New Year’s Resolutions Anyone?
In last year’s winter issue I shared my list of New Year’s Resolutions and pledged to write an article on each one. Though each resolve was given personal attention, they never found their way into the article I promised. So with pen in hand and a little mud on my face, here is my insight on three of those resolutions.
To Gain an Understanding of Corporate Worship
I’ve spent the past year combing through books, articles and listening to tapes about worship. I’ve talked it over with the scholars and traced it in the lives of simple saints. Some I talked with had all the answers on worship, while others didn’t seem to have a clue. But every time I reached for my pen to write, I became frustrated with either the breadth of the subject or the narrowness of my own experience, and laid my pen aside deferring to the greater mind and the larger soul.
I also hesitated to write for the timid reason that there are certain subjects within the church that people have real strong feelings about and will fight over at the drop of a hat (with some willing to drop the hat). Worship is one of those subjects. Worship wars have divided denominations and split churches. In an endeavor to keep the peace, some churches have offered a menu of services with varying worship styles. This, of course, hasn’t aided true worship in the least, but has pandered to self-centered seekers wanting to “do church” in a way that is entertaining and exciting, or kept entrenched a style traditionally safe but totally missing the mark.
My readership is mostly conservative and mostly within the Methodist holiness tradition. This group, for the most part, hasn’t bowed the knee at the altar of “Christian consumerism,” though I have witnessed some alarming extremes. Everything from services so dead they felt like a “funeral for the Almighty” to services so free spirited and casual that they were nothing more than chatty conversations of God talk, similar to a pep rally where we all shouted “hurrah for Jesus!” on cue.
In between these extremes are those who are truly serious about worship but are not always sure of how to go about it. They remind me of the puzzled partygoer who asked, “Are we having fun yet?” They try hard to worship but feel like asking, “Are we worshiping yet?” I did witness services where I felt like the congregation was truly worshiping and the pastor knew how to lead them in worship, but for the most part I agree with Tozer that worship has become the missing jewel of the church.
Without going into great detail, let me offer you my findings.
- We don’t see worship as the main enterprise of the church.
The church seems to have gone through stages of what it thinks is the most important thing for it to be doing. At times the church has emphasized separation. Other times it was evangelistic outreach, foreign missions, or just biblical instruction. Each one or a mixture of the four, taking their turn being the hallmark of what church is really about. When in all reality each of these must be a product of worship or they will become another gimmick to motivate the saints, or a slick PR front to sell the church.
- We lack a balance between a God that is majestic and transcendent and one that is imminent and lovingly near us.
Most holiness churches have unduly stressed feeling and experiencing God to the neglect of worshiping and glorifying God for the pure joy of magnifying the one whom alone is worthy. Jesus taught us to worship in spirit and in truth. Worship must have both heart and head. Worship must engage emotions and thought. Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full of artificial admirers. On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship. Many in a sincere attempt to feel God near have lost this balance and have opened the door to a fleshly humanism and called it worship.
- We have forgotten that only those who are spiritually alive can worship.
When Jesus said, “we must worship the Father in spirit…” He meant that true worship could only come from spirits made alive and sensitive by the quickening power of the Holy Spirit of God. John Piper says it like this; “The fuel of worship is a true vision of the greatness and glory of God, but the fire that makes the fuel burn white hot is the quickening of the Holy Spirit.”
- We have allowed worship to become something we do for our spiritual benefit rather than something we give to God.
This twist in focus has turned church into a performance event where we are the recipients. We want the songs to bless us, the prayers to comfort us, and the sermon to help us feel better about our condition. True worship is not self-centered, but God-centered. Robert Coleman says it like this; “Worship is the adoring response of the creature to the infinite majesty of God. While it presupposes submission to Him, to worship, in the highest sense, is not supplication for needs, or even thanksgiving for blessings, but the occupation of the soul with God Himself.”
- We have made worship a Sunday morning event rather than a lifestyle.
Worship has to do with real life. It is not a mythical interlude in a week of reality. We cannot honor God with our lips on Sunday while our hearts are far from Him during the week.
Tinkering or Transformation?
The holiness movement is going through a transition. There is a lot of tinkering with things and some will be for our help while others will be for our harm. But when it comes to worship, we need a transformation by the Spirit of God. Pastors need to be leading the way, teaching their people how to worship God in spirit and in truth. In order to do this, they must find a biblical paradigm for worship.
As I have sought to develop a biblical view of worship, I have developed for myself five basic facets that must be involved.
- The first facet is dispositional. I mean by this that worship is an attitude of the heart and soul. There is nothing casual about worship, nor can be done by simply parroting phrases. It blends our heart and soul and mind like nothing else that we will ever do. To me this disposition rests on four character traits.
Reverence. We cannot worship unless there is a reverence and esteem for Almighty God. We must see Him as majestic and transcendent, the One before who even angels veil their faces.
Love. We must truly love Him with all of our hearts. You cannot worship a God you do not truly love.
Humility. The humble soul is the one who understands that He is the Creator and I am the creature, and I can do nothing without Him. That sense of humility frees us from self-aggrandizement and enables us to lift Him up.
Gratitude. Romans chapter 1 tells us it was the sin of ingratitude that prevented man from worshiping God even when they knew Him as God. Gratitude paves the way for real worship.
- The second facet is gestural. Biblical worship involves some kind of outward act. The very word in Hebrew means to bow down. So, worship is bowing, lifting hands, praying, singing, reciting, preaching, etc. It is absolutely impossible to sit like a monument and worship the Almighty.
- The third facet is vocal. We may worship in silence but not all of worship is silent. Worship involves appropriate vocal expression of praise and affirmation. Worship by its very nature requires a personal and/or a congregational response. The biblical pattern runs the scale of everything from a quiet amen to the jubilant shout of hallelujah! Vocal expressions, though, should never be a mindless parroting of worship language. Worship must never be divorced from the mind and the will. This doesn’t mean worship cannot be spontaneous or even at times rapturous, but it does mean that it will never be a mindless, out of control, experience.
- The fourth aspect is liturgical. I was taught to be suspicious of anything that involved liturgy, only to my surprise to discover that every church follows a liturgy, either a good one or a bad one, written or unwritten. They all have form. A biblical view of worship always entails order and form.
- The fifth facet is spiritual. Let me quote from John Piper again. “The fuel of worship is the truth of God, the furnace of worship is the spirit of man, and the heat of worship is the vital affections of reverence, contrition, trust, gratitude and joy. But the fire of worship is the Holy Spirit, and until the Holy Spirit quickens our spirit with the flame of life, our spirit is so dead and unresponsive it does not even quality as a spirit. True worship can only come from spirits made alive and sensitive by the quickening power of the Holy Spirit of God.”
I’ve not written this article as a critic or counselor. It is simply an article that allows you to look over my shoulder into the private journaling of my journey toward better worship. Fortunately God accepts our imperfect worship while we are learning how to offer that which is more acceptable. He is worthy of our very best!
If you are interested in further help, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you a list of my study resources.