking a particular kind of worshiper. In True Worshipers, a seasoned pastor and musician guides listeners toward a more engaging, transformative, and biblically faithful understanding of the worship God is seeking. True worship is an activity rooted in the grace of the Gospel that affects every area of our lives. And while worship is more than just singing, God's people gathering in his presence to lift their voices in song is an activity that is biblically based, historically rooted, and potentially life changing. Thoroughly based in scripture and filled with practical guidance, this audiobook connects Sunday worship to the rest of our lives - helping us live as true worshipers each and every day.
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“This important book will inform, instruct, and inspire. Bob reminds us
there’s a reason behind our rejoicing, and there’s substance beneath our
singing. He patrols the theological borders of this book like a trusty
Doberman who won’t allow you to trespass into unhealthy attitudes and
approaches in worship. But for all the patrolling, there’s even more
pastoring. As you read the pages of this book, be open to the whispers of the
Holy Spirit. Be ready for him to guide you, remind you, realign you, or
surprise you—for your greater good and his greater glory.”
Matt Redman, recording artist; songwriter; Worship Leader, Brighton,
United Kingdom
“This book brings together years of experience, prayer, study, and discovery
in a way that informs and inspires. For those passionate about growing
deeper in their understanding of worship, this book is a fantastic and thoughtprovoking read!”
Tim Hughes, singer-songwriter; Director, Worship Central
“True Worshipers is an incredibly helpful book for understanding what it
means to worship God. It goes beyond our sanctuaries and stages, but it
always starts with God. And it always starts with our hearts. I am grateful for
Bob Kauflin’s refreshing honesty and humility as he shares from his
experience. This book will be my first recommendation for those wanting to
lead worship, as well as anyone seeking to deepen his or her relationship
with God.”
Lauren Chandler, author; songwriter; Worship Leader, The Village
Church, Flower Mound, Texas
“Bob Kauflin helps us prepare here and now for what we will spend an
eternity doing in heaven—worshiping in spirit and in truth the One seated on
the throne, singing the song of the Lamb. Nothing could be more important
than this ‘dress rehearsal’ of worship.”
Nancy Leigh DeMoss, author; radio;  host, Revive Our Hearts
“Bob Kauflin presents a balanced, mature, biblical understanding of
worship. He is concerned above all for the heart—for the depth and

authenticity of our relationship with God—which so often gets lost in the
controversies over styles and traditions. I profited from this book, and in it
Bob challenged the quality of my worship.”
John M. Frame, J. D. Trimble Chair of Systematic Theology and
Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Florida
“With simplicity and clarity, Bob Kauflin tackles issues he has seen
Christians struggle with in the years he has been a pastor, many of which
relate to our gatherings. Bob confronts misconceptions about worship in an
engaging way, relating everything to Scripture and incorporating helpful
insights from other writers. Here is a book to put into the hands of any
believer who is searching for answers about this vitally important topic.”
David Peterson, former Principal, Oak Hill College; Senior Research
Fellow and Lecturer in New Testament, Moore Theological College
“At a time when we so casually label all manner of products, conferences,
and ministries with the modifier ‘worship,’ Bob’s clear, practical, inspiring,
and thoroughly biblical book brings us back to the heart of what is means to
be a worshiper of God. Highly recommended.”
Stuart Townend, Christian songwriter
“I am so thankful for the guidance Bob Kauflin gives us in True Worshipers.
Bob writes as a pastor who understands what’s at stake when we talk about
worship, connecting our practices as the church gathered to the much bigger,
all-of-life reality of worship. True Worshipers is a book for all Christians
who want to deepen their practices as worshipers and deepen their intimacy
with God.”
Mike Cosper, Pastor of Worship and Arts, Sojourn Community Church,
Louisville, Kentucky
“It’s sad but true: while few things are more fundamental in our lives than
worship, few things are more misunderstood. What Worship Matters did for
worship leaders True Worshipers does for the rest of us—it draws our
attention to what is most important when we think about worship. As a
pastor, I’m grateful for the role this book will play in cultivating true worship
in our church. As a Christian, I’m grateful this book challenges me to live my

entire life delighting in, exalting, and serving the Savior. And as Bob’s friend
for the past four decades, I can tell you he is a compelling example of what is
written on every page of this book.”
C. J. Mahaney, Senior Pastor, Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville,
Louisville, Kentucky
“Brilliant. Freeing. Needed. Worship is often limited to the walls of the
church. In True Worshipers, Bob Kauflin reminds us that worship isn’t a
Sunday morning routine but rather an everyday lifestyle.”
Louie Giglio, Pastor, Passion City Church, Atlanta, Georgia; Founder,
the Passion Movement
“Bob Kauflin is a good friend who is always quick to encourage all that is
good about writing, singing, and living the gospel. We encourage you to read
anything he writes!”
Keith and Kristyn Getty, hymn writers; recording artists



True Worshipers: Seeking What Matters to God
Copyright © 2015 by Bob Kauflin
Published by Crossway
1300 Crescent Street
Wheaton, Illinois 60187
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise,
without the prior permission of the publisher, except as provided for by USA copyright law.
Cover design: Dual Identity, inc.
First printing 2015
Printed in the United States of America
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright
© 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights
Trade paperback ISBN: 978-1-4335-4230-5
ePub ISBN: 978-1-4335-4233-6
PDF ISBN: 978-1-4335-4231-2
Mobipocket ISBN: 978-1-4335-4232-9
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Kauflin, Bob.
True worshipers: seeking what matters to God / Bob Kauflin; foreword by Matt Redman.
1 online resource
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Description based on print version record and CIP data provided by publisher; resource not viewed.
ISBN 978-1-4335-4230-5 (tp)
ISBN 978-1-4335-4233-6 (ePub)
ISBN 978-1-4335-4231-2 (PDF)
ISBN 978-1-4335-4232-9 (Mobipocket)
1. God—Worship and love—Biblical teaching. 2. God (Christianity)—Worship and love. 3.
Christian life. I. Title.
Crossway is a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

To my children,
Megan, Jordan, Devon, Chelsea, Brittany, and McKenzie.
It has been one of the greatest joys of my life
to watch each of you become a true worshiper.

Foreword by Matt Redman
1 True Worshipers Matter

2 True Worshipers Receive

3 True Worshipers Exalt

4 True Worshipers Gather

5 True Worshipers Edify

6 True Worshipers Sing

7 True Worshipers Keep Singing

8 True Worshipers Encounter

9 True Worshipers Anticipate

General Index
Scripture Index

I first met Bob Kauflin at a UK seaside vacation resort, well over a decade
ago. That might sound like a really nice setting to meet a new worship-leader
friend, but believe me, it wasn’t the place to be if you were looking for
anything remotely resembling beach weather! The sea winds were howling,
and I think the English rain was making fun of us. Fortunately, neither of us
was there for a vacation. Instead, we were part of a gathering of several
thousand worship leaders and their teams, and it was a powerful and
profound conference.
I think what struck me most upon meeting Bob was his pursuit of truth. It
comes as no surprise to me therefore that this new book has the title True
Worshipers. On our first meeting, I remember Bob talking to me about the
importance of biblical truth in our worship songs, and how essential it is for
them to be full of God-honoring and Word-carrying lyrics. And Bob’s
passion for our worship to be biblically astute and our worship expressions
to be theologically correct has shown up in so many different ways since.
I remember another conference we happened to be at together, and a
question-and-answer session that followed the speaker’s message. Bob’s
hand kept going up—and time after time he offered a passionate and
purposeful comment or question around the theological theme we were
discussing. As I look back on that day, it’s almost like Bob was a crossbreed
of theological Doberman and pastoral Labrador (which I mean as a huge
compliment!). He went hard after biblical revelation and the defense of truth,
but did so with much grace and love.
Bob does exactly the same in the pages of his excellent new book. He
makes plain what worship is and what it isn’t. He points us strongly in the
right direction. But throughout every chapter, he does so with humility and
care. If you’re new to the topic of worship, you’ll find some fantastic
foundations to build your learning upon here. If you’ve been around this
theme for a while, you’ll find some timely reminders, and insights into age-

old glorious truths. And all laid out in a helpful and well-thoughtthrough way.
Worship is one of the ultimate themes of this life, but it is never a
question of whether worship will or won’t occur in the heart of a human
being. It’s more a case of whether that worship will travel in the proper
direction and end up in the right place. It’s guaranteed that everyone on this
planet will be an extravagant worshiper of some kind, sacrificially spending
themselves in a life of desire and devotion. But it’s by no means guaranteed
that their worship will travel along the right paths. People will find a way to
worship anything and everything. But all the time, God is calling us back to
himself, back to being the God reflectors and image bearers we were meant
to be. He is the only One worthy of our worship. As C. S. Lewis reminded
us, idols inevitably break the hearts of their worshipers. But not so when we
worship Jesus—of course the complete opposite occurs, and we find
ourselves in a place of fulfillment and satisfaction.
One of the most reorienting passages in Scripture when it comes to the
theme of worship is Revelation chapters 4 and 5. Here we see things set up
as they were ever supposed to be. There in the center is the throne of God,
and everything else (as Harold Best described it) arranges itself around that
throne. We see a rainbow encircling that throne, and encounter a multitude of
angels doing exactly the same thing—encircling the throne of Jesus. That is a
picture of how our lives should look here on earth, just as is in heaven. We
are meant to gather ourselves around the throne of God and make sure Jesus
is absolutely central to the way we arrange our lives.
Some will read this book and realize that Christ has recently been placed
a little off-center in their lives. They’ll see how, perhaps in subtle ways,
some other person or factor has started to take too central a place. There’ll
be some rearranging of the furniture to do, with Jesus and his throne being
moved back to the very heart of who we are. Others will have a similar
epiphany in terms of how they see the worship-music ministry God has
entrusted to them. Perhaps outward things have become too dominant and
there’s a call to readjust and find a renewed heart of worship. As you read
the pages of this book, be open to the whispers of the Holy Spirit. Be ready
for him to guide you, remind you, realign you, or surprise you—for your
greater good and his greater glory.

