Bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name’ (Psalm 103:1).
A caricature of ‘church worship’ I once heard in the U.S.:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise him for one hour here below;
Praise him with nickel and with dime,
Praise God we’re getting out on time.
‘Worship services’ for some are not an exciting experience. As the Devil says in The Brothers Karamazov, ‘Everything would be transformed into a religious service: it would be holy, but a little dull.’
‘Worship’ is a contraction of the old English word ‘worth-ship’. It’s recognizing that which is worth most, in the ultimate sense.
If we are to relate to the living God ‘with all that is within us’ there are six or seven ‘worship modes’ the people of God have practised throughout Biblical and subsequent history. To list them somewhat simplistically:
• ‘Temple’ (centring on Sacrifice/Eucharist – Catholics, Orthodox, ‘High’ Anglicans)
• ‘ Festival’ (charismatic experience: there are now more people in Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches in Australia each Sunday than in Anglican Churches)
• ‘Eremitical’/solitary worship (all of the biblical leaders spent a disproportionate amount of their lives in deserts)
• Worship in small/home groups
• Worship as ‘service’ (it’s the same word in the New Testament) or work (Benedict founded an order with the motto laborare est orare, ‘to work is to pray’)
• Worship as the whole of life (Romans 12:1,2).
We encounter a different ‘aspect’ of who God is for us in each mode.
(Class: where is your church in all this?)
In sum: Worship is the sublime and awesome key to everything the church – gathered and scattered – does. When we worship as a congregation, we are united with all of God’s people everywhere and at all times, who worship in a great variety of ways. Indeed, we may not realize our affinity with the strict Calvinist when we sing ‘Rock of Ages, cleft for me’, or with a Unitarian (‘Nearer my God to thee’), with a Roman Catholic (‘Lead Kindly Light’), with a Quaker (‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind’), as well as with ancient psalmists and modern poets.
Worship is the expression of a love affair between us and our wonderful God. In the seminars John Mark Ministries conducts on ‘Healthy Churches’ we suggest that true worship evokes ‘wonder, love and praise’; we are disappointed when the ‘worship service’ has to stop (!) and what happens ‘in church’ has a direct impact on the way we live between Sundays!
As ‘we are what we eat’ so ‘we are what we worship’ and we become like the God we worship. So we step back from the rush of life and ponder its realities at an ultimate level at a special time each week. But basically, worship isn’t essentially something ‘observed’ or ‘attended’, it is something we are and do. For true worshippers every time and every place is special.