This statement finished this week’s astounding viral. Victoria Osteen proclaimed worship to be about your happiness; when we are most happy in worship and in life, God is most happy. Worship ought to be self-serving; that’s what God wants for us. As we all watched this 30-second clip, we sat mouth-open aghast at the audacity of Mrs. Osteen’s claim. How could an audience of tens of thousands stand and applaud something so foolish? It’s not even veiled–not even thinly-veiled. The thing that shocked us most was not the content of this short statement, but the form. She didn’t try to sugar coat it. She plainly stated: “When you come to church…you’re doing it for yourself.”
Most of us who hate on this video already have a predisposition toward hating everything that comes out of the mouth of either Osteen. But, I think we hate what Mrs. Osteen had to say more because it hit a little too close to home. How many times has this statement come out of your mouth on the way home on Sunday afternoon: “I didn’t really like the worship songs this morning.” When you were looking for a church, were most of your questions about whether you liked X, Y, and Z? We ask one another: “How was church?” What we implicitly mean is: “Did you enjoy church or was it a dud?”
I cannot tell you how many people I meet that when they find out I’m a pastor the first question out of their mouth is: “Is your worship contemporary or traditional?” They are fishing to find out if ours is a church they might like. People get hung up about the style of this and the order of that. The color of the pews doesn’t suit their taste, or they actually prefer chairs instead of pews. Again, is Mrs. Osteen really that far off base? I mean, I feel like she just had the chutzpah and beaming smile to put into words the mantra by which we all secretly operate.
The Questions We Ask.
When we ask, “Did you like the worship this morning?” we are coming at our Sunday service all wrong. Who cares if you liked worship? The question we should be asking is this: “Did God like the worship this morning?” We leave Sunday morning, and if we don’t feel the warm fuzzes, we feel like it’s been a waste. Maybe you aren’t feeling all warm and cinnamon bun-gooey on the inside because you were so concerned with getting something out of your worship time. Worship is not about you. It’s about God’s people meeting with their God.
Your primary focus in coming together with your church on a Sunday should not be so that you can enjoy the music, or so that you can get something out of the sermon, or so that you can be amused by a cute video. We should be seeking as a corporate body to worship, glorify, and please God. The songs should be pleasing and glorifying to God, not you. The elements of the service should do everything to direct our attention away from ourselves and toward God.
We should be asking whether God was present with us on Sunday. If something relational is not happening between God and his people, then a church is missing the point. Sunday gathering is about God’s people communing with their God. It is about gathering on the first of the week with the expectation that the Spirit of the Risen Christ will descend in our midst and make his presence known among us. It is about singing and praying to God, and expecting to hear him speak to us through his Word.
You know, Victoria Osteen was about half right. She was trying (and failing) to articulate half the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man?” Mrs. Osteen says, “To pursue your own happiness, for this pleases God.” She’s trying her best at a John Piper “Christian Hedonist” impression, but she’s missing the mark. Osteen says, “Pursue happiness, and God will be happy.” Piper’s perspective is drawn from the true answer to the WSC Question 1: “The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” We were designed to find our greatest joy in God. When we are pursuing His glory with our entire being, we will experience our greatest joy. We pursue God’s glory, and in doing so we find true joy in Him.
When we worship God, we need to…worship God. Force yourself to forget your own preferences. Allow yourself to be drawn into the presence of God and to be concerned with pleasing and glorifying Him. Didn’t someone somewhere say once, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”? This is just as true in our Sunday worship as it is in life. Lose your life. Lay your preferences, your happiness, your personal wants and desires down for Jesus’ sake. And when you are so wrapped up in glorifying God, you will find that even though you didn’t get your way and even though things aren’t to your taste, you are experiencing more joy in worshipping God than you could ever imagine.