On the sanctuary chairs–a purse here, a Bible there, an almost-empty plastic bag of Cheez-its, a couple of bulletins, a toy car. Worship leftovers. After 44 years of pastoring I’ve seen lots. But the worship leftovers I’m thinking of today are the leftover thoughts about worship I didn’t squeeze into my two last posts.
Worship is more than singing. Mention worship and most Christians think music. But prayer is worship. ” . . . call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:15). Hearing God’s Word is worship. “In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise . . . ” (Psalm 56:10). If worship is ascribing worth to God, then when we sing to him, pray to him and listen to him, we are ascribing worth to him.
Worship is more than a worship service. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1,2). Worship is offering our bodies to God to use for his good purposes. Worship is offering our minds to God to use in ways that counter the fallenness of this world. Worship is using the hours of our ordinary days to do the will of God.
Yet worship is singing too. When we gather as a church, we sing. It’s kind of unusual though, no? Except at a ball game or birthday party or the bar I mentioned last time, almost nowhere in our culture do people assemble and sing out loud together. Why do we ? John Piper’s is the best explanation I’ve found . . .
“The reality of God and Christ and creation and salvation and heaven and hell are simply
too great for mere speaking; they must also be sung. This means that the reality of God and
his work is so great that we are not merely to think truly about it, but also feel duly about it.
Think truly and feel duly–that is, feel with the kind and depth and intensity of emotion that
is appropriate to the reality that is truly known.”
Worship is singing biblically with the mind. We could sing four times over, “Jesus, I love you; Jesus, I love you; Jesus, I love you, I do”. But how about Scripture itself set to contemporary music? Or how about the theologically-rich hymns that have stood the test of time? Music like that both thoughtfully exalts God and teaches us his Gospel as we sing it. After all, we are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our mind (Matthew 22:37).
Worship is singing with the heart. So we sing. With emotion. With feeling, as Piper wrote above. As Paul taught: ” . . . singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19). As David declared: “My heart is steadfast, O God! I will sing and make melody with all my being! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn” (Psalm 108:1,2). With willful affections, David worshiped the Lord. Sometimes we hold them in. As if showing emotion equals weakness. Or resembles “those charismatics.” Certain behavior goes beyond “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). But in view of the great God to whom we sing, how can emotions not erupt?
Worship is sometimes lingering in the Lord’s presence. On some Sundays, after we’ve sung the last of several songs in sequence, the last note fades and a holy silence descends. It’s not planned or programmed. It just covers us. We sit almost breathless. As if before him words can’t express what we’re feeling. As if he’s transformed our ordinary sanctuary into holy ground. For those few moments, “The things of this world . . . grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” So in sacred silence we just wait in his presence.
Critics might call it group psychology–a few people sit in silence and the silence subconsciously spreads from one mind to another like a mental germ. Or they might claim it’s just part of the “liturgy”. If the worship leader gets quiet and says nothing, no one else will. But we know it’s the Lord who promised,
” . . . where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20).
If this is a worship leftover, I’ll take it any day!