Whatever story we’re reading, seeing, or hearing, we’re not simply critiquing, being entertained, or even enjoying or discerning truths and beauties. We’re worshiping.
First, though it sounds silly, we may wrongfully, narrowly define “worship” as “singing, likely in one place at a particular time, such as Sunday morning.” I suspect more people would debunk that than affirm it, but I also suspect I’m being overly optimistic. So let’s clarify what I mean by “worship.”
1. Worship is more than singing.
Naturally this comes first. Has any Scripture, Church father, or noted Christian thinker ever claimed otherwise? I doubt even the most annoying and false-doctrine-riddled books have ever made such a claim. The suspicion otherwise is instead a folk-theology “meme,” floating about and un-attributed. Subconsciously we think: “singing = worship, not singing = non-worship.” But it takes only a light logical touch to persuade us otherwise.
In any activity, we worship something. For the Christian, we should be worshiping God:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do [certainly including reading fiction], do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
Colossians 3: 23-24
2. Worship is service.
In whatever our work, “You are serving the Lord Christ,” Paul says in Col. 3:24. Lest anyone balk at that, there is no such thing as the false dichotomy of “serving Christ” versus “serving nothing and being independent.” Without service to Christ, we are slaves to sin and death:
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.
Romans 6: 20-22
3. Worship is service we enjoy.
I love Paul’s pragmatism to the Romans. See what you get by being a slave of righteousness! he announces. Similarly, Jesus never argues, “Join my Kingdom because it’s your duty and it’s The Right Thing.” No, He taught about rewards — first, spiritual resurrection and more of Himself right now, and then spiritual, even physical rewards in the future, for His glory.
That doesn’t minimize our suffering. It deepens it. After all, He Himself, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). “He died out of love” is true. But so is “He died for joy.”
4. Worship isn’t always conscious.
From experience I can claim this: I end up worshiping wrong things without even knowing it. When my computer locks up (as it recently did for real, due to the horribly complex task of saving this very document) and I get irked, I betray a subconscious worship of myself. My assumption is this: “I run this universe, I’m god, and the universe ought not sin against me.”
More positively, I’m not convinced worship of God needs to be fully “conscious” either. That is, I wonder: can someone worship God without specifically praying to, singing to, or even thinking about God? It would seem that is at least closer to “optimal” worship.
For example, consider Christians’ fight for humility. I’ve found that while intentional rejection of pride is very helpful, that can also backfire; as Screwtape pointed out, we can think to ourselves, “By Jove! I’m being humble,” then become proud of that. Rather, true humility seems to happen when we’re lost to ourselves, focusing on either others’ good, or Godly enjoyment. Naturally we ought to thank God for such good gifts. But it seems closer to humility — and worship — to not even think of how we can “use” that gift for other ends.
5. Worship of God is what Christ saves people to do.
Skip the ever-popular yet -controversial P-word here (predestination). The Apostle Paul starts the book of Ephesians like this:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Ephesians 1: 3-6
“God saved me out of His love.” True. “He saved me so I could praise His grace.” Also true.
6. Worship is a battle, at least in this age.
Whatever your views on holiness, we can all agree: Scripture encourages us to fight for it. One of the best texts on this is Phil. 2: 12-13, which perfectly presents God’s work in us to make us holy, and our effort to do the same. Without holiness, we can’t get close to God; without getting close to God, we can’t worship Him. Thanks to Jesus’s life and death, those who repent and believe Him are not only counted guiltless, but counted righteous because of His righteousness. Yet until our resurrection, after His, we groan (Romans 8) and fight.
But of course, during that fight, we’re often eating, drinking, working, and reading, for other “glories.” It’s never “just a story”; it’s never “just entertainment.” All reading is worship — of God, or something else, or for the sin-fighting Christian, a mixture of each.
When you read epic stories, what or who do you worship, by intention or accident?
Coming next week and after: more on those wrong sorts of worship while we read.