The real question concerning communal worship, the worship that takes place in church on Sunday mornings, is one of motive. What are we doing really? Are we a part of someone else’s show? Are we trying to portray some sort of image? Are we looking for others to validate whether or not we are spiritual? Are we afraid of being judged? Are we trying to prove something to ourselves? Are we trying to recreate a previous spiritual encounter? Are we trying to forget our problems and escape reality? Are we trying to impress God? Are we trying to get God to do something for us? Are we being swept away in the moment? What is really going on in this group activity called worship?
I have had a lifetime of observing church folk, and often people whose personal lives are the most unstable seem to spend a great deal of time in church. I wonder if they find church an easy place to hide and the worship experience an escape. Perhaps if I am shouting right now for my blessing, then I don’t have to deal with the mess I’ve made with my money. Or, perhaps if I am dancing for my marriage, then I can pretend that there aren’t very serious issues between us that need confrontation.
In churches today, the worship experience is appealing by design. Talented musicians are hired with the express purpose of “ushering in God’s presence.” I’m sorry to put that phrase in quotes because I don’t mean to imply that I think it’s all just for show. Honestly, I don’t. In many churches, very sincere men and women devote hours preparing and praying earnestly for God’s anointing on their lives, sincerely desiring that you have a real encounter with God during the worship service (shout out to WCC minister of music, Brannon Carnes). But make no mistake, in many instances, professionals are trying their best to entertain you and make you think you had a spiritual experience, while in fact there has been no lasting impact on your life.
Corporate worship is an individual expression that we experience in the love and safety of community. It is both a singular and shared experience. One of the concerns I have with corporate worship is that people are observing and measuring, and I am just as guilty as anyone else. The Biblical injunction is to “worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23) The psalmist David states, “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts.” (Psalm 51:6) God is looking for authentic worship. This isn’t about who is doing what around us. It isn’t about pressure to be something we are not. It is bringing all that we are to express back to Him all that He is. What we offer to God in worship is ourselves – not who we are pretending to be, but who we are without reservations. We praise Him as an act of obedience, as an act of love, as an act of gratitude, as an act of humility, as an act of faith; because we love Him, because we need Him, because He is God all by Himself and above Him there is no other.
Often you will experience an emotional response during worship. In fact, it is to be expected. After all, this is God we are talking about. The psalmist David brought to his worship experience the full range of his emotions. 2 Samuel 6 describes an occasion when, as king, he “danced before the Lord with all his might.” In that same instance, it describes David as “leaping and dancing before the Lord” to the point that he removed his royal robes and humbled himself by wearing only a linen ephod – the religious garment usually worn by priests. The text implies that his behavior was extravagantly unorthodox to say the least, perhaps even slightly immodest, as his wife Michal’s reference to the slave girls suggests. “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” (2 Samuel 6:14). The scripture states that when Michal observed David’s uninhibited praise that “she despised him in her heart” (2 Samuel 6:16 NIV). God took serious exception to her attitude toward her husband’s praise to him. And the scripture tells us that Michal was barren from that day forward. So much for judging other people’s worship.
My worship won’t look like the sister’s next to me because my worship reflects God’s personal dealings with me. Sometimes in His holy presence, I am so overwhelmed that I am at a loss for words; other times I am so excited that I shout with joy. At times my worship is celebratory and I want to dance or sing. When people worshipped God in scripture, they danced–who can forget Miriam leading the throngs of women shaking their tambourines for all their worth (Exodus 15) –sang, shouted and played loud instruments (cymbals) and soothing instruments (harp).
The test is how our Sunday worship affects the way we live our life, or, as my friend Terri would say, does it pass the Monday test? Is our experience mere Sunday morning hype, or does it extend into our Monday morning reality? Does our worship come from out of our lives or from the music? These are the questions I ask myself. My worship must reflect who I am with God when the music isn’t playing or no one is looking. It must be worthy of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Therefore, I dare not come before Him carelessly or halfheartedly. It must reflect my thankfulness to the One without whom I am nothing. That is the true test, and then I don’t care who is looking, and I don’t have time to look at anyone else.