Posted by: Postordinandy | February 11, 2009

Some thoughts on Worship…part 1

Prayer, response, life, giving, meeting, singing, praise…

We had an interesting discussion at church about the nature and substance of worship, more specifically how worship looks, ‘feels’ or is otherwise articulated within our present context. The words at the start of this entry are just some of the ones given as ‘mind-association’ responses to the word ‘worship’ itself.

Here at St Luke’s we are very aware of the journey we are on in this area – among many others. We are a worshipping community, yet there is a diverse understanding and articulation of what worship actually is, how we connect to God through it, and if it matters or not how intentional it is anyway.

All of us agree that – as Romans 12 seems to stress – worship should be a whole-life activity, not confined to a particular type of response, space or time. Yet it is clear that for some people, certain activities ‘feel’ more like worship than others, and that there is a tension between what we think and how we actually live our lives. Some of this is rooted in the reality that fundamentally worship is a response to the reality of God in our lives. For some this is intrinsically linked to emotional experiences, while others do not perceive this to be so. This could be why sung worship is so important to many, even as they recognise that it is not the whole of worship itself.

Worship as a Venn Diagram: venn_diagram1

Do you remember Venn diagrams during maths lessons? They are a graphic form of examining the nature of connectivity – you have a whole (a set) and sections of the whole (sub-sets). For example, the ‘set’ is everyone in your family, and there are two sub-sets: one for those who like Jam on their toast, and another for those who like Peanut Butter. These two subsets overlap when you take into account the fact that some like both, while others are horrified by this idea. So, in a Venn diagram, you have two circles – one ‘Jam’ and the other ‘Peanut Butter’, and the circles overlap to indicate those who quite fancy both, thank you very much.

Perhaps the activity of worship could be compared to a Venn diagram. One of the circles is us – individuals or as communities; and the other is God. Now, from our point of view, it can seem that there are sections of our lives where we meet with God, and perhaps others where we don’t. If we operate from this perspective, we end up either compartmentalising (sub-dividing) our lives into the unhelpful ‘sacred vs. secular’ categories, and/or we spend much of our time feeling bad that ‘not enough’ of our life overlaps with God.

The ‘whole-life’ concept of worship would mean allowing God to consume all aspects of our lives, and operate from an understanding that all we do is worship, (or at least has the potential to be so). If God is everywhere, and in everything, then we can respond to him at all times, in all places, and in all of the things we do.

Worship as decision-making and life-giving; macro- and micro- worship:

There is an aspect of worship that is about decision-making. We decide to live our lives a certain way – to commit to pursue or abstain from certain activities, as a response to our decision to follow God. This should permeate all areas of our lives: the way we spend our money, raise our children, consume products, dispose of waste, do our jobs, speak to others, spend our leisure time… These things give us life, as we respond to the giver of life – certainly they shape us.

One of our friends, Matt, was with us on Wednesday, and gave the helpful picture of worship as both micro and macro. We decide to follow God, and orientate our lives accordingly – we make some pretty important and fundamental decisions about our careers, perhaps, or where we might live. This macro-worship is constantly there with us – sometimes consciously so, often otherwise. We can make value judgements as to how we are doing – the ‘quality’ of our worship, but fundamentally that Christ-orientation is our constant act of worship.

And then there is the micro-worship: often small, incidental, and insignificant. Feeble offerings to our God that may not matter in the overall scheme of things, but show God, ourselves and occasionally others that this stuff actually matters.

As Christians we hope that somehow, our worship points beyond ourselves to Jesus: God-in-human-form, who came as an example of how to live a life of worship; who gave everything he was and had over to his Father, including his physical life and body, so that we might know that God is worthy of our worship, and sees us as worthy worshipers, for all of our weaknesses and frailties.

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Responses

  1. Thanks for this.

    I was interested not so much in the exact details of what you wrote, but in the feel of how it works. I like the Venn diagrams warning and the micro/macro distinction.

    Worship clearly involves all that we are, do, become and have been. At the end you talk about everything pointing to Jesus, which is where my ‘feel’ bit comes in. Reading it I had the picture of people pointing up into the sky at something far away. Worship this way feels like ‘worship from below’.

    One of the interesting conversations about Jesus is ‘do we fundamentally construct our understanding/engagement with Jesus from ‘below’ or ‘above’?’ From below we emphasisie his humainity, from above we prioritise his divinity. Both are crucial perspectives (and I admit my characterization of them a gross insult to the careful expositions their various advocates offer…sorry!).

    So whilst our experiece of worship is ‘from below’ what does the perspective of ‘from above’ say to us?

    It might say that all worship is led by Jesus in his risen, high-priestly ministry and thus is a way of life called forth from us, rather than offered by us.

    It might say that worship is not primarily about offerings of any sort, but about participation in the life of God, buy the Spirit.

    It might say to us that whatever form worship takes it must live out adoration and action as complementary expressions of authenticity.

    In these things what we do is important but secondary to the Spirit through whom we do it. Karl Barth made an interesting contribution to thinking about the church when he talked of church as ‘event and institution’. By ‘event’ he talked of the spiritual and mystical engagement with Christ (if you like the ‘above’ dimension). By ‘Institution’ he meant the practical organized reality of the church as we see it, structures, worship etc.. (if you like the ‘below’ dimension). Barth considered that we had to hold the two in tension as every culture will have it’s institutions (even if they claim not to be so) but every age and culture needs the event of the Spirit bring the life of Jesus into our experience.

    Perhaps for all the time we spend pointing from below we need to embrace the fact that in the micro and macro, and because Jesus went to the Father and sent the Spirit, God reaches out from above to enliven and empower our worship in both action and adoration.

    So I guess one of the key decisions is how much we are willing to see and to what extent we’re willing to be gripped by God in it.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Simon.
    The ‘above’ and ‘below’ perspectives are helpful, and it’s probably about time we had a reference to Barth 🙂

    The tensions between ‘doing’ vs. ‘being’; ‘seeing’ vs. ‘being gripped by’; our role vs. God’s role; & ‘macro’ vs. ‘micro’ are all ever-present I guess for all of us who consider ourselves people of faith.

    It might say that worship is not primarily about offerings of any sort, but about participation in the life of God, by the Spirit“.

    This too is helpful, and speaks immediately into where I think those at St Luke’s ‘feel’ we are with all this stuff. This is possibly the biggest tension, and one we have spoken of in various ways and at various times – a helpful summary of what I was trying to say in many more words!

    Interestingly, the WordPress ‘random blog generator’ pointed me to: http://provocativechristian.wordpress.com/2008/12/01/provocative-worship-it-is-not-about-the-music/ after I had read your post, seems to fit somehow into this important, and no doubt ongoing, conversation.


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