This is the first part of a two part series on worship. As a seminarian taking a class on worship this blog and the one to come will flow out of that class. These blogs on worship are assignments for my class on worship. If you have questions or comments please feel free to engage me.
What is worship? A simple enough question, it would appear, but the sad truth is that many within the church have a limited and narrow view of worship. Some of this is due to the so called ‘worship wars’ within many churches across the Christian landscape. The goal of this writing is to bring to light to what worship is in the complete fullness of the word. Worship is bringing our hearts before God’s heart to experience a God that can sympathize with the full gamut of emotions within our hearts. In that statement there are a myriad of understandings and out-workings in mind.
When most people are asked what worship is, they immediately think of singing songs. Tag along with anyone church hopping and the same conversation will be heard time and time again. The conversation goes a little something like this:
Person 1 “How was Church?”
Person 2 “Well the message was good but I did not like the worship”
This understanding of worship has more to do with a single facet and not so much with the full richness of what worship must be to bring us into true communion with God. So if worship is bringing our hearts to God then it should be understood that this can happen in a variety of ways and venues. First, it should be understood that worship is not a thumb tack point on the Sunday of our calendars. Rather, worship is a continual life practice that is carried into every moment of every day in every venue we find ourselves in through the natural ebb and flow of our lives. Worship is a continual committed relationship to God; not merely one date a week with God. In one sense worship in individual and continual, but it is also communal and occasional.
Worship is also what is done on Sunday when the congregation comes together. Worship on Sunday includes all things that happen within the service, not just the singing. In a typical run of the mill service there is prayer, songs, confession, reading of scripture, and proclamation. Prayer is worship, singing is worship, confession is worship, hearing scripture is worship, and receiving teaching is worship; it is all worship. To limit worship to simply singing songs is to miss a broader scope with which to worship and connect with God.
Another point to be made is that worship includes all emotions within the capacity of the human heart. Jesus came to this earth and was human; he felt human emotions and as such can sympathize with the ugliness of our hearts. The Church can be understood as a hospital: people do not go to the hospital sanitized and healthy. No, they show up sick, hurting, and soiled. At times worship can be clean and what the world calls beautiful. However, what God calls beautiful worship is when we are open to bringing our hearts, our whole messy and sometimes ugly hearts, in contact with his heart that heals, hears our anger, and rejoices in the praise that comes from his broken people. Now, lest we think we worship God of our own volition we should remember that our nature has been tainted by sin. It is because of this nature that we do not naturally worship God. In John D. Witvliet’s book Worship Seeking Understanding writes “that worship’s divine encounter like faith and salvation is more like a gift we receive than an accomplishment we achieve”.
So when you’re going through the motions in worship remember what a privilege it is to be called to worship of and by the creator of all things.