“I just didn't get anything out of that worship service!”
Ever heard that? Ever said it yourself? One thing I've discovered is that what I, personally, receive from a worship experience depends heavily on what I, personally, put in. My preparation before and my attitude as I approach are often the most important and deciding factors determining how I respond in a worship setting. And after all, we are called to respond.
Most of us sing, or have sung, the phrase, Praise Him above, ye heavenly host, from the Doxology, in some form for most of our lives. What an awesome reminder that when we gather for corporate worship we don't really initiate anything. What we do is “plug in” to what scripture says is an ongoing, never-ending, everlasting worship service at the throne of the Lamb (see Revelation 4 & 5). I guess in a way we're rehearsing now for what we'll be doing throughout eternity. (By the way, it looks like we'd better start really loving those around us … we're going to spend a long, long time with them!)
Have you ever wondered why Jesus would choose as His first miracle (at least, His first publicly recorded miracle) something so trivial, so “worldly” as turning water into wine? Surely, He could have burst onto the scene, dazzling us with some death-defying resurrection, or a gravity-ignoring lake-top stroll, or at the very least, a healing. So, why this hedonistic appeals-to-the-flesh kind of demonstration?
Could it be that God was saying again that a new thing is about to occur? That we're about to see Him in ways we could never before have imagined? Maybe the whole point is this: just as the water jars, used for “purification rites” or “ceremonial cleansing” were to be filled with something fresh, God is longing to empty our worship rituals and replace them with a brand new filling of Himself.
We could probably all ask ourselves what needs to be re-examined in our corporate and private worship. What trends or liturgies (and we all have them) need to be let go, emptied so that Jesus can fill them with Himself and therefore be clearly and unmistakeably seen? In what area do we need to be able to say confidently and honestly “the old is gone; the new has come?”
Mark 14 gives an interesting account that has altered my view of worship for several years now. You'll recall that Jesus was eating a meal with some friends when an un-named woman (John's account identifies her as Mary) entered and broke open a container of expensive perfume and then anointed Jesus with it. Monetarily, it was worth a year's wages! Some standing by criticized her for “wasting” what could have been sold and the proceeds given to help the poor.
Do you remember Jesus' response? He said, in effect, Leave her alone! She's done the proper thing and her act of devotion will be remembered forever. And so, here we are in the 21st century talking about her.
From this story, three principles come to mind that have shaped my thoughts and planning of corporate worship.
- WORSHIP IS EXPENSIVE - Just as this woman offered what the Bible says was worth a year's wages, we need to acknowledge that for us, too, worship will be costly. It costs time, energy, preparation, effort and emotion. Yes, it's expensive … and worth it.
- WORSHIP IS EXPRESSIVE – This dear woman could have waited till after the meal when everyone was gone and cornered Jesus alone to display her devotion. Instead, she acted without regard to others' reaction or judgement. We, too, need to worship freely not according to public opinion or popular mandates, but according to His excellent greatness.
- WORSHIP IS EXALTING – Exalting Jesus, that is. We're in danger these days of worshiping a style or a format or even worship itself if we're not careful. Our goal is not to spotlight our specialness, but to lift up the Lamb.
Psalm 22 reminds us that God inhabits the praises of His people. If we do our part, I feel certain He'll do His. So here's a good question – Is your worship inhabited or inhibited?
--For more resources on developing a scriptural theology of worship, check out more blogs at discoverworship.com.