Worship is not about us!
For some time I have been troubled by my ‘well developed’ orientation of self in the arena of worship. This stance of self has been brought about firstly by original sin, but is fuelled by modern culture which unashamedly embraces the notion that the individual, me, is the most important person in the world. I constantly, to my shame, succumb to my own egocentric desires for self gratification in worship – more regularly than I would like to admit. To this end I suspect most of us are like the rest of us…in a constant battle to maintain a God focus in our worship/lives while “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:5, ESV).
We know about the ‘worship wars’ that rage in the modern western church today, but do we take time to consider the impact of this war on civilians – average church going folk like you and me? The battle is often fought on the ground of ideology, but the impact is observable in the lives of Christians practically.
Worship practices that only evoke good feelings and thereby foster a character that seeks instant gratification might be enormously successful at first, but the costs, though not immediately obvious, may be high. The very methods that attract crowds might also prevent the development of habits of reflection and learning. A focus on self and feelings limits the nurturing of a godly and outreaching character. (Dawn, 1995, p. 111)
Now before you jump to the defence of contemporary church liturgy or alternatively, haughtily thank God that he has not made you like other men (Lk 18:11), i.e. Pentecostal; consider that the same heart attitude that causes one man to over indulge in his own emotional experience also leads another man to lean on his own understanding – revelling in his mental aptitude towards the ‘more weightier’ things of God. Both position themselves as self first, God second.
We cannot assume we know how to approach God…If we assume that we know how to approach God, then our own preferences, predilections, and cultural biases will be major sources from which we draw when we ask the question, ‘How should God be worshiped?’ (Lawrence & Dever, 2009, p. 232)
If only we had to engage in this skirmish 1-2hrs a week on Sunday morning! No. The conflict continues, or should continue, into our everyday life; at work rest and play. Kent Hughes (2002) in Carson’s Worship by the Book states, “Under the new covenant Christians are thus to worship all the time – in their individual lives, family lives, and when they come together for corporate worship. Corporate worship, then, is a particular expression of a life of perpetual worship” (p. 140).
Essentially…and it is good to be reminded, “Worship is not about us” (Kimball, 2004, p. 228). Carson (2002) orientates us in our expression of a life in worship to God. He writes, “We should not begin by asking whether or not we enjoy ‘worship’ [emphasis in original], but by asking, ‘What is it that God expects of us?’ That will frame our proper response” (p. 29). Whether you engage in emotive worship (contemporary) or cerebral worship (traditional), or even if you believe you have struck the perfect balance of both, our focus should not be centred on Christ as if we are the point from which to orientate; moreover our worship should be found in “Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (1 Cor 8:6, NIV).
Carson, D. A. (2002). Worship under the word. In D. A. Carson (Ed.), Worship by the book (pp. 11–63). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Dawn, M. J. (1995). Reaching out without dumbing down: A theology for worship for this urgent time. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
Hughes, R. K. (2002). Free church worship. In D. A. Carson (Ed.), Worship by the book (pp. 136–192). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Keller, T. J. (2002). Reformed worship in the global city. In D. A. Carson (Ed.), Worship by the book (pp. 193–249). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Kimball, D. (2004). Emerging worship: Creating worship gatherings for new generations. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Lawrence, M., & Dever, M. (2009). Blended worship. In J. M. Pinson (Ed.), Perspectives on christian worship: 5 views (pp. 218–268). Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers.
Muehlenberg, B. (2008). On christian leadership failures. CutureWatch. Retrieved from http://www.billmuehlenberg.com/2008/08/23/on-christian-leadership-failures/