Worship Is Like a Birthday Party

Birthday CakeImagine that it’s my daughter’s birthday, and I throw a party in her honor. Nice, eh? Now imagine that I make a cake & decorate it for her. Although chocolate is her favorite, I make a yellow cake. I like yellow cake. Of course, I’m happy to decorate the cake, but instead of going with a ballerina like she’d prefer I put a golfer on top. I know, I know: she’s never golfed in her life. But I’m the one throwing the party, after all, and I like golf. As for party games, she favors “Pretty Pretty Princess,” but I’ve already worn enough plastic earrings to last me a lifetime; I’d like to have the kids play “Risk.” I like it. When it comes time for presents, instead of buying her earrings, a Polly Pocket doll, or (cha-ching!) an American Girl Doll accessory, imagine that I buy her a set of commentaries that I’ve had my eyes on. I like books. In fact, I love ’em.

Ridiculous? Sure. Though I might have claimed to honor my daughter, and though I even threw the party in her name, I would have ignored her desires–and her–throughout the entire process. I would have honored myself instead. Sure, the name on the cake (beside the golfer) may say “Rebekah,” but the entire focus of the party says “Daddy.”

What’s my point? The person being honored is the one who determines what the honor should look like. To relate it directly to God, the Object of worship dictates the nature of worship; Who we worship determines how we worship. When it comes to worship, His preferences matter, not ours. Lig Duncan puts it this way:

“True worship is characterized by self-effacement without self-consciousness. That is, in biblical worship we so focus upon God himself and are so intent to acknowledge his inherent and unique worthiness that we are transfixed by him, and thus worship is not about what we want or like…but rather it is about meeting with God and delighting in his delights. Praise decentralizes itself.” (Give Praise to God, 64)

The birthday party illustration and the Duncan quote suggest that true worship must line up with the character of the One worshiped, not the worshiper. More convincingly, Scripture teaches the same thing again and again:


  • That’s the point of John 4:24: Why must we worship God in spirit & truth? Because He is Spirit. He is Truth.
  • That’s the point of Psalm 96:4: Why should God be “greatly” praised? Because He is “great.”
  • That’s especially the point of Psalm 48:10. Consider how it is rendered in the NASB: “According to Your name, O God, So is Your praise to the ends of the earth…”

The way we worship must be consistent with the God we are professing to worship. And though this is true for every part of worship, I think it is particularly germane to the area of music. Our selection of worship music should really have very little to do with our preferences–what we like. After all, it’s not our “party.” We’re not the ones being honored. It’s all about who God is! Example after example could be cited, and should be considered.

  • Our holy God deserves and demands distinct worship.
  • Our King deserves majestic worship.
  • The Almighty deserves reverent worship.
  • Our Redeemer deserves joyful worship.
  • Our Glorious God deserves glorious worship.
  • The God who is a “consuming fire” demands worship that is reverent and fearful (Heb. 12:28-29).

By the way, how can I know what Rebekah wants at her party. Well, I might ask her. On the other hand, if I really know her, I’ll have a good idea of what she likes and what she doesn’t even without her saying so specifically.

“If I really know her.” Maybe that’s the rub.


16 Responses

  1. So Chris, do you think anyone disagrees with you?

    Isn’t the disagreement about what God likes in worship, rather than who should determine what worship is like? I think those who differ with us on music would agree that worship should please God.

    Nor am I sure that the argument that “asking him” or “knowing him” is all that helpful. That seems to stem from our own view that “we know him” and those who differ from us don’t really “know him.” After all, if they really “knew him” they would worship like we do. It seems like a circular argument.

    For instance, a while back I was with a guy and we came across a song that I cannot imagine anyone in “our circles” using. Yet this guy’s first response was along the lines of, “Wow, that really demonstrates the power and majesty of God” and it probably did communicate that to him

  2. And BTW, comparing the worship of a holy majestic God to something as trivial as a kid’s birthday party does not do justice to God. It is hardly adequate to convey the majesty of God. God is far beyond these trite observances. We should be more serious than using such frivolity to teach on the worship of God.

    Now, how do you argue against that? I can hear some people actually making that argument, based on other arguments they have made about certain things trivializing God or being trite.

    Of course, I am not seriously taking this position, but for some who have taken certain positions on worship, I am not sure how they avoid drawing this conclusion. Perhaps they will respond.

  3. I found this article refreshing and thought-provoking. So often the arguments focus on the product of worship rather than on the motivation behind the worship. It was a good reminder for me to focus on the Holy God Who desires my deepest and purest worship. Thank you for your thoughts!

  4. Chris,

    I wonder if another analogy might not illustrate even better what is going on in worship today. Instead of you only choosing what you like, take a poll of what all of the little kids who will be attending want to see at the party. Pay little to no attention to what your daughter likes and accommodate the party to the wishes of her friends instead. I do not know about your house, but that probably would not go over too well at our’s.

  5. I agree with Larry that most people’s intent is to please God. The problem is, as flawed human beings, it’s easy to pick songs that we personally like for one reason or the other without considering Chris’s 6 points about worship. IMO – whether the worship melodies you sing is of the CCM style or more traditional hymns, we all need to be careful to sing songs with lyrics that fully express the true worship God deserves.

