Our calling, simply put, is one of extravagant worship, to worship with all that is within us and by every means available to us, without considering cost or benefit.
To learn what it means to worship extravagantly we look to two examples: one from the Old Testament and one from the New. The preeminent example of extravagant worship in scriptures is David. In his lifetime David was known as a shepherd, a fugitive, a warrior and a king. Yet none of these roles was his ultimate calling. The primary purpose and calling on his life was that of a worshiper – so much so that after having reigned over Israel for forty years (seven in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem), and after establishing the Kingdom of Israel so that it had peace from all its enemies, the scriptures at the end of his life simply refer to him as "the man anointed by the God of Jacob, Israel’s singer of songs." (2 Sam. 23:1) Many of these songs are recorded for all generations that followed him in the Book of Psalms, and these varied expressions of worship recorded here which characterized his life were indeed borne out of his experiences as a shepherd, fugitive, warrior and king.
We find him as a shepherd singing and making music to the Lord in the quietness of seclusion and anonymity. It is there he learned to sing, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want..." As a fugitive, he worshiped in a time of desperation and insecurity, "Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge ... You are a shield around me, O Lord ... When I am afraid I will trust in you, in God whose word I praise." As a warrior he declared in worship "The Lord is my light and my salvation–whom shall I fear?... Praise be to the Lord my Rock who trains my hands for war..." And as a king, he looked to the true King of Israel and worshiped the King of kings, "I will exalt you, my God the King ... The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble ... May all the kings of the earth praise you, O Lord ... Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom."
When David’s kingdom was established in Jerusalem and he brought the Ark of the Covenant, representing God’s presence and glory, back into the city, we find him leading the whole house of Israel in celebration "with all their might before the Lord, with songs and with harps, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals." He himself led the assembly as he "danced before the Lord with all his might" to the shouts of the people and the sound of trumpets. (2 Sam 6, I Chron. 15) He continues with the extravagance of this worship by blessing all the people and giving "each Israelite man and woman" a loaf of bread and cakes of dates and raisins – by all counts several million cakes – some party! After placing the Ark in the Tent he had prepared for it, he appointed levitical worshipers to continually be present before the ark "to make petition, to give thanks, and to praise the Lord." Some played lyres and harps, others sounded cymbals and blew trumpets regularly before the Ark (I Chron. 16). In fact, he had 288 Levites, young and old, trained and skilled in music for the Lord (I Chron. 25). For all generations of worshipers that followed him David truly set the bar for extravagant worship!
Our New Testament example of extravagant worship is found in Mary of Bethany, a sister to Martha and Lazarus. This was the Mary who we find sitting at the Lord’s feet, drinking in every word he said, the one about whom the Lord said, "Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." – the same Mary who once again falls at the feet of Jesus after her brother died. A short time after this Jesus was coming back to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast, the Passover during which he would be betrayed and handed over to be crucified. But first he made a stop in the village of Bethany. (Matt. 26:6-13, Mark 14:1-9, Jn. 12:1-8)
Martha and Mary and Lazarus wanted to give a dinner in honor of Jesus. But they needed to find a place away from the crowds which were attracted to Jesus and the curious onlookers who wanted to see Lazarus who had been raised from the dead. Simon a leper offered his home. The Jews would certainly not come into his house. However, having experienced Jesus’ resurrection power and having witnessed numerous miracles of healing, the three of them along with Jesus and his disciples found this leper’s home to be a welcome haven.
Mary, overcome with love and devotion to her Lord, wanted to express her worship in the most lavish way she could think of. Suddenly an idea began to form in her mind. She had heard of the time earlier when Jesus was invited to dinner at the house of another Simon, a Pharisee. (Luke 7:36-50) A "sinful woman" had come in and poured her perfume on his feet. Rather than rebuking her for her inappropriate behavior, Jesus recognized her heart of overflowing love, forgave her sins and spoke his peace over her.
Mary, perhaps thinking "Before my Lord I am no better than this sinful woman" and not saying anything about this to anyone, took along her alabaster jar of pure nard, (a very expensive perfume from India which was normally only used in the anointing of kings or priests. Valued at about a year’s wages it would normally be kept as an heirloom, or used as a dowery). Then, while they were reclining, she broke the jar, extravagantly pouring the perfume on his head and feet. Then, just like the ‘sinful woman’ she untied her hair in the most undignified way and began to wipe his feet with her hair. As the whole house was filled with the fragrance of this perfume, perhaps Mary thought of and whispered these words from the Song of Songs "While the king was at his table, my perfume spread its fragrance." (S of S 1:12)
The reaction of some of the disciples was predictable. Such extravagance made no logical sense; in fact, it appeared wasteful and foolish. But Jesus, knowing that within one week this body would be mutilated beyond recognition and killed, said that this perfume was saved for this hour of anointment and actually served as a preparation for his burial.
This extravagant worship we witness in David and Mary is borne out of a heart of love and passion. In the fire of this love the worshiper does not first stop to consider the cost or reaction of others. The approval of man is not what motivates such a worshiper, nor does their possible disapproval hinder. One’s own dignity or reputation is of no concern when the worshiper is driven by the fire of passion and love. When David returned home after the worship celebrations to the criticism and sneering of his own wife, he responded that his worship was "before the Lord – I will celebrate before the Lord." And when the disciples expressed their indignation at the extravagance of Mary’s worship, Jesus responded "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me." In other words, the only thing that matters in worship is God’s approval, to please him – to do a beautiful thing for him.
The worship flowing from a heart of love and devotion is also not motivated by any consideration of possible benefits to the worshiper. Inevitably, when we worship God, or give of ourselves to Him in any fashion, his response is one of giving back to us ... "a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over," (Luke 6:38, 2 Cor. 9:6) When David re-established the Ark of God’s presence in Jerusalem and made certain that there was continual ("24-7") worship as ministry to the Lord, the Bible records that immediately thereafter "The Lord gave David victory wherever he went" (2 Sam. 8:6, 8:14, I Chron. 18:6, 18:13). And when Mary anointed Jesus’ body, he blessed her saying that this act of worship would never be forgotten: wherever this gospel is preached this story would be told.
Worship opens the door to God’s presence and does prepare the way for spiritual victories and transformation of both the worshiper and the environment. God does bless the worshiper in return; however, that is not why we are motivated to worship. Our calling is not to worship in order to provide an effective platform for intercession or spiritual warfare (although the Spirit of God will sometimes lead us into this), it is not first of all to bless us, our church, our city, nation, culture or the land (although that inevitably flows out of it) Our calling is to worship only because he is worthy; we love him abundantly and worship extravagantly, without strings attached, because he has first loved us unconditionally, giving himself extravagantly for us. We worship because of who He is and who we are – we are created to worship.