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An Audience of One


While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him! And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, "Arise, and do not be afraid." When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
Matthew 17:5-8

It had been a great worship service. The choir and orchestra had raised the roof, the sense of love among the people was palpable, and the pastor had knocked it out of the park in his sermon. The pastor had sensed it himself, and knew that his sermon had gone over well. His exegesis was dead on, his outline was clear, his illustrations sparkling, and his application pointed. In fact, at the conclusion of the service, people lined up to heartily shake the pastor's hand, and tell him how great the sermon was. It was a perfect Sunday! But as the pastor drove home he started to think about the fact that his wife had not added her voice to the united chorus of compliments. So he decided to fish for a compliment from her in a rather creative way. Trying to mask his intent, he asked her in a nonchalant voice, "Honey, how many great preachers do you suppose there are in the world today?" Not skipping a beat his wife piped up, "One less than you are thinking right now!"

The story is funny, but it is no joke either. What is troubling about this humorous tale is that it reminds us how easy it is for our focus in worship to shift from God to oneself. How scary to think that right in the middle of serving God, we can be captured, and lead astray by self-interest. None of us, pastors included, are beyond the temptation of swiveling the spotlight in our direction, and making worship about us. Peter certainly fell into that trap on the Mount of Transfiguration when he became consumed with the blessing of the experience, and equally enamored by the presence of Moses, and Elijah alongside Jesus (Matt. 17:4). His own self-interest and preoccupation with human personalities distracted him from the glory of Christ. Therefore, God had to bring him back to the heart of worship by blotting out Moses and Elijah with a cloud so that Peter was left focusing on Jesus only (Matt. 17:5-8). True worship always comes down to an audience of one. What a warning! If we are not careful, we can end up worshipping our worship experience. Worship can become about what's good for us, and not about what's best for Christ. Worship can become about many things other than the one thing that counts, the glory and preeminence of God's only Son (Col. 1:18).

In fact, if we are not careful, not only can we end up worshipping the worship experience, we can end up worshipping ourselves. Self-righteousness and pride can creep in, and spoil our worship. In the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, Jesus depicts a man in love with himself before God (Luke 18:11). Under the guise of thanking God, this man praises himself. That is not all; if we are not careful, we can end up worshipping a tradition or a means of worship. Worship styles, patterns, and objects can become idolatrous. You see this back in the Old Testament where we find Judah worshipping the bronze serpent that had originally been raised up by Moses in the desert as a means of grace (2 Kings 18:4). Further, if we are not careful we can end up worshipping the worship leader. This snared the apostle John in that we find him falling down to worship an angel that had called all to worship God (Rev. 19:10; 22:9). Too often the ones leading the worship become its focus. Be careful how you worship God