Worship: The Centre of Existence

It’s been a while since I last posted. Life has just gotten really busy. But I recently had to do some assignments for Metro Worship Academy. I haven’t written assignments in years! My friend Kelwin says that they should call them “adventures”, rather than “assignments”. We will see…

In an interview with the Canberra Times[1], former lead singer of KISS, Gene Simmons, professing to once being religious, reveals his objection to the worship of the Christian God. “Why,” he asks, “would this God who is very non-human want to hear his name repeated? … Now that’s a really frail characteristic.”

Simmons view discloses a perverted understanding of worship by projecting a human trait on a Being who is beyond and before created things. God’s passion for His own glory is in fact at the very core what it means to worship.

Harold Best calls it the “centre of existence”:

Worship is at once about who we are, about who or what our god is and about how we choose to live…. [A]t this very moment, and for as long as this world endures, everybody inhabiting it is bowing down and serving something or someone.[2]

The question then is: who or what do we choose to worship? Simmons failed to understand that, by virtue of His being God, God necessarily must exalt His name and glory above anything else and that “His first and central love is Himself”.[3] This singular fact is the foundation and fountainhead of created order: for the individual, society, the nations and the cosmos.  Giglio observes:

When God makes His glory the centre of all things and the center of our affections, he gives us Himself – the very best gift He could give us, and the ultimate expression of His love.[4]

In other words, it is only when we understand the centrality of God in our universe that we can fully realise our personal destiny and the destiny of our cities and nations, undergirded by the love and generosity of God in His divine mission to reconcile all things to Himself.[5]

God’s desire and passion for His own glory, manifested in His goal of reconciling all things to Himself led to Jesus’ death on the cross, which is also for Christians, the starting point of our worship.  Paul says this:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.[6]

To offer our bodies suggests that worship must be an all-consuming, continuous act (in other words, “worship as a lifestyle”) but the use of the word “offer” (in the present continuous tense) requires a direct act, a sacrifice. In one sense, whole-life worship can be very much an unconscious reflection of the way we have chosen to live, manifested in our daily choices and actions. But there is also a place for direct, intense adoration and praise.  James Macdonald observes:

We are frequently told that making a meal for your family or cleaning your car or helping your neighbour are all acts of worship. When these acts are the outgrowth of our love for God and done to demonstrate that love, I would agree that they are “worshipful”…. Worship is the actual act of ascribing worthy directly to God. Worshipful actions may do this indirectly, but when the Bible commands and commends worship as our highest expression, it is not talking about anything other than direct, intention, Vertical outpouring of adoration.[7]

So in light of this, the question we ask is: how do we worship? We must understand that worship begins with the heart, from our affections. God is not focussed on “outward appearance … but the Lord looks at the heart”[8]. Jesus puts it another way: God is seeking worship that is “in spirit and truth”[9], that is, worship that is initiated within our spirit by the Holy Spirit, and worship that expresses (and is consistent with) an inner reality.[10]  That does not mean that outward expressions are not important, for indeed the actions of worship themselves (singing, kneeling, bowing, raised hands, clapping, shouting) hold great spiritual significance[11]. The point is that outward expressions originate in inward attitude.

The result? Worship transforms us. We become like what we worship.  The Psalmist says that “those who make [idols] will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.”[12]  Hibbert observes that “worship not only changes our inner lives, it also affects the expression of our faith and service to God in the world around us”.[13] God uses us to change our community and cities, but in the midst of worship, God also supernaturally and metaphysically brings about transformation on the earth.

In Revelations 5, John has a vision of the Lamb who was slain, encircled by the 24 elders, standing as the answer to the question: who is worthy to open the scroll? As the elders worshipped with the harp and the bowl of incense (signifying prayer), the Lamb began to open the seals of the scroll. The scroll represents a will and testament, by which God bequeaths His divine destiny to the earth and all creation.  Through the means of worship therefore, God ultimately reconciles all things to Himself to the praise of His jealously-guarded glory.

 

[1] Peter Karp, Untitled Article, Canberra Times, 12 September 1999.

[2] Harold Best Unceasing Worship (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2003) p 17.

[3] Louie Giglio I Am Not But I Know I Am (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2005) p 162.

[4] Id, p 165.

[5] Paul states in Colossians 1:19, 20 (NIV) that “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Note: all Scripture references are to the New International Version unless otherwise stated).

[6] Romans 12:1.

[7] James MacDonald Vertical Church (Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2012) p 168-169.

[8] 1 Samuel 16:7.

[9] John 4:23,24.

[10] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance #225: “alethia”. The word translated as “truth”, according to Strong, means “signifying the realty lying at the basis of an appearance” and also “sincerity and integrity of character”.

[11] An analysis of the various expressions of worship and their significance are beyond the scope of this post.

[12] Psalm 135:18.

[13] Vivien Hibbert Prophetic Worship (Michigan: Baker Books, 1998) p 147. 

Two Kinds of Worship?

One of the things I like about Christian theology and practice is that it is always evolving. Sure, certain absolutes remain constant, but lots of the periphery change and I believe the reason why the Christian faith has endured (and in fact flourished) over the centuries is because of its cultural adaptiveness.

So, when I write in this blog, I’m not trying to provide static answers and manifestos. I appreciate that my own thoughts will change and be challenged, as much as I seek to challenge and grow the mindsets of others.

If you’ve read my earlier posts on defining worship, you will see that I take a very broad view of what worship is. The definition I like the most is Harold Best’s, which says that worship is “continuous outpouring”, meaning that our whole life is our worship to God.

I thought that was pretty progressive, until I came across James MacDonald’s writings in the November 2012 issue of Worship Leader Magazine. In his article, “Unashamed Adoration”, MacDonald says this:

We are frequently told that making a meal for your family or cleaning your car or helping your neighbour are all acts of worship. When these acts are the outgrowth of our love for God and are done to demonstrate that love, I would agree that they are “worshipful”, but technically they are not worship. I’m not seeking to parse meaning with undue rigour, but we need to be precise in our definitions if we want to accurately embrace the very purpose for our existence. Worship is the actual act of ascribing worth directly to God. Worshipful actions may do this indirectly, but when the Bible commands and commends worship as our highest expression, it is not talking about anything other than direct, intentional, Vertical outpouring of adoration. While that does not have to be put to music, it does have to be direct in order to rise above the “worshipful” and actually attribute worth to God…. Worship is mind, emotions, and will engaged in whole-person ascription of worth.

Nothing brings glory down in church as quickly and as powerfully as when God’s people unashamedly adore God’s great Son, Jesus Christ.

I like the distinction McDonald makes between “worshipful acts” and “worship”, with “worship” being something requiring intensity, intentionality and vertical-focus.

Just the other night, I was trying to describe what we were going to do for Global Day of Worship and how some time during our “worship”, we should have a time of giving. I had to make inverted comma signs with my fingers when I said the word “worship” to delineate between musical praise and taking the monetary offering. And then the thought occurred to me that I might need to use “air ponies” (as Gloria in Modern Family puts it) every time I want to describe intentional praise as distinct from lifestyle-worship just in case anyone misunderstands me. At that point in time, I thought whether an excessively broad definition of worship might make the term meaningless and unusable.

So perhaps, much can be said for MacDonald’s position in taking us back to a more rigid (and what I had thought was a less progressive) definition of worship. What do you think?