Getting Worship Wrong
The lights fade.
The crowd quiets.
The well-timed fog rolls in.
Ready the doves.
“Good morning church. Let’s begin with some worship!”
Sans the fog and lasers – this is a scenario a lot of us are not unfamiliar with. My question is – should that concern us?
In ancient cultures social life revolved around sanctuaries, temples, stadiums and the like. It was there that various gods were worshipped as people gave of their possessions, skills, and even their lives as sacrifices to the adoration of their deity.
But what is worship, really?
Author Harold Best puts it best, ironically:
“We were created continuously outpouring. Note that I did not say we were created to be continuous outpourers. Nor can I dare imply that we were created to worship. This would suggest that God is an incomplete person whose need for something outside himself (worship) completes his sense of himself. It might not even be safe to say that we were created for worship, because the inference can be drawn that worship is a capacity that can be separated out and eventually relegated to one of several categories of being. I believe it is strategically important, therefore, to say that we were created continuously outpouring—we were created in that condition, at that instant, imago Dei.”– Harold Best
“We are not created to worship or even for worship – we are created worshipping.”
Religious, irreligious, or otherwise – worship is not an aspect of our lives – but the essence of our being. When we speak of worshipping – we are speaking in terms of when, not if.
We are continually giving ourselves away and pouring ourselves out for a person, cause, experience, achievement, or status. As a result – all of life is ceaseless worship – and while church, singing, and liturgy is a part of worship– it is not limited to, defined by, expressed only in.
As we know – we often and continually pour ourselves out for things and people other than God. We place the expectations of God on things that are not – things that can never bear the weight of those expectations.
As professor G.K. Beale puts it:
“We reflect what we revere to our own ruin or redemption.”
Or, how we say it at Poplar Creek:
“We become what we behold.”
Each of us, you and I, are always reflecting something, being formed by something – all of the time. It is how we are made.
Each and everyone one of us worships.
Now, a fact that I find starting is that there is no real precise instruction in all of the New Testament for how we are to conduct “corporate worship.” It speaks of gatherings (1 Cor 14, Acts 2, Heb 10)– but the apostles never explicitly speak of worship.
To understand why this is – we need to understand some etymology.In the Old Testament the most common word for worship is the Hebrew word “hishtahvah” – and it means, “to bow down with reverence and respect.” It occurs 171 times –164 of those instances are translated by the Greek word “proskuneo.”
Now – here’s the interesting part.
This word shows up 26 times in the Gospels – usually in reference to bowing down to Jesus, 21 times in the Book of Revelation – usually in reference to the angels bowing down to God.
But in all of the letters of Paul – the word shows up only once.
And in the letters of Peter, James, and John combined – the word doesn’t show up at all.
Isn’t that a bit odd? The letters written to help the church be what it’s supposed to be are almost entirely devoid of the Old Testament word for worship.
I think the reason is because, in places like John 4, Jesus seems to be moving proskuneo away from its strictly localized, ritualized connotations.
John Piper weighs in:
“So you can see what is happening in the New Testament. Worship is being significantly de-institutionalized, de-localized, de-ritualized. The whole thrust is being taken off of ceremony and seasons and places and forms; and is being shifted to what is happening in the heart – not just on Sunday, but every day and all the time in all of life.” – John Piper
The issue for many of us is idolatry – but not in the way that we may think of it. Idolatry is not a 10-foot status in our living room. For most of us – idolatry is simply making a good thing into an ultimate thing. It is worship (from “worth-ship”) of something other than God. Jesus himself called this our “treasure.” (Mt 6:21)
When we sin, we do not cease worshipping. Rather – our sin is directed away from the Creator to created things. True and right worship then – is not digging deep, trying to mustering what you don’t have – but instead transferring ultimate value to God!
To sing just to work up emotions is idolatry. To listen to preaching just be cognitively entertained is idolatry.
This, I believe, it part of why the Apostle Paul wrote:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:1-2
Paul saw all of life as an outward expression of the inward reality of worship. For him, the key to nurturing our worship of God is ongoing renewal. This is what it means when we read:
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31
For the Christian – there is no sacred secular divide! For those who are followers of The Way – all of life is holy – all of it is God’s work. Our energy, our resources, our talents – they are all deeply rooted expressions of worship.
In the Garden – God says to the first humans, “It’s all yours. Be my viceroys. Make art. Build businesses. Raise families.” Hobbies, recreation, work, family, rest – they’re all sacred. Worship, therefore, is not a formula, potion, ritual, equation. It is all about Jesus and more fully aligning our lives with his – in all we do.
“We begin with one fundamental fact about worship: at this very moment, and for as long as this world endures, everybody inhabiting it is bowing down and serving something or someone—an artifact, a person, an institution, an idea, a spirit, or God through Christ. Everyone is being shaped thereby and is growing up toward some measure of fullness, whether of righteousness or of evil. No one is exempt and no one can wish to be. We are, every one of us, unceasing worshipers and will remain so forever, for eternity is an infinite extrapolation of one of two conditions: a surrender to the sinfulness of sin unto infinite loss or the commitment of personal righteousness unto infinite gain. This is the central fact of our existence, and it drives every other fact. Within it lies the story of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation or final loss.” – Harold Best