You worship that which you do not know. But we worship that which we know…. (John 4:22)
It’s not easy making generalizations about the worship activities of every person on the planet, other than this one: something within the heart and soul of each human cries out–reaches out, strains, hungers–toward its Creator. The forms which that heart-cry take are as varied as the races and cultures of men. Some bow before the waterway flowing through their village, some sacrifice to the volcano looming above their community, and some build massive cathedrals which they decorate with ornate images, all as expressions of their worship. Others enter their church, their synagogue, their meeting place, and sing hymns, offer prayers, read from their holy book, and give offerings.
For those who worship the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ–for those of us who call ourselves Christians–making some generalizations is easier. We share many things in common, not all of them desirable.
I know five things about your worship, Christian. You make safely conclude these are likewise true about my worship.
1. You don’t do it very well.
Even at our best, none of us worship well. We have glimpses of God, foretastes of Heaven, in the best of our worship times. But mostly, we are straining to think of that “land that is fairer than day” and to “set our affections on things above.” We do not worship easily, naturally, or well.
This is no surprise to the Father and it shouldn’t be to us either, particularly for those who know the Bible.
–We see through a glass darkly (I Corinthians 13:12). Our understanding is so limited, our vision so impaired, the wonder is that we worship God at all. And we wouldn’t, of course, had it not been for the revelation given in Jesus.
–We know in part (I Corinthians 13:12b). Our knowledge of God and correct doctrine in spiritual things is limited. People are always asking why Christians cannot get together on our doctrine and do away with denominations and religious bickering. Answer: Because what we know of God is incomplete. True, we have His Word. But our understanding of the Bible is inadequate and clearly, even if we knew it all, there is still so much to God not contained within its leaves.
–We do not know how to pray as we should (Romans 8:26). Since prayer is an integral part of any worship experience, this alone seals the deal: we are poor worshipers. But rather than despairing, we take comfort in learning “the Spirit Himself helps us in our weakness.”
–We are sinners (Romans 3:23 and Philippians 3:12). This means we are unworthy to enter the Lord’s presence for anything, most of all worship. The psalmist asked, “How shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy place?” He answered, “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol or sworn deceitfully” (Psalm 24:4). Well, too bad, earthlings. That lets us all out. If holiness is required to worship God, then unless the Lord provides for our forgiveness, we are disqualified.
2. Your worship is not very satisfying.
One wonders if our worship is ever satisfying to God. But so often we come away–after doing our best–with an unfulfilled feeling overwhelming us. Usually we bear this in silence; we’ve felt this way so often. At times we admit to ourselves or a close friend, “There has to be a better way.” “I don’t feel we’re getting through to the Lord.” Or even, “Let’s visit that other church (or attend that conference) and see how they do it.”
Worship seems to be a subjective or even arbitrary art form. There are so few standards everyone agrees on.
We learn one way and for the rest of our lives, that pattern is the norm, the standard. Someone introduces a new method of worship–unfamiliar musical instruments, newly penned hymns or choruses, different ways of praying–and our spirit rebels.
You visit a church where the members lift their hands in worship, close their eyes, and even dance around in a holy trance, and you feel like you’ve just dropped in on a foreign country where you do not know the language or culture. This is not how you worship.
You go to a church where the worship is highly formal, where the ministers wear symbolic attire, where creeds are recited and responses are sung, where the liturgy seems set in stone and the congregation is forever standing and kneeling, and you feel so out of place.
And yet, both churches call themselves Christians; the members are your brothers and sisters in Christ.
You wonder if their worship activities fill their cup, if it satisfies the longing in their soul, quenches their thirst for God.
You might be surprised to learn their answer is the same as yours: sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. And even when it does, it still seems there is so much more, that we could do this far better.
3. We can worship better than we are.
Even now, in the “see-through-a-glass-darkly days,” we can do better than we are in worshiping the living God.
An old farmer was accosted by a salesman from the city peddling a book which promised to teach him revolutionary new methods of raising crops. “Not interested,” he said.