This important book will inform, instruct, and inspire. Bob reminds us
there’s a reason behind our rejoicing, and there’s substance beneath our
singing. And ultimately he encourages us to back up anything we sing or say
with a life of exuberant and God-focused worship. Back to my (hopefully not
offensive!) dog analogy—Bob patrols the theological borders of this book
like that trusty Doberman who won’t allow you to trespass into unhealthy
attitudes and approaches in worship. But for all the patrolling, there’s even
more pastoring—Bob’s Labrador side accompanying all this teaching with
gentleness, humility, patience, and much care.
I’m glad to have met Bob all those years ago and to have benefited from
his wisdom, experience, and passion for exalting Christ. I know by the end of
this book you will feel exactly the same way.
Matt Redman

I owe a significant debt of gratitude to many people whose lives, directly or
indirectly, influenced and shaped what I wrote in this work.
To Lane Dennis, for the privilege of writing another book for Crossway,
still one of my favorite publishers. The books you’ve produced have been a
huge means of grace to my life.
To Justin Taylor, for supporting, encouraging, and prodding me during the
six years it took me to write this book. You are kind, generous, thoughtful,
and superhumanly patient.
To Thomas Womack and Thom Notaro, for lending your excellent editing
capabilities to this book. Thomas, it was a joy to benefit from your wise and
insightful gifts again, and Thom, it was a pleasure to work with you for the
first time.
To Amy Kruis, Angie Cheatham, Dan Bush, Danny Lee, Matt Tully, and
all the other folks at Crossway who helped produce True Worshipers, and
more importantly, who provide the church with gospel-centered,
theologically rich, Christ-exalting books.
To D. A. Carson, David Peterson, John Piper, and Harold Best, for
writing books that helped me appreciate the importance of understanding
God, engaging with God, desiring God, and knowing how to use music to
glorify God.
To the staff of Sovereign Grace Churches, whose unseen, faithful labors
are being used by God to advance the gospel, build churches, and encourage
true worshipers throughout the world.
To Joseph Stigora, Matthew Williams, Walt Alexander, Erik Schmaltz,
Jason Hansen, Tim Payne, Jon Bloom, and Doug Plank, for helping me equip
Sovereign Grace Churches in knowing how to use music in the church to
exalt Christ.
To my fellow pastors in Sovereign Grace Churches, who every week
seek to teach, equip, and deploy the true worshipers under your care to make
a difference for the gospel in your community and beyond.

To the Boyce College and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
interns I have the privilege of hanging with. You’ve helped me work through
many of the thoughts in this book. Thanks for your engaging conversations,
insightful comments, and enthusiastic support.
To Jon Payne, Matt Mason, Jordan and Devon (my sons), and anyone else
who gave me feedback on this book as it was in process. Your thoughts were
invaluable and made this a better book than it would have been otherwise.
To the pastors and members of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville. It
is a gift from God to be able to labor beside you for the glory of the Savior.
Your humble and consistent example of being true worshipers inspires and
gladdens my soul.
To Brittany, my daughter/assistant, who keeps me on schedule, tries to
keep me from over-scheduling, and has been gifted with seemingly endless
creativity. Because your life sings with the joy of the gospel, you make me
one of the happiest bosses and dads I know.
To Jeff Purswell. I could never have imagined the impact you would have
on my life when we first started serving together back in 1997. Thank you for
the theological precision, literary clarity, and stylistic improvements you
brought to this book. You made me ask hard questions, and I’m grateful for it.
More importantly, thank you for helping me, through your teaching and
friendship, to treasure, submit to, and apply the Word of God.
To C. J. Mahaney. This book (and my first one) wouldn’t exist apart from
your example, teaching, and friendship. You are one of the finest examples of
a true worshiper I know. You walk humbly with your God, exult in grace, are
continually in awe that Jesus died in your place, and live in the power of the
Spirit. Thank you for poring through the pages of this book with me and
suggesting so many ways it could be better. It’s eternally significant that
you’re a true worshiper, but I thank God that you’re also a true pastor and a
true friend.
To my children and their spouses—Megan and James, Jordan and Tali,
Devon and Kristine, Chelsea and Jacob, Brittany, and McKenzie. Thank you
for your desire to bring glory to Jesus Christ not only through your songs but
through your lives. May you experience the unspeakable blessing of having
your children, too, grow up to be true worshipers.
To my dearest Julie, the most amazing human being I know. Thank you for
being so supportive and encouraging as I wrote, rewrote, and wrote again

this book. Thanks for telling me to stay late and work when I knew we’d both
rather be together. Thank you for always pointing my eyes and heart to our
faithful Father, our merciful Savior, and the ever-present Holy Spirit. Thank
you for saying yes back in 1976. It just keeps getting better.
Finally, to the God and Savior whom I grew to know and love more
deeply while writing this book. Any words I write are inevitably inadequate
to express the praise you’re due. Your majesty is unparalleled, your beauty
unsurpassed, your wisdom unmeasured, your goodness unimaginable, your
steadfast love unchanging, and your greatness unsearchable. I consider it the
greatest end of my existence to find myself numbered among those
worshiping the One on the throne and the Lamb. I pray that as a result of
reading this book, many more will say the same.


But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers
will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking
such people to worship him.

JOHN 4:23
The year was 1975. I was standing in an open field next to my future wife,
Julie, in Front Royal, Virginia. Along with a few thousand other people, we
had come to experience Fishnet, one of the first outdoor “Jesus festivals.”
More specifically, we had come to experience the music.
Converted rock bands, singer-songwriters, and folk musicians had started
singing about Jesus without missing a beat. And their songs were making
their way into the church. “Worship,” as we started calling it, became almost
indistinguishable from what was being played on the radio. Traditionalists
questioned and feared it. Young people devoured it.
Fishnet and festivals like it were the first signs that a worship tidal wave
was about to crash upon the shores of the church. Conversations about
worship then were relatively few. In just a few years, “worship” would hit
the big time.

Decades later, an ever-increasing number of books, magazines, websites, and
blogs are devoted exclusively to the topic of worship, or at least worship
music. Worship has become a thing, if not the thing. It’s a movement, a
phenomenon, and in many places, an industry.

There have been undeniable benefits. This heightened focus on worship
has produced resources that help us think about it in a more biblical and
comprehensive way.1 The outpouring of new worship songs has been
astounding. Although most will be forgotten, some modern hymns show signs
of being around for decades, if not centuries. Congregational singing has
been revitalized, and a new generation of musicians are being raised up to
use their gifts for the church. Young people now fill large arenas to worship
God with songs that unabashedly proclaim a passion for Jesus Christ.
But it hasn’t all been good. Heated arguments about worship-music styles
have divided or destroyed congregations. Performance is often valued over
participation, and technology over truth. Many songs have been written by
musicians who don’t know their Bibles very well, resulting in songs that lack
gospel and theological clarity. Worst of all, worship has been reduced almost
universally to what happens when we sing.
Whether you see the “worship phenomenon” as a good thing, a bad thing,
or somewhere in between, this much is certain: the worship of God matters.
It’s never irrelevant. It’s never unimportant. The worship of God should
always be a hot topic. And from God’s perspective, it is. There is nothing
more foundational to our relationship with God and to our lives as
And not surprisingly, we’re not the first generation of Christians to think
about it.

“We should consider it the great end of our existence to be found numbered
among the worshipers of God.”2 These words first appeared over 450 years
ago, penned by the French theologian and pastor John Calvin. He wasn’t
imagining a guitar-driven band playing the latest worship hits, or a pipe
organ accompanying a choir. I don’t think music was even on his mind. But
his words are as relevant to us today as they were to his original audience.
And they sum up why I wrote this book.
Most of us don’t give “the great end of our existence” much thought. The
duties, distractions, joys, trials, and temptations of this life are more than
sufficient to keep our minds occupied every waking moment. Consider
eternity? We don’t have the time.

When we do think about the afterlife, we often look forward to things like
being reunited with loved ones, singing our favorite worship songs endlessly,
devouring all the chocolate we want without gaining weight, or playing
unlimited rounds of golf on the perfect course. Atheists say we’re simply
going to cease to exist, so there’s nothing “great” about it. We just die.
As a Christian, I believe Calvin’s words are true for all of us, religious
or not. He isn’t saying that everyone will be found numbered among the
worshipers of God. Rather, he’s encouraging us to see this as our highest
goal, our loftiest aim—the great purpose of our existence. Better than having
all the power, wealth, talent, intelligence, or pleasure you could ever imagine
is being a worshiper of God forever.
I suspect worshiping God is at least on your radar, given that you’re
reading this. More likely, your relationship with God has only stirred your
desire to know him in deeper ways. Your love for God has only made you
want to love him more.
Maybe you’ve been unexpectedly overcome with gratefulness while
singing with your church. Perhaps you’ve sensed God’s presence so strongly
at times that you wanted to kneel down in silent awe. Or in the middle of
reading your Bible one morning it struck you how amazing Jesus is, and you
were undone. Maybe while you were studying, working hard, or caring for a
friend, you realized you were doing it for God’s glory, not your own, and it
felt oh so good.
I’ve experienced all these things and more. When I do experience them,
I’m grateful that at least for the moment, I’m wholly focused on the God who
redeemed me. And at those times, I think, yes, it is the great end of our
existence to be numbered among the worshipers of God. For all eternity.

But being numbered among the worshipers of God then and being numbered
among them now are two very different things. In this life, worship isn’t
always what it could be. And you might be thinking, In my experience, it’s
never what it could be!
I get it. I’ve been a Christian for more than forty years and have known
the highs and lows of what it means to be a worshiper of God. I’m also
aware that the idea of worship, depending on who you ask, can sound

incredibly exciting, unspeakably boring, mildly confusing, or at best,
irrelevant. For some, the word worship is pregnant with eager expectation;
others have to stifle a yawn.
However you define it, we can all struggle with worshiping God this side
of heaven. Maybe you can identify with some of these perspectives:
Worshiping God is difficult, if not impossible, due to your
challenging circumstances, unfulfilled hopes, or ongoing suffering.
Your experience seems to contradict God’s goodness.
You’re not totally clear on how Sunday morning worship relates to
worship in everyday life.
You’ve seen tensions rise because of the music we connect with
worship. Conflicts erupt, musicians seek the spotlight, churches split.
You wonder if music is overblown.
You’ve seen the music we connect with worship affect unbelievers,
strengthen the impact of biblical truth, and deepen people’s responses
to God. You wonder if music is undervalued.
The “great end of our existence” seems insignificant when it comes to
the pressures, demands, and responsibilities you face every day.
I’m sure you can add to this list. But even with all these challenges and
questions, John Calvin was right. We can have no higher goal than to take our
place among those who revel—unceasingly, joyfully, wholeheartedly, and
eternally—in our great and awesome God. That’s where every Christian is
headed, according to the Bible’s last chapter: “No longer will there be
anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and
his servants will worship him” (Rev. 22:3).
So if eternal worship is where we’re headed, what does it mean for us
now? Does it make any difference? What does it even mean to be a
worshiper of God? I hope to answer these questions and more in this book.
And to start, I want to drop in on a familiar conversation that took place two
thousand years ago.


