First, I would like to say thank you very much to everyone who read, shared, and voted last week! I really appreciate you guys! Some of the results were just as I expected, but a few of you surprised me with your opinion. Now, I would also like to say that what I am about to say is not set in stone nor is it life altering. I am going to get personal and tell you how I worship best and why. (Disclaimer: This is a pretty long post, and I cover a lot of info in a very short time frame. Stick with me though!)
I understand that different people worship in very different ways. I know some quiet kneelers and some jumping hand wavers that can worship together quite nicely. What I say may have no impact on the way that some of you worship, and that is okay with me. But maybe, just maybe, I can help someone who, like me, is desperate to worship their God but never really figured out the “right way” of doing it. Let me begin by saying that I worship God in many different ways. Sometimes I walk around outside, sniff some daisies, look at the trees, and stand in awe staring at the stars. Our God created the heavens, the earth, and us! Look around at your fellow humans! We are made in the very image of our Creator. Looking at His magnificent creation should inspire us to worship. However, we don’t worship the creation: the sun, the stars, the storms. We worship the One who controls it all. How awesome it is that we don’t have to petition the storm god to send us rain or the fertility goddess to give us children.
I know what you are thinking. There aren’t any trees and clouds in my church. How can I worship there?
This is where the poll comes in. I asked you each to choose the words that best inspire you to worship. The well-known hymn, “How Great Thou Art” won by a 40% margin, which is somewhat surprising to me. I expected more people to choose the more contemporary songs, but I am very pleased with the results. You left me with many things to say! Tied for second place, we have “The Motions” by Matthew West. I chose this song for very specific reasons (we will discuss that later) and a small excerpt from St. John Chrysostom’s Divine Liturgy. In third place, we have an excerpt from Catholic Mass. In last place, is one of my personal favorites “After All (Holy)” by David Crowder. I also had two of you choose the “OTHER” option. Thank you so much for being bold! One of you said, “Worship isn’t about us, it is about God. Doesn’t matter what song it is.” I agree.
Now, I’m going to do something I don’t like. I’m going to be personal. I have been going back and forth, round and round, all over the place with my worship preferences for years. With age comes changing taste. I was raised in a very small, very conservative church. We sang hymns, and Oooh don’t you dare move your feet or you might sin! So as soon as possible, I started listening to “Positive and Encouraging Klove!” Then I moved on to Christian rap and rock and anything but those stodgy hymns. I had a serious chip on my shoulder. I was told that they were “just as accurate as scripture” and “full of theology just like the Bible.” My response was, “if a human wrote this in the 1600’s, what makes it any better than if a human wrote something new right now?” Well, as some of you have probably experienced, Christian music can be pretty darn boring. I’ve written the basic “verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus” contemporary song. They are all the same! So just speaking of this musically, I got bored really fast. I’m a music person. I’m not an awesome musician or songwriter, but I know my way around the field pretty well. Christian music just can’t really compete while keeping it “positive and encouraging.” Now, don’t think that I’m saying that none of it is good. I still have some songs that are very near and dear to my heart. But, the more I try to sincerely worship, the more I care less and less about the aesthetic quality and more and more about what is being said. In the spring, I decided that I was going to change the way I worship. Now, I only sing in “worship” if the words are either 1) addressed directly to God in prayer or 2) straight from scripture. This has made a HUGE difference in the way that I relate to God. I am either praying or speaking scripture, both of which are naturally worship. When a song starts playing that does not meet my requirements, I just pray. I try to make worship more about being in prayer the entire service than singing some pretty words and then listening to some more pretty words. When praying, I have forgotten trying to form long prayers about every single detail of my life while standing in a service. There are a lot of distractions, no matter the church. I have come to love and cherish The Jesus Prayer. (This is the part where the Protestants say, “the what?”)
Lord Jesus, Son of God, Have mercy on me, a sinner.
This prayer is very very very helpful in focusing on Jesus, His position as God, and His ability to intercede for us to God. Yes, this prayer has been written down. (Gasp!) Has not all of scripture been written down for us to use? In Luke 18:13, the tax collector, who according to scripture we should emulate, says “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This short, concise prayer is very effective and I pray it throughout my day. Now back to worship…. Instead of praying like I used to pray (in the service, I’m not speaking of every time I pray), I pray this short prayer while the songs are playing when I’m not singing. You have to realize that when it comes to these “written prayers” you have to actually pray the words. Mindlessly repeating anything is just that…MINDLESS, and Jesus specifically addresses “vain repetition” right before saying “The Lord’s Prayer,” which we repeat pretty vainly at sporting events and such (oh boy, that’s a topic for another day). Here comes the biggie. I chose “The Motions” because I used to passionately sing “I don’t wanna go though the motions.” Ummm. Am I missing something here? What are you doing right now? GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS. Yeah, there are a few good, meaningful lines in this song. And maybe for some of you, saying that you don’t wanna go through the motions is actually worship, but it just doesn’t cut it for me anymore. I want my worship to be a dialogue between God and me. God (Jesus) says in scripture “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that we may not perish but may have eternal life.” That is God’s message to us. We respond by saying it back to Him in thanks: “You are holy and most holy, You and Your only-begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit. You are holy and most holy, and sublime is Your glory. You so loved Your world that You gave Your only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. He came and fulfilled the divine plan for us.” This is pure scripture, folks. It has changed my life.
