Worship: A God-given pathway for experiencing more of God
As a young believer, I saw no sense in all of the time and effort Christians seemed to spend in praise, readings, communion/eucharist, etc.—in short, much of what tends to go on in the planning of Sunday morning gatherings across the world. I wanted an intellectually stimulating and coherent faith, and I loved it when good intellectually stimulating teaching was available. As a lover of the rock music of the 1960-70s, I was hardly impressed with church music. As one who had gone to a few Christian camps as a teenager, I didn’t trust emotional manipulation at all. So, I felt pretty good about being “above all of this.”
And, for a while, God was merciful, and I grew in my faith, in spite the fact that my attitude toward worship included no sense of honoring God in a manner that goes back 1000’s of years, and, that my approach was basically “all about me and my preferences.” I cared very little about what honors God or about what blesses God’s people.
Repentance came slowly, and God used the community of New Covenant to bring worship into my life. I still do not claim to be gifted in worship. I cannot sing on key, though I wish I could; I never could dance, and honestly don’t care much; I am certainly no prayer warrior, though I wish I was; I am not the world’s greatest reader, though I would love to be; liturgical congregational readings and prayers are still difficult for me to be touched by; I cannot play any instrument, though I wish I hadn’t quit piano as a kid; and as much as I honor communion and baptism as genuine sacraments that God wills and blesses, I find them difficult to fully engage in at an emotional level.
So, yes, the teachings (and some testimonies) are still what are most likely to engage me immediately. But, I have learned that God can surprise me in all the other areas, with experiences I once never dreamed of.
In my upcoming blog posts on this theme of worship, I want to look at some history and some scriptural passages about worship. Today, I just want to note that the time spent in praise and thanksgiving when communities of faith gather together is not just for those who love church music, those with instrumental and vocal talent, or those who love tradition and traditional liturgy. It is also for people with all of my faults, weaknesses, and shortcomings, and if we honor God by worshipping a God who deserves more thanks and honor than we will ever be able to give, God will honor us by showing up in surprising ways for the communities of faith in which we participate. Somehow, in and through that worship, we will be empowered as communities and as individuals within those communities.
In the book of Exodus, we are told that Moses came to believe that he should risk everything in order to attempt to serve his people and their God. But, he ended up running for his life. He learned the hard way that our desires alone do not necessarily empower us to serve in the ways we wish to serve. Moses needed an additional experience with God in order to be ready. It happened at the burning bush, where he learned that the Lord can be present and suddenly “we are standing on holy ground.” Moses argued that he had already learned he was not equipped to liberate his people. God argued that now that Moses had a worship experience of God as present and holy, God would empower Moses to do what he could not do. And, God did; and Moses did.
This empowering experience—as it usually does, and should—led Moses to more worship, both immediately and long-term.
Immediately: Exodus 15:20-21 20Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. 21And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the LORD, for the LORD has triumphed gloriously; both horse and rider the LORD has thrown into the sea.”
Long-term: Exodus 12:4 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. Deuteronomy 16:3 “For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread with it—the bread of affliction—because you came out of the land of Egypt in great haste, so that all the days of your life you may remember the day of your departure (exodus/liberation) from the land of Egypt.”
Give God some room. Even a desert can surprisingly become Holy Ground filled with the presence and empowering of the Lord.