Lecture 5: Principles 6 – 7
Course: Essentials of Worship
Lecture: Principles 6-7
Principle #6: Worship involves participation of our entire being.
Principle 6 is that worship requires or involves participation of our entire being. Not just part of my being responds, but all of my being responds. Sometimes we reduce our involvement as worshipers to one part of our being.
For example, in some churches our worship seems to be very much a cognitive affair; so we worship God with our minds. It is a worship centered around the sermon, where God’s revelation is unpacked for us and proclaimed to us. Then comes the appropriate response of engaging the mind around that presentation of the Word of God. But sometimes worship seems to be strictly cognitive and very little of the rest of us involved.
I have been to other churches where the worship is very emotional and the mind seems to be disengaged, as though the cognitive dimensions of our being did not matter at all. Other churches are activists; they are very, very busy with doing things all the time. They consider that, and justly so, worshipful activity to the Lord.
We have these various parts of our being — our heads, our hearts, our hands. I think by nature, individually and also in community, we have tendencies to be head people or heart people or hands people. Sometimes what we will do is, if we find that we are head people, very cognitive, we will find other cognitive people and will join one another and be a church together. So our service will be very cognitive.
An emotional person will come and feel a little bit left out and they will go find another church where all the heart people have gathered. I think it is very sad that we divide ourselves up in these ways. We really need to push ourselves to be participating in worship with our whole being.
Think back to one of those fundamental Scriptures for understanding worship, Deuteronomy 6:4-5. In light of the fact that there is but one God who is the Lord, “you must love that one God with all that you have, all your heart, all your soul, all your strength.” Jesus adds to this, “all your mind,” as He picks this up in the New Testament.
I do not believe that Deuteronomy 6:5 or the New Testament counterpart is intending to be a comprehensive look at every part of the human being. Rather, it is intended to make the point that, whatever I have, all that is within me, is to bless His holy name. Psalm 103:1 says just that, “Bless the Lord O my soul and all that is within me, bless his holy name.”
We could think of worship as worship in spirit. It is hard to say exactly what the Bible means when it speaks about our spirit. But that deep, innermost part of my being, that passed from death into life when I put my faith in Jesus, worships God as deep calls unto deep. He calls me from the depths of His heart and my spirit responds. There are responses to God that are too deep for human expression, but we must also worship God with our minds and our emotions and our bodies.
We need to participate actively on the intellectual level, think about the songs that we are singing, think about the prayers that we are praying, think about the word that is being preached, wrestle at an intellectual level with the truth of God that is being presented to us. That is basic to worship. Any vision of worship that has disengaged minds is unbiblical, inappropriate, and dishonoring God.
But we must also engage our emotions in the worship of God. The perfect expression of a human life of worship is Jesus of Nazareth. In the life that Jesus lived during His earthly sojourn we find that He was free to express His emotions before God and others. His emotions and His passion were plainly part of how he loved the Lord God. So, He loved the Lord not only with His mind and His actions, but He loved His Father also with His emotions.
We find His emotions on display in a number of passages in the New Testament — rejoicing when the seventy come back and report how fruitful their ministry had been, angry at the temple when the money changers had defiled the House of Prayer, weeping at the tomb of Lazarus, in anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane.
All of our emotions too, can be rightly brought before God and submitted to Him. So, we bow our minds before God, but we bow our emotions before God as well. They, too, can honor God. There is time for deep sorrow in our worship; there is time for deep rejoicing; there is time for fear and trembling before God in worship. By what possible means, by what possible justification, could we withhold our emotions from God in worship when He has commanded us to love Him with all that we are.
Finally, of course, we must worship God with our bodies. We can think of this again, both in terms of our corporate and intentional gatherings and in our individual lifestyles of worship.
In our corporate gatherings we may think of postures of worship — bowing down, lifting hands, shouting, being still, singing. All of these are engaging our body in physical acts of intentional worship. But, of course, the more basic idea is that we worship God by offering our whole beings, our bodies as living sacrifices to God. So, I use my hands for righteousness and my whole being for justice.
It is interesting that the root meaning behind many of the Bible words for worship are, in fact, physical terms. Shachah again, literally, means “to bow down.” The Hebrew word for “bless” comes from a root that literally means “to kneel.” The word for “give thanks” comes from a word that means “extend the hands.” So even in the terminology of worship there is physical action that is in view.
So again, Principle 5: worship requires participation, and Principle 6: worship requires participation of all that we are. We can think of that at many levels.
Principle #7: The substance of our worship is always more important than the style or form of our worship.
