For years I puzzled over the meaning of worship. My church wasn’t big on catechism at all, but one year we had catechism in school.
One of the questions was, “What is worship?
Answer: Worship is that attitude in the heart that finds expression in outward acts of prayer and praise and service.”
Growing up religious can almost cause a person to ignore thinking seriously about it. When one hears words like “praise, prayer, and service,” you tend to automatically assign your childhood images to these words without really thinking about them. For instance, prayer equaling folded hands and rote speeches, praise equating to the black hymnal and four-part singing, and service is, of course, obeying your parents and those in authority over you and going out of your way to make them happy. Ugh. No offense, mom and dad.
As an adult, I vowed to take my faith seriously. While I accept many facets of my childhood religious upbringing, my relationship with God negates “religion.” In order to be genuine, my relationship with God must be simply…relationship. If I pledge my heart and life to my Creator who has every right to do with me as He pleases, I want to know Him and what He desires and I know He really wants me to worship.
At a very difficult time in my life, I was asked to join in worship with a few other women. I longed to decline to cry alone, but because they knew what I needed, they strongly suggested I join them. So I did.
The setting was a restored barn. The floor was stone, the light was mellow, and the music loud, obnoxiously loud. Inwardly, I revolted. I wanted out. I was sad, angry, scared and not in the mood to be happy. God seemed far and quiet toward me. I felt no need to listen to how good and wonderful He was. The music blared on.
I observed the ladies with me. A head was bowed, another lady was kneeling hands held high in an unseen embrace. Yet another was pensive and appeared to be deep in thought.
What was happening, I wondered, in their lives? What brought them to this place where they could immerse themselves in this music and enjoy it?
I knew some of the things that had occurred in their lives. Sexual abuse, physical abuse, parental neglect or abuse, abandonment, betrayal…most of these women had experienced some of these and a few had experienced all of them. Some of the ladies had pursued drugs, alcohol, sex, cutting and many other things in pursuit of anesthesia for the pain.
Where did this pulsing enjoyment and living fervor come from as they listened or sang along with this loud music and why was it so loud? Now I realize their music was loud because they wanted it to drown out everything but God.
I tend to be skeptical. I have been in churches where religious fervor was prompted by the cadence and the eloquence of the preacher. The louder and more excited he got, the more the people were involved. I hated the shallowness. I have been in churches where it seemed that if you had nothing to say and did not testify, you were considered less spiritual. I scoffed.
True worship was going on in this small and informal bunch of ladies. I marveled and turned my attention to the words. The words were about God, about how intensely He loves us, about what He gave up because of us, about how He cares about us even though we are small and insignificant and He is so majestic and holy. I began to understand.
I don’t remember what song was being played that touched me to the core. It was something about how God can be King and can do what He wants but that He cares for me very personally. The dam in my heart broke and my tears gushed. I was embarrassed, I recall. Those few ladies gathered around me, laid hands on my shoulders and prayed for me. I did not feel safe, in fact I was uncomfortable with that, but I felt cared for. I knew through those hands and hearts that God was reaching very personally into my life and touching something that needed to be broken and soft- my heart.
In time, as I have thought about worship, I believe worship is a feeling. Worship is solely a heart response to God. It is very personal and should never be forced or feigned. It is the response of a human heart to the very heart of God.
Remember the story of the Pharisee and Publican who both went up to the temple to worship? The Publican beat his chest and cried, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” The Pharisee’s lip curled scornfully as he observed the Publican worshiping. Yes, he was worshiping! With the sincere cry of his heart, he communicated with Almighty God. The Pharisee, as the script goes, was judged for faking worship, along with disparaging a worshiper.
Worship is intimate. Remember the old marriage vow, “With my body I thee worship?” I still think the vow seems a little weird, but to worship means to respect, to be intimate, to communicate, to show emotion, to be wholly present and meaningfully involved. Maybe there’s more to the marriage vow or more to worship than what we think? I think so. The psalmist David, the beloved man of God, really knew the meaning of worship. He pondered God in the night watches and talked to Him. He worshiped in songs, dance, the temple, his daily life, with others and alone. What a man!
How do you worship? How do I worship? I worship when I listen to music. Sometimes it’s by thumping on the steering wheel to the beat of meaningful music while driving to work. Even secular music sometimes resounds with the heart of God. I worship when I see the sunshine lighting up the sky and thank God for it. He loves it! I know it! The warmth of his heart is echoed by the sun I feel on my face; his power demonstrated in boisterous thunderstorms and answers to my prayers. When I hurt, I worship, begging Him to be near and direct me. He is so good. He hears. I feel it. In the heart connections to God, the outward acts of prayer (talking to Him), praise (singing to Him and telling Him how much we love and appreciate and admire Him) and service (all of our actions reflecting Him and showing Him back our devotion) are true worship.