Why do we worship? What is worship? Is simply gathering together worship or is is there something more to it? How is worship a spiritual discipline that propels us to grow in Christ?
In today’s scripture passage, Jesus is telling the woman at the well, that the day would come when worship would be redefined. A day when it wouldn’t be about the place where we worship, but rather the attitude in our hearts when we approach God. A day when worship will come from the Spirit confronting us with Truth. That day, Jesus says, is both coming - its not here yet, and has arrived, is here now, but we simply do not realize it.
To worship is to experience life at its fullest. To come into the presence of the one who is the Resurrection and the Life. Yet, all too often we make our experience of worship too small. We define it as only one hour a week, at a certain time, in a certain place, when we perform certain rituals. But worship is so much more, worship is more than an act, it is our very spirits communing with the Living Christ.
One of the things that I often get told when folks find out that I’m a pastor is: “I don’t come to church, but I believe in God. I just better connect with God elsewhere.” And those same folks become surprised when I don’t fight their claims. For I truly believe that you can worship God in all sorts of places. Just think of the story of Brother Lawrence.
Brother Lawrence was a monk who was given the most degrading and meaningless tasks to do all day, in hopes to discourage him from continuing to be a monk. Only this plan backfired. It was in those moments, washing the dishes, when he learned one of the greatest secrets to the spiritual life, practicing the presence of God through a life of unceasing prayer. He transformed his time in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning, to a time of worship that was just as meaningful for him as if he was on his knees praying in the church. He learned to praise God in the moments that others would dismiss as being not needing God’s attention through prayer.
Brother Lawrence authentically worshiped God while doing the dishes. It is more than possible to worship God anywhere, but there are certain perimeters around worship. First, its not about you. Worship is about communing with our Creator. Scripture continually tells us about God wanting to be in fellowship with us, his children, his creation. But Scripture equally tells the story of us turning away from the love of God, going our own way, and only wanting to spend time with God when it is to our benefit. If you are first and foremost in a mindset about what you want instead of being your response to the love of God, its not worship.
Second, worship should make us want to serve God, for service and worship are inextricably linked together. If we enter into a space or an activity that makes us more self-centered, then it isn’t worship either.
However, even if we can worship God in all places at all times, we should still come together for the corporate act of worship. Sunday Services are structured in a way that make us come before the Almighty God together in a way that we may not be able to have other places. When we call each other to worship, we are welcoming each other in the name of the risen Christ, reminding each other why we have gathered. When we pray, we bring both our personal needs and the needs of others before the body of Christ, knowing that they will not only be publicly prayed for, but privately upheld throughout the week. When we bring our offerings to God, we proclaim that we believe God can do something with our gifts together that is bigger than we can even imagine. When we hear special music we are drawn closer to God. When a children’s message is proclaimed, we remember that all of life’s teachings are applicable for the body from the youngest member to the oldest. When we pray the prayer of confession we remember that we have sinned throughout the week and need God’s mercy. Hearing the words of absolution we are reminded of God’s grace. Singing together we proclaim deep theological truths to tunes that continually bring them to our mind through out the week.
We state what we believe as the Christian Church. We both read and hear scripture. We baptize and break bread together. We hear a sermon that has been crafted after hours of study and pray. We are the Church together. And we worship together. There is a purpose behind everything we do.
When we come together on Sunday mornings we proclaim with our very presence that we intentionally cherish God enough to be here and we cherish each other enough to be fully present. For even when one is missing the body suffers. How many of you notice when the people you sit next to in Church miss a Sunday? Why? Because you miss their voice, their singing, their physical presence next to you. When we come to worship we are reminded that we are people with bodies and that we are spending time with the body of Christ and with God with our whole beings.
But what about all of this makes worship a spiritual discipline? There is a song that we sing from time to time that states, “We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord.” But really all worship, not just praise, is a sacrifice. Its something that we bring before a holy God whom we love as a gift. And we also bring the sacrifice of worship even when don’t feel like it, because worship is about an ever-deserving God, not about us.
But worship is also a spiritual discipline because it propels us to both service in God’s name and to greater obedience. By coming together on Sunday morning as the body of Christ we remember that Christ is our head, which means that Christ leads our worship together. Christ meets us where we are at in worship, but he loves us too much to allow us to remain the same. So he draws us deeper into faith, deeper into love, and deeper into the hope of God, which asks us to be obedient, not because of what we will receive, but because of who God is. Worship changes us. It changes who we are individually and corporately at our very core.
Whether you are worshiping as an individual doing the dishes or in this body on Sunday morning, I would challenge you to be purposeful in your worship. Be mindful of what you are doing. Enter into your activity or the service 10 minutes early and dedicate it to God. Pray for those who will be present. And bask in the love of God.
May you, through your worship, be changed. Changed by the love of God. Carried forth into service and obedience. May you worship every opportunity you get, as an individually and with others, remembering that at its very heart, worship isn’t about any of us, but about our God, who deserves all praise and the sacrifice we bring. Amen.