In a world where we are apparently deeming people and functions as “essential” or “non-essential,” it’s necessary for the Christian to grasp this foundational fact: gathered, corporate worship is the most important thing you will ever do. Period. No matter how we may feel or think about it (and let’s be honest—we often feel and think something far different), this is the reality. The most important thing you will do every week, no matter what your week looks like, will be to come to worship on Sunday.
To some readers this might sound like an audacious and preposterous proposition. How can we make this claim? Certainly there are any number of meaningful things we can do with our time here on earth. Why does this one rise to the top? It’s not as simple as pointing to chapter and verse to prove my point, but there are at least two reasons why it should be evident that worship is what matters most.
First is the simple fact that we were created to worship. This was God’s purpose for us from the very beginning. And though the fall messed up a lot of things about what it means to be a true human, one thing could not be eradicated completely: our innate desire to worship. It’s natural to us. It’s built into who we are. It’s what I’m calling the argument from internal design. Our hearts were made to yearn for, desire after, and offer worship to God (see Psalms 63 and 84). The Westminster divines got it absolutely right when they said that our chief end is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” “Chief end” is just another way of saying “design.” It’s what we were made for.
Human beings were made to know God. God placed in the human soul the ability to know Him and commune with Him, or in other words, worship Him. And this is what Adam and Eve did before the fall: they knew God, and they enjoyed Him. They walked in His presence. They lived with Him. Indeed, Eden was His home, His sanctuary—the very first worship center.
As we look at the opening chapters of Genesis before the fall, we see that this constant worship in the continual presence of God is what we were made for. In the beginning, when a synapse fired, it did so at the sight of God’s splendor. Every heartbeat—that is, every passionate desire—was for Him. Every neurological reception was stuffed with divine majesty. There was nothing to behold apart from His beauty in creation. Since there was no sin to distract them from His splendor and majesty, we could even say that knowing God and worshiping Him were instinctual.
In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, renowned Reformer John Calvin makes the similar point that humankind was made to worship:
There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity. This we take to be beyond controversy. To prevent anyone from taking refuge in the pretense of ignorance, God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty. . . . Yet there is, as the eminent pagan says, no nation so barbarous, no people so savage, that they have not a deep-seated conviction that there is a God. And they who in other aspects of life seem least to differ from brutes still continue to retain some seed of religion. So deeply does the common conception occupy the minds of all, so tenaciously does it inhere in the hearts of all! Therefore, since from the beginning of the world there has been no region, no city, in short, no household, that could do without religion, there lies in this a tacit confession of a sense of deity inscribed in the hearts of all.
In theology, this sense of deity is known as the sensus divinitas, and we all have it. We all have something inside of us that tells us there is something greater out there, and we owe Him our worship. Cliché as it may sound (and it is cliché), we all have a God-shaped hole in our hearts. And the only way it can be filled is through worship. The problem is that we so often try to fill up that emptiness with the wrong kind of worship.
This was the problem at the very beginning, wasn’t it? Adam and Eve had the sensus divinitas;they were made to know that there was Something Greater out there. They also knew what (or better who) that Something Greater was. They knew their Maker, and they knew they were called to worship Him. What plunged humanity into the curse of sin was an act of misplaced worship. Eve sought her own glory rather than God’s. But as Calvin hints in the above quote, even the fall could not take away the pull of religion. Even the fall could not eradicate our internal design, which is to be worshipers. What haschanged is what we desire to worship, but the desire itself is still there. And it always will be.
Paul writes about this in Romans 1. He talks about how even unbelievers—rank pagans, we might say—have the yearning to worship. Without being told, without being commanded, without pondering God’s revelation in Holy Scripture, they know they need to worship. But rather than worship something that is transcendentally true, good, and beautiful, they worship their sinful selves and things they have sinfully made:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Romans 1:18, 24–25)
Consider the point Paul is making: the truth of God is suppressed, but worship is not. We will worship whether we like it or not because this is how we were made. The least religious people in the world are still worshipers.
What a terribly place for humanity to be: plagued with a worship itch that can never be scratched. But here is the good news: ever since the fall, God has been in the business of reclaiming one thing: worshipers. The plan of redemption is a plan to reverse the Romans 1 rebellion and get humankind back to their created purpose of glorifying and enjoying God. Jesus says to the Samaritan woman at the well, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24). In his work O Come, Let Us Worship, Robert G. Rayburn points out that “it is not without real significance that the only time in the Scriptures when the word seek is used of God’s activity is in connection with seeking true worshippers.”
God is seeking to reclaim a humanity that does what it was designed to do. He seeks to rekindle that inward sense of deity. He comes to point that inward tug, pull, yearning, desire that we all have in the right direction: toward Him. He comes to judge truth suppressors, but He also comes to seek, reclaim, and remake truth lovers. So we see that worship is the most important thing that we will ever do because it’s the thing we were made for—and the thing we are being remade for.
