Who are we? Why are we here? How do we find our place in this creative, painful, beautiful thing called life? What’s the main thing we should be keeping our eyes on? How can we not lose sight of that—and what’s the best way to accomplish it?
I know. That’s a ton of questions. Then again, we’ve got a ton of problems!
We all want to figure out life. We want to understand. We want to know what it all means. And that’s where I want to begin: with the simple premise that every person longs for meaning.
Meaning is both the way we define what matters most in life and how we pursue that. Meaning is how we decide what’s more or less important—and if we’re lucky, it’s how we know what’s the most important thing of all.
I like how this psychologist puts it: “As human beings, we need to make meaning of our existence. Meaning gives definition to our life and our life path. This search for meaning is often challenging. How do we make sense of who we are within a world that seems out of balance with poverty, war and famine on the one hand and tremendous privilege on the other?”
We are all learning what it means to live in three directions: upward, inward and outward. (I wrote a book about this concept if you want to read more).
If we’re talking about the art of living, it seems like inward (us) and outward (others) would be the most important. The reason we’re beginning upward, though, is that the way we understand God changes everything. I believe that with all my heart.
See, what we believe (or disbelieve) about God shapes the way we think and the way we act. That’s why figuring out how to live inward and outward depends on living upward.
Usually, though, we look for meaning in the next big life event, rather than in our relationship with God. When I get to college. When I graduate. When I get my dream job. When I get married. When I have kids. When I own a house. When I get promoted.
Those aren’t bad things. The problem comes when we expect them to provide a level of meaning they can’t.
At some point we find ourselves asking why we cared so much. We might be sitting in our offices doing our “perfect” jobs, wondering why we ever expected this to make such a difference in our lives. There always comes a moment when the thing that was supposed to provide meaning doesn’t, and all we can say is, “Really? That’s it?”
What happens next is we figure we were chasing the wrong thing—so we chase the next thing instead.
The next job, the next relationship, the next amount of money. The “meaning treadmill” can last a lifetime—but it doesn’t have to. Meaning isn’t floating around somewhere, waiting to be captured. Meaning is made—it’s what happens at the intersection of upward/inward/outward. It’s what happens when what we think and believe is expressed in (or collides with) how we act. Part of the art of living is learning how to make the right meaning out of our lives.
And that depends on how we relate to God.
A lot of the time we’re like fish, swimming around our little aquariums. Now I don’t know much about the consciousness levels of fish, but I don’t imagine a fish thinking, Wow, my water is so interesting today! I really notice it! It seems like it’s about, maybe, 0.3 degrees warmer and it just feels so good sliding across my scales while I swim!
The “meaning treadmill” can last a lifetime—but it doesn’t have to.
Fish are like us when it comes to meaning! The most important thing in life—God, in whom we live, move and have our being—so often escapes our attention.
Which is why I’m glad you’re reading this, because I can ask you straight out: What is more important than your relationship with God?
I know that’s a “pastor” kind of question, but that doesn’t make it wrong! I mean, if there is a God who created and sustains everything (which I believe), then our relationship with God is ultimate.
Now here’s where I’m going to take us: We all need meaning, and because ultimate meaning can only be found in our relationship with God, worship is what satisfies our need for meaning.
The Word of God tells the story of God and the story of people encountering God. Sometimes we honor God, and sometimes we dishonor God. It’s not God who is changing across those thousands of years—it’s us! Throughout every change, God continually and lovingly calls his children back to worship him.
Why? Because God deserves it, and because it is through worship we discover ourselves.
In the Ten Commandments, the first thing God tells us is that we should not worship anything other than God. Because he created us, God knows how prone we are to do exactly that.
We’re not just tempted to worship bad stuff either. Like, it’s obviously wrong to exploit the poor because we worship profit. But we even worship good stuff! We have a tendency to take good things and make them the most important things—which makes them bad things. Not bad because they’re inherently bad, but because they take the place of God.
And worshiping anything that takes the place of God ruins our quest for meaning.
It’s as though we’re lost in the woods at night and only one person has a flashlight. If we don’t make following that bobbing light our highest priority, we’re not going to make it back to the parking lot. Even a good thing, like a quick water break, becomes a bad thing if it takes the place of following the leader.
Here’s the thumbnail sketch of what biblical worship is. The word worship comes from worth, and the suffix -ship, which basically means having the “condition” or “quality” of. So if something has worth to us, we worship it, at least to a certain extent. It’s possible for the same person to worship God, for example, and to worship football. Worship isn’t zero-sum. But it is true that only one thing can be on the throne of your heart.
It is through worship we discover ourselves.
So if we define our whole existence by how much money we make, guess what? Money will become our life. Same with our jobs, kids, sports and so on.
We want it to be possible to serve two masters. We’d each love it if we could make God our number one priority and make our job our number one priority. Can’t we have it all?
That’s not how life works. We are one-master creatures. The minute we elevate something to the place of honor in our hearts, we dethrone everything else.
It’s not a matter of if we’re worshiping. The real question is this: Is what we’re worshiping worthy of defining our lives?
Because we’ll only find true meaning if the object of our worship is truly worthy.