Free To Worship


When we say that we "worship" God, what does it mean, really?

There's a Sunday school answer that most of us would probably put forth...

"To show awe and reverence... or something."

Some of us who have been around the church-y mulberry bush a few times would say,

"Worship is a lifestyle, man.  It's what you do 7 days a week... or something." 

Funny.  Even though most of us who call ourselves Christians will say that worship is about God and not us, and that it takes place wherever we happen to be...  we don't really believe that.


At least we don't show we believe it because we end up filling our favorite pew or padded chair every Sunday (or Saturday night... or something) intent on worshiping and getting our Jesus-shine on so we can keep our salvation for another week. 

Listen, I am not hating on gathering for worship. What I do for a living sort of depends upon people gathering together for worship.  I think what I struggle with has more to do with motivation than it does with participation.  

I'm a professional church-goer, man.  There's not much I haven't experienced.

I was raised in fire and brimstone preaching, no praise music singing, hard-shelled Baptist churches.  We didn't use high-falootin' words like "worship" to describe what we did.  We went to church. At church you didn't enjoy yourself, you got convicted of sin.  If you sang too loud, you belonged in the choir.  And it didn't matter if every single person there had gotten saved at least four times in their life and the people in the congregation never changed... ever, the pastor would always try to get someone to get saved at the end of it all. 

I have worshiped in Pentecostal worship services where someone spoke in tongues, someone prophesied, someone got healed and several people were slain in the Spirit.  Oh and there was a dance team made up of three girls and a guy who wore matching outfits and who danced and waved banners during all of the music.  Oh, and there was one that I went to where they passed out tambourines and maracas along with some flags and banners to wave.  It was a party.

I worshiped in a Presbyterian church in downtown Chicago where the service was so formal it felt like I was at funeral.  No one smiled.  No one dared look as though they were enjoying any moment of it.  Everything was scripted: prayers, poems, liturgy... you name it.  The organ and the choir were impressive, and the setting was very church-like, but there was a coldness there that left me feeling like God had a lot of other places to be that day, so he decided to leave them to their own devices.  It was worshipful but it wasn't worship. At least to me.

Once I worshiped at a huge mega church where there was an enormous stage and lots of theater lights and gigantic screens that flashed videos and song lyrics.  There was a band with like four worship leaders in it who sang and shouted and encouraged the congregation to get their praise on.  They sang
"original" songs that the worship band had written and recorded.  I didn't know any of them because I was visiting the church.  Everyone else sang along with gusto.  The pastor didn't have a Bible, he used a palm pilot with the Bible on it to read to everyone.  The offering "plates" were little white buckets.  I felt like I was at a big conference that was designed to make me feel vaguely better about myself, especially if I tossed something into the little white bucket.

I worshiped in Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford for an entire summer when I was studying Mythology at Christ Church College.  I went to Evensong almost every night.  I went to Sunday services very nearly every week.  The Anglican order of worship was familiar enough to me that I felt somewhat at home there.  But it was the choirs that got me.  I would listen to the words of the Psalter being sung by a variety of boys choirs and it felt as if the sound itself would lift me to heaven.  I would look to the sweeping roof and flying buttresses of the Cathedral ceiling with my eyes filled with tears and I knew what Heaven sounded like.

Once I found myself in the middle of a David Crowder concert with about six thousand other youth leaders.  I'd had a tough year, full of changes and uncertainty.  I was raw and open.  When Crowder launched into his song You Are My Joy, I rose to my feet with nearly everyone and lifted my hands in the air as a I sang.  When the band reached the bridge of the song, and segued into a musical moment that started soft and then built into a crescendo, I found myself bouncing up and down in sheer... well, joy.  I shouted the chorus at the top of my lungs: "You are my Joy, You are my Joy, You are my Joy, You are my Joooooooooyyyyyyy!!!!!!"  It was a joyful moment.  A worshipful moment.

The one constant in each of these stories is me.

I was at the center of each of these stories... my wants, my needs, my desires, my preferences.  That's the problem with us Christians.  We enter into worship moments for the purpose of worship, but what we really are after is fulfillment.  It's not about what we give, it's about what we get. 

The English word "worship" comes from an Old English word Worthscipe, which basically means "to attribute worth to something."

Funny.  Even our word for worship puts us at the center of everything. 

There are three words for "worship" in Hebrew and three words in Greek.

In Hebrew there is hawa which means "to bow down," yare which means "fear, reverence and awe," abid which means "acts of service"

In Greek there is proskyneo which means "to fall down and worship," sebo which means "to worship God in reverence," and latreuo which means "acts of service."

Notice a pattern here?

The Biblical pattern of worship is holistic.  When we worship God we not only engage in acts and experiences of worship, we do so with a sense of reverence and awe for God and not for the act or experience itself.  Further, we worship God by serving God in the world.  In other words, true worship is first and foremost worship that is not embedded in a moment, but is something that happens all day, every day.  Secondly, true worship is focused on what we can offer to God, and not the other way around.

There is a reason why so many people leave church feeling "up."  They should.  But the worship service shouldn't be the source of their good feeling--it is merely the teacher that demonstrates how God is the source of life, God is the source of peace and hope and only when we carry our worship of God out into the world with our whole selves will we truly retain that "up" feeling we feel when the service ends.

Christians have turned worship into a drug that must be procured.  Without it, they don't even know how to be Christian.  Christians have also turned worship into an idol that must be preserved and protected and bowed down to at all costs.  They focus so intently on the elements of worship that they forget all about the object of worship... God.

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