At our church we call people to make four commitments that we are convinced help us to grow in our spiritual life. (Read more about that here.) One of those commitments is to Worship, or more fully stated, to worship corporately with the other believers at our church on a regular basis. When I use the word worship I mean something different than we often think of in church circles. I’m not talking about an emotional feeling generated by singing to God. You know, the kind of moving experience that makes people say “Worship was amazing today” as they leave the church building on a given Sunday. As great as those moments are, worship is far more deep and profound than just that experience. It’s a conscious surrender of our lives to God, and it is a key to a growing relationship with God that shapes us in lasting and unexpected ways.
In the story where Abraham is called to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God, a key moment comes when Abraham arrives at the mountain and says to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” (Gen 22:5) Worship meant (and means) to bow in surrender to one who is sovereign over you. That is what we do in worship, we surrender our lives to God. This can feel uplifting and encouraging, or it can feel extremely difficult and challenging. At times it may have no feelings attached to it all. But this practice of corporate worship, coming together weekly to surrender our lives to the leadership of God, is a vital habit that shapes us in ways deeper than we can even understand in the given moment.
So what does worship look like? There are a variety of expressions of worship, but one of the best passages in Scripture that gives us insight comes in Isaiah 6:1-9. I was greatly helped in understanding this at a recent retreat led by Steve Bell. He took some things I have been learning over the past 50 years and tied them all together in this worship experience of Isaiah. I’ll work through the text identifying the pieces that make up corporate worship.
v.1 - In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. The first step in worship is actually two-fold. We relinquish all other authority (in the year that King Uzziah died) and acknowledge the presence and power of God all around us. (I saw the Lord, high and exalted). Corporate worship is a letting go of everything else we look to for power, security, and meaning, choosing to fully embrace God instead as our source for those needs.
v.4-5 - At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” . Seeing God for who He is exposes who we are. A huge step in worship is to see our own sin. We can only bring our neediness to God, it’s all we truly have. As we see our own brokenness we confess our sin, realizing that it is our own sin, and that we are wrapped up in the corporate sin of the world around us.
v.6-7 - Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” The beautiful thing about confession is that it doesn’t go unanswered. There is assurance that God has met our need, that He is enough. In corporate worship this can be expressed through hearing the words of Scripture or through the practice of Communion, but the key is to know that our confession always brings forgiveness and healing.
v.8a - Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Our honesty before God about our need, and His generous provision of love, grace, and forgiveness opens our ears to whatever else He is saying. This is usually the time in worship where we listen, paying attention to what God might be saying to each of us through the scriptures.
v.8b-9 - And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go…” Finally we respond and are sent out into the world. Worship is transformative, and it is also a practice that releases us into the world to serve in the mission of God.
This weekly rhythm of relinquishment, acknowledgment, confession, assurance, listening, and responding is a habit that centres our lives around the truth of God. The world around you attempts to lead you another way. Celebrate YOUR power and ability, focus on YOUR goodness, work hard and do YOUR best are the liturgical steps that our culture engrains in us. The weekly practice of focused worship of God undermines that message (which is YOU centred) and anchors us in a truth (which is GOD centred) that gives stability in a very unstable world.
This is what we try to do at GBC each Sunday. We believe that it’s vital to growing to be like Jesus. It’s not instant, the process shapes us over a period of years more than weeks, but it is a habit that, once surrendered to, will never let you remain the same. People often ask me, “Why do I need to go to church? Do I really have to do that?” For a while I was hesitant to answer that question directly, but no longer. Yes, you do. It’s a way of surrendering yourself to a process of worship in the context of relationships (I’ll write about that commitment next week) that is vital to your own growth. Worship slowly wears away the old you and makes room for the new you to emerge. Why would you not want to commit yourself to this process?