It’s a sweltering, dusty day somewhere in the Middle East, and Jesus is
thirsty. He sits down at a well to wait for a woman from Samaria he’s
never met.3
Give me a drink.
It’s a simple request. But those four words cross religious, ethnic, and
moral lines that have been in place for generations. The woman is
How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of
She has good reason to wonder. In the eighth century BC, Assyria
conquered the Samaritans and brought in idolaters from other nations to
intermarry with them. Since that time, the rest of the Jews have viewed
Samaritans as half-breeds, religious mutts. They are people you avoid, not
pursue. They use an edited Bible and worship God at a different temple.
On top of that, Jesus is a man. Jewish men are never to be overly familiar
with women, and speaking to a woman alone would look very suspicious.
Jesus is undeterred.
If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give
me a drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you
living water.
Jesus doesn’t answer the woman’s question. He’s not even asking her for
a drink anymore. He’s offering her one. He wants her to see that she’s the one
who needs water. Living water. Jesus goes on to make an uncomfortably
perceptive comment about the woman’s home life.
You have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your
It’s not often a man you just met unveils the scandalous details of your
life. She discerns that Jesus must be a prophet. Maybe he even knows the
answer to a question that has divided Jews and Samaritans for centuries. A
question about worship.
Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem
is the place where people ought to worship.
At this point the woman may be trying to turn the spotlight away from her
personal affairs. Maybe she genuinely wants to resolve the ongoing debate.

It’s even possible she holds out hope she can somehow deal with her sin. But
it doesn’t matter. This time, Jesus answers her question.
Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain
nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not
know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.
Jesus tells the woman her knowledge of worship is woefully deficient.
Earthly geography is a fading category. She doesn’t even know the one she
claims to worship. And that’s after he’s already introduced the disconnect
between her life and her professed religion. He goes on.
The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will
worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such
people to worship him.
Spirit and truth? The Father seeking? It’s a typical Jesus response—
unexpected, enigmatic, and containing implications far beyond what the
woman could have dreamed. Implications that reach to you and me.
The fact that Jesus had this conversation with an immoral woman in an
obscure village should tell us something. God isn’t seeking worshipers only
among the significant and popular people, the successful and powerful ones.
The Maker of the universe is seeking true worshipers among us all.
But why is God seeking something? Surely the all-knowing, all-seeing
One doesn’t lose things. And it’s not as though a self-sufficient God has any
needs. Why would God seek anything?
We seek what’s important to us. We seek what has value. And God is
seeking true worshipers—because true worshipers matter to God.

For those of us who think of worship primarily in terms of musically driven
emotional experiences, Jesus’s conversation with the Samaritan woman
should be eye-opening. Jesus is talking about “true worshipers” and he
doesn’t reference music once. Not a whisper of bands, organs, keyboards,
choirs, drum sets, guitars, or even lutes, lyres, and timbrels.

Can we find out what it means to be a true worshiper and not talk about
music? Apparently. We’ll get to music, but we don’t start with it. Music is a
part of worshiping God, but it was never meant to be the heart of it.
“True worshipers,” Jesus told the woman, are those who “worship the
Father in spirit and truth.” He went on to say more emphatically that “God is
spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John
4:24). Broadly speaking, worship in spirit and truth is worship that springs
from a sincere heart and lines up with the truth of God’s Word. But there’s
more to what Jesus was saying.
To worship God in truth, says New Testament scholar D. A. Carson, “is
first and foremost a way of saying that we must worship God by means of
Christ. In him the reality has dawned and the shadows are being swept
away.”4 And Jesus is the one who gives the life-giving Spirit, who produces
rivers of living water in a believer’s soul (John 7:38–39). It’s the Spirit who
brings life to our spirits and enables us to know, love, and worship God the
Father through Jesus Christ.
In other words, it takes God to worship God.
So that’s where we’ll start. Jesus told the Samaritan woman not only that
the Father was seeking true worshipers, but that he came to make her one.
Her story is the story of every true worshiper. We begin by acknowledging
our inability to worship God unless he draws us by his grace and reveals
himself to us through his Word.
From that vantage point, we’ll talk about the essence of worshiping God,
which is exalting him in our hearts and actions. Any definition of true
worship that denies or minimizes God’s supremacy, authority, and uniqueness
is unbiblical and will lead to idolatry.
While God calls us individually to be true worshipers, he has always
planned to have a people who would bring him glory in this life and the next
(Ex. 19:5–6; 1 Pet. 2:9–10). So we’ll take time to talk about the history and
benefits of gathering with those God has redeemed, the community of
Worship is ultimately about God, but it’s not solely about God. God
wants to receive glory as we serve others with our gifts. In fact, that’s one of
the primary reasons we gather. As we exercise our gifts, God is in our midst

building us up both as individuals and as a local church. So we’ll spend time
talking about the horizontal aspects of worshiping God.
One of those horizontal aspects is the sometimes troubling, often
tempting, ever-timeless area of music, especially singing. Probably because
I’ve been leading congregational song for thirty-five years, I’ll spend two
chapters on music. The first focuses on why God wants us to sing together,
and the second addresses challenges that often arise.
Worshiping God is often associated with his presence. But what does it
look like for God’s Spirit to dwell among us? Should we expect in some way
to be aware of what he’s doing? How can we “seek his presence
continually,” as we’re instructed to do in Psalm 105:4, without losing our
biblical moorings and becoming driven by emotion? We’ll look at those
questions and more as we consider God’s activity among us and what it
means to encounter him.
Finally, we’ll reflect on what Calvin encourages us to consider as the
great end of our existence: to be found numbered among the worshipers of
God in eternity. In his first letter, Peter tells his readers, “Set your hope fully
on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”
(1 Pet. 1:13). That’s what we’ll begin to do in the final chapter as we reflect
on worship in the new age, both what we can see now and the unimaginable
joys that await us.

I have to confess I wanted to write a longer book. I wanted to explore how
being a true worshiper relates to topics like prayer, evangelism, the
sacraments, ministry to the poor, Bible study, spiritual disciplines, and more.
But a longer book would probably mean fewer people would read it. So I
What I’ve tried to do is focus on areas I’ve seen Christians struggle with
in the thirty years I’ve been a pastor, many of which relate to our gatherings.
They happen to be areas I’ve struggled with as well.
In many ways we’re a lot like the Samaritan woman Jesus encountered.
She didn’t know God as well as she thought. She had a hard time connecting
gathered worship and her daily life. She struggled with where and how God

could be worshiped. And she questioned who she was supposed to
worship with.
The words Jesus spoke to her speak to us as well. He helps us see that
worship begins with God’s extravagant grace, not our earnest efforts. He
shows us that he is the center of true worship, however much our thinking
might be sidetracked by personal preferences, emotional experiences, and
religious traditions. He introduces us to unseen realities that fulfill us deeply
and eternally, freeing us from bondage to things we can see that satisfy only
The Samaritan woman thought she understood worship. But her
understanding was radically altered by her encounter with Jesus at a well.
How would we respond if Jesus wanted to alter our understanding of
worship? To turn it upside down—or better, right side up? Is it possible that
rather than looking for something from us, God first has something to give us?
Could it be that worship doesn’t even begin with us?


What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it,
why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
I have a good friend named Craig who years ago attended seminary, carrying
a heavy class load and serving in an unpaid internship. Being a typical
seminary student, he was dirt poor.
Craig kept in touch with a college buddy who’d landed a job that actually
paid good money. Every so often, the two of them enjoyed a meal at a local
restaurant. Despite Craig’s genuine protests, the friend would always foot the
bill. Finally, Craig took a stand. “Please let me pay!” he insisted.
His friend was unmoved. “Craig, why is it so hard for you to receive?
You can’t even be a Christian if you can’t receive!”
Craig’s friend was right. Our first responsibility as Christians is not to
give to God but to receive from him. More emphatically, we can say that
when it comes to being a true worshiper, receiving from God is our calling
from first to last.
There are two aspects to our receiving. First, we need to be invited and
enabled. We’re powerless to come to God in our own strength. Second, God
must show us what he’s really like. Jesus said, “No one knows the Father
except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt.
11:27). We can’t figure God out on our own. As with the Samaritan woman,
God must reveal himself to us before we can respond to him rightly.
Receiving the gift of a meal is a choice between being polite or rude. But
receiving the gift of worship is a matter of life or death. God makes that clear

throughout Scripture, from the very beginning.

The Bible opens with the words “In the beginning, God.” Not “In the
beginning, Adam” or “In the beginning, animals” or “In the beginning, a
gaseous cloud.”
In the beginning, God . . .
Before anything came to be, God was. Exuberantly happy, completely
content, incomprehensibly radiant, and dwelling “in unapproachable light”
(1 Tim. 6:16). The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit unceasingly delighting in
each other’s perfections from eternity past (John 17:5, 24).1 Out of his desire
to display his glory and have us share in his joy, God acted. He created a
universe, a galaxy called the Milky Way, our solar system, a planet called
Earth, and a place called Eden.
Eden was an idyllic environment. No sin. No imperfection. No decay or
defilement. Paradise. But it wasn’t the environment that made Eden so
special. It was the Presence. The first couple lived in a world ablaze with
God’s presence and glory. Adam and Eve instinctively knew why they had
been made. They breathed, ate, slept, played, and labored to exalt the
goodness and greatness of God.
D. A. Carson explains that in this time before the fall,
God’s image-bearers delighted in the perfection of his creation and the pleasure of his presence
precisely because they were perfectly oriented toward him. No redemptive provisions had yet
been disclosed, for none were needed. There was no need to exhort human beings to worship;
their entire existence revolved around the God who had made them.2

Our first parents were born worshiping. But when they ate the forbidden
fruit, their worship was redirected. Duped by a serpent, they rejected the gift
of worshiping God and chose to worship themselves. They thought God
could be improved upon. They were wrong. And as a result of their decision,
all creation plunged into futility and despair.
Ashamed, confused, and afraid, Adam and Eve tried to hide their
nakedness and rebellion from God. But God came seeking. Rather than put
them to death, which he had every right to do, God covered Adam and Eve
with animal skins. God drew the first drop of blood in his creation. For us.

