Wow! That last blog post was huge! I guess I had a lot to say about what worship isn’t. If you have any more ideas about what worship isn’t, please let me know in the comments below, or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/davidemacdonald) or Twitter (@ONUchaplain).
Today, I’d like to focus on the purpose of worship—a response to last week’s post, in the form of exploring what worship is. As is the case with these sorts of things, making the argument in the positive has proven to be much more difficult than arguing the negative. So, I expect that there will be some disagreement with me on some of the points I will make, and that’s o.k. with me. What I want to do is start an honest discussion about worship that may help in our work here at the ONU chapel, and might spark some discussions in other communities of faith, too.
Let’s Begin with Scripture: This is obviously not an exhaustive list–if you have other suggestions, let me know!
Psalm 122:1 “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the LORD!’” (NRSV)
When was the last time you felt “glad” about going to worship? (Especially if you lead worship, and never get a chance to sit back and just worship without worrying about what’s coming next!) Worship is intended to be a joyful expression of gratitude and praise to God. Now, some people express their joy through moving liturgy, symbolic actions, and sacramental acts. Others express their joy through music, movement, artistic expression, and spontaneous expressions of worship. Everyone expresses joy in his/her own way. I once criticized people who had “long faces” when they worshiped, until I spoke with several such people and realized that the joy they felt in worship was no less deeply felt than mine, simply because their facial expressions were staid and stoic. What brings you joy? How do you express that joy in worship? Are you “glad” about worship? If so, how do you share that joy? If not, what’s stopping you from fully experiencing joy in your worship?
Psalm 8:1 “O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.”
Worship is an expression of awe and wonder in the face of the Creator. Look around you. Where did all this come from? Who created all this? How does the bird stay in flight? Who placed a particular strain of DNA inside that tree to make it look just the way it does? If you conclude that creation has a Creator, then you can’t not be impressed and awed by the complexity of God’s grace and love for creation. God’s handiwork is all around us—God’s fingerprints are left behind in the sacredness of the earth and all the gifts of creation. Worship is a natural response to the feeling that God is something/someone bigger than you or me—and is an opportunity for us to be in relationship with that Creator.
Psalm 29:2 “Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.”
God is holy. Only a holy God would be worthy of our worship. Who would want to worship an unholy God? Not me! Worship is our way of standing in the presence of our holy God, giving praise for God’s mighty acts of salvation in our midst. Worship is an opportunity to recognize that we human beings are not the be-all and end-all of the universe—that there is One who is greater, One who created us all, and One who redeems us from sin and sustains us through life.
James 4:8a “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”
Worship is about proximity on two planes. One plane is more noticeable to us—the horizontal plane—this is our proximity to one another. Worship is about rubbing elbows with other believers (and even with some non-believers and skeptics from time to time, depending on your context). In worship, we sing together, hear the Word of God read and interpreted, and respond through acts of prayer, giving, and sacramental or symbolic actions. All of this is done in the context of community.
The other plane on which worship takes place is the vertical plane—our “drawing near” to God. When we worship, we come closer to God, not so we can puff ourselves up as “God’s chosen people,” or wall ourselves off from the world. We come closer to God so that God will come closer to us. Or perhaps more accurately, so that we may recognize that God has already drawn near to us, and that we are in God’s presence, not just in worship, but in every moment of our lives.
Revelation 4:11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Above all, worship is wrapped up in the mystery of God’s grace for humanity, and is our recognition of God’s love for us. God created us, and everything around us, and God continues to love us, even when we disrespect the creation we’ve been given. The above scripture from Revelation also shows that our worship is part of the heavenly worship of God, which makes us part of God’s kin-dom of worshipers who have lifted up their voices in song and praise for millennia. Worship makes us part of something that is bigger than any one of us, and together, we form the body of Christ, the family of God—the Church.
I have some more thoughts on worship that I’ll share at another time. For now, I’d like to hear from those who might read this blog–What scriptures inspire you to worship? What is your definition of worship? Do you feel a part of the body of Christ when you worship?