In last week's podcast episode I talked with Joseph Yu and Caroline Penick about the topic of worship. Worship styles can be one of the most divisive issues in churches today. I think a big reason for that is the lack of a proper understanding of what worship is. I think once we understand it more fully, we'll be less likely to argue over some of the picky details currently plaguing our congregations.
One of the secular definitions for worship found in the dictionary is "extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem." This definition certainly could be applied to worship of God, but it could also apply to how some people feel about sports teams, money, themselves, or a variety of other things. I think we'd all agree that in those cases, that would be idol worship.
In the podcast, Joseph and Caroline gave very good definitions of worship. The one my husband likes to use comes from Stuart Sheehan's book Worship (From the Ground Up)*. He says, "Worship is the proper state of submission before God: it acknowledges who He has been, is now, and will be; and it recognizes who I was, am now, and will be."
There's a lot to unpack in that definition, but I think one thing I really like about it is that it connects the one who worships to the object of their worship. Just like when we talked about identity, our view of ourselves is intimately connected to our view of God. When we view ourselves too highly, we can't see exactly how amazing it is that God would save us. When we see ourselves too negatively, we ignore the work Christ did on the cross and the sanctification He continues to do in us. Without the most accurate view of ourselves and of God possible on this side of heaven, we can't worship Him fully.
With this idea of worship in mind, it becomes clear that there are a lot of misconceptions about worship. I'd like to look at a few of them.
It's Not Just Singing
It seems the biggest arguments people have over worship is the style of songs that should be sung at church. While singing is a major part of worship, it's not the only part. Choosing songs that align with Scripture is critical, but squabbling over hymns vs contemporary, electric vs acoustic, organ or no organ takes the focus off of God and places it on our preferences. I'll admit that there have been plenty of times where I have not particularly enjoyed the style of worship. And while it is the worship leader's job to prepare the congregation for worship, it's the Christian's job to check distractions and selfishness at the door in order to display a proper reverence for the creator of the universe.
Another issue with only recognizing singing as worship is the temptation to ignore other forms of worship. If we think back to the previous definition, worship is submission. So submitting yourself to the authority of God's Word through reading is worship. Submitting yourself to His chosen method of communication, prayer, is worship. Submitting yourself to His call on your life and living it out daily is worship. When we define worship as singing at church, we miss out on the multitude of other opportunities to bring glory to God.
It's Not About Us
While we do need to recognize our position relative to God in order to better worship Him, we can't make worship about us. God doesn't need us in order to be worshiped. Scripture describes the angels worshiping God and Luke 19:40 says "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out." Because angels and nature are in submission to God, they probably worship Him better than we do most of the time.
Because we make worship about ourselves, many people often find it difficult to perform congregational worship. They're afraid to read Scripture or pray out loud because they don't like talking in front of others. They don't sing the songs because they're not great singers and can't hit all the notes perfectly. I once read a book, which I wouldn't even name if I could remember the name, that stated you shouldn't sing in corporate worship if you couldn't hit all the notes so that you wouldn't distract others. Can off-key singing be distracting? Yes, but that's on the person being distracted, not the one singing. Don't make worship about you because it can keep you from participating in worship among the body of believers.
It's Not Only On Sunday
Our four year old sometimes asks to go to worship with us instead of staying in child care. What she means is staying in the service for the songs. To her, worship is from 10:30 - 11 am on Sunday mornings. As her parents, it's our job to help her see that we worship every day. And I don't mean just by listening to praise songs at home or in your car. When we recognize the need to live submissively in every aspect of our lives, we are more likely to live in such a way that is pleasing to the One we claim to worship.
God doesn't require us to be perfect to bring Him glory because we have already been perfected in Christ. But He does want us to acknowledge who He is and what He's done and submit ourselves to His authority. "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." (Romans 12:1) Are you willing to be a living sacrifice every day by laying down your own wants and needs and serving God's kingdom? Or do you just want to stick with your one hour on Sundays and miss out on the privilege of serving the living God?
True and proper thoughts on worship allow us to draw closer to God and engage with Him on a more personal level. Don't go through your day without reflecting on how it was spent and don't walk into a corporate worship service without centering your focus on the one who gives life and breath and submitted himself to death on a cross for your salvation. It's easy to go through the motions. But what could be a more worthy use of our time than true, Biblical worship?
*I discovered that this book currently part of the Kindle Unlimited program which means I was able to download it for free. For anyone interested, Kindle Unlimited is only $.99 for 3 months for new subscribers until July 31, 2018.
**Amazon affiliate links where applicable. Purchasing anything through these links helps support The Collective Perspective Podcast and keeps it running. Thanks!