I mentioned that I like “After All (Holy).” I like this song because it is addressed to God, and it is simple. “You are holy, holy, holy.” Seeing a pattern here?
“How Great Thou Art” also meets my criteria of being addressed to God. “Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: How great thou art! How great thou art!” This is a beautiful song that I have known and loved since childhood.
The Catholic hymn also meets this requirement. It also involves “we,” which I think is a good image of the unity of the body of Christ that we represent. The idea of corporate worship is very important.
Anyone catch what I did here? Early Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Contemporary, bla bla bla…. Worship is between God and me. I have a deep appreciation for all four of these styles. I won’t go into which one is my favorite and why. I have been to services where each of these are used, and I have worshipped in all of them. To quote my friend, “it isn’t about us. It’s about God. The songs do not matter.”
I am not advocating for Christians never writing worship songs of their own or only using scripture. I am not telling you to pray a certain way. I am, however, telling you how I worship my Savior.
Now that I have spilled my guts to you all, let’s talk Greek and Hebrew! Shachah, the Hebrew word for worship, literally means to bow down or prostrate oneself. The Greek New Testament has several words for worship. Sebo, which means to worship or revere, leitourgos, refers to a worshipper of God and also a public servant, Christians and their duty to serve Christ or the priest’s duty to his business in the temple, and one busy with holy things (Hebrews 10:11, Romans 15:16, Philippians 2:25), kampto, to bow or the act of worship (Romans 14:11), threskeia, the religious worship of God in a structured format or a life of religious discipline (James 1:26), are all used to emphasize different aspects of our worship. Sebo is a general term for worship and does not tell us many details. Kampto tells us the method of worship just as we see in shachah: to bow down before God in worship. In bowing, we acknowledge our humble position before the Almighty God. Threskeia shows us a structured worship that involves spiritual discipline. James uses this in his famous statement, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (Forget the videos you have seen that say, “Why I love Jesus, but hate religion.” Yes, religion can be very harmful and meaningless in some cases. The dangerous part of religion is that it is easy to just “go through the motions.” The religion James is speaking of has none of that). Finally, leitourgos has a double meaning. It was first used to refer to a public servant, but when applied to Christianity (remember what Van said about the Greek culture being important?) it has a whole new meaning. This is where the word “liturgy” comes from, which means the work of the people. This view of worship is very different from what we see most of the time. Worship= work? What? Yes! Christians have a responsibility to worship God in everything that we do. Worship is to pervade every inch of our lives, from our food choices, our music choices, our clothing choices, our job, our income…EVERYTHING!!! “One busy with holy things.” This isn’t a once a week hour-long activity. This is every moment of our lives.
Hmmm… let’s look at this word, worship SERVICE. Basically, the meaning of service, which has been lost in the context of the modern church, is to serve, to work, leitourgos! Have you ever thought about your worship SERVICE that way? Are you serving? Or are you listening to pretty music and pretty words?
In conclusion I would like to offer a complete definition (hopefully biblical) of worship: To sebo (worship) is to shachah or kampto in threskeia (pertaining not only to a church setting but also to everyday life, “religious discipline”). This “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, which is your spiritual worship, leitourgos (work). (Rom 12:1).
Worship isn’t about the music style. It isn’t about the setting or any of that. It is about living every moment in service to God. We are called to come together and have corporate worship. This is why liturgy, the lost word for the “worship service,” means the work of the people. We come together for the sole purpose of worshiping God. Examine the variety of worship styles that I have presented to you and had you to vote for. Choose what you believe God requires of you. Be like David who wrote songs of praise to his God, or Solomon who gained wisdom by his fear of the most holy God, or Daniel who prayed three times a day and almost died for it, or Jesus who earnestly prayed until He was sweating like blood before His death, or Paul who wrote instructions to the churches, or Stephen who died for his bold preaching, or Mary who listened intently at the feet of Jesus, or the boy who gave his lunch to feed 5,000 people, or Peter who preached at Pentecost and made thousands of disciples.
Live in a constant state of leitourgos.
Life is a continual liturgy.