Service Worship

Friends, I hope you'll forgive me for the recent blogging hiatus.  The holidays and moving have left me with little writing energy.  We continue our discipleship series this week moving on to worship.  Below is something I wrote a while back, but I think is applicable now as well (the drawing is new). WARNING: most people don't like me for a few days after I tell them what I think about worship.  So take a deep breath and avoid me until you've settled down.

7You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said:
8 “This people honours me with their lips,
   but their hearts are far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me,
   teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
Matthew 15 (NRSV)

13 The Lord said:
Because these people draw near with their mouths
   and honor me with their lips,
   while their hearts are far from me,
and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote;
14 so I will again do
   amazing things with this people,
   shocking and amazing.
The wisdom of their wise shall perish,
   and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden.
Isaiah 29 (NRSV)

We are immediately at a disadvantage when we read these two passages.  We want to leap to our modern understanding of the word heart: the center of human emotion and attitude.  But these passages operate with a very different understanding of what the heart represents: the center of the will, the place humans make decisions.  Here’s my paraphrase, these people praise me with their lips, but the way they live, the decisions they make, nullify their words of praise.  Apparently, we cannot equate worship with any formation of laudatory words.  Not to say that words or praise are inappropriate, but they do not equal worship. Most of us know that.  What I think this passage really teaches us is that words + an emotional appreciation of God does not equal worship either.  Haven’t you been told, you just need to make sure your heart is right?[1]  If a biblical figure heard you say that they’d think you meant, you just need to make sure that you’re living your life correctly.  
Okay, if worship isn’t words and it isn’t words plus a good attitude, what is it?  Simply put, worship is any decision that yields an act of affection toward God.  Affection is a quirky word though.  When I show affection toward my wife it isn’t always well received.  High quality affection means that I not only offer something sincere to her, but that I’ve also interpreted her mood correctly; I’ve correctly discerned what kind of affection she wants.  Like a gentle and patient Papa, I think God accepts all efforts of affection toward him as worship, but like my wife, I think he has a preferred method by which he wants to be loved.
God has a love language and it is not a mystery.  In fact, it is peppered throughout the bible — so much so, that it is stunning to me that we keep calling songs worship.  We keep offering God words, but scripture over and over again says, you want to love God?  
Serve people.  
That’s right, service is the “heart” of worship.  Think about the following passages as if they were definitions of worship:

Mark 12:28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ 29Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 31The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’
Matthew 25:34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Galatians 5:4You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
1 John 2:10Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. 11But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.
John 13:1Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he showed them the full extent of his love. It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him (NLT).

So the big question is, why does the local church spend so much time crafting its words when God seems to not care about words?  Why is loving God by serving people not a consistent element of the ironically named, Sunday morning worship service?[2]

[1] Here’s a line from the popular song, The Heart of Worship, “I'll bring You more than a song, for a song in itself is not what You have required. You search much deeper within, through the way things appear, you're looking into my heart.”
[2] Of course, I’ve seen much service happen before, after, and sometimes during the “service.”  But it is not part of the liturgy . . . the order of worship.  Why not?  I hope you can see us trying to implement this into our own worship experience at River Street.


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