“Worship is to honour with extravagant love and extreme submission.” Webster’s Dictionary, 1828.
Is it just me or are those some pretty massive words? In light of them, let’s talk about what worship is and what it isn’t.
Worship is about honouring God, about revering God and about adoring God. This can take many forms including singing, serving and giving, but perhaps most importantly it’s the spirit in which we do our daily lives.
Worship isn’t about being “filled up”, or feeling refreshed. It’s all about what I can offer God without any expectation of a return. Now, because God is so generous, He often meets us in worship and pours out His Spirit in ways that we can’t imagine. But first and foremost it’s a discipline of activity and of action, it’s not passive. If you find this idea difficult, then I want to share a bit of my story with you.
I was involved in worship teams and choirs for most of my teenage and young adult years, so it was no surprise that worship music has been the way in which I have felt God most tangibly in the past. However, due to some personal difficulties I have struggled to connect to God in this way, or any way really, for most of the last five years. This, on top of having an eight-month-old baby who has kept me out of almost every talk and sermon since he was born, means that when ‘sung worship’ doesn’t click into place for me, I come away feeling frustrated and that I’m missing out on God completely.
While growing up in Christian circles in Northern Ireland I attended a lot of amazing events that really shaped me and were quite life-changing at the time. However, on reflection I wonder if the connection I felt was more emotional than I realised, hyped up by the occasion and less of an actual sacrificial act with the sole purpose of adoring God.
Because in recent years I have struggled to come to God, allow myself to be vulnerable and haven’t had that ’emotional connection’, in many ways I think somewhere along the way I stopped trying. So in a church service recently when they announced that it would be a series of talks on worship over the coming weeks my heart flipped. I was excited. Maybe this was my way back.
If you dread the worship time in your church service and spend the whole time wishing you could sit down, or find your mind wandering to where the worship leader got her shoes from, then I’m right there with you. If you look at the words on the screen and feel apathetic towards them or even if they make you feel angry sometimes, I’m right there with you also. There is one song in particular that says: “You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down. You are good, good oh.”
As a song, I love it. But on a deeper level do I struggle to sing those words with 100 per cent truth and conviction? Absolutely. But when I consider that worship calls for “extreme submission” then I choose to declare those words out loud in the knowledge that God knows where I am, where I have come from and sees what it takes for me to sing them. I would encourage you to try declaring some of that with me, take the first step and let the words wash over you. Focus on who God is rather than where you are. Worship is not one-sided – God meets us there. He takes our small, tentative step towards Him and multiplies it tenfold by crashing into our lives, if we let Him.
In 2 Samuel when King David was bringing the Ark of the Covenant to the City Of David he was celebrating and worshipping God so much that he exposed himself to the crowd. When challenged he said: “Oh yes, I’ll dance to God’s glory — more recklessly even than this. And as far as I’m concerned… I’ll gladly look like a fool.” (2 Samuel 6:22) What a challenge, eh? Am I willing to look foolish? To be reckless with my emotions, with my outward composure in order to sacrificially worship God and what He is doing in my life, even if I don’t understand it or see His hand in it?
While over the course of the series of sermons I felt myself thawing to the idea of worship once more, I’m very much a work in progress. I don’t think I will be exposing myself in dance any day soon (phew!) but I am making choices. I’m choosing to listen to worship music in the car and allowing it to penetrate into my thoughts so that later in the day I find myself singing the words over and over . I take a brief moment to offer them to God. I’m choosing to ask God each day what He wants me to do with this day I have been blessed with. I’m choosing to change that nappy with a spirit of thankfulness for the blessing it is to be a care giver. I’m choosing to switch off the TV and take that opportunity to go for a walk and thank God for the fact that I can. I’m choosing to worship God in the humdrum of daily life.
In church that day we were told about a girl who woke up each day and asked: “OK God, what are we going to do today?” I think I’m finally beginning to understand that the challenge in practicing – and indeed practising – worship isn’t to feel connected all the time, the challenge is to wake up and ask God what He wants me to do today, regardless of the day, regardless of the circumstance. So today I choose to declare those words in the song that I find difficult, I choose to believe them and I choose to act on them.
And in the immortal words of Coach Taylor on Friday Night Lights, if I go forward each day with clear eyes and a full heart then I can’t lose.