The salesman persisted. “Sir, don’t you want to know a better way of doing your job?”
The farmer said, “Mister, I’m not doing all the things I already know to do.”
That’s us. We do not need to wait for Heaven to improve on our effectiveness in worship. Here are four ways to make our worship more meaningful starting today:
1. Do not consign worship to something you do only on Sundays. Make your life a matter of constant worship. Some have called this practicing the presence of the Lord.
2. Start every day with a time of Bible reading and prayer. One reason our Sunday worship is so awkward is that we are out of practice. The man or woman who prays to the Lord throughout the week does not stumble over the wording of their Sunday intercession.
3. Get into the sanctuary early and quieten your spirit. Rushing to church, hurrying the children into their rooms, and dropping into a pew at the last second all guarantee you are going to have difficulty worshiping this morning. It was for good reason the prophet told us to “keep silence” (Habakkuk 2:20) and the Lord urged us to enter our “prayer closet” (Matthew 6:6). The enemies of all worship (of prayer, meditation, study, reflection) are noise, crowds, and hurry.
4. Determine within yourself that, “Today, I will worship God.” Do not sit passively through the service expecting others to worship for you or to let them determine whether and to what extend you will worship the Father. You are in charge of this decision. The psalmist had the right idea: “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” (Psalm 103:1)
In this life you will never reach the point when you feel you have arrived at perfect worship, but we can all do so much better than we are.
4. We have grown too comfortable with our poor worship.
The child protests, “Why do we have to go to big church? It’s too boring. I don’t like the songs and the sermon is too long.” And the stressed-out parent answers, “Too bad. Now get in here, sit still, and don’t make a sound.”
Not conducive to teaching worship, of course, but it reflects something worse: most of our people do not have an answer to the child’s question. Boring worship is a fact of life in too many churches. One would think this is how God mandated it. Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God with tuneless songs, dull homilies, and boring recitations.
No wonder we call worship a “service.” No wonder we think when it’s over we have rendered a difficult work unto the Lord and are now free to go on our way. Little wonder a large portion of our membership reappears only for an hour on Sunday morning and is invisible the rest of the week, and really does go into eternity thinking they have pleased God.
We are failing God, abandoning the people who look to us for direction, and violating our charge.
One of the best things that could happen to any of us, pastor and people alike, is to examine our worship: the Object of our worship, the methods we are using, and what we hope to accomplish.
I suggest the reason we do not do this is we would not like what we find.
5. We will worship perfectly at the Throne of Heaven–and not until then.
Then I shall know even as also I am known (I Corinthians 13:12).
We know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (I John 3:2).
One of the many reasons we prize the final book of the New Testament is the glimpses of glory it provides: And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of many thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:6-7).
Joni Aereckson Tada glories in the worship that Heaven will experience:
Praise in heaven will have substance. We shall eat from the tree of life.
Taste hidden manna like honey.
Smell truth like a flower.
Wear righteousness like light.
Hold the morning star like a scepter.
Shine like the stars of the heavens.
Enter into the joy of the Lord.
Joni continues, For Christians, all the things that stir our interest about eternity will be embodied. We shall behold the Lamb. Savor purity. Touch truth. Be clothed in righteousness. Like a grand story, it will always be an enchanting beginning. Or better yet, the end and the beginning, as God is both Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. (from “Heaven: Your Real Home.”)
But, alas, we’re not there yet.
I’ve sometimes stymied my friends by saying, “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.” My friend Annie has on her Facebook profile the opposite: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing” (which I expect is a little tongue-in-cheek tease).
Worship is worth doing. Infinitely worth doing. But the fact that we will do it poorly should not hinder us from bowing before our Savior, humbling ourselves in love, and offering ourselves anew every day as His servant, His disciple.
At times, we will sense the Lord’s nearness and leave our time of worship thrilled. At other times, we will feel we just didn’t connect today. At all times, we will do this by faith–faith that He is worthy, I am needful of Him, and worship is the right thing to do.