Christian worship – reasons and rewards

Why God has better stats than Thierry Henry

I believe that we all have idols which we worship - knowledge, success, wealth, power, fame, relationships, alcohol, drugs, food, technology, cars, shoes, sports teams, art or artists, television, tradition. The list goes on of things we devote countless hours towards worshipping and pursuing with an insatiable appetite.

Knowing this, Jesus said the first and greatest of the Ten Commandments is: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind”. At first glance this could seem like quite an onerous task but the reality is that most of us find worship lovely and very easy.

Thierry Henry is worshipped in the neighbourhood where I live. He was something special at Arsenal Football Club and thousands of kids and their parents walk around with his name on the back of their replica shirts. Some will claim he is the greatest footballer in the world. No doubt he has superb dribbling skills, speed, balance and he scores goals for fun. On top of this, he has style, good looks, humour and is an inspirational leader who had an immense heart for his team.

He knew Arsenal fans loved him. After scoring an exquisite goal, he would run to the corner flag with his hand cupped over his ear to encourage and amplify the cheers of the fans. And they would cheer all the louder. Adoration was gladly given. Would a crowd have taken so readily to a man who instead humbly returned to his own half to await the restart?

Thierry Henry is a footballer. And now he has left for Spain. God is, well, God and isn’t going anywhere. Putting Henry’s statistics beside God’s would only serve to reinforce why God, of the two, is the more worthy of our praise.

As a Christian, I believe He created and sustains the universe. I believe He defined the laws of physics governing how a football can travel from a Frenchman’s foot into the back of the net in such a compelling fashion. I believe Jesus, fully man and fully God, chose not to lord it on earth but to die a criminal’s death on the cross so that we did not have to bear the punishment our sins deserved. I believe the Devil’s main concern is to steal and destroy, and Jesus won a great victory over him, for our gain, by his death and resurrection.

And so I worship him in many ways. A major way is trying to act justly and mercifully in my everyday life, by obeying the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbour as yourself”. However, I also lead the congregation of New River Church in hymns and songs most Sunday mornings. This part of the meeting we call “worship”.

There, we come together to meet with God, give Him our burdens and lift our hands in songs of thanks and praise. We attempt to put Him first, no matter how desperate our other concerns. We come with a hope and an expectation that the Spirit of God will meet us there. That God will cup his ear as we cheer. That He will welcome our adoration and we will adore him. He goes further. It says in the Bible that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Time and time again we have experienced this to be true.

As we worship Him, he counsels us, refreshes us, and often changes us as a church and as individuals. I can testify that it is a joy and a privilege to worship Christ in this way. He loves it and we love it.

Adam is a worship leader at New River Church, Islington, a non-denominational, charismatic Christian church of about 40 people. He has a degree in physics, a PhD in neuroimaging and is a member of the electro-indie rock band Personal Space Invaders.
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The TV stars MPs would love to be

Labour MPs dream of being Jed Bartlet.

In my latest book, A State of Play, I looked at the changing ways in which Britain’s representative democracy has been fictionalized since the later Victorian period. With the support of the University of Nottingham, we decided to turn the tables and ask MPs about their favourite fictional political characters. The results are intriguing.

All MPs were contacted, but with only 49 responding – that’s a 7.5 per cent return rate – I can’t claim the results are fully representative. At 22 per cent, women figured slightly less than they actually do in the Commons. But the big difference is in party terms: 71 per cent of respondents were Labour MPs – double their share in the Commons – while just 20 per cent were Conservatives, less than half their proportion in the Lower House. Maybe Conservative MPs are busier and have better things to do than answer surveys? Or perhaps they just don’t take political fiction – and possibly culture more generally - as seriously as those on the Opposition benches.

What is not subject to speculation, however, is that Labour MPs have very different tastes to their Conservatives rivals, suggesting they are more optimistic about what politics might achieve. At 22 per cent, the most favourite character chosen by MPs overall was Jed Bartlet, heroic US President in Aaron Sorkin’s romantic TV series The West Wing. Of those MPs who nominated Bartlett, every one was Labour. Of course Barlet is a Democrat and the series - dismissed by critics as The Left Wing – looked favourably on progressive causes. But it seems Labour MPs regard Bartlet as an archetype for more than his politics. As one put it, he is, "the ideal leader: smart, principled and pragmatic" For some, Bartlet stands in stark contrast with their current leader. One respondent wistfully characterised the fictional President as having, "Integrity, learning, wit, electability... If only...".

As MPs mentioned other characters from The West Wing, the series accounted for 29 per cent of all choices. Its nearest rival was the deeply cynical House of Cards, originally a novel written by Conservative peer Michael Dobbs and subsequently adapted for TV in the UK and US. Taken together, Britain’s Francis Urquhart and America’s Frank Underwood account for 18 per cent of choices, and are cross-party favourites. One Labour MP dryly claimed Urquhart – who murders his way to Number 10 due to his obsession with the possession of power - "mirrors most closely my experience of politics".

Unsurprisingly, MPs nominated few women characters - politics remains a largely male world, as does political fiction. Only 14 per cent named a female character, the most popular being Birgitte Nyborg from Denmark’s TV series Borgen. Like The West Wing, the show presents politics as a place of possibility. Not all of those nominating Nyborg were female, although one female MP who did appeared to directly identify with the character, saying: "She rides a bike, has a dysfunctional life and isn't afraid of the bastards."

Perhaps the survey’s greatest surprise was which characters and series turned out to be unpopular. Jim Hacker of Yes Minister only just made it into the Top Five, despite one Conservative MP claiming the series gives a "realistic assessment of how politics really works". Harry Perkins, who led a left-wing Labour government in A Very British Coup received just one nomination – and not from an MP who might be described as a Corbynite. Only two MPs suggested characters from Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, which in the past claimed the likes of Harold MacMillan, Douglas Hurd and John Major as fans. And only one character from The Thick of It was nominated - Nicola Murray the struggling minister. 

The results suggest that MPs turn to political fiction for different reasons. Some claimed they liked their characters for – as one said of House of Cards's Frank Underwood – "the entertainment value". But others clearly identified with their favourites. There is clearly a preference for characters in series like The West Wing and Borgen, where politicians are depicted as ordinary people doing a hard job in trying circumstances. This suggests they are largely out of step with the more cynical presentations of politics now served up to the British public.

Top 5 political characters

Jed Bartlett - 22 per cent

Frank Underwood - 12 per cent

Francis Urquhart - 6 per cent

Jim Hacker - 6 per cent

Birgitte Nyborg - 6 per cent

Steven Fielding is Professor of Political History at the University of Nottingham. Follow him @polprofsteve.