He sought us out and provided for us when all we wanted to do was run
from him.

Throughout Scripture, our need for God to enable our worship is evident at
every step. Cain and Abel both bring an offering to the Lord, but only Abel’s
is accepted. As we learn later, it’s because Abel comes in faith, trusting not
in his own efforts but in God (Heb. 11:4). Cain is inconsolable, and the first
recorded worship service results in one worshiper killing the other.
God continues to invite and pursue. He rescues Noah and his family
through the flood, and hope is momentarily restored. But before long the
Tower of Babel proves again that our worship compass has gone awry.
Years later, God calls Abraham out of pagan Ur and promises that his
descendants will outnumber the stars (Gen. 12:2; 15:5). Abraham is stunned.
And as God enables barren Sarah to conceive a son, our inability and God’s
grace are on full display.
After Israel spends four hundred years in Egypt, much of it as slaves,
Moses attempts to deliver them, fails, and then escapes to the desert to tend
sheep for forty years. There in a burning bush, God reveals himself to Moses
as the self-sufficient “I AM” (Ex. 3:14). “I will take you to be my people, and
I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who
has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Ex. 6:7).
God’s initiative is pervasive: “I will take you . . . I will be . . . I am the LORD
. . . who has brought you out.”
Once he’s delivered them, God meets with his people at Mount Sinai. He
provides laws to obey and sacrifices to offer when they disobey. Both are
gracious gifts, enabling them to draw near a holy God without being
In the centuries to follow, God sends prophet after prophet to reveal his
character and commands to the Israelites. Despite countless initiatives, Israel
continues to lust after idols rather than find refuge in their husband and Maker
(Isa. 54:5).
The Old Testament ends not with jubilant celebration but with the painful
realization that all our efforts to bring glory to God result in failure and

condemnation. If God is to have a people who will worship him with all
their heart, soul, mind, and strength, he will have to bring it about himself.
After four hundred years, he does. Jesus is born. In an act of
unfathomable love, Deity becomes dust, the Maker becomes the maligned, the
Creator becomes the cursed. God comes in Christ to restore the relationship
we rejected in the garden. We learn that the greatest gift God gives us is
Jesus is God’s ultimate statement that he will provide a way for us to
worship him—not only in this life but for all eternity. Where our offerings
are tainted with self-reliance and self-exaltation, Jesus empties himself to
bring glory to his Father on our behalf. Jesus’s perfect life, substitutionary
death on the cross, physical resurrection, and glorious ascension assure once
and for all that those who trust in him can be numbered among the worshipers
of God.
For thousands of years since then, God has been seeking all those willing
to receive the gift of worshiping him. In his sovereign mercy, I turned out to
be one of them.

Unlike his appearing to Moses, God didn’t speak to me in the desert through
a burning bush. It was far more mundane. God met me in a college student
union building through a faithful Christian I wanted to avoid.
Every so often, this guy—I don’t remember his name, so I’ll call him Jim
—would stop by my dorm room to engage in small talk. Somehow, the
conversation always led to spiritual topics. Jim was from Campus Crusade
for Christ, now known as Cru. I could tell he was unimpressed with my
spirituality and wanted to talk about it.
In my eyes, I was already spiritual. I read the New Testament almost
every night and prayed before meals. As a high school freshman I attended a
junior seminary meant to prepare me for the Catholic priesthood. It closed
down due to declining enrollment, but I maintained a spiritual mind-set for
the rest of high school. I didn’t drink, curse, do drugs, or sleep with girls. I
went to church every Sunday.
I was so spiritual that in eighth grade I had started writing a book I
humbly called Six Easy Steps to Being Perfect. Really.

In any case, I was definitely spiritual. But apparently not spiritual enough
for Jim. So I finally agreed to meet with him one night in the fall of my
freshman year, figuring I’d politely listen and maybe even set him straight on
a few things.

My recollections of the conversation that night are hazy. But there’s one part
I’ll never forget. After a few minutes, Jim pulled out a Bible.
“Have you ever read this verse?” he asked.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
Yes, I’d read it. And I thought the meaning was obvious. Of course I’d
sinned. I knew I wasn’t perfect, and I didn’t claim to be, my book-writing
project notwithstanding. As our conversation continued, I got the distinct
sense that falling short of the glory of God was worse than I’d thought.
Jim took me to another verse.
For the wages of sin is death . . . (Rom. 6:23).
Throughout my life I reasoned that as long as I did my best and got to
confession when I didn’t, God would show me mercy. He’d have to let me
into heaven when I died. But the truth was, I never did my best. Ever. I was
not only relying on my own “goodness,” but constantly falling short even of
my own standards.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know what God wanted. I knew exactly what he
wanted and prided myself on keeping a few rules while ignoring or failing to
obey countless others. I should have been dead. But I wasn’t.
For the first time in my life, I began to see how radically different God’s
perspective was from mine. I thought of myself as a sincere guy with a few
issues. God saw me as a rebel, openly defying his good and just laws.
Nothing I’d done or could do would ever change my status before him. He
was holy, I was unholy. He was pure, I was defiled. He was the righteous
Judge, I was the condemned sinner.
We looked at the rest of that verse.
. . . but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Up until that night I thought favor with God was ultimately something I
had to earn through doing good deeds and avoiding bad ones. But here God
was saying eternal life is a gift.

To press the point home, Jim handed me a pencil. “This is my gift to you.
It’s yours.” I had no idea where he was going with this. Then he asked, “Did
you do anything to earn that gift?”
“Did you pay for that gift?”
“Am I going to take that gift away from you?”
A light began to dawn. The meaning of the cross was becoming clearer.
Jesus came to die in my place to give me a gift. Not something I had to earn,
prove myself worthy of, or labor to keep. A gift.
Jesus actually did the best he could. And it was perfect. No flaws, no
failures, no sins—secret or open. Then he took upon himself the punishment I
deserved for all my sins, past, present, and future. The wrath of God fell
upon him instead of me. He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you
forsaken me?” so I would never have to.
It’s what the hymn writer expressed when he wrote,
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought—
my sin, not in part but the whole,
is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more;
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!3

It’s what God himself tells us in his Word: “He himself bore our sins in his
body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his
wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:24).
Through his death in my place Jesus overcame everything that would
keep me from heaven—sin, death, demons, and hell. If I turned from my selfexalting, self-consumed way of life and believed Christ’s death completely
paid the debt I owed to God, I would be forgiven. Reconciled to God.
Adopted into his family. Forever.
It sounded too good to be true. But grace always does. We come to God
by grace or we don’t come at all. We come by receiving a gift, not by doing a
deed. We don’t create worship; we respond to what we’ve received in Jesus
Christ—eternal life. And that gift continues to be the basis upon which we
come to worship God.

That’s why Paul reminds Titus, “When the goodness and loving kindness
of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in
righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:4–5). Mercy that’s
deserved is no longer mercy.
And worship that doesn’t begin with mercy is no longer worship.

The ability and desire to worship God is something that God himself gives
us. But there’s another aspect to that gift. In the process of drawing and
enabling us, God reveals himself to us. He tells us who he is. Not only are
we unable to worship God apart from his grace; we don’t even know who it
is we’re worshiping. God has to tell us. And he’s done that in the Bible.
That night when I met with Jim, it wasn’t his persuasive powers or his
excellent communication skills that changed me. God used Jim, but it was the
Spirit of God speaking through the Word of God that opened my eyes to see.
God’s Word revealed what his holiness required of me, how far I fell short,
and how God himself came in Jesus Christ to fulfill what he required.
Worship that’s acceptable to God, writes theologian Derek Kidner, “must
be more than flattery and more than guess-work. It is the loving homage of the
committed to the Revealed.”4 Our worship of God begins with God revealing
himself to us and is sustained by that revelation. British pastor Vaughan
Roberts fills out that thought:
Worship never begins with us; it is always a response to the truth. It flows out of an
understanding of who God is and what he has done for us in Christ. It begins with his revelation
and redemption. So we must ensure that the Bible, which contains that revelation and points us
to God’s work of redemption, stays right at the heart of our meetings and our own spiritual

If God didn’t reveal himself to us, we wouldn’t know who to trust, who
to obey, who to thank, or who to serve. We wouldn’t know what God is like,
what he has commanded, or what he has promised. Most importantly, we
wouldn’t know how he brought us near to himself and into his family through
the substitutionary sacrifice of his Son on the cross. And all those truths are
necessary to know if we want to worship God for who he is.

True worship is always a response to God’s Word. John Stott has wisely
said: “God must speak to us before we have any liberty to speak to him. He
must disclose to us who he is before we can offer him what we are in
acceptable worship. The worship of God is always a response to the Word
of God. Scripture wonderfully directs and enriches our worship.”6 God’s
Word always directs and enriches our worship of God. But more than that,
it’s foundational. We can’t worship God apart from his Word. It defines,
directs, and inspires our worship. Scripture provides doctrinal fuel for our
emotional fire.
Knowing God through his Word enables us to receive what we need to
worship him.

