Offering our imperfect worship

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

It is probably impossible to truly understand the motivations and desires that operate within us at any given time as we go about our daily life. This past Sunday, for instance, I led the music at church. During communion, we sang a new song called “Glory, Honor, Power” that begins with the line “Most worthy, worthy of praise.” That line, of course, is meant to be a declaration to God that He is the one who deserves the highest glory and praise. And, in my head, I believe that to be true.

But if I’m being honest, there is a part of me that is singing that line to myself. Inside, warring against the inclination to worship God, is a competing desire that people would see me as the one “most worthy, worthy of praise.” I know that as I sing, it is all too easy to focus on how I sound or how I look, to try to “perform” the song in such a way that people would think I am a good singer or a Spirit-filled man of God. Without even being aware that I am doing it, I can end up singing a worship song to God while focusing entirely on myself.

So what am I supposed to do about these mixed motivations that reside in me? Should I be horrified and quit leading worship, or singing, or preaching, or doing anything else for God until my motives are purely Christ-centered? While that may sound noble, I have to conclude that such a decision would be Satanic at the core, a rejection of the gospel of grace and the adoption of an unhealthy focus on my own righteousness. But on the other hand, it seems just as wrong to ignore my desire for self-glory and to put on a good performance, hoping that no one will notice.

In Romans 7, Paul acknowledges that within him exist two competing interests. On the one hand, he wants to honor God and walk in holiness. But on the other hand, he sees an inclination towards evil that prevents him from living with the righteousness and purity that he desires. Eventually, Paul exclaims, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God-- through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25). The good news is that the gospel of Jesus’ death for sinners like me is powerful enough to answer this tension. I can admit that on the one hand, I am a wretched man, full of sinful self-centeredness even when I am worshiping God. But on the other hand, I do not have to wallow in that reality, but I can let it lead me to an even greater appreciation for how Jesus has saved me from my mess by His sacrificial death for me. When I admit the shame of my own double-mindedness, I find myself ironically drawn away from self-focus and self-glory to a deeper and more authentic worship of the God who has saved me and is truly “most worthy, worthy of praise.”

In Mark 9:24, a man who has asked for Jesus to heal his son cries out, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Those words are a powerful prayer to have on the tip of our tongue. Our motives will never be pure this side of heaven, but if we allow that impurity to keep us from worshiping, from serving, or from witnessing, then Satan wins. Even the prodigal son’s return home was motivated by hunger more than it was by a desire to be with the Father, but that did not stop the Father from running out to meet him, to hug him, and to celebrate his son’s return. And so, I will choose to keep offering to God my imperfect worship, trusting that His grace is sufficient to cover my weaknesses, my self-centeredness, and my sin.  

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