First Things First
Dr. Jim Denison
Football season begins today. The best definition of football I’ve heard came from an English visitor’s first impression: 22 men in desperate need of rest, being watched by 70,000 people in desperate need of exercise.
And the math only gets worse. The NFL estimates that 100 million people watch by television some part of a football game on any given Sunday. Watching the 1,643 people who made NFL rosters this year. By my calculation, that’s a ratio of 60,864 fans per player. Watching every mistake, every penalty. Every fan sure he could do it better.
No wonder the coaches look that way on the sidelines. You’ve heard the old adage, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.” They believe it.
We can afford to be spectators in some areas of our lives. But not with our souls. You and I will each stand personally before the God of the universe one day, to give account for the years he gave us to live. There are only two questions on that final exam. Two commitments which give our lives purpose, significance, and joy; two commitments which give our eternity reward and delight. We’ll remember them and pledge ourselves to them anew in these weeks together.
Let’s begin where Jesus began, putting first things first: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (v. 37). We need to remember what worship is, what it isn’t, and why it matters so much to our God and to our souls.
What is worship?
Let’s understand first what worship is, as God sees it. It’s not what our culture thinks it is, or even what many church attenders think it is. We’ll see what it’s not in a moment—see what it is to God.
Worship is “love.” This is how the first commandment begins: “Love the Lord your God.” Love is a verb, not a noun or an adjective here. It requires doing, not just attending, watching, or believing in. You haven’t worshipped by attending church, listening to a sermon, singing hymns, or giving money. You’ve only worshipped when you’ve loved, adored, honored. Worship is love.
Worship is loving God: “Love the Lord your God.” Worship is about God, not us. It’s not about what we “get” from the hour, but what we give to God. You are not the audience, and we are not the performers. God is the audience of One, and you are the worship performers. Our job is to help you do your job, to be worship “coaches,” to lead you to love God today.
I am grateful for every scripture which stands over your heads as you worship God today. If I could add any words to our architecture, I would put over the doors as we enter to worship, this statement: “It’s not about us.” Worship is loving God.
And worship is loving God in every way a human can love.
With all our “hearts.” The word refers to our emotions, our senses. You need to feel love for God today.
With all our “souls.” The word means the life force itself, that which gives our bodies life, our very essence. Not as a peripheral matter but as your highest purpose and value today. You need to love God passionately today.
With all our “minds.” We are to have no ungodly thoughts, or songs, or movies, or television shows, or books in our minds. We are to think about our faith, to study God’s word, to engage intellectually in the worship of God.
This is every way a human can love: emotionally, passionately, intellectually. Is this your worship experience? Make it so today.
And make it so this week. Mark’s version adds that we are to love God with all our “strength” (Mark 12:30). This means to love God with our actions, when the worship hour is done. Nowhere does our text limit itself to church or Sunday worship. God measures our love for him not just by Sunday, but by Monday. By whether or not we love him tomorrow as we say we love him today. He’s looking for Monday Christians, Monday worshippers.
Did you know that you can love God in the same way you love anyone else who matters to you? You can spend the day with him—talking with him, thinking about him. Tell him how you feel, what you’re thinking. Thank him for the good things you experience, for “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). Ask him for what you need, and praise him for what he gives. Spend the day with Jesus. Love him. Worship him. This is his first commandment, his first expectation for your life and mine. For every day.
So we can identify what worship is not:
Performance—by me or by us. God has called us to help you worship God, but you are the performers. Don’t evaluate worship today by my performance, but by yours. That’s how God measures our worship today.
Entertainment. Worship is to be exciting and encouraging, but we are not in the entertainment business. We’re not here to impress you—you’re here to impress God.
Therapy. God helps us as we worship him, but our first purpose is to worship him. Interestingly, we get far more out of worship when we come not for us but for him. When we worship for his sake more than our own.
Evangelism. Evangelism results from worship, as people see Christ in our joy. But we don’t evaluate worship by how many public decisions get made at the front of the church. God evaluates it by how many hearts adore him all across the church.
About us. Remember INAM—it’s not about me. Write it over your heart every time you enter this place. Worship is about loving God. Every day.
Why does worship matter?
So why make such a deep and costly commitment as this? Why does God put this commandment first, for his sake but for ours as well? Why make this your first priority in life? For these reasons.