Life as worship; worship as Life (Psalm 150)

SysiphusIs there a meaning to life?

It’s a basic question, one that has plagued man’s heart for as many centuries as he’s been on earth.  In today’s world, life has only as much meaning as you assign to it.  In other words, it’s up to each person to decide his own meaning and destiny, to come to terms with his place within the world.

On the surface, this must sound liberating.  But look a layer deeper, and you begin to realize just how imprisoning this really is.  If I am my own master, am I not equally my own slave?  If I am the answer to my own questions, what point is there in even asking them?  It was in the last century that we met philosophers who—for the first time—shrugged their shoulders when it came to questions of ultimate meaning.  “There is only one real question,” said Albert Camus, “and that is suicide.”  Camus used the image of the Greek myth of Sisyphus—the man condemned to rolling the boulder up the hill for all eternity, only to watch it roll back down time and again.  That’s what life is like, insists Camus.  And for a lot of us, there are days when life is precisely like this.  Another day at a menial job.  Another day changing diapers.  Another day pushing the boulder of our work feeling endlessly tired and strung out and empty.

Is there a meaning to all this?  The gospel says there is.

WestminsterIf you have a background in traditional church, you might be familiar with something called the Westminster Catechism.  Think of a “catechism” as a spiritual question-and-answer book.  When you open the Westminster Catechism, the first question is: “What is the chief end of man?”  The answer is simple, yet profound: “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

In other words, worship is man’s ultimate purpose.

THE WEIGHT OF GLORY

But that probably sparks a series of questions in your mind.  How can a limited human being bring “glory” to an unlimited God?  We can best understand this if we unpack the word “glory.”  The word “glory” comes from the Hebrew word qabod.  The word originally meant “weight” or “mass”—it’s why C.S. Lewis would title one of his books The Weight of Glory.  It’s easy, then, to see how the word came to form something of a word picture.  Even today we speak of important topics as having “weight.”  Or, if you’re a child of the 60’s, you might occasionally say: “Oh man; that’s heavy.

What is it we’re really saying, then?  “Glory” can be taken to mean significance.  When I glorify God, I reveal His significance.  Is God the most significant thing in your life?  Can we worship—can we glorify God—in every facet of our lives?

The Psalmists seem to think so.  Listen to what we find in Psalm 150, the last Psalm we find in our Hebrew Testament:

Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary! Praise him in the sky, which testifies to his strength!  2 Praise him for his mighty acts! Praise him for his surpassing greatness!  3 Praise him with the blast of the horn! Praise him with the lyre and the harp!  4 Praise him with the tambourine and with dancing! Praise him with stringed instruments and the flute!  5 Praise him with loud cymbals! Praise him with clanging cymbals!  6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD! (Psalm 150:1-6)

In only six verses, there are more than a dozen commands to praise God.  Our entire lives are meant to be an act of worship before the Lord.

GLORY IN SMALL SPACES

In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul tells the Corinthian church that regardless of the controversies that face them, they are to glorify God.  “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it for the glory of God.”  In his commentary on Romans, William Barclay writes:

“The humblest and the most unseen activity in the world can be the true worship of God. Work and worship literally become one. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever; and man carries out that function when he does what God sent him into the world to do. Work well done rises like a hymn of praise to God. This means that the doctor on his rounds, the scientist in his laboratory, the teacher in his classroom, the musician at his music, the artist at his canvas, the shop assistant at his counter, the typist at her typewriter, the housewife in her kitchen—all who are doing the work of the world as it should be done are joining in a great act of worship.”

Often it’s tempting to think of worship as merely the weekly activity that happens in the walls of a local church.  But Psalms tells us that worship is meant to explode out the doors of the local sanctuary and spill into the streets of everyday life.

JOY IN PUSHING BOULDERS

What does that mean for those who work for a living?  This means that even if your job is to “push a boulder,” then worship infuses your work with dignity and meaning.  Christian author Dallas Willard says it this way:

“Consider your job, the work you do to make a living. This is one of the clearest ways possible of focusing upon apprenticeship to Jesus. To be a disciple of Jesus is, crucially, to be learning from Jesus how to do your job as Jesus himself would do it. New Testament language for this is to do it “in the name” of Jesus. Once you stop to think about it, you can see that not to find your job to be a primary place of discipleship is to automatically exclude a major part, if not most, of your waking hours from life with him. It is to assume to run one of the largest areas of your interest and concern on your own or under the direction and instruction of people other than Jesus. But this is right where most professing Christians are left today, with the prevailing view that discipleship is a special calling having to do chiefly with religious activities and ‘full-time Christian service.’” (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy)

If worship is my primary objective, then work ceases to be a simple means toward a paycheck.  Parenthood becomes more than cleaning up crayon marks—or worse.  Life ceases to be a mere system of rewards and punishments, but a story that we inhabit, and a song that points us toward lasting joy.

 

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