Victoria Osteen, wife of megachurch pastor Joel Osteen, recently made waves by saying worship is really for us, not for God.
“When you come to church, when you worship Him,” she said, “you’re not doing it for God, really. You’re doing it for yourself.”
Check out the clip, then continue reading for my thoughts.
Agree or disagree, the statement brings up a great question. Is worship for God, or for us? If for both, what’s the split — 50-50? Let’s find out what the Bible says on the issue.
Where’s Your Focus?
God’s economics are different than ours. There’s a balancing act going on at all times that hopefully looks something like this
- Man worships God.
- God blesses man.
- Man keeps focus on God.
- Man worships God more.
A virtuous cycle. But sometimes the system goes awry when people focus on the wrong thing. The sequence is as follows.
- Man worships God.
- God blesses man.
- Man turns attention to blessings.
- Man stops worshiping God.
Item 5 could be, “God helps man return with a good smack.”
We see this sequence throughout the Bible. Israel falls into idol worship, usually after a time of obedience and God’s blessing.
So what does this have to do with worship?
God calls us to keep worshiping him despite the good or bad things that come along. If we follow Job’s example we can’t go wrong. God allowed Satan to destroy everything Job had. Before the string of calamities, Job was probably one of the richest men in the world.
In response, Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21 NRSV). That is intense, true worship.
Job’s focus wasn’t on himself or the benefits God provides. If it was, he would have done exactly as his wife instructed: curse God and die. (Job 2:9)
This is where I feel Mrs. Osteen’s comments went wrong. She left the impression that our focus in worship should be ourselves — what we get out of it. Our worship should always be 100% for God because He is worthy. With that attitude, benefits and rewards typically follow. But let’s not worship to get goodies, or we risk following ancient Israel’s pattern of worship, fall, repeat.
We all say things that come out wrong or that we regret later. Mrs. Osteen just has a much bigger platform from which to make a mistake. Let’s not continue the long standing Christian tradition of hunting down and killing our own, and give Mrs. Osteen the benefit of the doubt on this one.
How Much of Worship is for Us?
The Bible says we can expect benefits and blessings if we worship God with pure motives. Again, our focus must be on Him to enjoy the blessings long term.
Psalm 103:2 is one of the clearest examples: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of his benefits.” (NASB)
The word “benefits” in the original language suggests payment for one’s actions. In other words, God not only notices your worship but increases the quality of your life as a result. The Psalm goes on to describe these benefits as follows.
- Healing of diseases
- Redemption from death
- Renewed strength
Jesus re-affirms the idea in the New Testament. He fed 5,000 men, plus women and children, because they were genuinely seeking him. Most people miss what happened next. The crowd wanted to make him king by force, presumably because he could give them free food (John 6:15).
Oops — their focus shifted from Christ to the blessings. How did Jesus respond? By slipping away into the mountains by himself. No more free goodies for that crowd.
This event tells us the extent to which worship is for our benefit: all of about 0%.
If we enter worship with that expectation, God never fails to repay our efforts in unexpected ways, more than we could ask or imagine.
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