Years ago I had a summer book club at Faith Church, and one of books we read was Jim & Casper Go To Church. It is written by a Christian, Jim Henderson, and an atheist, Matt Casper. Jim invited Matt to travel around the country and attend worship services in churches of all shapes and sizes, from a couple massive churches in arenas to smaller churches and many in between. As he took in worship services at these churches, quite often Casper asked Jim the same question, “Did Jesus really tell you to do that?”
That’s a good question. It is basically the question, “Is this how God wants us to worship him?”
It could be very easy to be critical of the mega churches. smoke machines, and professional praise bands, and huge auditoriums. But it is a question that should be asked of any church worship service.
On any Sunday at Faith Church, I look around the room we call a sanctuary, and I think that we should ask the same thing: “Did God tell us to do this?”
Do you know the answer to Casper’s question?
God says that we should worship him. No doubt about that. But did God tell us that he wants to be worshipped like this?
Did he want us to build church buildings?
The answer is No. God wants us to be people who worship him, Yes. And we can worship him in a church building, with songs and chairs and classes. We can worship him with sound systems and video projectors and hymnals and pews. We can worship him with all of it.
But let us remember that God didn’t ask for all that. When it comes to worshiping him, he didn’t ask for any of the religious, churchy stuff that we spend a lot of time and money on.
Furthermore, the danger of all the churchy stuff is that we can deceive ourselves into thinking that Sunday morning worship and all the activity that we do on Sunday is what God desires. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that if we come to a church worship service, then we have satisfied the desires of God.
Here’s the harsh truth. We don’t need any of this to worship God. None of it. We don’t need a building, we don’t need all the stuff in the building, and we don’t even need a timeslot on Sundays for a worship gathering. We can satisfy the worship desires of God without any of it.
By understanding what God desires worship to actually be. The answer to Matt Casper’s question is “no, God did not tell us to do all this.” We added it. All this churchy stuff is not inherently wrong. We can worship God in a church building, by singing songs, giving an offering, praying, sharing stories of how God is at work in our lives, by studying the Bible, by fellowshipping and encouraging one another. All this stuff we do on Sundays, all of it, can be worshipful. But we need to see that we added it.
So what is worship supposed to be?
First of all, prepare to worship every day.
Paul once said that no matter what we do, even whether we’re just doing the mundane everyday stuff of life, like eating and drinking, do it all to the glory of God.
So how do you do that? Try to have a daily practice of starting each day by offering thanksgiving to God. Count your blessings. Maybe when you first wake-up.
Then Read Scripture. When we read Scripture consistently, it results in more knowledge of God, and that results in more accurate worship. In Scripture we learn to know him better, more accurately, more intelligently.
Second, see worship as happening 24/7. How do you do that?
Saying “Your will be done”. Remember when Jesus was about to be arrested and crucified? He was praying in the Garden. He knew how incredibly hard it was going to be. He was headed toward a brutal beating and death. He was in anguish about this as he prayed to God. But he worshiped God anyway saying “Not my will, but yours be done.”
We might not like the situation we’re in. Work might be horrible. Parenting can be frustrating. A relationship can be awful. Money might be tight. Worship God 24/7, right in the middle of the pain by saying “Not my will, but yours be done.”
By saying that, Jesus was essentially saying “God, I’m in the middle of the junk. And I want to honor and glorify you even if the pain and crisis and struggle is not taken away from me.” That’s some real, deal worship right there. And when you worship like that, you are saying to God, “I want to obey you, Lord, even though it might get hard.”
This is very much in line with what Paul says Romans 12:1-2 – what is our spiritual act of worship – to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.
Say, “Lord, here I am at school. I offer myself to you. Here I am at work, I offer myself to serve you. Here I am at home, I give myself to you.”
Thankfully, life is not always hard! In fact, many times, praise God, he blesses us, and we get to enjoy the fruits of our labor, the joy of the Lord, the wonders of life on planet earth. We can and should worship God during those times of blessing as well. If you haven’t seen the movie Chariots of Fire, I urge you to check it out. It is the true story of Eric Liddell who was an Olympic miler. He was also a Christian. He talks about how when he ran, he could feel God’s pleasure! You can worship while you run, while you eat, while you enjoy vacation.
You can worship during the mundane as well. Life is neither always awful, nor always joyful. Often life is filled with tasks that just have to get done. Some you might dislike. But you can also enjoy the mundane. Mowing the lawn. Raking leaves. Worship while you work through these tasks too, like changing diapers, cleaning the toilet. All of this can be done in worship, Paul said, done to the glory of God.
We especially spend a lot of time at work, don’t we. So work as unto to the Lord. Work hard. Work without complaining. Work with joy. With creativity.
Practice the Presence of God. Be in a conversation with God all day long, as much as you can.
Invite God to be right there with you. Next to your desk. Watching what you watch on your computer.
Third, learn the spiritual exercise of focused periods of worship as larger church family.
Let me share a private thought I have, one that I wrestle with. We have 130 people in our congregation. But our Sunday morning attendance? It has been around 95, 100, or 105 over the last few years.
What is going on? 25% of our congregation is not here, on average, every single week. That is true in most churches. Why is this happening?
But know this: there is an element of the Christian life, that can never be experienced by watching worship on TV or the internet, by listening to a podcast, or being alone in nature.
Worship is not just the songs. Worship is the giving, the sharing, the encouraging, the prayer, the learning. An extremely important part of worship is doing it together. Getting the family together. Do you need to change your heart attitude toward Sunday worship? Do you need to gather with your church family more frequently?
Fourth we should practice the spiritual exercise of personal periods of focused worship. This is when we take some time to focus on God, alone with him. This is when we put aside all we’re doing, get alone, without letting anyone know what we’re doing, and worship God alone. This time alone with God can include song, Scripture, prayer. It’s up to you. When I read the Psalms, many of them were written out of an individual’s private, personal worship of God. Include this as part of your regular prayer and Bible reading.
Start the day with personal worship. Do not worry about other people who can do it better than you. You don’t have to go to seminary or be a professional theologian to get alone and worship God.
Maybe just count your blessings. One of my favorite passages is Psalm 116:12-18. Allow the history of God’s blessings in your life to motivate you to praise and thank him, so that you can live out your day in a thankful, worshipful heart and mind.
We’re all different. Some people might really be able to worship while driving, and for another person that might be next to impossible.
But remember that if worship doesn’t mean singing praise songs all day long, we can think about worshiping in other ways during the day. Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again I say, rejoice, Paul reminded us in Philippians.
In conclusion, like any of the spiritual disciplines, Worship can be hard work. Think about it. Worship is an act of retaining focus on God. We can be a people of short-attention span. It can be hard to stay focused on God.
But when we focus on God, something amazing happens. People become like that which we focus on. Focus on God and we will become like him.
Have an attitude that says “I want to learn to worship better.” So maybe you need a trainer. If you look at a person and realize “That person excels at worshiping God 24/7,” contact them as ask them to train you to be a better worshiper.