Worship as “Play”
“In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”
– C. S. Lewis
When Pastor Matt Chandler shares online what text he will be preaching from next at The Village Church, he will sometimes then invite people to attend the worship service by saying, “Come play.” I like that a lot. If it is true that when God’s people gather to exalt him together, he is in the midst of them in a special way, great joy waits for us in doing so, for, “At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11 KJV).
It is not out of bounds to think of hearing the gospel proclaimed as playing, if we are receiving the word with gladness, savoring its declarations like honey, joyfully submitting to its authority, and reveling in the infinite excellencies of its Author. Authentic worship is in many ways a childlike wonder. When we are fixated on the greatness of God, we become caught up, unself-conscious, utterly and joyfully dependent, without pretense or worry. From N. T. Wright:
Worship is humble and glad; worship forgets itself in remembering God; worship celebrates the truth as God’s truth, not its own. True worship doesn’t put on a show or make a fuss; true worship isn’t forced, isn’t half-hearted, doesn’t keep looking at its watch, doesn’t worry what the person in the next pew may be doing. True worship is open to God, adoring God, waiting for God, trusting God even in the dark.
Wright’s scope for worship extends beyond the scheduled corporate gathering of the church, of course, as does the Bible’s scope for worship. If one day the earth will be covered with the knowledge of God’s glory as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14), worship is for every nook and cranny of human existence.
The cumulative effect of the gospel is affectionate worship of the one true God. The grand design of gospel proclamation, then, is gospel enthrallment, gospel enjoyment.
The best preaching exults in the Scriptures so that hearers will know that worship is the only proper response to who God is and what he’s done. Preachers are laboring for the joy of the hearer, after all (2 Cor. 1:24). Exultational preaching is an act of worship itself, the proclaimer faithfully expositing the Bible while enjoying it at the same time, speaking its God-breathed words as if they were delicious, reflecting on them and reacting to them as if no words were ever more impressive, staggering, powerful. Because none are.
The best worship, then, exults in who God is and what he’s done both in the corporate exaltation of a church service and in the private devotion at the foot of the bed in the dark of night or at the breakfast table in the coffee-poured ripeness of dawn. The best worship exults in who God is and what he’s done in hour four of data entry in the gray cubicle as well as in the timeless revelry of the sun-dappled field or by the glittering mountain stream. The best worship exults in who God is and what he’s done in the sharing of the gospel with the lost, in works of justice, works of service, or no works at all. Because the joy of the Lord is our strength.
As disciples spread out over the inhabited world, planting churches in the American rust belt, planting the gospel in the dangerous recesses of the Amazon, planting the seeds of their blood in Mohammedan deserts far afield, as they love and serve and teach and pray and die, they are beckoning, “Christ is risen! His kingdom’s afoot! Come play!”
(This is an excerpt from a chapter about gospel enjoyment titled “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” in my upcoming book Gospel Deeps.)