Looking For The Right Question

Posted by Chris Russell on 1 April 2013



Articles like this often start with questions, like this one:

How should we worship?

Maybe you can see the appeal of this, but is imitation really the best route to authenticity?

Or what about this question:

What is worship?

Not bad, but it’s a little clinical, don’t you think? Where’s the heart, the passion within it? When worship gets viewed from behind the safety glass, something’s going wrong.

The question we need to need to ask is not limited to ‘how’ or ‘what’, but is far bigger and better...

Who is this God we worship?

The Beginning
‘God’ is perhaps the most misunderstood word in the English language, and without scripture what would we be able to say about God? Yes, He reveals Himself through that which He has created, but the Bible adds depth, clarity and insight.

Scripture reveals the truth about God. It reminds us that this world and the universe that dwarfs it are both other than God – neither have been birthed out of him but instead both were shaped by Him. And if God had not made this universe or world, He would be no lesser God – there would be no lack of His divinity.

God did not have to create. No-one or nothing outside of Himself compelled Him to make this world, and yet He called everything into being, gave it beauty and interdependence, finely balanced ecosystems and life itself. Why? Because this God of ours is a generous God who gives gifts. Everything we receive from God is a gift. He gives us life, He gives this life meaning, He redeems our lives and opens a way beyond death to life with Him eternally.

What better place for our worship to begin - with an awareness of God’s generosity, His power and His ultimate goodness?

The Response
If the previous four paragraphs have sunk in, then the words of Theologian Karl Barth will make sense. He suggested the clearest definition of a Christian is one who is thankful. As a primary response, praise has it.

Just as we are not the only works of God’s creation, so all creation is implicated in this call to praise. Psalm 148 reminds of the vastness of this choir - the heavens, angels, sun, moon and stars, as well as hail, fruit trees and great sea creatures. All of us give thanks.

But there is something special about we humans who occupy a vital place. In the words of Professor Jeremy Begbie, who writes extensively on worship, we voice creation’s praise. In Romans 8 Paul writes that ‘creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed’, reminding us that our worship is neither a spectator sport, a solo pastime or an isolated act without any connection to the rest of life. Instead, worship is about connection, relationship and unity - just like the trinity itself.

Becoming Like...
This leads on to a third key point; that just as worship is inherent to the trinity, so too are we made with a natural inclination to worship. Like a plant turning toward sunlight, we all have an instinct to worship something. We might not all be Christians, but we are all worshippers.

All objects of worship demand sacrifice, and - in time - begin to transform the worshipper into their likeness. We all become like who - or what - we worship, as Psalm 115 reminds us. It can be a dangerous situation to find ourselves in, as we risk being consumed by the sort of idols who have mouths that cannot speak, ears that cannot hear and feet that cannot walk. For anyone looking to lead and direct worship, the stakes are clearly high; are we leading people to worship the one, true God or are we diverting attention in ways that are ultimately unhelpful?

And yet, if this is true of false idols it is also true of God; the more we worship Him, the more we become like Him. Which is why it is so vital that we resist the urge to make worship about the what or the how, and choose instead to remain focused on the who.

God Calls
Throughout the Bible there are countless injunctions for us to gather together as followers of God and focus our attention on Him. It seems that these times of collective praise are more than just pep rallies or efficient communication tools. They are a vital ingredient in our ongoing relationship with our God. These times of praise are in themselves an attempt to cope with the love of God - the love that is always overwhelming, always beyond our definition and never - ever - ending. There is always more to say about the glorious love of God. We may be lost for words, but the silence of apathy is never an option.

God’s Spirit, Our Worship
All this talk about our roles and responsibilities in worship is important, but we must not overlook the essential truth that worship is a Spirit-activated, Spirit-led, Spirit-directed activity. In one of those beautiful paradoxes, God becomes not only the object of our worship, but its enabler as well. There is no such thing as DIY worship for Christians. This brings us back once more to the notion of worship as a gift, and through the gift of God’s Spirit we participate in the gift of God – His presence, His life, His love, His purpose for us.

Because of this we can call God abba, our father. We can enjoy koinonia – relationship with God Himself. We learn to see God for who He truly is - our kurios, our Lord. All of these are made possible by the Spirit - the same Spirit who directs, leads and inspires us.

Final Thoughts
The church is born in worship, it realises who it is in worship and it proclaims its faithful witness in worship. Because of this, worship is so much more than a formula or a franchise. The last thing we need to invest our energies in is trying to replicate that which we saw at the summer festival or read about on that old interweb thing. Unlike the Islamic expression of worship, our God calls for and creates fresh expressions, unleashing the Spirit to allow us each to bring to God that which reflects His glorious nature. Our praise connects us to an eternal God, to the worship of heaven itself, to the sacrifice of His Son and the formation of the new heavens and the new earth. Earthly activities simply don’t come any bigger.

And what does this all mean for the Sunday service or midweek meeting? As we offer to God praise not simply for what has been, but for things yet to be, we recognise both how small we are, and how big this community of saints with whom our praise mingles and merges.

How can we be better worshippers? Crave creativity, crave a deeper hunger for knowledge of God, meet Him in His word and allow the Spirit to direct, lead and inspire at every step. Hold nothing back, lay everything down and be prepared to risk it all for the sake of our God. Join with others. Serve them, listen to them, learn from them and love them. Recognise that in worship we are responding to God’s invitation to stand face to face.

In the moments before God instructs Moses to deliver the Ten Commandments, there is a conversation. Moses questions how he is to lead God’s people; who will be his helpers? Stuck in the what and the how, Moses is confused.

God’s reply echoes throughout history:

“My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Let us remember above all the who of worship. Let us learn to better recognise His presence, to hear His voice and follow His lead. The worshipper’s manual doesn’t get much simpler than that.


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