William Temple, like his father before him, was Archbishop of Canterbury (1942–1944). Among his many remarkable achievements, he wrote a superb commentary on the Gospel of John. He wrote the entire commentary, entitled Readings in St John’s Gospel, whilst praying on his knees before God.
About worship, he wrote:
‘Worship is a submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose – and all this gathered up in adoration.’
Worship saves us from being self-centred and makes us God-centred. You were created to live in a relationship with God. That should be your number one priority. If you put God first in your life all kinds of blessings follow. Because God loves you he warns you of the dangers of disregarding the design for your life.
But what does it mean to lead a God-centred life and what steps do you need to take in order to get there?
1. Worship God
The psalmist calls us to worship God. (The original context may have been that God had given his people victory in battle.)
Worship in this psalm sounds quite emotional and noisy: ‘Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy… God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets’. It also includes lots of singing.
There is great exuberance to their worship, as their adoration and amazement of God bubbles over in extravagant action.
These are all outward ways of expressing our worship of the Lord. Worship includes the use of emotions to express your love and gratitude to God and to bring him honour.
As Joyce Meyer writes, ‘God gave us emotions for more purposes than just being enthusiastic at a ball game or about a new car. Surely God wants us to employ our emotions in expressing our love and gratitude to Him… If we had a proper emotional release during praise and worship, we might not release emotions at other times in improper ways.’
2. Pray consistently
The God-centred life is a life of consistent prayer. Jesus taught his disciples to ‘always pray and not give up’ (v.1). You can talk to God not just in church or in set times of prayer, but anywhere and at anytime. I was taught very early in my Christian life to ‘talk as you walk’ through the day.
Jesus tells the parable of the widow and the unjust judge who eventually gives in to her demands in order to stop her bothering him and wearing him out. Jesus says that if an unjust judge will listen to a widow’s plea, how much more will God listen to those who ‘cry out to him day and night?’.
3. Humble yourself
Humility is not something that happens to you. It is something that you are supposed to do to yourself. Rather than exalting yourself, you are supposed to ‘humble [your]self’. God promises that he will exalt you (v.14).
If we compare ourselves with others, we may become like the Pharisee, thanking God that we are not like other people – ‘robbers, evildoers, adulterers’ (v.11). The Pharisee was ‘confident of his own righteousness’ (v.9). He fell into the trap of trusting himself. If our lives are truly God-centred (our consciences quickened by his holiness), we compare ourselves with him and all we can say is, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’ (v.13). The truth is that we are all sinners, and we are all in need of God’s mercy.
I find it very easy to read this passage and to thank God that I am not like the Pharisee. But by doing so I fall into the very trap that Jesus is describing – thinking I am more righteous than others, rather than recognising my sin and need for God. This is exactly the sin of the Pharisee.
4. Be childlike
Sometimes the ‘babies’ (v.15), children or young people in a church are described as ‘the church of the future’. But, according to Jesus, they are not just the church of the future, they are the church of today. ‘The kingdom of God belongs to such as these’.
Jesus calls us to become like children. He never tells us to be childish (in the sense of being simplistic), but he does tell us to be childlike.
To be childlike is the opposite of being independent and ‘grown up’. Children tend to be open, receptive, trusting, humble, loving and forgiving. The God-centred life is a life of childlike dependence on him.
You become like a child again when you show and share your honest feelings, acknowledge how fragile and vulnerable you are and how much you need God and other people.
Children have an insatiable curiosity; always asking ‘Why?’ or ‘How?’ They are instinctively driven to explore and discover. Children don’t dwell in the past or even settle for the present, but are always looking to what will be – fuelled by wonder and an immense capacity for enjoyment. It’s been said that the healthy child is creative, imaginative and curious.
We are to cultivate this freedom to respond instinctively, like a child, and to feel and express wonder, awe, love and joy. To rush in and eagerly explore, probe and discover things for ourselves.
We need to pray and ask God for childlike faith and dependence if we really want God to talk to us.
5. Follow Jesus
There is nothing more rewarding than following Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, ‘We have left all we had to follow you!’ (v.28). Jesus replies, ‘I tell you the truth… no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life’ (vv.29–30)
Jesus calls the rich young ruler to the God-centred life. He calls him to give up everything else and follow him. Perhaps Jesus saw in him the potential to be like the apostle Peter, or Matthew, or one of the others who responded positively when Jesus said, ‘follow me’.
The more we accumulate the harder it is to live God-centred lives. The rich young ruler ‘became very sad, because he was very wealthy. It is not impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of God (v.27), but it is very hard (vv.24–25) – not because the standards are higher, but because the risk appears greater.
In fact, it is impossible for any one of us, including the rich, to enter the kingdom of God on the strength of our own performance. Yet with God it is possible for anyone, including the rich, to enter the kingdom of God. Neither your past failings nor your present circumstances need determine your future. With God all things are possible.
6. Serve God
In this passage we see the disastrous consequences of not living the God-centred life, not the law, not carefully following his command and not serving the Lord. We also see the disastrous consequences of this within Israel’s own history.
In my own life, I have seen a glimpse of some of the things described, especially in the years before I experienced a relationship with God: ‘The sky over your head will be bronze’ (v.23). I have experienced the sense of what seems to be a great separation from God.
We see how ‘the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread, both night and day, never sure of your life’ (vv.65–66). These verses describe a life that is the opposite of the peace and joy that Jesus offers.
Of course, even since coming to faith in Christ I have not always lived a God-centred life. Many times I have failed to serve, obey and follow his command. The wonderful news of the New Testament is that Jesus has rescued us from the deserved punishment and curses that would have otherwise followed: ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us’ (Galatians 3:13).