Why Does God Want Worship?

If you have a god, you know that you ought to worship it. Therefore, it need not seem strange that the Bible’s God, infinitely above all lesser conceptions, calls true worshippers to praise Him. “The Father seeks … worshippers” (John 4:23).

The Bible undeniably claims that God possesses infinite and indescribable glory; to Him, the apprehension and acknowledgement of that glory will be the highest calling of His creatures. Man’s chief end, the Scottish divines declared, is to “glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Our glory is to glory in His glory; the full excellence of the creation will be expressed when it embraces the eternal excellence of the Creator.

The necessary human corollary forbids us to seek our own praise. The wise king said, “It is not … glorious to seek one’s own glory(Prov 25:27 ESV). Only God has the sort of glory that is worthy of worship; it is exclusive to Him, and demanded by Him. The angels, magnificent in their own right, deflect all honor to God; twice over, when John fell down before the angel, he was told, “You must not do that! … Worship God” (Rev 19:10; 22:8-9). Even the Lord Jesus, in His perfect manhood, said, “I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge” (John 8:50 ESV).

This leads to a question that has vexed many. If seeking glory is fundamentally wrong for us, how can it be right for God? C. S. Lewis stumbled over this in his unconverted days; in his book Reflections on the Psalms, he revealed his struggle with a God who craved “our worship like a vain woman who wants compliments.” More recently, the actor Brad Pitt said, “I didn’t understand this idea of a God who says, ‘You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I’m the best;’ it seemed to be about ego.”

So is God (I ask reverently) a narcissist? Does He seek approval to buttress His fragile psyche? Of course, we might properly argue that these questions are inappropriate. What right has the clay to interrogate the Potter? Obviously, God is not obligated to justify either His being or His behavior to mankind. But graciously, He does disclose an outline of His ways.

God is Worthy of Worship

David, by inspiration, taught Asaph to sing: “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised … Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness”  (1Chron 16:25-29; Psa 29:1-2 ESV).

Our transcendent God, gloriously existing in changeless splendor, is the only Being who can be unreservedly praised. Every expression of praise for others, however sincere, is tempered by the knowledge that its object is in some way flawed. But to praise God is to apprehend the utter worthiness of His person. We cannot exaggerate perfection! God is to be praised because He alone is perfectly praiseworthy. That is why we sing:

O worship the King all-glorious above,
O gratefully sing his power and his love

Your ransomed creation, with glory ablaze,
In true adoration shall sing to your praise!

God is Complete in Himself

One of the most startling claims of the Bible is that God needs absolutely nothing! Paul, on Mars Hill, said that “God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth… is [not] served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives … everything” (Acts 17:24-25 ESV). We call this the “aseity” (lit. “of oneself”) of God; He is derived from no one and depends on no one; He is not only self-existent, but also completely self-sufficient.

As evidence, we consider the Godhead before creation. God did not exist in some lesser, incomplete state, in the absence of angelic (or human) worship; He was and is everlastingly the same. In the profound words of John Mason (1646-1694):

Thou wast, O God, and thou was blest
Before the world begun;
Of thine eternity possest
Before time’s glass did run.
Thou needest none thy praise to sing,
As if thy joy could fade:
Couldst thou have needed any thing,
Thou couldst have nothing made.

God is in no way augmented by what I give to Him; He is complete in Himself. God doesn’t need my worship or my praise. When I glorify God, I do not add to His glory; God doesn’t need anything!

God Designed us to be Worshippers

While God does not require our worship, it is what He passionately desires. And this is the robbery that sin has effected in our world – not that God has been somehow diminished, but that we have been impoverished by failing to praise God.

God righteously seeks His own glory, not for His good, but ours! For this we have been created; we are, like Israel, “the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise” (Isa 43:21 ESV). Our worship adds nothing to God but increases our enjoyment of Him. When we praise Him, it blesses us! It increases our joy and delight in Him. In the words of Lewis, “We delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses, but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of complement that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are – the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.”

How wonderful to give Him what He deserves and desires. Many years ago when my son was young, he gave me a necktie as a gift. Of course, my closet held many ties; certainly, I did not need one more! But in the act of giving, he expressed what I truly desired – his love to me – so that what I did not require, I truly appreciated. Correspondingly, His love for me grew, not in giving what I demanded, but as an expression of what I desired.

God’s “greatest gift of love is to give us a share in the very satisfaction that he has in his own excellence, and then to call that satisfaction to its fullest consummation in praise” (John Piper). We come, not merely to grasp the glory of God, but the fullness of Him, who is the “God of glory” (Acts 7:2). To that end, let us “worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.”

Fountain of good, all blessing flows
From Thee; no want Thy fullness knows;
What but Thyself canst Thou desire?
Yet, self-sufficient as Thou art,
Thou dost desire my worthless heart.
This, only this, dost Thou require.

-Johann Scheffler