The self-sufficiency of God has huge implications for our understanding of worship. When we gather on a Sunday, who is gaining? Not God, but us. We don’t come because he needs us but because we need him. We come ultimately not to give but to gain. How else could needy, dependent sinners approach the God of all life?
Most Christians will admit there are Sunday mornings when they awaken and wonder whether it’s even worth getting out of bed. Surely God doesn’t need our worship? We’re not serving on the set up team this week. No one will notice if we’re not there. We can perhaps read the Bible ourselves a bit later, pray from the comfort of the couch, pop on some Christian music over coffee. So why bother with corporate worship?
The answer is found not so much by searching the Scriptures for commands to gather—though those commands are certainly there. Rather, we need to look at the God who calls us to worship. I didn’t marry my wife because someone explained the duties and responsibilities of a husband—though those responsibilities are clearly presented in the Bible. No, I met, got to know, and fell in love with Georgina. So we’ll focus on just two truths about God that help us to understand why we worship and what blessings come as a result.
The God Who Deserves Everything
Creatures are made to worship their Creator. When anyone, be they human or angel, turns to think about who God is and what he’s done, the right response is worship.
Unlike bleary- eyed Christians on a Sunday morning, those already in heaven see God clearly and react instinctively to encountering him. To give just one example, in Revelation 4 we meet four strange creatures who live before the throne of God. What do they spend their lives doing? “Day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Rev. 4:8). These heavenly beings spend every moment in worship: it’s as if it never occurs to them to do anything else. Here they praise God for who he is. He is holy, he is all-powerful, he is eternal. Seeing God’s character and attributes leads to an outburst of praise.
It’s the same when the twenty-four elders, perhaps symbolic of the redeemed people of God, respond to the creatures’ song: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11). This time the focus is not so much on who God is but on what he has done: he has created all things and sustains them moment by moment. Regularly in Scripture, worship emerges from a worshipper’s reflections on the wonderful deeds of God. The Psalms are full of this pattern. Take Psalm 147, which begins with the classic exhortation “Praise the Lord!” The whole psalm then piles up reasons to praise him.
The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names. (Ps. 147:2–4)
As the psalmist reflects on God’s kindness to his people—his building of the church and his willingness to deal tenderly with the brokenhearted, even as he is also the one who flung stars into space—he can’t help but worship.
In the New Testament era, it’s no different. As we return to the heavenly throne room, we meet the elders and creatures who are combining their voices to praise Jesus for all he’s done: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12).
We could multiply examples almost endlessly. Worship ultimately is what we do when we draw near to God. It is his due. Everything we are and have comes from him, so it’s right that we respond in humble thanks and praise.
The Joy of Worship
But we mustn’t think this is mere duty, the kind of reverence shown by terrified citizens who are called to bow before the image of a despotic dictator. Rather, to worship God is our greatest privilege and joy. Perhaps the most famous lines ever to come from a Presbyterian pen are the question and answer that open the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Glorifying God is not a separate activity from enjoying him forever. Notice the question isn’t “What are the two chief ends of man?” but what is our one, singular “end” or purpose. Incredible though it may seem, God has created us for joy—to share with us the greatest gift he could give: himself. And the way we experience that delight is by worshipping him. This is why the Psalms are so full of joy.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Ps. 16:11)
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God. (Ps. 43:4)
With joy and gladness they are led along
as they enter the palace of the king. (Ps. 45:15)
Worship is not just a duty but a delight. We are built to worship, to give ourselves in wonder to something—or rather Someone—who is awesome and worthy. In fact, in the Bible’s understanding everyone is a worshipper. The question isn’t whether we’ll worship but who we’ll worship. In Romans 1, Paul’s critique of humanity isn’t that they stopped worshipping but rather that “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25). Stop worshipping God and we’ll start worshipping something else. To put it another way, every human being on earth will be worshipping next Sunday morning. The only question is who or what they’ll worship: the triune God or Allah, Baal, comfort, golf, family, or any of the thousands of other idols we give ourselves to. And from what we’ve seen already, this switch is not just evil but foolish. It’s to swap pure spring water for filthy sewage, a king’s banquet for rat poison and arsenic.
God deserves everything; he deserves all our worship.
The God Who Needs Nothing
So we worship God because he deserves everything, and in that worship we know the blessing of joy and wonder as we meet him. But there’s another truth about God that at first sight might seem strange but that turns out to be a tremendous encouragement as Sunday morning rolls around. That strangely good news is that God doesn’t need us. More than that, in fact: God doesn’t need anything.
This is sometimes known as God’s self-sufficiency or independence. It emerges from the first verse of the Bible, where we learn that God created the heavens and earth. The sky, the stars, the earth we stand on: it all depends on God, the uncreated one, for its existence. Human beings rely on fuel to run; we need water, air, and food to sustain us. God, however, needs nothing. He is entirely self-existent. That’s why he reveals himself to Moses at the burning bush as “I am” (Ex. 3:14). Though the fire (which represents God) is in the bush, the bush isn’t actually burning—the fire needs no fuel.
Because God made all things and owns all things and is himself dependent on nothing, it’s ultimately impossible for anyone to really give anything to him—at least in the sense of giving so he genuinely gains from it. Paul makes exactly this point.
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen. (Rom. 11:35–36)
The answer to Paul’s question is clearly “No one.” No one has ever given anything to God, putting God in their debt. Why not? Because everything came from him, exists because of him, and is made for him. What could you give him that isn’t his already? What can you add to benefit an all-knowing, all-powerful, eternally happy God?
The self-sufficiency of God has huge implications for our understanding of worship. When we gather on a Sunday, who is gaining? Not God, but us. We don’t come because he needs us but because we need him. We come ultimately not to give but to gain. How else could needy, dependent sinners approach the God of all life? As Paul writes to the Athenians,
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:24–25)
This truth about God helps to shed even more light on the worship service in heaven we saw earlier. There we heard that God was worthy to receive “glory and honor and power” (Rev. 4:11). But what does it mean for God to “receive” glory from his people? The self-sufficiency of God shows us that it can’t mean God is actually becoming more glorious. His glory is already infinite! Likewise, as he is praised, he doesn’t become more powerful. Rather, the elders’ song declares that all the praise, all the honor, all the power used by creatures in worship ought to be directed solely to God. It is right that we worship him with all that we are and all that we have—in that sense we give him glory. But as we do so, he isn’t gaining; incredibly, we are.
C. S. Lewis gives a good illustration of this principle, which is worth quoting at length.
Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already. So that when we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what it is really like. It is like a small child going to [his or her] father and saying, “Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.” Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction.1
When we sing to God, pray to him, and give of our money, he remains sixpence none the richer. But we, doing what we were created for, are immeasurably blessed. The glory is his, the gain ours.
1 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London, UK: HarperCollins, 2002), 143.