Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Why Worship...In Church?

For many years, I have struggled to answer this question.  In many ways, even some of the answers I have posted on this blog have left me unsatisfied.

I mean, I know what has been passed onto me:
  • Worship is central to the life of a Christian.
  • Worship is the place we encounter Jesus in the Word and Sacrament.
  • Worship is where we meet fellow Christians who share our joys and sorrows.
  • Worship is where heaven and earth intersect for precious moments helping us and equipping us to endure the grind of daily life.
  • Worship is where we are instructed and equipped for living the Christian life.
  • Worship is where we hear the Gospel.
All of these things (and a few more), I know deep within the depths of my being, but they are sorely inadequate in persuading people to attend worship on Sunday mornings.   Such points do not cut through the fortified walls people have erected in their lives--the walls of reasoning and thought excusing them from regular worship:
  • I am spiritual, but not religious.  
  • I can worship God anywhere.  I do not need to be in church to do so.
  • I do not find anything compelling when I attend worship.
  • This person hurt me, and I do not want to run into them at worship.
  • I do not like the decision the church made, and I will not worship.
  • I do not like the way the pastor preaches. 
  • I do not like the music.
  • I want more organ music.
  • I want more contemporary music.
  • I like being anonymous when I go to church and do not like small crowds.
  • I like being welcomed and part of an intimate group and do not like large worship services.
And the list could go on.  Instead of picking at each of these points and arguing their merits or lack of merits, I would like to approach things from a little different manner.

First, a lengthy quote from Timothy Keller's book The Reason for God:
If you don't trust the Bible enough to let it challenge and correct your thinking, how could you ever have a personal relationship with God?  In any truly personal relationship, the other person has to be able to contradict you.  For example, if a wife is not allowed to contradict her husband, they won't have an intimate relationship.  Remember the (two!) movies The Stepford Wives?  The husbands of Stepford, Connecticut, decide to have their wives turned into robots who never cross the wills of their husbands.  A Stepford wife was wonderfully compliant and beautiful, but no one would describe such a marriage as intimate or personal.

Now, what happens if you eliminate anything from the Bible that offends your sensibility and crosses your will?  If you pick and choose what you want to believe and reject the rest, how will you ever have a God who can contradict you?  You won't!  You'll have a Stepford God!  A God, essentially, of your own making, and not a God with whom you can have a relationship and genuine interaction.  Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage!) will you know that you have gotten a hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination.  (Kindle Location 1901-1907)
Can you connect the dots between worship and this quote?  I am sure many of you probably can, but if you are struggling, let me try and clarify.

At my congregation's last council meeting, one of the members brought up an interesting statistic: there are 8760 hours in a year.  If you worshiped every Sunday (at an average of one hour per worship service), you would only spend 52 of those hours in a place devoted to God--that's less than 1/2 of one percentage point of your time!!!

But let's also put a little more perspective on this.  During those other hours, everything else in the world is striving to garner your devotion.  Yes, I said that purposefully.  Everything else is trying to gain your worship and adoration--from your job to your family to your children to your leisure time  to television advertizements to your possessions to even your self!!  Each of these things is trying to draw your heart toward it, and they are obsessed with owning you and your time.  Don't believe me?  Try giving any one of them less attention than you do now.  See what happens.  Not only may you get a visceral reaction from one of these things, you will also feel torn, like you are letting it down.  You will feel guilty for not obeying one of your masters.  That may sound harsh, but it is assuredly true.  False gods do not let go of you easily--and it is not easy to give them up.  They have a special place in all of our hearts.

And there is no way to totally get rid of the heart's desire to worship.  There is no way to get rid of the heart's desire to grasp onto an object greater than itself.  Consider what atheist author David Foster Wallace said during a commencement address at  Kenyon College,
Everybody worships.  The only choice we get is what to worship, and the compelling reason to maybe choosing some sort of God or spiritual type thing to worship is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.  If you choose to worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough.  Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age starts showing you will die a thousand million deaths before they finally grieve you.  Worship power and you will end up feeling weak and afraid and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect being seen as smart and you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud always on the verge of being found out.  But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is they are unconscious.  They are default settings.

