Spiritual Disciplines Course.

Introduction to the Discipline of Worship.

Essentially, as I understand it, people are communicating when they worship. There is a communicative interaction on many levels. Primarily, the communication is between God and people. God initiates worship, and people respond. This is Communion. There is, however, another element of communication; people communicate to those around them and to the world at large. Communication leads to many other things. As we respond to God's action in celebration, as we commune with Him, we begin to experience Him, and His action in our lives. We are transformed. Richard Foster says of worship:

To worship is to experience Reality, to touch Life. It is to know, to feel, to experience the resurrected Christ in the midst of the gathered community. It is a breaking into the Shekinah (He explains that 'Shekinah' means the glory or the radiance of God dwelling in the midst of his people. It denotes the immediate Presence of God as opposed to a God who is abstract or aloof.) of God, or better yet, being invaded by the Shekinah of God (1989: 199).

Every part of us is involved in worship, and every part of us is affected by worship. William Temple said:

To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.

Our whole lives become radically altered when we worship God. All that which is in control of our lives, other than God, is purged as we give complete control to God.

We are not escaping from the world when we worship, we are in fact, 'encountering' the world on a deeper level of understanding.

. . . worship is the deliberate act of seeking to approach reality at its deepest level by becoming aware of God . . . and by responding to this awareness (White, 1973: 184).

Although there is an element, in worship, of remembering (looking back), and expecting (looking forward), worship also involves the present, and our whole lives. We expect God to deal with our present condition, as He has, and as He will.

We communicate all of this through word, and through symbol. We are in the process of verbalisation, visualisation, and interaction when we worship, and this is what causes transformation. We are led to respond through that which we hear and speak, and that which we see. Our interaction in the symbolic reality leads to a real interaction in our lives with that which is symbolised.

Worship is not simply going through the motions of ceremony. It becomes the visible and tangible meeting of God through the signs and symbols of His presence (Webber, 1982: 99).

We interact with something that has happened both visually and verbally, and in that way it becomes real for us in the present, and effects transformation of our lives.

Worship is the meeting of our whole lives with God. We come to God, and bring with us all of our lives; our joy and our sadness; our appreciation for all that God has done in our lives and our hurt, our pain, and our brokeness. As we bring our whole lives to God, and as we meet with God in a real and tangible way, as we are invaded by His Shekinah, as we commune with Him, we find healing, restoration, comfort.

People are communicating in worship, at a deep, intimate level, and experiencing communion with God. In this way, the incarnational, relational approach of God becomes real in our lives. As God has given (and continually gives), we too give. God came to us, became one of us, to restore the relationship with Him we had broken. He restored the covenant with us in this relationship, and part of that covenant is that we too should go out and reveal God to others as He did for us in Christ. The movement in worship is from God to us to others. Worship is a very corporate act in that we come as God's people, to respond to God's Grace, and we go as God's people to reveal Him to others.

Although I have said that this is what I understand we as people are doing when we worship, it is a sad fact that we often do not do this when we worship. Worship often becomes for us a self-indulgent experience seeking event. We go to worship only to receive, and not to give to God or to others. We also often worship without focusing on those around us as we corporately worship. We sometimes treat worship only as a duty, something that we have to do as people, a 'work' for salvation. If we fail to see that in worship we are entering into communion with God as we interact communicatively with Him, and that as we do this, we communicate Him to those around us, and we are transformed so as to communicate Him to all those we communicate with daily, we have missed what we should be doing in worship. This is when we run the risk of poor communication or total mis-communication.

Exercise:

Consider the worship experience of Holy Communion (Matthew 26: 26-29). How could we make this pratice more significant. You may want to experiment with a different way of doing this ancient discipline in a small group.

Readings for contemplation:

Reading

John 4: 19-24
John 6: 52-28, 63
Ephesians 5: 18-20, Colossians 3: 16-17
Isaiah 6: 1-8
Psalm 96
Psalm 148
Revelation 5: 6-14

Focus

Worship in spirit and truth
Communion: the essence of worship
The life of worship
The Lord high and lifted up
Sing to the Lord
Worship of all creation
Worthy is the Lamb

Bibliography:

  1. Foster, R J 1989. Celebration of Discipline: The path to Spiritual growth: Revised Edition. London: Hodder and Stoughton
  2. Webber, R E 1982. Worship old and new. Grand Rapids: Zondervan
  3. White, J F 1973. Studia Liturgica, 9 (3).

Further reading:


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