There is an old German proverb that says, “The main thing is that the main thing is always the main thing.” Let me suggest that this bit of sage advice reflects a spiritual truth. No matter what circumstances change; no matter what we feel or think; no matter what corrupt values pervade our culture; no matter what temptations attack us; God is Sovereign, and we exist for His glory, and He is at work in all things for the good of those who love Him to conform us to the likeness of His Son. The proverb expresses a spiritual reality in mundane language. Over my years as a Bible teacher, I have found it to be of some value to rephrase this old proverb to suggest a spiritual strategy: The main thing is to let the main thing be the main thing.
Now we would all like to think that we have a handle on this idea; that we have our spiritual priorities right. But every once in a while something – usually a dose of Biblical truth - shakes up our thinking and makes us re-evaluate. Some research I heard about several years ago from George Barna’s research group and a quote from John Piper has provoked just such a re-examination of thinking for me. In response to a questionnaire asking about top priorities in ministry, the largest percentage of pastors responding said that their top area of emphasis was discipleship and evangelism. In many ways, this is encouraging and exciting. It means that many American churches still embrace “the Great Commission” of our Lord Jesus (Matthew 28:19, 20). However, there is another way of looking at it. Consider this quote from Piper:
“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions.”
(John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions.)
Does that shake up your thinking? It is true. Our purpose and our destiny is that we might be “to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:14). This prompted me to think about “the worship wars” that continue to afflict the American church, and I began to wonder if this might be a strategy of the devil like Balaam’s strategy for the destruction of Israel (Numbers 22 -25). Basically, the plan was to destroy Israel from within; to corrupt the Israelites’ values and compromise the worship of the one true God. Interestingly, Barna’s study revealed that the area of ministry that ministers emphasize the least – only 3% reported any significant emphasis at all in this area – is prayer, a fundamental aspect of worship. I thought about the decline of the family in our culture and wondered if it might be related to our inconsistency or abdication as Christian families to train our children as worshippers in the home and in the Body of Christ. It may not now surprise you to learn that, according to Barna’s research, the second least emphasized area of ministry in American churches (4%) is ministry to the family.
Satan’s strategy in the Garden of Eden was very subtle. He encouraged Adam and Eve’s desire to be like God while deceiving them into failing to recognize God in His rightful place of authority in their lives. In other words, failure to worship. Is it possible that the enemy might actually encourage God’s people to desire to follow Christ’s Great Commission, while at the same time deceive them into relegating worship to a lower priority in their personal lives, in their families, and in the Church? If God is not in His rightful place in our lives, in our families, and in our churches, then everything else is in danger of becoming an idol - even good and right things. Without acknowledgment of God’s sovereign right to command his creatures, the desire to be like God was the pathway to sin for Adam and Eve. If worship is not the priority of the fellowship and the purpose of our churches and in our homes, all of our efforts in ministry – even evangelism – lacks the proper “fuel” and “goal.” It might not look like an idol, but an idol it will be nonetheless.
Worship is the recognition and declaration of God’s ultimate worth. Our role in worship is to submit to Him and to adore Him because He is worthy. The old catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever”; in other words, to worship. The Lord Jesus Himself tells us that God seeks worshippers. But the world, the flesh, and the devil conspire against our worship of God in spirit and in truth, and we have allowed these enemies to succeed in corrupting us from within.
We, as American church-goers, seem to be most interested in having our needs met. We are hopping from church to church because of programs and facilities, bells and whistles. Parents shop churches for what they can do for their kids instead of committing to a worshipping community and taking the Biblical responsibility to disciple their own children. We argue about “worship” style, when what we are really interested in is the kind of music we like and dislike. Created by the Lord Jesus for unity (Ephesians 2:11 – 4:16), the Church remains fractionalized because the individual’s commitment to a body of believers seems dependent upon the answer to “What have you done for me lately?”
God’s people must cease to be motivated primarily by what we get out of the Church as spiritual consumers. God is the Consumer in worship. “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28, 29). Our sacrifices of worship are either consumed and destroyed as “wood, hay, and stubble,” or they are consumed and accepted as a “sweet smelling savor,” sacrifices with which God is well pleased (Hebrews 13:15, 16). We need to get our priorities right. We need to remember that “the main thing is to let the main thing be the main thing.” And our priority, our “chief end,” our “main thing” is to worship God for He alone is worthy.
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 11:33 – 12:2)