But some Christians have difficulty connecting the worship of God with the
Word of God. They wonder, Isn’t worship more about emotions than about
words? Don’t people just argue about the Bible? Isn’t worship more about
the Spirit? Why is the Bible so hard to understand?
Each of these questions reveals a misconception about how God’s Word
is a gift from God that enables us to worship him. Left unanswered, they’ll
keep us from receiving the riches of grace God invites us to enjoy through his
Word. Let’s consider them one at a time.
Misconception 1: Worship is more about emotions than about words. I
once met a husband and wife whose relationship had a unique start. He spoke
English; she spoke Russian. Once they realized they were attracted to one
another, they knew that looks, emotions, and gestures were an inadequate
foundation for a potential marriage partner. So one of them learned to speak
the other’s language. Meaningful relationships require words.
So it is that when God invites us into a relationship with himself, he uses
words. They’re found in the Bible. Scripture isn’t made up of isolated verses
that have some magical quality in and of themselves. Taken together and
empowered by God’s Spirit, they are his communicating with us, telling us
what he’s like. But the Bible doesn’t just tell us about God; God is actually
speaking to us (Heb. 4:12). The Word of God is the primary way God begins
and deepens our relationship with him, and is essential for true worship.

Worship certainly involves more than words, and there will be times we
worship God without words. But even then, “our only access to a real
relationship with the living God in which words sometimes fall away is
precisely in and through words which God speaks to us.”7
Many Christians think of preaching as a “mind thing” and worship as a
“heart thing.” They’d be happy if the sermon was cut back so more time
could be given to “worship,” meaning the singing. The same attitude can be
reflected in a dislike for songs that are “wordy,” or a mind-set that says
reading Scripture “interrupts” worship.
Now it might be that the preaching in your church is subpar while the
music is outstanding. But God’s Word—reading it, studying it, preaching it,
hearing it, praying it, and singing it—is indispensable to the true worshipers
God seeks. Knowing our Bibles well doesn’t deaden our worship of God but
rather informs and enflames it. God will always be much better than anything
we could imagine him to be on our own.
If we want to grow as true worshipers of God, we won’t simply listen to
more music—we’ll seek to encounter him in our Bibles.
Misconception 2: People just argue about the Bible. Years ago a leader at
a conference asked us to shout out the names of our denominations. An
indistinguishable roar erupted. Then he had us shout out the name of the head
of the church. “Jesus!” we all proclaimed in unison. “See?” he said.
“Doctrine divides us. Jesus unites us.”
While I appreciated the leader’s intent to honor Jesus, his conclusion
actually dishonored him and was seriously misguided. Doctrine is a word
meaning “something that is taught.” It refers to everything the Bible teaches
on a particular topic, such as worship, holiness, or the end times. Everyone
has doctrine. Your doctrine is good if it affirms and lines up with what the
Bible actually teaches. Your doctrine is bad if it doesn’t.
Christians have disagreed over doctrinal issues of secondary importance
for centuries. That’s no surprise, given our sinful hearts and Satan’s desire to
separate us. But the New Testament warned that false teachers would
infiltrate the church’s ranks (Acts 20:29–30; 2 Cor. 11:13). Many of the most
precious truths we live by today were more clearly defined as a response to
heresy. The truths of the Christian faith have often been tested and confirmed
in the fires of controversy and conflict.

People argue about the Bible because what’s in it is a matter of life and
death. To begin with, God has revealed himself to us as Father, Son, and
Spirit, three persons existing in one God. He has revealed himself most fully
to us in Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, who existed before time with
the Father and Holy Spirit. Everything was created through him. He was born
of a virgin, lived a perfect life of obedience to God, and endured God’s
wrath against the sins of all those who would trust in him. He was raised
physically from the dead and ascended to his Father’s right hand. He has
poured out the Holy Spirit on those who trust in him, and he will one day
return triumphantly to live with his bride, the church, forever.
In other words, it’s misinformed to think that if we just worship God,
everything else is unimportant or will work itself out. Unless we read our
Bibles well, we won’t know the God we’re worshiping. When we fail to be
specific about who God is and what he’s done, we’re really saying we want
our own God. But true worship isn’t based on our personal opinions, ideas,
experiences, best guesses, or some lowest common denominator.
As author Michael Horton reminds us, “Vagueness about the object of our
praise inevitably leads to making our own praise the object. Praise therefore
becomes an end in itself, and we are caught up in our own ‘worship
experience’ rather than in the God whose character and acts are the only
proper focus.”8
Worship given to a God we aren’t willing to define ends up being a
product of our own imagination, not a gift from God.
Misconception 3: Worship is more about the Spirit than about the Word.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes that Christians are those who
“worship by the Spirit of God” (Phil. 3:3). He’s affirming what we’ve been
discussing in this chapter—that we’ve been brought into God’s family
through the working of God’s Spirit, not through our own efforts or merit.
But for years I thought Paul was saying (and I’m not alone on this) that
worship “in the Spirit” meant spontaneous singing, heightened emotions, and
the pursuit of experiences. Perhaps you’ve thought something similar. I’ve
been to meetings, and even led them, where the goal of the evening was to
sing songs and allow the Holy Spirit to move among his people and do
whatever he wanted. Sometimes they’re referred to as “Holy Spirit nights.”

During such times we tend to minimize or mistrust Scripture, planning, and
There’s no dichotomy between God’s Spirit and God’s Word. The Spirit
is the one who gave us the Scripture in the first place: “All Scripture is
breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction,
and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). The phrase “breathed out” is
a clear reference to the Spirit’s work in authoring the words of the Bible
through human instruments.
That means our “Spirit-filled worship” is to be evaluated by and
submitted to what God has revealed in the Bible. The Spirit is integrally and
inseparably connected to his Word.
Every church or individual Christian who claims to be Spirit-led must be
Word-fed. If we want to know more of the Spirit’s power in our lives, we
would be wise to fill ourselves with the riches of his Word.
Misconception 4: The Bible is too hard to understand. Sometimes we
think we should be able to understand God like a cake recipe or a sixth-grade
textbook. But if we could grasp God easily or completely, he would no
longer be worthy of our worship. He would no longer be God. When
Scripture uses words like unsearchable, inscrutable, and immeasurable to
describe God (as in Ps. 145:3; Rom. 11:33; Eph. 1:19), we should anticipate
that our minds will be stretched to their limits as we seek to know him.
Studying God in his Word can seem laborious, difficult. It can seem
nonspiritual, overly intellectual. Some passages will require repeated
reading and careful thought. But the Holy Spirit, who first inspired the words
in Scripture, now illumines our hearts to receive and understand them. He’s
eager to open our eyes to see wonderful things in God’s Word (Ps. 119:18).
But we don’t have to do this alone. The Spirit has gifted the church with
individuals who can help us understand Scripture better, beginning with your
pastor. We can also take advantage of commentaries, study Bibles, and
books.9 The best ones explain what a passage says in its literary, historical,
and redemptive context and lead us to value Scripture more highly. The worst
offer opinions or sow doubts. In commenting on the wisdom and necessity of
reading other books, Charles Spurgeon succinctly said, “He who will not use
the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own.”10

When we take time to read and reflect upon God as the object of our
worship, we’re expending energy toward having a real knowledge of the
most glorious and valuable being in the universe. That knowledge is a gift
from God that enables us to love him more passionately, obey him more
consistently, serve him more joyfully, and trust him more confidently. It’s
what enables us to be numbered among the worshipers of God.

Our first responsibility as worshipers is to understand what God has given us
in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Refusing to come to God by grace or
seeking to know him apart from the Bible moves us away from God, not
toward him. In fact, God gives us his Spirit so we “might understand the
things freely given us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12). Left on our own we’d never
begin to imagine how gracious and good God is. If you thought worship was
all about you, this is good news. Incredible news.
God has removed every hindrance to having a relationship with him. If
we come by his grace, there is nothing that need stand in the way of our
worshiping him. Nothing.
One of the most specific references to God’s invitation to us to draw near
is found in the book of Hebrews. After explaining how inadequate the Old
Testament priests and sacrifices were to fully and permanently open the way
to God, the author says this:
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by
the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and
since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full
assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies
washed with pure water. (Heb. 10:19–22)

After centuries of God warning his people not to draw close without the
proper sacrifices, God now cries out through the blood of Jesus, his Son,
“Come near!” His once-for-all sacrifice has thrown open the door to the
throne room of God. We come at God’s invitation and by God’s enabling. We
come to marvel at his grace, stand in awe of his holiness, and be undone by
his mercy. We come to gaze upon his beauty, drink in his promises, and
embrace his will for our lives.

Through Jesus, and Jesus alone, we now have free access by the Spirit
into the Father’s presence.
There is nothing left to do but receive, rejoice, and worship.


I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together!

PSALM 34:1–3
We were two years into a church plant in the nineties and experiencing
typical church-planting challenges. Some individuals who were with us from
the start decided to join another church. A few disgruntled parents didn’t like
our parent-driven youth ministry. A man who had been caught in sexual
immorality accused me of insensitive counseling.
God used these situations and others to expose how much I wanted to
look good in the eyes of others. And it was ugly. So in early January of 1994
I wrote this brief prayer in my journal: “God, do whatever you need to do to
deal with the pride in my life.”
He did.
A few weeks later, while I was at a friend’s house for dinner, a wave of
sheer panic gripped me out of nowhere. In an instant, I felt cut off from my
past, my future, and everyone in the room. I was tempted to collapse in a fetal
position but managed to excuse myself from the table. After locking myself in
the bathroom, I started praying. Feverishly. God, what is happening? What
is this? Where are you?

That night I began a journey of almost three years battling depression,
anxiety, disconnectedness, tension, and a profound, incessant hopelessness. A
physical exam showed I was fine, and I had no external crises.
After much prayer, counsel, Bible study, and reflection, I discovered the
root of my problem.

It wasn’t a lack of worship that caused my breakdown. It was worship in the
wrong direction.
Worship in the wrong direction is called idolatry. It’s looking to anything
other than God for our ultimate satisfaction, comfort, security, or joy. When I
worship an idol, I’m saying, “Fulfill me. Console me. Protect me. Rule me.
You are worthy of my strength, time, energy, and affections. Only you can
make me completely happy.” We don’t physically bow down to our idols. But
that’s what we’re doing in our hearts.
I was living proof that “we never begin worship; we aim it.”1 We’re
always worshiping something, someone. I had been aiming at the idols of
control and reputation for years, and God finally allowed me to experience
the effects. Instead of trusting in God’s sovereignty, I sought refuge in my own
ability to control things. Instead of magnifying God’s mercy, I was promoting
my own efforts to earn his favor. Instead of exalting God, I exalted me. And
when I couldn’t get the glory I craved, my world came crashing down.
Over time God helped me see that when I sought glory for myself, praise
for my accomplishments, and credit for my growth, I wasn’t exalting a Savior
—I was searching for an audience. Thankfully, Jesus died for that as well.
Through a lengthy and painful process, God redirected my worship. I
came to see in a fresh and profound way that we’re redeemed to exalt God
and God alone.

