Just this past week, I’ve had so many conversations about why people don’t go to worship. One person said he’d stopped going because he needed some alone time to sort things out by himself. Another said she was skipping church on Sundays to stay at home and listen to sermon podcasts. Yet another said “I get more out of five minutes of silent contemplation than I do out of a whole hour of church.”
Let’s be honest, the typical 21st century American generally treats worship as an event that we go to – one event among a buffet of options that are laid out before them. In this view, worship is an event that involves performers and some audience participation. Perhaps it’s kind of like a warmed over TED talk. It’s kind of interesting and inspirational. And all the audience member has to do is to sit back and enjoy and critically evaluate and fit this in as a piece of their portfolio of other activities as they pursue the agenda of actualizing their best self. Worship, in this view, is an option.
But what if worship isn’t a performance for our entertainment? What if we aren’t the audience? Here are 4 truths about worship that upend our 21st century bias and remind us that worship is indispensable for our spiritual health.
1) Worship reorients our priorities
Worship reminds us of the spiritual reality that undergirds the material world we experience every day. Consider Isaiah’s vision of worship in the heavenly throne room (Isaiah 6:1-4):
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
The Lord is mighty. We are small. The Lord is majestic and powerful and holy; before Him we’re grubby, puny, and mundane. We are not the audience. Rather, we are petitioners who seek audience with the Lord.
This insight is a vertigo inducing mind-shift that shows us that worship is an encounter with God. And it is not always a safe encounter. But we can be sure it is a good encounter.
This mind-shift is a kind of mental detox from all the messages the world gives us: messages that appeal to our vanity and our baser impulses, messages that stoke our fears and suspicions, messages that tempt us to inflate our importance, or messages that goad us to sell our souls to a brand or cause or strongman who will give us glory by association. We detox from all those messages and reorient our priorities to God’s eternal priorities.
Worship reorients our priorities away from temporal trivialities and toward eternal truth
And the surprise is that eternal truth is a Person.
2) Worship reframes our view
Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach” is about the loss of enchantment and wonder that accompanied his loss of faith and his embrace of a materialistic atheistic view of the universe. He ends the poem on a somber note of his view of the world
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Worship gives us a radically different view. Worship reminds us that all of creation is a venue for worship:
Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars,
wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds,
kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth,
young men and women, old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted;
his splendor is above the earth and the heavens. (Psalm 148:7-13)
The world isn’t a “darkling plain.” Creation is filled with wonder, mystery, and delight, if we but had eyes to see. Every creature, both great and small, gives praise to God just by its very existence. Together, all creatures great and small form a vast symphony of praise. This pushes us to see the world in an entirely new way. Every walk becomes a worship service. Every errand becomes an adventure filled with new observations of God’s glory.
Worship reframes our view of creation from “darkling plain” to “symphony of praise”
3) Worship renews our hearts
Worship is not about entertainment or eloquence. It is, primarily about the work of Christ.
When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (I Corinthians 2:1-4)
A sermon that inspires us with interesting ideas, but doesn’t present the grace of Christ isn’t a sermon at all; it’s a motivational speech.
A sermon that deeply picks apart the textual and theological nuances of a passage but doesn’t present the grace of Christ isn’t a sermon at all; it’s a lecture.
A sermon that leaves us simmering in guilt, but doesn’t present the grace of Christ isn’t a sermon at all; it’s a harangue.
The grace of Christ is what renews our hearts. The grace of christ calls to us, leads us to penitence, washes us clean, picks us up, strengthens us when we falter, gives us vision for the future, calls us to vocation, and assures us of eternal rest.
If there’s not the presentation of the grace of Christ, it’s not a sermon.
Worship renews us with the saving and sanctifying grace of Christ
4) Worship relaunches us into the world.
God always seems to be telling his people “go”
- Abraham responded to the call to go (Genesis 12:1)
- Moses heard the word “go” from the burning bush (Exodus 3:10)
- Elijah, hiding in the wilderness, heard the Lord say “go back the way you came” (I kings 19:15)
- Isaiah received the commission “go and tell this people” (Isaiah 6:9)
- Jesus told his disciples “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19)
After an encounter with the Lord, we have our priorities reoriented, our view reframed and our hearts renewed. This isn’t all for our benefit. We are relaunched into the world to be a blessing by serving and giving good account for the hope that we have in us.
Worship relaunches you into the world as an ambassador of the Kingdom of Christ
So go to worship looking for and expecting these things, and you’ll find that your whole experience will be transformed. Let me know how it goes for you!
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Finally, carry on the conversation in the comments below: what do you do to more deeply experience worship?