Last month I observed one of my favorite fall traditions in Northern Virginia.
I paid my Fairfax County Personal Property Tax.
For the privilege of driving on their roads, and parking my car in my own driveway, each year I get a bill in the mail from Fairfax County, based on their assessed value of the two cars Catherine and I own, meaning I have to write a big fat check by the first week of October. It’s wonderful. It fills me with autumnal joy.
And so like I’ve done many times before, I dutifully paid my taxes to satisfy the Fairfax County Government. And now they’re pleased.
But come next summer, when they send out another bill, demanding my money by the first week of October, they won’t be pleased anymore. So I’ll have to do my civic duty and satisfy their demands so that they’re happy with me, and don’t penalize me even more, or threaten to take my car away.
It’s a constant cycle of demands-payment-satisfaction, demands-payment-satisfaction, demands-payment-satisfaction, that never ends.
Sounds to me like how a lot people view worship.
God demands it. So we dutifully (if not resentfully) give it, even if it’s very occasionally. And this “payment” of sorts will satisfy God and make him happy with us. Before our next sin rolls around. Or before the next Sunday rolls around. And then God isn’t happy with us anymore, and so he demands we come to church again, and so we do, and he sees that we do, and he’s happy. For a few days. Then he’s not happy anymore.
You get the picture.
Approaching worship like we’re paying taxes to a demanding God, in order to make him happy with us, is tragic. And I think it’s pervasive, which makes it even more tragic.
Two important correctives:
First: God doesn’t demand our praise in order to make him happy.
In the words of John Piper: “God’s demand for supreme praise is his demand for our supreme happiness. Deep in our hearts we know that we are not made to be made much of. We are made to make much of something great… If he “humbly” sent us away from his beauty, suggesting we find our joy in another, we would be ruined… The reason God seeks our praise is not because he won’t be complete until he gets it. He is seeking our praise because we won’t be happy until we give it. This is not arrogance. It is love.”
I love that. God doesn’t demand our praise like a maniacal dictator who needs to puff up his own pride. He demands our praise because he knows “we won’t be happy until we give it”.
Second: Our worship isn’t payment to God. Our worship is gratefulness for Jesus’ payment.
When people know that they were dead, but now they’re alive, they praise the one who raised them to life. We were born spiritually dead. Then God made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:1-8). This is the motivation for our worship. We’re not worshipping God in order to satisfy him! Jesus satisfied him perfectly for us. That’s motivation enough: simply to say “thank you” in a thousand ways, on a thousand Sundays, with a thousand tongues.
We worship God because it’s what we’re created for. And we worship God because in Christ he raised us from death to life.
So I’ll keep paying my personal property tax to Fairfax County every year. I’ll keep trying to make them happy with me. I’ll keep trying to stay on their good side.
And I’ll worship God with the full assurance of pardon from my sins, grace unending, and a heart of thanks that Jesus paid my debt forever.