God made us to glorify him. That is what we are for. That’s what we’re here for. “That’s why I’m here,” to quote James Taylor. And when we do what God made us for, when we fulfill the purpose he put us here for, we experience his pleasure, the enjoyment of his glory, the blessing of communion with him. Our highest end cannot be experienced without our highest joy.
This next installment of “What our Gathered Worship Should Look Like” has been helped by the internet storm caused by Victoria Osteen (wife of Joel Osteen of “Your Best Life Now” and prosperity gospel fame) because of comments she made in a recent service at Lakewood Church in Houston, TX. In exhorting the audience to participate, she laid out a case for why they ought to be motivated to do so. In sum, she said, affirmatively: “You’re not doing it for God, you are doing it for yourself, really.”
Now, I cannot improve upon the rejoinders to this that have already been made (the “Bill Cosby” response is, perhaps, my favorite), but I want to prompt your reflection upon a serious question occasioned by this sad example of what’s on sale out there in the world of “Christian” programming and what goes on in “churches” in the name of Christianity.
So, do we worship for God’s own glory, or do we worship God for our own good? The Reformed steadfastly affirm that the fundamental purpose of human existence is God’s glory, but we refuse to pit God’s glory and human happiness against one another (as Ms. Osteen, perhaps unwittingly does in her misguided exhortation). The very first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism gets at this. “What is man’s chief end?,” it asks. The resounding answer is: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” In other words, our chief and highest purpose, goal and end in life is God’s glory. That is what we live for. Whereas many of our contemporaries think that God is the chief means to our highest end (happiness), the Reformed do not believe that God is a means to an end, he is The End. He is the reason and aspiration for which we exist. There is no ultimate happiness and satisfaction and fulfillment and joy apart from him.
BUT, the Reformed do not believe that God’s glory and our joy stand in opposition. We do not believe that those two things are in contradiction. Indeed, we believe that they are inseparable. The Reformed believe that it is impossible to pursue God’s glory without our own souls being blessed with everlasting good. We think that our fullest joy cannot be realized or experienced apart from the pursuit of God’s glory.