On August 9, 2010

The Purpose of Worship

So right after Leslie and I had gotten married, we lived in Searcy for one final semester before moving to Texas. We had  broken free of the shackles of curfew, and we went crazy. Of course by crazy, I mean that we went to Wal-Mart after midnight. And that’s where this story picks up.

Because it was at Wal-Mart, in the notebook aisle, that a guy, that we had never met before, came up to us and said this:

“I think God is an insecure Hypocrite.”

I’m serious. That’s what he started off with, not “my name is Jimmy” or “Notebooks huh?” His opening line was that God was an insecure hypocrite, proving once again that Wal-Mart always has more than low prices, after midnight they also have crazy people.

Now we actually got to know this guy. Over the next semester he came over to our apartment several times, and we even had a Bible study with him. Turns out he and his girlfriend were small-time drug dealers, and, in their own words, they thought we might be stoners (I think it must have been Leslie that threw them off).

However, I did find out later what he meant by his whole opening line. He said God was insecure because he never understood why God required worship. To him, it designated a God who just needed people to get together in a room and sing about how great he was. And the only paradigm that he could understand that in, was that God must be insecure.

A few years ago, I was leading a mid-week gathering for Young Adults that had hit a snag. Our regular worship leader had left, and so now we were trying out a few different people in that position. The problem was that whomever we brought in would be liked by some, and despised by other.

And what was interesting, is the things the detractors would say about the different people leading worship. They thought the worship leader was too charismatic or wasn’t charismatic enough. They didn’t lead the right songs, or they sang them wrong. And the worship was all about them.

I have a lot of Calvinist friends. And to be honest, this is one of the areas that I tend to sound like them. I love the way they talk about worship. They don’t approach worship like consumers. However, the problems with Calvinism, in my opinion, isn’t that they have a big view of God, but that their view of God tends to be pretty Greco-Roman. The God of the Scripture seems to resist the kinds of categories that we try to put Him in. And while I believe that God is really, really big, what do you do with  stories like this, or this.

And here’s why that’s important: Because the language that we use to describe God, too often can actually describe a lot of the ancient gods. But YHWH isn’t Zeus, He’s unique, different…set apart. And that means that worship isn’t just about an insecure hypocrite needing some recognition. It’s something much more.

The problem with the worship question today is that it’s framed by consumerism.

People assume that either God is the consumer or they are. But what if both ways of talking about it are wrong?

In his book, After You Believe, N.T. Wright makes a great point about why we worship:

“The way the world is, is a powerful, insidious force, and it takes all the energy of the new creation, not least of faith and hope, to remind oneself that the age to come really is already here, with all it’s new possibilities and prospects. The antidote to the power of the present age, then, is to have the mind renewed.”

And the way we renew our minds, according to Wright, is Worship.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think that when God creates He does it well. And I think that too often we can slouch on creating well, and hide behind the “consumerism” argument. I appreciate worship that inspires or moves us.  But it’s more than that isn’t it? Worship is not about God needing accolades or recognition, or us getting a quick mid-week pick me up.

Worship is about celebrating the way things really are.

This is why worship doesn’t fit into the categories we tend to make for it. We tend to approach life as consumers, and maybe we think God should too. But this is ironic. Because at it’s very core, worship is reminding us that we are not consumers.

When God made humanity, we were made in His image. And so when we worship we are becoming more fully human. We are allowing ourselves to be formed into the kinds of people we were always intended to be.

We are reminding ourselves that God is the only one who runs the universe, and we are made and sustained for and by Him.

That God is not an insecure hypocrite, and I am not a consumer of experiences that he dishes out arbitrarily. And to worship is to draw the strength to live out now the way we believe the world will be one day.

Start telling that to people at Wal-Mart

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  • bob turner

    Good stuff. I think AFTER YOU BELIEVE will be a big deal.

  • http://www.stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Bob. It’s a great book. I highly recommend it. Good hearing from you brother!

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  • John Wallace

    You hit the nail on the head with this comment:

    The problem with the worship question today is that it’s framed by consumerism.

    Where, oh where did we go so far afield? It’s not about us. It’s not about our peferences in songs … or speaking styles. That doesn’t mean that we don’t encourage those who are gifted in these areas to offer their gifts to honor God and bless others. But we really need to tap the brakes and remind ourselves that, first and foremost, it’s all about Him. Always has been — despite our short-sightedness and immature petulance. And always will be. Thanks for sharing an important reminder of that, my friend.

