A 2005 survey by a UK funeral home ranked the most played songs at funeral services. Among hymns, the most popular were Psalm 23, “Abide with Me,” and “All Things Bright and Beautiful.” Popular non-Christian songs included Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best,” Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” Robbie Williams’s “Angels,” and Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Topping the modern popular song selection, however, was Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” the anthem of a man who lived life according to his own agenda.
According to Sinatra’s daughter, the crooner was not a big fan of the hit. “He always thought that song was self-serving and self-indulgent. He didn’t like it. That song stuck and he couldn’t get it off his shoe.” Sinatra’s distaste was not widely shared. The song was, and remains, a hit. Jon Bon Jovi referenced it in his 2000 anthem “It’s My Life” when he sang, “Like Frankie said, ‘I did it my way.’”
It is understandable that a song celebrating such self-indulgence would be popular to innately self-serving human beings. Ever since our first parents chose their way over God’s way, we have been prone to do the same. It is, at the same time, terribly sad that the relentless pursuit of our own agenda should be so celebrated when the final curtain is truly drawn. One design of corporate worship is to deny ourselves in this regard. In corporate worship, we intentionally do things God’s way. As Solomon put it, when we come to the house of God, we remember that God is in heaven and we are on earth and therefore submit to his way (Ecclesiastes 5:1–3). At least, that’s how it should be.
When we make the mistake of thinking that worship is primarily about what we give to God, rather than about what hehas given to us, we quickly fall into the trap of thinking that we are in charge and he must simply accept whatever we offer. Nadab and Abihu learned the hard way that this was not the case (Leviticus 10:1–3). Jonathan Landry Cruse cautions, “God doesn’t need us. He doesn’t need our worship. But if we are going to worship, we better do it properly.”
The second commandment instructs us to worship God only in the way that he has prescribed. When we come together to worship, therefore, it is incumbent that we do so in the way that he has instructed. A Christian worship service should, in one sense, be quite predictable. There is no room for innovation when it comes to how we worship. The New Testament pattern of worship prescribes how we should order our worship. In worship, the earliest Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Their worship included the public reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13), corporate singing (1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16), and faithful stewardship to meet the needs of the church and its members (Acts 6:1–6; Romans 12:8, 13; 1 Corinthians 16:1–2; 2 Corinthians 8:19–21; 9:11–15). These elements—reading, preaching, praying, partaking, giving, and singing—form the core of what Christian worship should look like. When we focus on these elements in worship, we do more than follow empty tradition: We do things God’s way.
God has designed corporate worship to be an event in which he ministers gospel truth to us. When we do things his way, we are reminded of what he has done for us in his Son. In that sense, worship is primarily about what God has done for us, not what we do for him. Worship is a response rather than an action on our part. Done properly, worship is more about God serving us (through the gospel) than us serving him. Or, at least, the grateful service we offer him is a response to the gracious service he offers us. To cite Cruse again, “This is God’s goal: that through worship we be reminded over and over again of the work that he does for us in the gospel.”
If we recognise that the Christian life is about daily submitting to God, surely it must begin with submitting to him on the first day of the week when we gather to worship. In worship, we recognise that he is Lord and we are not—that he is our Shepherd and we are his sheep. As we gather for worship, therefore, let us come with hearts fully submitted to him and prepared to offer grateful praise for what he has done for us in Christ. As we ask, “What happens when we worship?” let one answer be, “We submit to God’s agenda.”