  6. “If I know her”…that is most certainly the rub. 1Jo 2:3-4 “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” Since obedience is first-order worship, I think this is most certainly a critical piece of the equation.

  7. I strongly disagree with the assertion that “most people’s intent is to please God.” All too often our desire is not to “please God,” but rather that God [i]will be pleased[/i] by what we choose to give Him (and perhaps even call obedience).

    I agree with NeoFundy–knowing God is essential to obedient worship. Those who differ from us in worship style and substance may not truly know God; conversely, we may not know God as well as we think we do. But without knowing God, as He has revealed Himself in Scripture and in creation, and without knowing the nature of the worship that He has commanded, what hope have we of properly worshipping Him?

  8. My assertion was not that most people’s intent is to please God. My assertion was that most people agree that worship is about what God likes. I also think that “knowing him” is a key point. But what exactly does that result in? That’s the rub.

  9. Perhaps we can change the words “please God” to …reflect God. the worship should reflect the holiness of God. Just my $0.02c!

  10. Larry, I think you’re making the matter of music that “reflects” God’s character more subjective than it needs to be. (BTW, I agree with your point, joeysgal.) I’m not claiming that it is a black and white objectivity, but I don’t believe it’s as subjective as your illustration suggests.

    I admit that the birthday illustration is a bit simplistic, but do you really think that those who are producing “sacred” music which intentionally apes secular music (and examples of this abound) have taken time to think about whether or not it accurately reflects on the God it purports to worship? I don’t. I think the idea of worshipping God in a manner consistent with His character is a foreign thought to most–even most fundamentalists. I don’t think we “think that far” when it comes to worship. It’s more likely to be “thumbs up” (I like it) or “thumbs down” (I don’t like it), again, even among fundamentalists.

    Andrew, I think you’re on to something with the “poll” idea. Too true.

    Anyway, the point of the post is that our worship must reflect the character of the God we worship. His praise should be consistent with His nature…at least that’s what we should strive for. The attributes and texts I cited are far from exhaustive, but I think they’re a start, or at least demonstrate how I think the principle should be applied.

  11. Chris,

    I don’t think I am making it more subjective than it needs to be. But I cringe when I hear the argument that “if they just knew God, they would worship like we do.” That seems to assume the conclusion. I wonder if that is a good argument to make.

    I think his praise should be consistent with his nature. I think that most contemporary music advocates agree. The rub comes in where one’s particular musical interpretation/understanding meets the nature of God. That’s a difficult line to draw and I am not sure that it can be drawn hard and fast without any allowance for difference.

  12. Okay, Larry. My intention was not to say “If they knew God as well as I do, they’d worship like me.” If that’s your concern with my post, I get it.

    However, I still think there is an obvious Scriptural point that the nature of God should impact our worship. Once that point is established, we can work on applying it. I’m not sure most people even think about the principle, much less its application.

    Now suppose, as you suggest, everyone agrees to it in principle. I’d argue that even if most people would agree with the point as I stated it (principle), they still don’t actually work to apply it to their own worship (application). As I see it, the actual application ends up being more like this: “Sure, my worship should reflect who God is. And, BTW, since I grew up in the __________ scene, I’m gonna worship Him with that music.” I think there’s a disconnect between a self-evident principle and its application. In fact, I don’t think that’s even debatable.

    As for objectivity, passages like Hebrews 12:28-29 make the connection between God’s nature and our worship very, very concretely. The message of that passage: “You’d better worship our holy and consuming God with reverence and fear. Remember, He killed people for wrong worship throughout the OT. You don’t want to make Him mad.” (That’s my paraphrase. Copyright 2006.)

    While I allow that what that reverent worship looks like may not be absolutely objective, I don’t think that determining what is reverent and fearful is a crapshoot, either.

  13. BTW, as Larry suggested in his second post, I don’t really think worship is as trivial as a birthday party. I’m just using one point of similarity: the character of the person being honored should determine how the honor is rendered.

  14. Great post, Chris! I think that you are right on. In all circles there are way too many people who are focused on themselves in worship instead of on God. The types of things that go on in some “worship” services often do more to distract the “worshipper” from God rather than present Him in all His glory in a way that is in accodance with His character.

    I like the birthday party illustration. Great point of similarity.

  15. Hey, Kris.

    I think the illustration at least demonstrates the folly of the “this is what I like” argument.

    Good to hear from you.

  16. […] Charnock on Worship that is Consistent with its Object One of my hobbyhorses is the concept that our worship–especially our worship expressed through music–must be consistent with the character of God. I’ve argued that the issue of acceptable worship music, though not entirely black and white, is much more objective than is often suggested, and that principles for determining what comprises acceptable worship must be found by studying the character of the God we profess to worship. Here’s an excerpt from one such post: “The way we worship must be consistent with the God we are professing to worship. And though this is true for every part of worship, I think it is particularly germane to the area of music. Our selection of worship music should really have very little to do with our preferences–what we like. After all, it’s not our “party.” We’re not the ones being honored. It’s all about who God is! Example after example could be cited, and should be considered. […]

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