The words in the title are lifted from a line in D. A. Carson’s Worship by the Book and provoked some thoughts pertaining to how we view worship.
We mortals are quite adept at finding ways to admire ourselves even when we appear to be admiring something else. Literary societies doubtlessly have many members who are less enthralled with good books than they are enthralled with others’ perceiving them as being enthralled with good books. They like the idea of fine books and may have even read some of them, but they like even better the esteem others place upon them for liking fine books. As others have pointed out, these folk admire themselves for admiring the sunset.
We can do the same thing in our churches, especially our churches which are associated with Reformed theology. Other churches are just seeking fun and entertainment and more decisions to gain more members to build larger and finer buildings in order to have even greater fun and entertainment—all in the name of worship and the glory of God, but we see through such things. We are more noble, more God-centered, more concerned about truth. We are not like all those others.
We find at least a couple of problems here. First, we have managed to make ourselves superior to others. Those poor, deluded folks go to church because of family or tradition or earning God’s favor or wanting to appear religious or get a spiritual high or whatever, but we . . . . Jesus illustrated such a spirit with these words: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get’” (Luke 18:10-12).
Even as we acknowledge the reality of grace, that only by God’s grace do we see what we see and understand what we understand, we manage to elevate ourselves to a position of superiority. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18) should serve as a constant warning to us.
A second problem with the attitude of putting ourselves above others is that we are guilty of admiring ourselves admire God instead of admiring and pursuing God. We admire ourselves for admiring truth instead of actually admiring and pursuing truth. We admire ourselves for understanding something of the centrality of God in worship instead of actually and intentionally worshiping God. We admire ourselves not succumbing to the entertainment-driven mindset of our day instead of focusing upon God in every hymn we sing, in every prayer we pray, in every creed we recite, and in every sermon we hear.
We recognize that worship is not about us. It’s about God. We know that truth is not about us. It’s about God. We know this and express this, and yet the focus manages to drift back to us. We admire ourselves for admiring God and find ourselves not really admiring God at all. With the apostle Paul we find ourselves doing what we hate and failing to do what we ought. His words become ours: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
What to do? There are probably more than these, but four suggestions come to mind. First, we have to recognize that admiring ourselves for admiring even the most noble pursuit, the pursuit of God, is sin. We must confess our sin to God for elevating ourselves above others, and we must repent and seek his forgiveness.
Second, we must be conscious of our weakness and call upon God to aid us. We must be aware of our tendency to exalt self, and we must rebuke ourselves whenever we find our gaze shifting from the Almighty.
Third, we must keep the truth of grace ever before us. Indeed, not only are we capable of following the lead of the world, we have actually done it: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Whoever we are and whatever we believe result solely from the grace of God. “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?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Fourth, we must be conscious of our fleshly ability to substitute ourselves for God, to usurp his place, and we must consciously and intentionally focus upon him. Keeping our gaze upon him reveals his beauty and his holiness and his matchless glory. May God alone be the desire of our hearts.