Styles of worship vs. the heart of worship
The substance of our worship is more important than the style or form of worship. I think this point should already have been clear to us by a reference to passages like Isaiah 1 and Amos 5, etc. God is not very impressed by the outward actions of our worship; he is really looking to the heart and the place of the heart.
But I want to say a little bit more about that in this principle. When we gather together, of course, one of the things that has been so problematic and has divided the churches so much are these so called “worship wars” — wars over organ or guitar; hymnal or overhead projection; quiet, still, cognitive, contemplative, or loud, expressive, jubilant. God is concerned more about the heart of the worship, the substance of our worship, the heart of the worshiper, the content of our worship than He is about the style or the particular format or approach of our worship.
In fact, many of our worship styles are basically the expression of personal preferences, personal prejudices, or cultural and generational experiences and tendencies. Of course, style, preferences, prejudices, and generational things will change from time to time, but the heart of the worshipper is critical to the Lord in the content of our worship.
Style of worship is secondary to the substance of worship.
To my mind, which style we participate in, whether we see ourselves as contemporary or traditional or high liturgical or low liturgical, is secondary to whether or not the worship is substantive. Is the revelation from God in Jesus and in His word clearly on display in that worship, and is there opportunity for the people to give faithful response? Are they being challenged in that way through the worship experience? That is far more important to me than whether it is loud or quiet or a little bit of both, dignified or spontaneous; those things are secondary.
I have been pleased and privileged to worship in a number of environments: numerous different denominational settings, theological settings, worship styles and also in multinational experiences. I have been overseas a number of times and been in a wide variety of cultural settings. Regardless of the setting, theologically, traditional, cultural, that you are involved in, there are some things that shine through and you know, as you experience it, that this is the heart of worship.
Liturgical form of worship
I was prodded in this area to learn and to grow when I was a young man, I came out of my Bible college experience in a little dispensational school, went through this church split where I had been introduced to two forms of worship — the hymn-singing, sermon-centered worship on the one hand and the contemporary, spontaneous praise on the other hand. With that kind of background, I began to attend a Lutheran seminary for a couple of years.
In that Lutheran seminary we had chapel held on a daily basis. I was introduced, for the first time, as a young man, probably about 20-years-old, to the Lutheran liturgy. For me it was startling, surprising, and disappointing when I first experienced the whole idea that we would do our worship from a book. Someone would lead us to stand up, we would turn to a certain page, and the leader would say this paragraph and we would all respond by saying that paragraph, stand up at a certain point, sit down at a certain point, kneel at a certain point. It was all very strange to me.
As a 20-year-old person who had been worshipping in a quasi-Charismatic environment, and before that in a dispensational Bible church, I did not understand everything that was happening in the Lutheran chapel. But I was pretty sure, whatever it was, it was not real worship. We prided ourselves on our spontaneity and originality in my church, and how could we realistically pray, in a spiritual way, things that were written hundreds of years earlier and written by somebody else. How could I do that authentically? How could I corporately confess my sins with people I did not even know? It was a strange experience for me and for the most part I rejected it.
Then came my church history class, which was taught by a wonderful 85-year-old professor, who had been a life-long Lutheran. I do not know how it came up, but in one lecture, suddenly the professor began to quote from memory lengthy passages from the Lutheran liturgy. I recognized them, to some extent, as things that we said in chapel, but I had not been very attentive to them because of where my heart was. The professor quoted these passages from the liturgy at length, and then he stopped, and you could see his eyes begin to well up with tears. He looked toward us, his students in the class, and with his eyes still full of tears he said to us all, “Isn’t it beautiful; it’s all Scripture.” As he said those words, I remember the feeling of an arrow piercing my ignorant and arrogant little heart.
When I went back and looked at the liturgy again, my eyes were opened and he was right; it was Scripture. Most of the Lutheran liturgy that we were reciting in chapel lifted from the Psalms, biblical ideas from Old and New Testament. This was Scriptural worship. Then I started to realize that even in my own church, where we prided ourselves on spontaneity and originality, although I thought it was a dirty word until this time, we, too, had our own liturgy. We had a worship order and it looked pretty much the same week after week after week in spite of our claims to be fresh and original and spontaneous.
The big difference between our liturgy and this Lutheran liturgy was that ours was not time-tested and ours was not Scripture-soaked. I learned through that experience that whatever I may have been experiencing in the chapel, for this Lutheran professor of mine this was indeed worship. It was a meaningful, worshipful experience for him. I am persuaded that God looks at the heart of the worshipper far more than He looks at the style of worship that we may have chosen in our particular church context.
Principle 7: the substance of our worship is more important than the style or form of our worship. There are numerous and various styles of worship, but God looks first to the heart of the worshipper.