Day: June 13, 2008

What is worship? Hint: it’s not what you think!

I just finished reading an article about worship.  Or a worship service.  Or praise music.  Or singing.  I’m really not sure because the author used all of those “worship” words interchangeably, as though they all meant the same thing.  News flash: They don’t.

Which brings us to the question — What is worship? Let’s begin by defining what worship is not.

  1. Worship is not the worship service. “The worship service” (or hour or celebration or whatever you call it) is an event, a time, a place that we set aside to do the work of worshipping.   If your church is like mine, sometimes we worship and sometimes we don’t, but we still call it the worship service.
  2. Worship is not the music. Praise bands, worship leaders, singing, choruses, and so on are not worship.  Music can be a vehicle for worship, but music is not a synonym for worship.  Singing worship songs does not necessarily constitute worship.
  3. Worship is not everything we do. I read that in a book about worship, too.  The author’s point was that our lives are worship, if we live them in reverence for God.  Or something like that.  I disagree.  While I may be a Christian all the time, I am not worshipping all the time.  Which is kind of the point, isn’t it?  Worship is special, a time-out from everything we do the rest of the time, to devote our full attention, emotion, and presence to God.
  4. Worship is not going to church. Pretty well covered this in #1, but just in case somebody missed it, here it is, again.

Okay, my fifth grade teacher taught me you can’t define something by what it isn’t, so what is worship?  Jesus gives us a pretty good idea when he talks to the woman at the well.

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.  -john 4:24

“Spirit and truth” is what he says.  Spirit and truth.  Not a place, not a doctrine, not a practice, but an essence.  Spirit and truth.

Spirit and truth can take many forms from Jesus’ day to the 21st century, but worship isn’t form.  Spirit and truth can be expressed in many ways, but worship isn’t technique.  Worship is that indescribable communion of God’s spirit with ours that opens our eyes to the one who is truth.  But maybe that doesn’t describe worship, either.  Maybe worship is so hard to define that we use substitutes like “worship service” to mean worship.  Maybe that’s the best we can do.  Like the woman at the well, we focus on time, place, and technique, when we really ought to focus on spirit and truth.

This Sunday at 11 o’clock, or whenever you have your worship service, see if, among the announcements, video clips, praise songs, sermon and sound system, you encounter this whisper of a moment when God’s spirit engages your congregation, and heaven and earth fleetingly meet.  That, for me, would be worship.