The Vertical Embrace

The Vertical Embrace: Redirecting Worship Towards God's Glory

“Vertical is aspiration, longing for the Divine; horizontal marks mere diversion, postponement.” 
Saul Bellow

“The vertical person seeks heaven; the horizontal person prefers earth’s pleasures.” 
Anna Kamienska

“True worship is a vertical gaze of the heart, a hunger for God Himself.” 
John Piper

“We have a need for beauty in our lives. We have so much ugliness around us...We need to be able to embrace beauty and nourish it. The glory of God is something to fall in love with.”
John R.W. Stott
“The twenty-four elders fall down before Him who is seated on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created’” (Revelation 4:10-11, ESV). In this vivid scene, we glimpse the profound reverence for God’s eternal nature and creative power. The elder’s posture of falling down symbolizes deep awe and humility before divine majesty and casting their crowns demonstrates full acknowledgment of God’s supreme worthiness over any authority they may wield. However, in many Christian worship gatherings today, a subtle trend often weaves its way through our practices, subtly redirecting the essence of our devotion. This diverting drift unravels worship’s true purpose—an authentic encounter with the Father. Genuine worship needs to maintain a primary vertical focus on God rather than a horizontal focus on ourselves and each other. The elders’ example calls us to anchor corporate adoration in the wonder of who God is, not allowing it to slide into a more casual peer bonding event. As we come together, may our content, actions, and tone uphold God’s majesty over personal preferences or cultural norms that seek to shape our view of Him.

The Essence of True Worship: His Presence
True worship centers on encountering the Father and His nature in which the soul journeys beyond self, to where the primary focus rests not on fickle personal experiences but on meeting our magnificent Creator. In true worship, God Himself becomes the audience and object of our adoration, praise, prayers, and attention as we reflect on His marvelous deeds, thank Him for blessings, and offer ourselves completely to Him. The Psalms resound with the wonder, joy, and awe defining genuine worship “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand” (Psalm 95:6-7, ESV). “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before Him, all the earth!” (Psalm 96:8-9, ESV). “Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into His presence with singing! Know that the Lord, He is God! It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name!” (Psalm 100:2-4, ESV). Worship is not a monologue of our desires but a dialogue with God; it is about standing in awe of the Almighty, entering His presence with reverence, and allowing His glory to illuminate our hearts and minds. “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,” (Hebrews 12:28, ESV).
True worship fosters a deep understanding of God’s character through contemplative reflection on His marvelous nature and deeds. “I will meditate on Your majestic, glorious splendor and Your wonderful miracles” (Psalm 145:5, ESV). More than passive admiration, genuine worship involves active surrender—a conscious offering of our whole selves to the One so deserving of devotion. As Paul appeals, “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, ESV). Such an offering requires resisting worldly conformity and renewing our minds to discern and do God’s will. Worship also entails recognizing that our lives belong not to ourselves but to the loving Creator who shaped us for His purposes. Gratitude thus swells as the melody of our praise. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1, ESV). Our worship overflows with wonder at the blessings He daily showers on us. “Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Psalm 95:2-3, ESV).

The Pitfall of a “Me-Centered” Approach
Our worship posture should mirror that heavenly vision in Revelation and as described to the Colossian church: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2, ESV). A “me-centered” horizontal approach fixating on personal experiences, emotions, entertainment, or human contributions can miss the crux. While those aspects may play a role in our gatherings, they should never overshadow worship’s essential vertical focus: Ascendant devotion offered to God Himself. The driving emphasis in true Christian worship must center first and foremost on divine encounters because God initiates and defines the parameters of genuineness. Any deviation risks diluting worship into a self-absorbed endeavor rather than a soulful opening to respond to His grace. As Christ told the Samaritan woman, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24, ESV). Our praise and worship may positively impact us secondarily, but we must not invert the order with a distorted emphasis on what we humans desire to receive. The Father actively seeks hearts oriented to freely worship Him on His terms with no ulterior motives.

Unfettered Worship and Inner Transformation
Christ’s atoning work tore open the divide separating humanity from intimate communion with God. With the temple veil removed through Jesus, direct access replaced restrictive rituals. As Hebrews proclaims, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:19-22, ESV). This redefined landscape shifts worship’s locus from outward ritual acts toward inward transformation as the truer offering. Paul explains that whenever anyone turns toward the Lord, “the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:16-18, ESV). No longer confined to sacred spaces, worship as a lifestyle permeates everyday existence. Our corporate gatherings represent the occasional crystallization of a larger life orientation centered on beholding and reflecting God’s glory. In worship, as we contemplate Him unimpeded, His Spirit progressively transforms us degree by degree into His likeness and the likeness of His Son.

As we worship, may our hearts and minds ascend beyond ourselves to the infinite, glorious Being who is the ultimate focus and audience of genuine adoration. “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness” (Psalm 29:2, ESV). Let us approach true worship as a vertical journey from lesser, earthly things into the wonder of the Creator’s presence. Let us establish first worship as a divine encounter before we broaden our horizontal gaze to those around us. God initiates the call to worship and we respond to lift songs and prayers heavenward, magnifying God’s splendor and grace. As we do so, may our lives transform in the light of His grand intent. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!” (Psalm 103:1, ESV). Our worship remains most authentic when we exult in who God is before considering what our gathering means for ourselves. So let us begin by blessing the Lord with our entire being, rediscovering Him as the audience of our worship.

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