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Bro. John, what’s interesting to me is that we sometimes apply the same value for worship to God. I know that God demands and is pleased by worship, but I sometime wonder if we think that God has the same kind of idea about worship is that we have about what kind of laundry detergent we are planning on buying. I loved the idea that worship isn’t about meeting either ours or God’s needs (though I think we certainly need to do it) but about celebrating the way things really are.

    Thanks Bro. John!

  • http://pedroemose.blogspot.com/ Peter Mosley

    “Worship is about celebrating the way things really are.”

    Exactly. I have nothing to add to that except that I’m going to put that as my fb status…that’s an awesome way to look at it.

    Man! I wish random strangers came up to me in Wal-Mart with comments like that…

  • http://www.stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Peter I’m glad that it resonated with you. You should read that book, you’d really like it.

  • http://cthoward.wordpress.com Clint Howard

    Searcy Wal-mart seems to be a vortex of crazy energy…at least after dark.

    I like your thoughts here, and this explains the difficulty we face when we have some saying worship is for God, and others saying worship is for us. I like the idea that perhaps this is the wrong framework altogether. Maybe is not necessarily “for” (in a consumerist sense) anyone.

    Worship benefits us, and pleases God, but it is bigger than that. It is celebration, and sometimes lamentation. It ought to be an overflow of emotion and intellect. We know we have overcome the world through Christ (hallelujah), but we also know that the world is not yet completely subject to Him (maranatha). It is just what the redeemed do (inside and outside the “church building”).

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts,
    Clint

  • Kathy

    Worship has so many facets. One that fills my heart the most is when we worship as a community, I feel we are closest to being the answer to the prayer of Jesus and as such is the moment we are closer to and most closely united with God than at any other time.
    John 17:11 “…so that they may be one as we are one.”

    This may be particularly so for those like me who live alone, study alone, pray alone, praise Him alone, worship Him alone. To come together with my church family to worship Him is when I rejoice in being part of the response to the prayer of Jesus …. we are one in Him and we raise our voices in song and prayer to Him as one. Hallelujah! PTL!! \o/

    You can never write, speak enough about worship to suit me. Bless you for doing so in this blog entry, Jonathan.
    OH! btw-welcome to the “Last Frontier” – Abilene and Highland. May your journey with us glorify our triune God, bringing honor and worship of and to Him!! I’m already loving the Storment family! :)

  • http://Www.stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Clint, well said man. The problem, I think, is that we’ve been taught to view life through the lens of a consumer. And then we attempt to approach God the same way. Have you read the Divine Commodity? You might like it. I thought it was an excellent book on this topic.

    Kathy, that’s an excellent take on why we need corporate worship. See you Sunday!

  • http://cthoward.wordpress.com Clint Howard

    Jonathan,

    I have not read Divine Commodity, but I will look into it and probably add it to my “to read” list (it’s getting pretty long, especially since I have yet to read NT Wright, but have been wanting to do so for some time). Thanks for the recommendation.

    And congratulations on your move to Highland. Several months back I attended a Shepherding seminar in Little Rock at which David Wray was the primary presenter. I was encouraged by his teaching, and he gave me a lot to think about. It sounded like the Highland eldership is leading a wonderful congregation in the right direction.

  • http://patrikin.wordpress.com/ Fritz Lang

    Very good intro, kept me reading the rest of the post – also good insight on why God wants us to worship; it’s not for him but for us.

  • Darryl

    Great post! I see worship (and I think my view is similar to yours) as a memorial i.e., a reminder. It drives us through weekly rhythm to remember who we are and how we are to impact the world in which we live and move and breathe.

    Honestly, my “ideal” community would not have a “worship leader” but would be like so many youth groups I’ve led–singing just happened spontaneously and we all were responsible to bring “a psalm, hymn, and word of encouragement”.

    In our assemblies we really do not need pep rallies or concerts. We need community and to be reminded of who we serve and how we are to live.

  • Darryl

    As one Catholic theologian said the perennial Christian strategy was: “gather the people. break the bread. tell the story.”

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  • Elle

    Hello! Is that your personal picture, with the hands raised? I was wondering if I could use it for my church’s website!

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