For many atheists and agnostics, the idea of a God who encourages or demands praise and worship (Exodus 8:1, etc.) suggests a selfish and self-centered being. They presume that the divine desire for worship equals the needs of humans, whose egos cannot get enough attention and reinforcement.
But failure to understand God’s requirement for worship is based on the fallacy that God acts in human ways, for human reasons. A person who constantly seeks praise is self-centered at the least, but that is not the character or personality of God. When we look beneath the surface of what might appear to be, we find that God seeks our praise not primarily for His sake, but for ours.
Verbalizing what we love
In his writings, C. S. Lewis frequently made the point that God initiated the cycle of praise and worship because humans need to praise things they love in order to fully appreciate and enjoy them. Have you ever walked along a beautiful beach or watched an amazing sunset and wished someone was there you could talk with about the experience? People in love don’t just stare at each other; they verbalize how they feel about each other with praise.
Lewis touched on an important truth in writing that our happiness regarding what we like or love is made complete in praising it. This correlation between praise and happiness is clear in many of the psalms. For example: “My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him” (Psalm 28:7), and elsewhere in the Bible, including in the life of Jesus himself: “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth . . .’” (Luke 10:21). It is only natural to praise what brings us happiness and what we love!
Praise shows our need
Many of us grow up learning the value of self-reliance, and that is not a bad thing if it is maintained in right balance. But there are things in life in which we cannot be self-reliant. The Christian faith, by its very nature, demands that we come to see our need of God and His forgiveness and righteousness. The Bible shows we cannot manufacture these things ourselves, and in ongoing worship of God we are continually reminded of our need of Him.
In A Circle of Quiet Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time.” In getting our focus away from ourselves and on to God in praise and worship, we find that broader perspective. As King David wrote: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3, 4). Through praise-filled worship we gain the perspective we need.
Worship aids obedience
Another aspect of worship is that it helps us dedicate ourselves to the purposes of God. In worshipping the nature and character of God, we are reminded of the qualities we are called to emulate, as much as is possible, in our own lives (Psalm 119:15). We should always remember an important aspect of this fact. Despite what some may think, the question we all end up answering in life is not “Will I worship?” but “What will I worship?”
Everybody elevates something to some degree, and it is just a matter of what, or whom, we elevate in our lives. Those who do not worship God eventually worship things of their own choosing. History has shown that this inevitably leads to humans badly hurting themselves, and others, in the process.
That is why the writer of the book of Chronicles states, “For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods” (1 Chronicles 16:25). When we realize the truth of this, we see that worship and praise of God protect us from worship that might eventually harm or even destroy us.
Praise as thankfulness
When someone helps us or does something for us, we often don’t just use the expression “Thank you.” We want to go beyond that and say something like “I owe you!” or “That’s very kind of you!” — acknowledging the help and even directly praising the person who helped us. That is the natural reaction of sincere appreciation.
Not surprisingly, then, we find that individuals throughout the Bible who recognized what God had done for them offered praise as part of their thanksgiving. Look at these two examples from Solomon and David: “Praise be to the Lord . . . who with his own hand has fulfilled what he promised . . .” (1 Kings 8:15). “Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name” (1 Chronicles 29:13). Praise is a natural part of grateful thanksgiving, and the more thankful we feel, the more natural it is to praise.
Desire to worship
In all these ways, and more, true worship has nothing to do with the imaginary negative “worship” envisaged by atheists and others. Those who hold a meaningful relationship with God may have begun to worship Him, in some cases, because they saw God’s instruction to do so, but they invariably continued because they wanted to do so. Whether they “had to” or not, they realized what worship added to their lives.
What critics of religion do not understand is that it is not God who needs our worship and praise, but we who need to worship and praise Him.