It’s significant that in Scripture the Hebrew and Greek words we most often
translate as “worship” originally expressed the custom of bowing down or
casting oneself on the ground.2 Other “worship” words in the Bible convey a

variety of attitudes and activities that include submission, sacrifice, serving,
and even fear.3 They cover what we do, not only in our meetings but also in
our daily lives. They speak to our words and actions as well as our minds
and hearts.
That’s why exalt seems to be an appropriate word to sum up how God
calls true worshipers to respond to him. To worship God is to humble
everything about ourselves and exalt everything about him. It’s to
acknowledge that he alone is exalted over all peoples, all gods, and all the
heavens (Pss. 99:2; 97:9; 108:5). It’s to rejoice in the reality that he is
“exalted as head above all” (1 Chron. 29:11).
In Scripture, every description of our relationship with God
communicates the relationship of a lesser to a greater. We’re creatures of the
Creator (Rev. 4:11), servants of the Master (Luke 17:10), children of the
Father (1 John 3:1), the bride of the Bridegroom (Rev. 19:7), the house of the
Builder (Heb. 3:6), the branches of the Vine (John 15:5). When God calls us
friends, it only highlights his extraordinary condescension and mercy toward
us (John 15:15; James 2:23).
Even as a Christian I had been contending with God for worship. But
God is jealous for his glory and loves us enough to change us. So his Spirit
mercifully opened my eyes to see what I had missed: God is God and I
am not.
Happily, God is always reminding true worshipers there’s someone
greater than themselves to exalt.

A popular worship song from the seventies that’s still sung today includes the
I exalt Thee, I exalt Thee,
I exalt Thee, O Lord!

I remember singing it over and over and being moved by the devotion it
expressed. But we’re deceived if we think singing is necessarily the same as
doing. That would be like saying, “I hug you,” as I pass by my wife, thinking
my words are a sufficient replacement for actual physical contact. My words
are meaningless without actions to back them up.

God intends us to exalt him not only with our songs but also with our
lives. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, after explaining and exulting in the
gospel for eleven chapters, he makes this plea: “I appeal to you therefore,
brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1).
Paul’s use of the word bodies is intentional. In response to God’s mercy,
we’re to worship God not simply with our words, feelings, or momentary
acts—but also with our bodies, our lives. Worship offered to God can’t be
confined to what we do in a room on Sunday morning. It’s more than simply
lifting our hands or having a transcendent emotional experience. Our worship
includes the ordinary and mundane things we think, say, and do each day, as
well as the more significant and spectacular. It’s an all-of-life response to the
forgiveness we’ve received through the gospel.
To sum up what we’ve seen thus far, true worshipers, enabled and
redeemed by God, respond to God’s self-revelation in ways that exalt his
glory in Christ in their minds, affections, and wills, by the power of the
Holy Spirit. God calls us to magnify his greatness and goodness to us through
Jesus in every way possible, internally and externally. Worship begins in our
hearts but always works its way out into visible actions. Here are some ways
we can exalt God with both.

These lists aren’t meant to be comprehensive. But I hope they serve as a
springboard for considering the rich and varied ways we can glorify God as
true worshipers.

Through Our Thoughts
The first and most basic way we exalt God is simply by remembering he
exists! “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ ” (Ps. 14:1). In contrast,
true worshipers realize God is always aware, always involved, always
working for our good and for his glory.
We can exalt the Lord at any moment simply by asking, Where is God in
this picture? Your picture might be painful. A car breaking down. A spouse
leaving. An unexpected bill arriving in the mail. Hearing that the child you’re

expecting has a physical abnormality. Finding it impossible to talk to your
parents or children. Being let go by your employer. In each of these situations
we have the choice of forgetting God or remembering that he is present and
active. Turning our thoughts to God highlights the truth that “in him we live
and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
It’s difficult to imagine Job’s anguish when he learned he had lost all his
possessions and children. But as he fell down and worshiped, his first
thoughts were about God. “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away;
blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). Job went on to endure ongoing
physical agony and inaccurate counsel from his friends. He questioned God,
argued with God, and got angry at God. But he never stopped thinking about
God. That’s because for Job, God was always in the picture, even if Job
didn’t understand what he was up to.4
One believer from a few centuries ago prayed these words as he
considered his tendency to forget God: “I confess that You have not been in
all my thoughts, that the knowledge of Yourself as the end of my being has
been strangely overlooked, that I have never seriously considered my heartneed.”5
Our heart need is to remember that God is the great “I AM,” the
unshakeable, unchanging, ever-present reality. If it’s true, as Paul says, that
“from him and through him and to him are all things” (Rom. 11:36), then
there’s something about our present circumstances that involves God.
Whatever our situation happens to be, God is the most important participant.

Through Our Love
True worshipers do more than think about God. They love him. Jesus said
that the greatest commandment is this: “You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all
your strength” (Mark 12:30).
Because worship and love are so closely connected, whatever we love
most will determine what we genuinely worship. Love speaks of the desires
and motives behind our relationship with God. While love is more than
feelings, it’s not less than feelings. It speaks of wanting, enjoying, and
treasuring Christ, not simply following rules, memorizing Bible verses, and

going to church meetings. Loving God turns duty into delight, perfunctory
obedience into passionate pursuit, stoic endurance into faith-filled hope.
It should be evident how loving God exalts him. When we love
something, we attach worth to it. We’re saying to others, “This is worthy of
my thoughts, time, labors, and affections.” Loving God persuades others that
God is desirable, good, and satisfying. Loving God is distinct from loving
things about God. It’s the difference between Bible knowledge that leads to
pride and that which leads to praise.
People who exalt God by loving him are the ones who look forward to
spending time in God’s Word because of the opportunity to hear his voice.
They get more excited about introducing someone to Christ than about
meeting somebody famous. They’re often affected when they hear testimonies
of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Conversations with them regularly end
up at the foot of the cross, thanking God for his mercy. Knowing them makes
you want to know the Savior better.
And that exalts him.
But Jesus didn’t stop at commanding us to love God. He went on to say,
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). It brings no glory
to God if we claim deep affection for God while harboring ill will toward
people. In fact, John says that’s an impossible situation: “He who does not
love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen”
(1 John 4:20). Loving others, even when they’re unlovable, exalts God
because it reflects his heart toward us. It tells others we’re his children.
We’re acting like our heavenly Father, who “makes his sun rise on the evil
and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45).
Loving others points to the humility, compassion, gentleness, and patience the
Savior has shown us (Eph. 4:1–2; 5:2).
And that exalts God, too.

Through Our Faith
Faith is not only the doorway into the Christian life but our ongoing
expression of trust in God. The purpose of faith isn’t to secure wealth and
health in the here and now but to remind ourselves that in Jesus Christ, God
has already given us everything (1 Cor. 3:21–23: Eph. 1:3). Faith reaches out
to God with open hands, believing that he will fill them because of his

character and promises. “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for
whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he
rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6).
Exercising faith toward God puts his wisdom on display. Instead of
trusting worldly perspectives or our own ideas of how things should be done,
we’re acknowledging that God knows all things, and we don’t (Prov. 3:5).
Exercising faith toward God puts his power on display. Though our
strength is inadequate, our supplies insufficient, and our efforts ineffective,
we join Job in saying,
I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:2)

Exercising faith toward God puts his faithfulness on display. When we’re
not sure how we’re going to pay for unexpected medical bills, our trust in
God exalts his promise to care and provide for us (1 Pet. 5:7). We’re
proclaiming to others that God’s promise is true: “I will never leave you nor
forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
Simply rehearsing our problems doesn’t exalt God; recalling his
character in the midst of them does. We see that in Psalms 42 and 43. The
writer feels far from God and is being persecuted by his enemies. Rather than
simply complain, he reminds himself three times that God is his hope and
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God. (Pss. 42:5–6, 11; 43:5)

Success, fruitfulness, and a trouble-free life aren’t the only ways God
glorifies himself through us. Even in the midst of our suffering we can exalt
him as we trust his power to sustain, comfort, and deliver.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us. (Ps. 62:8)

Through Our Gratefulness

God commands us over and over to give him thanks.6 Have you ever
wondered why? God isn’t encouraging us to be polite, as a mother would
urge her four-year-old, “Ricky, remember to thank your Aunt Marge for your
birthday present.” No, God is rooting our hearts in reality. “Every good gift
and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights
with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). He
has blessed us more than we could ask or imagine, and our gratefulness,
usually expressed in words of thanks, points people to the source of our
A grateful heart highlights God’s lavish grace and kindness toward us.
God is constantly showering us with good gifts, some of which are more
obvious (health, food, clothing, family, friends), and many of which aren’t
(air we can breathe, protection from accidents that never happened, prayers
of others, good works that we have yet to walk in).
In contrast, an ungrateful heart casts suspicion on God’s character and
dishonors him. Our attitude communicates that God isn’t aware of our
situation, doesn’t care about us enough to be involved, or isn’t powerful
enough to do anything. It comes as no surprise that a primary root of unbelief
is a refusal to thank God (Rom. 1:21).
Above all, true worshipers always have reason for astonished
thankfulness because their names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. We
have no fear of coming judgment. Our sins have been paid for through the
once-for-all death of Christ at Calvary. God is our Father and will be for
endless ages. That’s why more than once the psalmists bring glory to God by
declaring, “I will give thanks to you forever” (Ps. 30:12; cf. Pss. 44:8; 52:9;

Through Our Longing
We live in the age of “the already and the not yet.”7 Jesus has risen from the
dead, but people still die. The Devil is defeated, but he still seems to have
free rein on earth. Jesus has come, but we yearn for his coming again, when
he’ll make all things right.
But today, they’re not all right. Some people battle chronic, almost
unbearable pain. A young mother is devastated by the sudden death of her
five-month-old. A father of seven young children inexplicably dies while

jumping on a trampoline. Breathtaking advances in modern medicine aren’t
enough to prevent people from losing their lives to cancer, AIDS, heart
disease, and strokes. The grave yawns wide before us. Thousands of social
media campaigns and billions of pledged dollars in aid barely scratch the
surface in the fight against disease and poverty. Marriages end in divorce.
Children are abducted, raped, and sold into sex slavery. Creation groans.
We can identify with the repeated cry of Scripture, “How long, O LORD?”
(Ps. 13:1; cf. Ps. 90:13; Rev. 6:10). And in that cry we’re expressing our
confidence in God’s sovereignty, his justice, his love for his church and
creation, and his faithfulness to his promises.
Ultimately, true worshipers know all their longings for God will be
fulfilled when the Savior returns and we see “our blessed hope, the
appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus
2:13). We stake our lives on the fact that “according to his promise we are
waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells”
(2 Pet. 3:13).
We aren’t putting our hope in a pipe dream. Nor are we kept from seeking
to right the wrongs we see now. We just know that the day of his return
will come.
And we exalt God by continually longing for it.

