My church talked about what worship means today. And that got me to thinking about the different ways churches I’ve been part of have viewed it.
There are many ways to look at worship. People who teach primarily from the Old Testament talk about worship as a series of postures, attitudes and sounds. David danced naked before the Lord in worship. You’re supposed to raise your hands. Kneel. Clap your hands. Dance, shout, and if you’re a little Charismatic too, shout or sing in tongues.
The Old Testament is all about the rules and having a theology of worship based on the Old Testament will give you a legalistic, rule-based worship model that can feel very chaotic at times.
I attended a church like that for a while. When I attended this church, there were several times when revelers took me aside and scolded me for not being “worshipful” enough. One particular incident occurred when a woman pulled me aside — actually taking me outside the building — to talk to me about how I was sinning because I wasn’t dancing and she wondered if I was “really saved” since I was living in such rebellion. I am a contemplative person. Worship aerobics is not my thing. Running around like a chicken with its head cut off does not bring me closer to the heart of God. It just doesn’t.
John 4:24 says “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” I don’t claim to be a great theologian, but my understanding of that verse is that God is saying that He wants our worship to be honest. If we want something to touch the deepest part of the Spirit of God, it needs to come out of the deepest part of our hearts. Wild gyrations and screaming at the top of my lungs isn’t in the deepest part of my heart and my behaving that way in worship does nothing to sway Him because He hasn’t put those things in me. If I did those things, I would be allowing myself to be manipulated into being something someone else wanted me to be instead of being who God created me to be. I don’t think God responds to or cares for manipulation or worship birthed out of manipulation. Most of the time, I was adamant about not participating in this ritual because it did not feel genuine to me.
I moved to my current location 7 years ago and the culture here is so different. No one cares what I do in church. For the longest time, I would find myself bawling in church because I had the freedom to be who I am. No one cared if I raised my hands. No one cared if I clapped my hands. It was pretty normal to not dance or gyrate or holler in church, although sometimes it happened. But no one expected it and no one cared one way or the other. It was a very liberating experience for me because I was finally allowed to be myself in church. It was a beautiful thing.
If those things are your thing, then by all means, knock yourself out. Not literally. But, if God made you a dancer or a shouter or a tongue-speaking screamer, then by all means, you just do you. No judgement from me. I love to see how people are different. Everyone is unique and no one’s personal worship style is wrong or bad, unless it contains things like murdering children or seducing or raping people. I draw the line right there. Treat yourself and everyone else with respect and you’re good.
But, as I was talking with a couple of friends about this today, one of them asked me what I think worship is. If screaming and jumping around isn’t your thing, then what does it really look like?
And I said, “I have no clue.”
I mean, I probably could have thought of something if I had had more time. But in that moment, I wasn’t coming up with anything. This is what I came up with later:
One of the verses discussed in the sermon follows:
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. Romans 12:1 (NIV)
True and proper worship involves offering your bodies as a living sacrifice. Once again, I am no great theologian. The original scripts are Greek to me (and probably everyone else too, since I think that verse was actually originally in Greek) and I can only draw my conclusions from English translations. That’s the best I can do. To me, offering yourself as a living sacrifice involves sacrificially loving and serving those around you. It means going without something you might want so you can provide for someone else’s need. It means taking two minutes to sit with a blind person and describing the sunset so they can experience it too. It means taking a minute to tell a child who can’t talk that they are so very important and so very loved. It means sitting with an elderly woman who lives with dementia and is terrified because she can’t remember. It means buying lunch for a homeless person or sitting in silence with a mama who has just lost her unborn baby and doesn’t have words to describe her grief and hopelessness. It means sometimes taking a minute away from those needs to attend to your own needs so that you can be a truly living sacrifice because if you run yourself into the ground, you might be sacrificing, but you’re not truly living in the process. Self care is actually a service to God. Taking care of yourself is worship.
I got to thinking about my work. I truly have the best job in the world. I get to sit with a sweet little boy all day and play and read and have dance parties and sometimes we just work really hard at breathing, because sometimes that is a very hard thing to do. A lot of times we snuggle and share lots of love and stories and music. Sometimes we talk about all the things that matter most, like life and love and happiness although his part of the conversation is hard to understand sometimes since his language is smiles and giggles and grunts and moans and moving his arms and legs. But we talk, and everything he says matters. Everything he does is noticed. We giggle together. We talk. We sing and we just have fun.
And all of it. All of it. Everything I do with him is worship.
I was reminded of this passage:
Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:34-40 (NKJV)
And the awesome thing about it? None of it is hard. It comes out from the deepest part of my heart and it blesses my little guy. It blesses his family. And it blesses the Father, who put that kind of worship within me with the intention of seeing it flow out of me from morning until night, every day of my life. He didn’t put crazy, boisterous stuff in me because “the least of these” that I am around every day don’t need boisterousness as much as they need gentleness and kindness and attention and love.
True worship….It’s being who you are and loving those around you.
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
James 1:27 (NKJV)