What Worship is Not

Greetings!

Worship. It is something that is essential to the church, particularly a church seeking vibrant life. Worship can be experienced at all levels of age, backgrounds, and even faiths! Worship also happens to be one of the areas of the church life that I am personally most passionate about. As a person who has gone to school to study the Church and minstering to it, and also as a Spiritual Formations Coordinater at a Christian private school, the role of “Spiritual Guide” is something that I embrace readily. One of the primary roles as a spiritual guide is to create a space for people to experience God, and one of the primary ways we experience God is through worship, as well as through service, communal living, spiritual discipline etc. One of the cool things about worship, however, is that every single aspect of our Christian faith can fall under its umbrella. Romans 12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. ” (NRSV)

What this is saying is that worship is more than just singing on Sunday morning. It is, as Jesus says in John 4, “worshiping in spirit and truth”

I could go on and on about “what worship is” however, as you can probably ascertain from this blog title, that’s not what I’m going to talk about. Perhaps in the future I will do a blog series about the different aspects of worship practice, but not today. Today I am going to talk about 4 problems that many people run into when it comes to worship. These are 4 things that Worship is NOT. Worship is not restricted, bound, limited, or a show.

Now I know, you are probably saying, well this is vague and somewhat confusing. Trust me, I will explain what I mean soon enough. And who knows, perhaps this will spawn an in depth series on worship. (I have always wanted to write a book about it. Maybe this is just the beginning. Who knows!) but first things first.

1. Worship is not Restricted.

Worship is Essential to spiritual life, but one common misnomer is that worship HAS to happen in the church building. Worship is NOT restricted to a particular building, place, time, people group, or even religion! That is correct, people of other faiths and religions (outside of Christianity) worship to edify their spiritual life! Now, I’m not saying that you need to start worshipping Buddha or Krishna or Allah (though this if we are being technical, some would argue that Allah and Yahweh are the same God…just sayin). But people who think that worship can only happen on Sunday morning in a church building are simply wrong. (And yes, in my short life experienc of 23 years, I have experienced church leaders saying exactly that same thing) As I said at the beginning of this blog, worship is a lifestyle, not simply a 30 minute block of time to sing songs every week. In fact, I may be branded a heretic for saying this, but using other faith’s worship styles could possibly be helpful for us to come into communion with God! Take, for instance, yoga. There are so many Christians that practice Yoga as a way to meditate upon the peace of God. Yoga originated in India, as a Hindu practice, yet christians experience growth and peace and closeness to God through worshipping that way!

Not only that, we should be accepting of other people’s forms of worship. Instead of trying to force others to worship just like you, let their true expression of worship flow freely, even if they want to sing different music, or Spend a whole service praying, or have communion every Sunday, or going on a pilgrimage to Mecca, or what have you. Traditional Christian worship styles are not the ONLY worship styles.

Instead of viewing worship as something that is restricted, we should view it as limitless.  Which leads into our next point pretty nicely.

2. Worship is not Music.

If we stand rooted in the same traditions as those of the ancients, then we must attest to the fact that worship is far from just music. Worship is two things, first and foremost, it is an  encounter with the divine or the spiritual(depending upon your context). Secondly, it is a response to that encounter.  Psalms 96: 7-9 goes a little something like this….

7  Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
     ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
8  Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
     bring an offering, and come into his courts.
9  Worship the Lord in holy splendor;
     tremble before him, all the earth.

This word ascribe comes from a Hebrew word “Yahab”, which is translated as “to come”. 3 times before worship is even mentioned, the Psalmist is saying, “come. Encounter the Lord. Encounter His glory, encounter His strength. Encounter Him.”

With that being said, it is far from the truth to say that we only encounter the divine when we are singing songs at church on Sunday morning. Of course not! God is around us and within us every minute of every day. We encounter God in almost every single way imaginable; through our friends, through prayer, through watching the television, through enjoying the little things in life, through that hippy dippy realization that you are connected with every single being in the universe (yes, I have had those experiences, and yes, I was completely sober at the time. I was actually at work at my College’s coffee shop for it…but that’s another story for another time.) God is constantly calling to us and constantly encountering us, would it not make sense then that our very lives should be worship? If worship is first an encounter and then secondly a response, then if we respond in a positive way, it is worship. If we encounter God and he shows us suffering in the world, a worshipful response would be to go and attempt to heal that pain and that hurt. If we have an encounter with God and we realize that there is something broken within our own lives, a worshipful response is to do what we can to fix what is broken. If we have an encounter with the divine and it tells us that we need to run to the store and buy a surprise gift for your wife, then the worshipful response would be to go do that. Are you beginning to see how Worship is more than just singing on Sunday morning, or praying enough, or reading enough of the Bible. Worship is our humble and positive response to our day to day encounters with the Divine.

3. Worship is not Concealed

If worship is an encounter with the divine and a response, that that response should in fact be something that you do not hide. So often when I lead chapel with my students, I see them glaze over and just stand there. I know that they are reading the lyrics to the song and I know that they are listening, but instead of letting the response and expression flow out of them, they stifle it and refuse to let themselves be vulnerable not only in front of others but also in front of God. I understand that this is a common issue for youth in general, but it’s not just a “youth” issue. I have observed other church members, some of them christians for 60+ years, and yet they remain stifled and unwilling to let their response fully out. They hide it, and stuff it away. That is not what worship is. The Bible talks about God being tired of useless festivals in Isaiah 1. God tires of our meaningless sacrifices. In other words, God despises worship that is just simply “Going through the motions.” Part of what makes time to worship God so meaningful and spiritual is our ability to “bare all” to God. God understands us, he understands our emotions, our fears, and our anxieties. He wants us to fully speak words into them, and to fully surrender our hearts to Him. He desires for us to be vulnerable, willing to truelly and humbly respond to our encounters with Him. He wants us to unleash our hearts and our spirits upon him, not stifling the flow, but letting it rush through us into connection with the divine.

4. Worship is not a show

On the flip side, as important as it is for us to let our response show, it is equally important to not let our response become a show. Getting back to Isaiah, God doesn’t desire our useless sacrifices and festivals, partly because we are going trough the motions, but also partly to make ourselves seem more important or more holy. Worship is not a selfish act meant to boost your own self. It is not supposed to elevate your status to “more holy than thou art”. Worship is vulnerable, yes, but it is also humble. It is our humble response to an encounter with God. It is personal reflection, it is prayer, it is songs of praise, it is going out and serving at your local, not for your own gain, but for the gain of others and for the gain of your relationship with God. Worship is not about you and only you in other words. Worship also involves others. Your response is not just about making yourself appear better than others, it is about seeking out God’s direction and serving others through that guidance and through that encounter.

 

So these are the things that Worship is not. As you go about your day to day life, my hope is that you may be aware of the encounters that you are having with the Divine. May you be humble and vulnerable in your response to Him. May you remember that worship is something that anyone and everyone can practice. And finally, may you worship with the entirety of your being.

Peace and Blessings,
Eric

 

This is a personal blog and does not necessarily represent the views of Community Church or any groups mentioned here

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