Exalting God on the inside is accompanied by visible evidences on the
outside. Those evidences involve “spiritual” activities such as praying,
reading our Bibles, and singing, but they go beyond that. Everything we do
can be done to exalt God’s greatness and goodness in Jesus Christ. “So,
whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”
(1 Cor. 10:31).
Here are just a few of the ways we can worship God through the things
we do.

Through Our Willing Obedience
Obeying God isn’t legalism, nor is it optional. The idea that someone can be
a true worshiper and be unconcerned about obedience is foreign to Scripture.

Jesus said it clearly: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”
(John 14:15).
Our obedience doesn’t earn us a place in God’s kingdom but shows that
God has brought us into his kingdom through the atoning work of Christ. The
fact that all our sins have been paid for only makes us more eager to reflect
the character of the One who saved us and said, “You shall be holy, for I am
holy” (1 Pet. 1:14–16).
Submitting to God’s commands tells others that we love him and that his
laws are good and worthy to be followed. We make it evident that God is the
King, that we are not, and that he deserves our allegiance. And in all our
obedience we proclaim that serving God is true freedom, not bondage (Gal.
Obedience is often fleshed out in specific relationships. In Paul’s letters
to the Ephesians and Colossians, and in Peter’s first letter, various groups of
people are addressed—husbands, wives, parents, children, employers, and
employees (Eph. 5:22–6:9; Col. 3:18–4:1; 1 Pet. 2:18–3:7). Each group is
given specific ways they’re to please the Lord. Husbands are to love their
wives as their own bodies and live with them in an understanding way.
Wives are to submit to and respect their husbands. Children are to obey their
parents, while parents are to raise their children in the discipline and
instruction of the Lord. Employers are to be just and fair, while employees
are to serve their employers diligently. As related groups obey God in
complementary ways, they exalt the wisdom of God’s design and order.
But there are also ways by which every Christian can bring glory to God.
Joyfully pursuing purity shows that God’s love is more gratifying than
fleeting sensual pleasure. Exercising moderation in eating glorifies God by
responding to his gifts with gratefulness rather than greed. Keeping our anger
in check points to the One who has been infinitely patient with us. Caring for
those less fortunate exalts the Savior who “though he was rich, yet for your
sake . . . became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich”
(2 Cor. 8:9).
While we will never follow God’s commands completely or perfectly in
this life, our obedience makes a public statement of their truth, value, and
sweetness (Ps. 19:7–10).

Through Our Specific Praise
The psalmist says,
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Ps. 19:1)

Whether or not we proclaim God’s greatness, creation always will.
But creation’s praise is voiceless and limited in how much it can
communicate. God has given human beings the particular privilege of giving
him specific, intelligent praise. When a new baby arrives, or we marvel at
the star-clustered night sky, or a friend gets a promotion, it exalts God to let
others know he is the one ultimately responsible. He is the source of our joy
and delight and deserves to be honored. Responding occasionally with,
“Praise the Lord!” or “Thank God!” might sound like a cliché, but it can be
an improvement on the more typical “Awesome!” or “Cool!”
Rarely does Scripture exhort us to praise the Lord without spelling
out why.
Praise the LORD!
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever! (Ps. 106:1)
Praise the LORD!
Blessed is the man who fears the LORD,
who greatly delights in his commandments! (Ps. 112:1)
Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
(Ps. 150:1–2)

The Psalms are filled with examples of God’s people declaring in
particular ways what God has revealed about himself. Specifically, they
praise God for his Word, his worthiness, and his works (Pss. 56:4; 105:2;
145:8–9).8 Those categories can serve us as we seek to expand our own
vocabulary of worship.
It’s true that God is great. But we can thank him specifically for giving us
his Word so we can know his plans, desires, and promises. And yes, God is
awesome. But we can marvel, in particular, that he spoke the universe into

existence with a word. God is powerful. But we can ponder that he controls
the courses of planets and the paths of arrows (1 Kings 22:29–38). And God
certainly is holy. But that means he is infinitely exalted above his creation
and absolutely separate from moral impurity. Yes, God is glorious. But we
see his glory in all its perfection when we consider the Son of God hanging
in the place of sinful rebels, displaying God’s justice, righteousness,
compassion, wisdom, power, and love.
You get the idea. God has given Christians alone the opportunity to exalt
him through specific, gospel-grateful praise. True worshipers don’t want to
miss out on it.

Through Our Godly Speech
Every time we open our mouths we’re speaking words of worship. As Jesus
told the Pharisees, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”
(Matt. 12:34). Since our hearts are always exalting something, it follows that
our words reflect what our hearts are worshiping at any given moment.
Words of encouragement exalt God by pointing out the ways he has been
at work in the lives of others. Truthful words bring glory to the God who
cannot lie. Confessing sin is a sign that we agree with God’s assessment of us
and an expression of gratefulness that our sins have been forgiven in Christ.
In contrast, when I yell at my kids in anger for interrupting me while I’m
watching TV, I’m exalting my convenience over God’s command to be gentle
(Titus 3:2). When I engage in criticism, gossip, and slander, I’m not only
exalting myself over others but also grieving God’s Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:29–
30). When I participate in sexually provocative conversation, I’m exalting
my desire for sensual titillation over God’s command to be grateful and holy
(Eph. 5:4; 1 Thess. 4:7). Complaining and comparison show that I think more
highly of my wants than of God’s commands to be content (1 Tim. 6:8; Heb.
13:5). Every word we say is worship.
Our words are not our own—even when we share them on blogs,
Facebook, Twitter, or texts. They were given to us to draw attention to the
living Word, without whom we would have no words at all.

Through Our Grace-Motivated Serving

Serving rooted in grace exalts God because it communicates that there is
greater joy in serving others than in being self-centered, that no one has
served us like Jesus has, and that there’s no one more worthy of being served
than Jesus himself.
Our serving doesn’t automatically bring glory to God. We can serve with
bad attitudes, with impatient hearts, out of expediency, or to impress others.
But true worshipers are first of all receivers who know that their serving
originates not in themselves, but in God’s good gifts. Considering how God
enables us to serve transforms our service into Christ-exalting worship.
God gives us abilities with which to serve. “As each has received a gift,
use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pet.
4:10). The fact that each has received a gift means we’re never consigned to
being mere spectators. God wants to display the beauty of his grace through
every one of his children.
God gives us the desire to serve. “For it is God who works in you, both
to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). When we know our
motivation comes from God, our serving will be characterized by joy and
faithfulness, even when the task is unpleasant or inconvenient. We’ll view
taking out the trash, changing a diaper, or visiting a sick friend as more of a
privilege than a pain.
God gives us the strength to serve. Paul evaluated his ministry at one
point by saying, “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but
the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). Paul’s zealous serving
brought glory to God because he knew the strength wasn’t his own. He
refused to take credit for it.
In Jesus, God gives us the supreme example of serving. Though he was
God, he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied
himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to
the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6–8). Jesus demonstrates
servanthood in making us his bride (Rev. 21:9), washing our feet (John 13:3–
5), calling us friends (John 15:15), and welcoming us as his brothers and
sisters (Rom. 8:29).9 But he hasn’t just served us. He has saved us. And that
makes us all the more eager to serve others.

Through Our Faithful Witness
One of the first things the woman at the well wanted to do was go back to
town to tell her friends about Jesus. It’s what we always want to do when
we’ve discovered something truly remarkable. The only difference is that for
Christians, someone truly remarkable has “discovered” us—and we have a
hard time keeping the news to ourselves.
I’ve known individuals who are fairly tight-lipped in normal
conversations. But mention their favorite sport, TV show, hobby, or band,
and they light up. Their words flow, right along with their passion. We talk
about what has touched us most deeply. That’s why there’s no strict divide
between evangelism and worship. Evangelism, or telling others the good
news of the gospel, is simply praising God in front of those who don’t
know him.
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations. (Ps. 57:9)

God never intended us to exalt him on Sunday morning with other
Christians and remain quiet about him the rest of the week. True worshipers,
like the Samaritan woman, can’t hold it in. “Come, see a man who told me all
that I ever did” (John 4:29).

We have no power in and of ourselves to do the things I just listed, much less
all the things I didn’t mention. We might wake up every day for the rest of our
lives intending to exalt God in all these ways—and fail. Our prayers will be
stained with selfish motives, our obedience will be incomplete, and our sins
will be many. We will do things we shouldn’t do and leave undone things we
should do.
But just as we weren’t the beginning of the story, we aren’t the end of it
either. When God invites and enables us to exalt him, he doesn’t then leave
us on our own. He points us to Jesus who perfectly fulfilled his commands.
Because we need God to worship God.
This doesn’t mean the gospel is opposed to hard work. True worshipers
seek to exalt God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. We “make
every effort” to grow in Christian virtue and be fruitful for God’s glory

(2 Pet. 1:5–8). But our labors don’t earn us a place in God’s family. They’re
a sign that God has brought us in through the gospel. We pursue exalting God
because we’ve received the indescribable gift of salvation.
The gospel is the greatest encouragement we could ever hope to have as
we seek to exalt God through our lives. Jesus lived the life of perfect
obedience we could never live, and that life is now credited to us. He
endured God’s wrath as our substitute to reconcile us to God. The Father
raised Jesus from the dead to prove that his payment for our sins was
accepted and to assure us that one day we too will be raised from death
to life.
When we fail, the gospel reminds us we’re forgiven. When we glorify
God willingly, the gospel reminds us to be grateful. We’re simply carrying
out the good works God planned for us to do before we were even born
(Eph. 2:10).
In every way and at every moment, the gospel enables us to exalt God’s
great name. And as we’ll see in the next chapter, he intends for us to do that
not only as individuals, but together.