Beyond our being wired to worship, we find further proof of the all-importance of this duty when we consider that worship is the primary activity that extends from this world to the next. We could call this the argument from our eternal destiny. While the new heavens and the new earth will hold for the elect much more than an eternally sustained worship service—for we will eat, rest, fellowship, and much more—worship is undoubtedly the supreme undertaking of the believer in glory.
We are given a glimpse into this reality several times in the book of Revelation (see 4:10–11; 5:11–14). On two occasions John is so moved by what he sees in his vision that he wants to bow to the angel who is before him, each time being reprimanded that he is to worship God alone (19:10; 22:9). In chapter 14, we are told that an eternal gospel is proclaimed all over the earth, and this proclamation is not what we might expect (an explicit message of salvation in Jesus Christ) but rather in these words: “Fear God and give glory to Him . . . and worship Him” (verse 7).
The scenes in Revelation also help us to see how it is corporate worship in particular that is to be preeminent in our lives rather than worship in a general sense. Certainly, our entire lives are to be lived as an act of worship (Rom. 12:1–2), but there is something unique about corporate worship. Corporate worship—that is, coming together with a body of believers regularly on Sunday to offer praise to God—is a picture of what goes on in heaven. This cannot be said of private worship. In heaven, we worship as a redeemed body, numbering thousands upon thousands. So we cannot excuse ourselves from worship in the church and think we are still fulfilling God’s desire for His people. The church’s number one task is to worship God, and we need to be a part of that.
Did you know the church’s primary task is worship? Some people may balk at this proposition. After all, isn’t the church’s task laid out very clearly by Jesus Himself in Matthew 28:19–20? “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” A cursory glance at the Great Commission could make one think that evangelism, not worship, is the number one task of the church. But is the primary thrust of the Great Commission the verb “to go”?
Actually, the main verb in Matthew 28:20 is the imperative to “make disciples.” Indeed, there is the imperative to go as well, but to understand the Great Commission as merely “going” or “evangelizing” is to have too narrow a view of what Jesus was instructing. We do not want pit the various commands in the Great Commission against one another, but it is helpful to prioritize them. We must go—without leaving we will have no hope of finding, let alone making, disciples. Disciples cannot be made apart from evangelism. But that is only the beginning of the process. Discipleship grows deepest in the context of worship. We are trained up in the faith and mature in our understanding of the things of God by engaging in biblically-robust worship week in and week out. After all, where do baptism and teaching (the word didasko is often used as a synonym for preaching in public gatherings) properly take place? In the church. Therefore “it is the church, and specifically the church at worship, that fulfills the Great Commission.” Far from favoring evangelism at the expense of the worship of the church, the Great Commission shows that evangelism properly serves the worship of the church.
The church has three tasks, or purposes: worship, discipleship, and missions. That the church is called to these three works is beyond dispute. The trouble is seeing how worship can be the primary purpose, especially when discipleship and missions are so blatantly spelled out in the Great Commission. We have explored how worship really lays behind all that the Great Commission is about. But this primacy of worship becomes even clearer when we consider our eternal destiny—that is, when we consider what we will be doing for ages without end in heaven. Discipleship, education, spiritual maturation will all pass away, for there and then we will know as we are known (1 Cor. 13:12). Evangelism and missions will pass away, for all the elect will be gathered and every knee will bow before King Jesus (Phil 2:9–11). But worship, praise, and exaltation will remain. “Worship abides forever,” says John Piper in his book on missions, Let the Nations Be Glad! He writes, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”
One Thing Remains
I hope this makes it abundantly clear why it is true that worship is not only the primary calling of the church, but also the most important thing you will ever do with your time here on earth. Nothing else has eternal significance like worship. We might even consider what we do every Sunday as “practice” for that great day in glory. Not only that, but this means that every week God is giving us a taste of the bliss and blessedness that await us in glory. This is so like our God: always lavishing us with that which we do not deserve and sustaining our present troubles with future delights. By so doing God graciously reminds us of where we are going and to keep our heads up. “God’s gift to His sorrowing creatures,” the consummate musician J. S. Bach once observed, “is to give them Joy worthy of their destiny.” The wonder of worship is but a small taste of the wonder of the new heavens and the new earth, and it is sufficient to sustain our hearts until we are there.
Therefore, our hearts should be tuned toward heaven every Lord’s Day, and we should have an earnest desire to join the redeemed host:
O, that with yonder sacred throng
We at His feet may fall.
We’ll join the everlasting song
And crown Him Lord of all!
Jonathan Landry Cruse is the pastor of Community Presbyterian Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and an author. His newest book, from which this article is adapted, is What Happens When We Worship, published by Reformed Heritage Books, and is used here with permission. He is also a hymn writer whose works can be found at www.HymnsOfDevotion.com.
 WSC 1.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion,trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), 1.3.1.
 Robert G. Rayburn, O Come, Let Us Worship (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980), 15–16. Emphasis original.
 Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 46.
 Darryl G. Hart and John R. Muether, With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 2002),48. Emphasis original.
 John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 17.
 As quoted in Marva J. Dawn, Reaching Out without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for the Turn-of-the-Century Culture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 57.
 Edward Perronet, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” (1780), in the public domain.