Saturday, November 20, 2010

That Thing We Do

As people find and follow God a beautiful thing happens.  The right response.  First there is a great awareness of sin's presence, followed by a hopeless feeling, followed by an understanding and acceptance of Jesus as forgiver of that sin, and hope is born for an eternal beautiful and rewarding relationship with Him.

Those first few weeks and months in the life of a new believer chronicle the purest form of responsive worship that exists.  Worship flows out of pure euphoria with the love of God, and a daily delight in His grace, mercy and compassion.  Eventually, genuine heartfelt response can fade into a daily obligation to pray and read the Bible.  Within the local church or a particular community of believers worship may as well be defined as "that thing we do," when we gather together.

Unfortunately, when worship is reduced merely to "that thing we do" it immediately becomes burdened with the cultural distinctives of a particular group of people.  That being the case, worship then further gets married to a particular style of music, a particular liturgy (order of worship) and a particular predictable pattern of response.  None of which are completely wrong, just potentially missing the true "why" of worship.

According to scripture, authentic worship, which the Father is seeking, comes from the heart of a worshipper who isn't married to or bound by method or historical precedent in particular.  Spirit and Truth has everything to do with freedom and liberty from law and nothing to do with location, tradition or cultural heritage.  Read John 4 and come back when you're done. No, really read it and get what Jesus is saying, then come back when you are done.

I have heard these phrases countless times and I believe they fall short of the fullness of truth regarding worship.

  • I just can't connect with that song.
  • That worship leader just doesn't do it for me. 
  • Those songs don't lead me to the throne room. 
  • This song is anointed and that song isn't. 
  • Worship was really great today.
These are great evaluative statements, but not necessarily truth.  

As people born into sin, we tend to habitually miss the mark.  We miss it big time by taking our approach to life and relationships, which by the way are dysfunctional at best, and applying that approach to our worship of God.

So worship ends up being something that is in our control.  Worship becomes our ritual.  Our right.  Our way.  Our need meeter.  Our escape. Our thing that we do, at the church that we attend, with the people that think like us, talk like us and act like us. Or worship becomes the responsibility of the worship pastor, or leader, or worship team.  As long as they are doing a good job everyone is happy.

I get it, we need help.  We need guidance and some type of formal road map if everyone is going to be on the same page.  I realize that certain forms and styles are going to dominate as we narrow it down to an hour or so on Sunday in the local church.  But can we not make yesterday's page today's page?  Please? Can we stop trying to "assembly line" worship and market it to the masses?  Could we daily approach God like we can't wait to see and experience what He is going to do or say and then respond accordingly?  I believe with all my heart that we can.

Here are a few examples of responses.  Don't copy these, get your own.  Notice they all come from an experience that reveals God, and not from a scripted way of acknowledging Him.

Isaiah 6 Woe is me, set me on fire and send me on a mission!
Matthew 2:11 We're smart enough to pay tribute to Emmanuel.
Matthew 9:18 You are the ruler of all rulers!
Luke 5  Holy mother of fish hauls! I'm with you Jesus.
Luke 7:37 Finally a man who will love me!

But what about Psalms?  Don't we find wonderful examples of liturgy and worship in the Psalms? Yes, but we should remember the humble origins of a worshipping shepherd boy turned king who penned many of the Psalms out of pure response and adoration to God, for who He is and what He has done. Our admonition is to "sing to the Lord a new song," not wear out the ones we know.

But what about the dedication of the temple in 2 Chronicles 6?  Isn't that what we are supposed to be doing?  Doesn't that kind of worship bring the glory of God on the scene? Totally viable as a narrative of what God did on a particular day in response to a particular project.  As a model and principle it works.  But let us not make narrative our normative.  That story is not our story.  

The heart of worship lies in implicit obedience to God.  Everyone on page with His eternal plan of redemption.  Unity in worship, not liturgy. We are his Temple now, His body, We are or at least we should realize, that we are One.  So enough about the Temple Dedication. 

Perhaps if worship is response to God and I believe it is, we cease to truly worship the moment our side of things is scripted and predictable.  It is as though we have left Him out of the conversation, as if we have started dancing without a partner.  We can only respond to Him, when we stay tuned to His voice, the voice of the Holy Spirit.  He speaks, and we respond in an infinite number of ways.  And those ways are essential to living a worship relationship as long as we remain in the earth.