Esther knew what was at stake in her decision. No one approached King Xerxes without an invitation and lived to tell about it. Not even her renowned beauty could spare Esther the same fate. Yet who better to intervene?

Mordecai reminded her that God would save his people from Haman's plot one way or another. So why not play a leading role in God's redemption story, Mordecai reasoned: "And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14).

Esther risked her life, and God saved the Jews. Yet her relationship with Xerxes was a double-edged sword. While her influence represented the Jews' best hope, it also caused her to pause, thinking she could survive Haman's plot as a member of the royal family.

In the same way, evangelicals have wrestled with our relationship to power. When in a position of influence (and in our better moments), we leverage power to better the lives of our neighbors. Cultural savvy enables us to successfully translate the gospel for a changing world.

But it's a double-edged sword—influence and savvy can also dull the gospel's transcendence. We achieve a royal position, but soon we are using a worship service to Almighty God to hawk Justice Sunday III. We worry that the culture has forgotten the meaning of Christmas, but we cancel Sunday worship because it's Christmas. We fret because of our culture's biblical illiteracy, but sign up for the Sunday school class on our pet social-justice cause rather than the Bible or theology track. In short, we complain that the church has sold out to culture, but we subconsciously give our allegiance to a political or social subculture and champion its agenda.

Scripture provides no systematic teaching for how we should relate to culture. But it does tell us what's of first importance: "That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

Scripture gives only one antidote for the temptation that cultural influence presents—worship of the living God. We are what we gaze at. "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 Cor. 3:18, ESV).

The psalmist Asaph expressed a God-honoring attitude: "Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Ps. 73:25-26). We do not shun this world that our creator God sustains, and that means participating in one subculture or another to work for change. But first things first: we must behold our heavenly Father in worship.

Worship, broadly conceived, comes in the form of many simple God-ward habits. Keeping the Sabbath directs our hearts heavenward and sets us apart from a society whose busyness elbows God aside. Sacrificial giving builds kingdom work and forces us to depend on the giver of all good things. Reading God's Word—especially the Psalms—molds our minds for Christ-exalting worship. As we share our faith and serve the poor, we submit our wants to the great high priest who gave his life for us and meets our needs. Prayer and contemplation test our love—do we love God for his own sake, or do we love him for how he makes us feel?

None of these forms of worship is much concerned with influence or savvy.

Or if they are, it is influence and savvy of a very different sort.

Related Elsewhere:

Previous editorials expressing similar themes include:

Worship as Higher Politics | Political priorities for citizens of the kingdom. (June 23, 2005)
We're Prime Time, Baby! | Evangelicals' new status means deepened responsibility. (June 28, 2005)

More Christianity Today articles on worship includes

Raising Ebenezer | We are misguided when we modernize hymn texts. (Jan. 5, 2006)
Reformed Protestants No Longer See Images as Idolatrous | The visual and the word go hand in hand as some pastors see possibility in connecting pictures with worship. (Dec. 6, 2004)
'You Shall Not Worship Me This Way' | How even the worship of God can be idolatrous. (April 6, 2004)

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