Hi, folks, I wrote something. I'm happy about it. I love school. I love the fact that my job (such as it is) is to answer questions like "what is worship?" I wrote about that. It did not feel like work. What joy, what joy... perhaps i'll be a professional academician when I grow up. Yes, academician is a word.
What is worship?
Worship is our intentional participation in the work and the glory of God. To that end, anything we do to bring our lives under the direction of God can be worship, and any work that is not antithetical to the purposes of God in this world can be worship. God’s purposes are worked out in many ways, in concert with or in prophetic opposition to larger movements of politics or culture in which we participate. Any work in which we further God’s many purposes is the work of God. God’s glory is likewise all-pervasive and can be found in many guises. We participate in this in many ways: from confessing our sin that our worldview may come into closer alignment with God’s, to receiving Eucharist that God’s grace may be grown within us, to saying or singing words of joyful praise. God can be glorified in a whole range of ways.
Intentionality, however, makes the difference between worship and the rest of life. God’s purposes have been worked by nonbelievers ever since the days of Cyrus (Is. 45:1-5), but the intentions of the worker turn it from labor to worship. God is glorified in nature and the whole created realm without our help, but with our words of acknowledgment we become worshippers, as spectators become participants.
A worship service is a gathering of the faithful, at which hearts are tuned toward this intentional participation, and where the work and glory of God is rehearsed, encouraged, and strengthened. Intentionality begins in the simple action of attending corporate worship services. Our arrival together should demarcate a qualitatively different mindset from the other hours of the day or week. For some participants this may be the most intentional element of worship so far. The goal, however, is that the first step of “showing up” is but one of a long series of conversions, in which our whole selves are turned toward the work and the glory of God. We may experience these conversions through intellectual assent to elements of the service, through our mystical co-operation in the glorification of God, and through concrete decisions that are birthed in us through our time together.
My Theology of Worship:
The central purpose of worship, in my practice, is to strengthen us for mission. Here I draw from the Invitation To Expanding Partnership in God’s Mission which the PC(USA) adopted at the 218th General Assembly in 2008: “We recognize that God calls us to mission that is grounded in confession of our sins, grows out of a life of prayer and is sustained in worship.” Worship is our sustenance, that is, our food and drink, and our grounding in reality. Without worship we can scarcely “do” mission.
Mission is one of the primary functions of the church. If the church has no mission into the world, it turns into a group of navel-gazers – and we can scarcely blame those outside the walls of the church who complain about this. More tragic than that, though, is the missed opportunity for God to empower us, transform us, and work in the world through us. It is not just our mission field that suffers if we neglect mission, nor even the liveliness of our church, but our own lives that are impoverished by this neglect. Worship must move beyond the walls of the sanctuary in order for us to know and experience the fullness of God’s healing, empowerment, and gracious action in the world.
Just as mission has its roots in worship, corporate worship has roots in personal prayer. Worship is rich if it is full of pray-ers, people who are accustomed to focusing their attention on God. If the congregation is active beyond a pastor’s wildest dreams, with more programs than there are days in the week, yet does not pray, it is lacking. There is a danger of emptiness in its spiritual life, and a real risk of burnout.
Biblical stories instructive to this kind of worship are as varied as our mission practices. Prophetic texts instruct social justice; the Exodus instructs spiritual and physical freedom from bondage; many healing stories instruct medical mission as well as counseling practices; Matthew and James instruct charitable service; the kenosis hymn of Phillippians 2 checks our pride. All of these viewpoints come together to inspire, support, and correct our work. But we must also be fed for our work by the Eucharist, and by unrestricted praise of God. The deep and primal praise of God the creator, such as is found in the last five chapters of Psalms, can calm our striving and keep our feet on the ground to drink from the fountain of God’s goodness.