Summary: We worship because that is the way we can express our deepest fears and instabilities; we can be freed from ourselves; and we can gain motivation for the use of our lives.
Few things are shared in by more human beings than worship. Worship is something nearly everybody does, in one way or another.
Now I didn’t say that everybody goes to church. Obviously not. Not even half of the American population attends any kind of worship on a regular basis. The Gallup Poll people will tell you that quite a few of the people who say they do go to church actually do not go to church, but they think they should, and so lie about it in order to present a good image.
I did not say that nearly everybody goes to church. I said that nearly everyone worships. Everyone has something in their lives which has ultimate value. Everyone points to something outside themselves which is of supreme importance. It may be money, it may be power, it may be prestige, it may be having fun, it may be an immaculately green lawn, it may be a sleek svelte body, lots of possibilities. But if you assign supreme value to something, that thing you are worshipping. That is your god.
So why? Why do we worship? What makes us such religious beings? And why do people invest so much feeling in their worship? Why does worship kick up such strong emotions in people? Battles have been fought over worship; they say you can preach nearly any idea you want in a Baptist church, as long as you do not put the Doxology in the wrong place during morning worship (or, in a case you’ve been reading about in the papers, unless you move a certain ceremonial chair to a new location)! Battles!
Did you know that laws have been passed to make people worship in one way or another. Did you know that our Baptist ancestors were the targets of laws in seventeenth-century England, laws that prohibited more than five people gathering for prayer unless they were supervised by a priest of the Church of England? Worship was so important to somebody that they wanted to force us to do it their way; and worship was so important to us Baptists in those days that we would go to jail rather than submit to such a law! You see, worship creates powerful feelings! Worship gets to us.
Why do we worship? What does it all mean?
One day a young man stood in the doorway of a great building set aside for worship, thinking he might go in and reflect for a while. As he stood at the threshold of this place, he pondered for a moment the situation in which he found himself. For him it was a time of personal quest. What would he do with his life? What career path should he take on? What should he spend his time and energy doing?
Behind that question lay a deeper one. With what values should he live his life, given the stuff that was going on his home town? Things were not pretty out there. Lots of predators on the loose, lots of people willing to do you in for next to nothing. He was not so sure, in fact, that he himself was not a part of the problem. He too wanted wealth. He too felt sometimes as if you just go out and grab what you want, the devil take the hindmost. So where do you find some direction in a society where everybody is out for himself and you think maybe you are too, but something down inside makes you uncomfortable with that?
And, then, something else had just happened, something that made this young man very shaky, very tentative. People were saying that new leadership was going to upset the whole big apple cart. Things might change politically in a very big way, and who knew whether life as they knew it would even go on? There might be such an upheaval that everything and everybody would just be sent to the scrap heap!
So if you are worried about your personal choices, if you think you are infected with the same moral sickness as everybody else, and, to top it all off, if you are afraid that the very fabric of your nation is going to be torn up and discarded, what do you do? And where do you go?
The young man’s name was Isaiah. The time was some 742 years before Christ. The place was Jerusalem, the royal capital city of Judah. And the threshold was that of the Temple of God. At that threshold of the place where men habitually worshipped, Isaiah truly worshipped. Isaiah found answers. Isaiah shows us why we worship.
First, what Isaiah saw at the Temple threshold tells us that in worship, and only in worship, will we find someone with whom we can lodge our fears when things are unstable. In worship, and only in worship, can we find something that is bedrock, something that we can depend on in a world that is awfully shaky.