God Is

Day 48

Awe-Full Worship

Read your Bible: Isaiah 40:27–31

Spotlight Verse:

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.Hebrews 12:28

Two words that should always be seen as a contradiction: Boring worship.

Yet that’s exactly how many people see church. In Mark Twain’s classic Tom Sawyer, Tom goes to church at the demand of his Aunt Polly.

The boring announcements are made from a “list that would stretch out to the crack of doom.” The prayer is “generous” in its details. Tom “did not enjoy it but only endured it — if he did that much.” The only thing in the whole service that holds his attention is a fly that lands in front of him, to which Tom is hypnotically drawn, taking in every detail, finding the pest far more compelling than the preacher. The sermon, meanwhile, “droned along monotonously through an argument that was so prosy that many a head by and by began to nod.”62

In a word? Boring.

Wide World of Worship

Here’s a contrast to that image of church:

I recently returned from speaking at a conference for missionaries in Africa. The first morning, everyone gathered for a time of worship. Picture it: In this one room, there were missionaries there from literally all around the globe. Many different ethnic groups, a variety of languages.

And they were from every Christian denomination you could possibly imagine. Pentecostal. Anglican. Mennonite. Presbyterian. Baptist. They were all there.

This shows just how shallow I can be, but at first I was reminded not of worship, but of that old series of jokes:

How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb?
None. The lights will go on and off at predestined times.

How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?
None. Lutherans don’t believe in change.

How many Unitarians does it take to change a light bulb?
We refuse to take a stand for or against light bulbs, but if, in your own journey, you have found that light bulbs work for you, you are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance, and present it next month at our annual Light Bulb Sunday Service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, three-way, long-life and tinted, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.

And finally…

How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?
Baptists don’t change light bulbs because then they’d have to raise their hands.

But the thing is, I saw almost all these denominations there at the conference in Uganda.

And then the worship starts. And I’m thinking — how’s this going to work? And here’s what I see: In the first row are the Pentecostals who — as soon as the first note of the song is played — instantly are lifting up their hands like they’re getting mugged: “WE SURRENDER, LORD!”

And next to them, the Mennonites. Hair up in buns, long dresses — and those were the men. Just kidding.

Next to them, there was a Korean charismatic, who was totally into it, weeping as he worshipped, speaking out loud in Korean. The Pentecostals were trying to interpret. (Kidding again.)

And next to him: the Scottish Presbyterians, who describe themselves as “The Frozen Chosen.” And they say that with pride! They were squinting up at the lyrics on the screen. Not singing, as far as I could see. But I could tell by their faces that inside they were saying — (read this with a Scot accent) “Wi’ arrrr singin’. In arrrrr hearrrts.”

Next to them the African Anglicans. Which was a fascinating combination I had never before witnessed.

And you know what? It was awesome.

All these groups together, all these different ethnic backgrounds, denominations, languages — worshiping together! All in their different styles, all happy just to be together for a time of refocus and relaxation in God’s grace at this conference in Uganda.

That is a foretaste of heaven! Look how the Apostle John describes it:

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne… Revelation 7:9a

What a blow to racism! That’s a God’s-eye view of the church worshipping Him. That could never be boring.

Worship Is Not a Spectator Sport

Bible scholar Ben Witherington writes,

Worship is the signal act of Christianity pointing the world not merely toward God, but towards the practice of praising, petitioning, adoring, thanking, serving God. …What has happened in post-modern Protestant worship is that too often it has been turned into a performance of the few for the many in the pew. But worship is not meant to be a spectator sport like football. It is meant to be a participatory event in which we all get caught up in love and wonder and praise of our God.63

I agree. But how does worship become like that? Not by a preacher’s nagging.

Worship becomes vital precisely when I focus on God and not myself.

When I dwell on His majesty.

When I’m lost in Him:

In His power, in His presence,
in His love, His knowledge,
His sovereignty, His faithfulness.

Like the writer of today’s Bible reading reminds a disenchanted and bored people,

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. Isaiah 40:28

My worship is revitalized when I think of God, not me. When I think of who God is, not how I’m singing, or whether my hands should be up or down, or what others are doing.

I’ve found that then, even the most “boring” traditional church liturgy, or the most showy, laser-light contemporary service, can be a transforming experience of communal worship. It’s when I’m aware of the majesty of God that I stand on tiptoe, or sit on seat-edge, expectant, aware of His presence, humble, open to His working.

I like what Annie Dillard said years ago about worship services in her book Teaching a Stone to Talk:

Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.64

What sort of power do you invoke?

God is… worthy of worship!

Questions For Reflection

What has been your most meaningful and moving worship experience? What made it so?