. . . not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but
encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day
drawing near.

It’s 9:08 on Sunday morning, and Steve and Sandy are rushing madly to get
their three kids out the door in time for the Sunday service. The drive is just
over fifteen minutes. If all the lights are green. On this particular morning all
but one are red.
Slightly irritated, Steve pulls into a parking space on the far side of the
lot at 9:28, and scrambles to get to the building. As they walk through the
doors they hear the congregation singing but have to check their little ones
into Kids’ Church first.
They finally make it to the service and settle into the back row. As the
third song finishes, the pastor steps up to pray and receive the offering. He
makes a few announcements, introduces a special song, and then continues
his series from the book of Philippians. Steve is trying to stay focused, but
it’s not working. His thoughts keep drifting to this afternoon when a couple of
the guys are coming over to watch the game. Sandy’s wondering whether she
has enough snacks to feed them. After a closing song, Steve and Sandy are on
the move again. They pick up their kids and hurry home for a quick lunch so
their two youngest can get their naps.
This scenario, or something like it, is repeated hundreds of thousands of
times each week. Maybe you can relate. I know I can. Sunday mornings

become just one more activity to fit into your already packed and
overwhelming schedule.
Wouldn’t it be easier just to stay home? After all, Christians can read the
Bible and exalt God all by themselves—on their own, with no one near them.
Isn’t that what true worshipers do Monday through Saturday?
But then Sunday comes around. Every week. And if we’re honest, there
are probably weeks we wish Sunday didn’t come. It means getting out of bed
early to spend an hour or two with people we don’t know very well, some of
whom we’d rather not know at all. There are always things to critique about
our church, and if you’re a parent with young kids, or a student who stayed up
late Saturday night with friends, or a businessman who’s been out of town all
week, the reasons to “do church on your own” can sound very compelling.
But true worshipers gather. They understand the heart of the psalmist
when he says,
Praise the LORD!
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
(Ps. 111:1)

Thanking and praising God in the midst of the congregation is more than a
good idea. It’s what true worshipers were made for and central to what God
is doing on the earth.
It’s possible we’ve lost sight of the history as well as the benefits of
meeting together. Let’s look at both.

From the first, God wanted a people who would declare the greatness of his
name through the words and witness of their life together. “Even in earliest
times,” says pastor and professor Iain Duguid, “worship is not a solitary
event but a communal event. Both Adam and Eve are made in God’s image,
created to be his representatives on earth, doing him homage, worshiping and
serving him together.”1
Adam and Eve were a type of the community God would eventually
redeem for himself from all the nations on the earth. God never intended our

worship to be just “me and God.” That’s because our worship is the outflow
of the relationships the Father, Son, and Spirit have always enjoyed.
God isn’t a solitary God. There is only one God, but he has existed as
three persons from all eternity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always
experienced triune joy, giving and taking, sharing together a depth of
relationship and love that human relationships are meant to echo. In his
kindness, God saves us so we might experience the same joys of fellowship,
outpouring, and mutual love he does.
God says (in Gen. 2:18), “It is not good that the man should be alone.”
This is a statement not only of our need for relationship, but also of God’s
desire to have his glory expressed in community. God never intended us to
live in isolation from each other.
At Mount Sinai, God calls the Israelites “a kingdom of priests and a holy
nation” (Ex. 19:6). While God expected individual and family devotion to
him, the Israelite year was marked by annual festivals where God’s people
gathered to celebrate his goodness and renew his covenant with them.
In the New Testament, this corporate image is even clearer. Paul declares
that the church is “the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:16). Elsewhere he
refers to us as “God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:9). In Ephesians 2, he
calls the church a household with foundations and a cornerstone, a structure
joined together to be a holy temple in whom God dwells (Eph. 2:19–21).
Peter echoes the book of Exodus when he describes the church as “a chosen
race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own
possession” (1 Pet. 2:9). These passages drive home the significance God
places on the church meeting and living out life together.
We see that fleshed out in the pages of the New Testament. The early
church breaks bread together, prays together, learns together, shares
resources together, suffers together, attends the temple together, and shares
the gospel together (Acts 2:42, 46; 4:32; 5:41–42).
Bottom line: God doesn’t give us a choice about whether we want to be
in the church. If we’re Christians, we’re already part of the family. The
question then becomes where and how we work out the details of family life.


Scripture and church history affirm that certain activities will be part of
almost every church gathering. We sing, pray, give offerings, confess our
faith, greet one another, teach and admonish each other, exercise spiritual
gifts, hear God’s Word proclaimed and taught, participate in the sacraments,
and more.
While we could do many of these things alone, we receive greater benefit
as we do them together. Here are a few reasons why.

Remembering and Rehearsing the Gospel
Robert Robinson confessed in his famous hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every
Blessing” that he was “prone to wander.” There’s nothing we’re more prone
to wander from than our reliance on the gospel. And we tend to wander more
quickly when we neglect to meet with the church.
In his excellent book Christ-Centered Worship, Bryan Chapell writes,
“Corporate worship is nothing more, and nothing less, than a representation
of the gospel in the presence of God and his people for his glory and their
good.”2 We meet together as redeemed saints to remind each other whose we
are, how we got here, and why it matters.
Remembering and rehearsing God’s saving acts is a practice rooted in the
Old Testament. There, particularly in the Psalms, we read repeatedly about
God delivering his people from the bondage of Egypt.3 In the New
Testament, we celebrate God’s greater deliverance through Christ from our
bondage to sin. Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper as an ongoing way to
remember his death when we meet (1 Cor. 11:23–26). Paul says we’re to let
the “word of Christ”—the gospel—dwell in us richly as we sing (Col. 3:16).
He reminds the Corinthians that the gospel is of first importance (1 Cor.
15:1–4). In both the Old and New Testaments, God gathers his people so that
we won’t forget our relationship with him or what he did to establish it.
If you’re part of a church that follows a historic liturgy each week, you
can probably recognize a progression that begins with the adoration of God,
confession of our sin, and assurance of our forgiveness through the
substitutionary death of Christ. That’s meant to remind us of the gospel. Since
the earliest days of the church, liturgies have been designed to teach and
protect gospel truths. While liturgies vary in details and can be performed

mindlessly, they’re meant to reflect a structure that outlines the story of the
gospel and our response to it.
Gathering to rehearse and remember the gospel addresses our common
temptations. We struggle under the weight of condemnation. We wonder if
God loves us. We’re puffed up with pride at how well we’re doing. We lose
sight of God’s holiness and what it cost to forgive us.
The gospel speaks to all those situations and more. Jesus Christ has paid
for all our sins. We can never be separated from God’s love in Christ. Our
only boast is the cross of Christ—not our accomplishments (Rom. 8:38–39;
Gal. 6:14; Eph. 1:7). The gospel is an endless source of encouragement,
strength, comfort, and motivation for weary souls. That’s why we gather to
remember it.

Receiving God’s Word Together
Throughout Scripture, God gathered his people to address them through his
Word (Ex. 19:7; 2 Kings 23:1–3; Neh. 8:1). Preaching formed a central part
of early church gatherings as God-ordained pastors and teachers sought to
nurture and equip believers under their care (Acts 20:28; Eph. 4:11–12;
2 Tim. 4:2).
In 1 Timothy 5, Paul speaks of the pastors “who labor in preaching and
teaching” (5:17). While all elders must be able to teach (3:2), God gifts
certain ones to lead, guide, guard, and feed God’s people through
proclaiming his Word in the context of the gathered church. They’re not
motivational speakers giving inspiring talks. They’re equipping the saints for
works of ministry, and one day they’ll give an account to God for those
they’re preaching to (Eph. 4:11–12; Heb. 13:17). If we never gather to sit
under their preaching, how will they give an account for us?
When the church gathers expectantly in one place at one time to hear
God’s Word proclaimed, it’s a unique event. God himself addresses us as his
people. The Spirit works in our hearts at once to convict, comfort, illumine,
and exhort. Not only are we being strengthened individually; we’re being
strengthened as a body.
It’s God’s kindness that we’re able to download sermons we missed or
messages from churches we don’t even attend. But neither of those
possibilities contributes as directly to strengthening our unity as sitting under

the preaching of God’s Word together. We can thank God for opportunities to
listen to messages on our own. We can thank him even more that we get to
hear them with the church.

Mutual Serving and Caring
Each Sunday I marvel at the variety of ways I’m served by the people in my
church. Some arrive early to set up equipment. Others joyfully greet guests at
the door. Some serve by receiving the offering and distributing communion.
A few women faithfully serve moms with nursing babies. We have children’s
ministry teachers, vocalists, tech personnel, videographers, projectionists,
instrumentalists, welcome-center hosts, van drivers, and more. I walk away
encouraged by their example every week.
That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen. The writer of Hebrews tells us
we gather “to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24). I’m
stirred up as I benefit from the different strengths, gifts, and abilities God has
given to other members of my church. I need to be stirred up regularly. So
do you.
Every Christian has been gifted in some way to serve his or her local
church (1 Cor. 12:4–7; 1 Pet. 4:10). Of course that serving can and should
take place outside Sunday mornings. But when we don’t meet together, we
limit the opportunities we have to serve each other.
Our corporate gatherings provide an abundance of occasions, both
planned and spontaneous, for receiving and expressing the grace of God we
enjoy through the gospel.

A Greater Awareness of God’s Presence
In Scripture God chooses certain times and places to reveal his presence in
pronounced and unique ways. One of those times is when the church gathers.
We don’t have to scour the Internet to locate the latest outpouring of the
Spirit. We don’t have to chase experiences and m