For God is a Spirit, and he longs to have sincere worshippers who worship and adore him in the realm of the Spirit and in truth.
I have always loved the “worship” part of a church service. In fact, I used to "lead worship" and play keyboards in a Church music team (many, many moons ago). Growing up in a Pentecostal home and church, “secular music and the radio was off limits. I grew up on a steady diet of Carmen, Amy Grant, and DC Talk. I used to think that the ‘feelings’ that would well up within me during worship were because of the lyric being all about God, Jesus, and his greatness. And although that may be kinda true, I have felt all of heaven within me while listening to all kinds of music outside of a church service. If I were to be brutally honest, even more so. Worship is not exclusively music or Christian Lyrics. Presence is not exclusive to a genre, building, or meeting. Just as God is everywhere, his presence is everywhere, and people run into it all the time without even realizing it.
The Greek definition of worship means to “kiss the hand of the king” and “to reverence and adore a deity.” It implies the focus of our love and loyalty, our reverence, and awe of a higher power and person in authority. Within this definition, we can see that the worship/music part of a church service is this act of wilfully adoring and celebrating God. In this space, we are encouraged to put aside thoughts and ideas of our limited human experience and focus on the greatness of God. And/or perhaps bring before him our failures and frailties and expose them to his love and grace. We ask for healing; we declare his power to make all things new' we recite and make statements (through song) of his authority, mercy and justice, and his great work of redemption and forgiveness. We do this for about 30 minutes a service, give or take.
This ritual has been life-giving and transformative for me over the years. Rituals are great, but sometimes, as time goes by, humanity often gets caught up in the ritual itself rather than the intent, or heart, of it.
The ancient Hebrew word for worship is Avodah and implies that worship and work are intimately linked. The ancient Hebrews believed that EVERYTHING is theology. They didn’t separate secular and sacred. It was (and is) all unified. It’s all a part of the story. As Rob Bell said, "Everything is spiritual." Their devotion and worship were intimately tied to work and service and was a continuous act of unifying the human and the divine; heaven to earth, all mixed in. Every decision is worship, everything we do bows to something; submits to an idea; is influenced by belief and conviction. It’s spirit AND truth. Song AND silence. Rest AND work.
That isn’t to say that what we do in a church service is not worship. It’s a part of it, but it is not ‘IT’ in and of itself. The challenge for us is to move worship from being an event that happens on a Sunday morning or when listening to a particular album, and into our normal, everyday, ordinary, sacred and spiritual lives that involve joy and pain, highs and lows, mess and peace. Sometimes I think the songs we sing, full of grand and powerful statements, actually limit God and place him in a realm beyond this one, making us feel like he is out there somewhere and it’s hard work getting him to come to us. But when we realize that God is undefinable, ambiguous at best, and must be engaged by faith, we can find him in those grand statements and declarations, but also in questions and stories and pain and doubt and suffering. Worship is the act of us, joined with God, scooping the entirety of our lives into his presence. It’s waking up to see that he is already here and already hard at work unifying humanity with himself. Worship is joining in.
Peter Rollins says, “It is here, in the difficult celebration of life, that God is manifest: not as that which we sing to but rather as the source which makes us able to sing. Such songs remind us that the Holy of Holies is not a place we ought to love but rather a place that is manifest in the act of love itself.”