Why do we worship? Whom do we worship?
Worship is the primary action in our relationship with God, who initiates even our desire to worship. Through worship, God reveals Godself to us in a multitude of ways. We then respond to that revelation with offerings of gratitude and praise, service and testimony.
This dance of revelation and response doesn't just take place on Sunday mornings. God is present in every breath we take and in every person we encounter throughout our lives.
God is everywhere, and our response to God's revelation reveals whom we worship. We image God by our actions. People can tell who (or what) is our God by observing how we live our lives and arrange our priorities.
When we enter the sanctuary on Sundays, each of us must be intentional about connecting with God in order for our worship to be authentic. We are not there to be critics or "pew potatoes," expecting to be entertained.
Authentic worship will be "awe-full" as we enter the sanctuary, anticipating that God will speak to us personally as we seek God's face together.
Generally, those who approach worship glibly will not experience worship at all, only mindless moments filled with shallow emotion--something that could easily be experienced at a club meeting or sports event or patriotic rally.
There must always be an obvious difference between a worship service and a secular gathering. Our purpose for Sunday services is to worship God, never just to gather with friends and enjoy a nice, clean, inspirational program. A worship service is not a civic club meeting with entertaining music.
Attending well-planned services can help us worship, but that is not enough by itself. Authentic worship requires sustained effort by each individual, even when there are distractions and obstacles to our focusing on God. It is our continued effort at worshiping that is in itself pleasing to God.
Of course, God's Spirit can break through our psyches at any time, despite poor worship planning or good planning gone awry. But that is no excuse for leaders to throw worship services together carelessly.
In Word and Sacrament, D. McLeod says (though a bit stridently): "People who would hiss a play which was so ill-planned that the order of the acts and scenes was of no importance or would throw into a wastebasket a novel which was so utterly without form that chapter 3 and chapter 16 are interchangeable, still pathetically go to church on Sunday morning to take part in a disorderly medley of music, hymn singing, scripture reading, praying and the sermon. …Many church services today are a quaint mixture of concert, lecture and prayer meeting."
"Paul, writing to the Corinthians concerning worship, said, 'Let all be done decently and in order' (I Cor. 14:10). This can be accomplished by incorporating unity, movement, and design into the worship service." (Howard W. Roberts, Pastoral Care Through Worship)
Thoughtful, well-planned worship services should have a flow, a reason for various elements to connect with each other. This does not mean rigidity. Giving shape to a service does not preclude spontaneity. In fact, a well-planned worship service can be a vehicle for the Holy Spirit's initiative in the lives of God's people.
The Scriptures provide models to assist us: Old Testament (Isaiah 6) and New Testament (Acts 2). Both are based on a sequence: God reveals/God's people respond. [More about these worship models in future articles.]
There are many doorways to God. So it's important to plan as much variety as possible, opening many doors in the hope that individual worshipers will encounter God uniquely and meaningfully.
As a worship leader, I delight in enabling others to worship, teaching people how to worship authentically, planning services that help people focus on God rather than themselves, "creating space in which God can act."
Overall, my guiding principle is: If someone were to "take a slice" of any part of any worship service, she or he will find God there and be transformed.
See you in worship this Sunday - Naomi