A friend recently asked, “What does it mean to glorify God?” It is a phrase we know and a phrase we often repeat. But what does it actually mean? How do we go about it? And in what ways may we do the very opposite?
I write today from New Zealand where I have spent a couple of days in the shadow of Mount Cook. Mount Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand, its highest peak soaring to over 12,000 feet. It is as majestic a mountain as you will ever see and, for obvious reasons, a must-visit for tourists.
Not surprisingly, you can’t drive or walk any great distance before you spot people taking photos of the mountain. They most often stop in the middle of the lone road that leads to Mount Cook so they can take the shot we have probably all seen on Instagram—a shot in which the road serves as the line that leads the eye to focus on the mountain. Like a good tourist, I stopped to take the photo as well.
As I stood in the roadway and gazed at the mountain (listening carefully for cars racing up from behind), the thought entered my mind: “There is Mount Cook in all its glory.” And it is, indeed, glorious. It is glorious in the sense that it is beautiful and that it evokes awe and wonder. It is right and good that we pause to admire it and right and good that we wish to record the memory with a photograph. It is right and good that we wish to share those photographs with others so they, too, can admire the mountain and right and good that we encourage others to see it and enjoy it. If a friend ever tells me that he intends to visit New Zealand I will be sure to tell him, “Make sure you visit Mount Cook. Make sure you enjoy the majesty of that mountain.”
And this, I think, helps us understand what it is to glorify God. God is beautiful. Rightly seen, God evokes awe and wonder. God is worthy of glory—as much more glory as the maker of a mountain has more glory than the mountain itself (Hebrews 3:3). It is fitting that we gaze at him and admire him and it is fitting that we tell others about him. This is how we glorify him—to see him, enjoy him, admire him, and let all of this overflow into a life of worship and proclamation. We tell God, “you are lovely and glorious and I will live to make you known” and we tell others, “Make sure you come to know the Lord. Make sure you enjoy the majesty of our great God.”
But I observed something else about the road to Mount Cook: it is a prime location for social media influencers. As I drove along the road I couldn’t help but notice how many people put themselves between the camera and the mountain so that the mountain was merely a prop, the backdrop for a photo that featured themselves. Often these influencers would be doing something showy or wearing something skimpy that was meant to draw the eye to themselves rather than to the mountain behind. They made themselves the focus of the photograph rather than the mountain. They stole the glory of the mountain by using it to glorify themselves.
And this helps us understand how we can fail to glorify God. We place ourselves in the foreground so that God winds up in the background. We place ourselves between others and God so that instead of gazing at him and his majesty, at him and his glory, they instead gaze at us. We can do this when we perform some noble deed and are discontent until others acknowledge and commend us; we can do this when we preach or teach the Word and then wait longingly for words of praise; we can do this when we worship in such a way as to be seen rather than to remain unseen. In a hundred ways we can rob God of the glory that is rightly his. Instead of being the leading line that guides another eye and heart to God, we become the subject that diminishes and obscures the Lord.
It is fitting that we acknowledge the majesty of a great mountain and it is good that we profess the glory of our great God. We glorify him when we simply acknowledge who he is and what he has done. We glorify him when we respond to who he is and what he has done with a life of worship and with words of proclamation. We glorify him when we give him the renown that is rightly his.