Now, you may argue that there is nothing necessarily wrong with the "default settings" our hearts want to worship.  I mean, we do need money to survive in the world.  Taking care of our health and bodies are important.  Positive use of power makes a difference to people in the world--especially to those with no power.  Reading and studying to increase one's knowledge is generally a good thing.  I won't disagree with these statements, but that is not Foster's point.  Foster's point is that when these good things are turned into ultimate things, they will destroy you.  Each desire--while good in moderation--becomes destructive when it turns into an object of worship--a false god.  The reality is: there is no object of worship that does not lead to guilt, self-righteousness, pain, hunger, depression, anxiety, dissatisfaction, except God.  Unless Jesus is the heart's desire, one will remain unsatisfied and without peace.

Which leads right back to the worship of Jesus in church during the week.  Why?  Because we must answer the question: how do we put Jesus at the center of worship?  For a heart will not willingly give up its objects of worship.  It will simply turn from one to another.  Again, consider this quote
from Thomas Chalmers in his sermon "The Expulsive Powers of a New Affection":

It is seldom that any of our bad habits or flaws disappear by a mere process of natural extinction.  At least this is done very seldom through the instrumentality of reasoning or by the force of mental determination.  What cannot be destroyed; however, may be dispossessed.  One taste may be made to give way to another and to lose its power entirely as the reigning affection of the mind.  A youth may cease to idolize central pleasure but it's because the idol of wealth--the desire to make money--has got the ascendency; so he becomes disciplined.  But the love of money might actually cease to have mastery over his heart if it is drawn to ideology and politics.  Now he is lorded over by a love of power and of moral superiority instead of wealth.  But there is not one of these transformations in which the heart is left without an object.  The human heart's desire for one particular object is conquered, but it's desire to have some ultimate object of adoration is unconquerable.  The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is to replace it with the expulsive power of a new one.  Thus it is not enough to hold out to the world the mirror of its own imperfections; it is not enough to come forth with a demonstration of its evanessive character of their enjoyment; it's not enough to simply speak to the conscience--to speak of its follies; rather, you must seek as a preacher every legitimate method of finding access to the heart for the love of Him who is greater than the world. (As quoted by Timothy Keller here.)   
What Chalmer's argues is that our hearts move from object of worship to object of worship to object of worship, and this only happens when one object gets displaced by another.  We do not give those objects up freely or rationally.  Only when one object is substituted for another does our heart let go.  Tie that to what Foster said previous, and one must ask himself or herself: to what am I giving my worship, and is that worship leading me towards abundant life here and in the world to come?

If Foster is right, and I think he is, then the only worship which will lead to abundant life and not devour you is the worship of God--particularly the worship of Jesus Christ.  And, it is only at worship apart from the rest of the world and false gods, where the Gospel is proclaimed--the action God took to save you, redeem you, and give you value and worth.  It is only in worship where you hold the body and blood of Jesus and take them into yourself that He may transform you from within.  It is only in worship where you shut out all the other false gods which demand your time, effort and energy and turn your attention to the One True God.  It is only by hearing that you are broken yet forgiven by no action of your own that the false gods begin to lose their grip and be displaced by Jesus.

For He is the center of all Christian worship.  Not the music we play.  Not who may or may not be at church.  Not the size of the church.  Or whether or not I feel welcomed.  Or I find anything compelling (unless you are only receiving the Law and being told what to do over and over and over.  That is not hearing the Gospel, that is for certain.)

And you cannot hear the Gospel sitting by yourself in a deer stand, or on the beach, or while fishing.  You may see God's handiwork, but you do not meet Jesus--sorry, you just don't.  The Word takes root in proclamation not in doing.

I know this post makes a very big assumption--that people actually want to be transformed into something different.  It assumes people want to know peace and joy.  It assumes they want to have an abundant life--much more abundant than running around from activity to activity feeling tired and stressed and overworked and the like.  It assumes people are dissatisfied with the way things are playing out deep within themselves and they would like to find a place of peace.

If that fits you, I invite you to worship.  Regularly.  Not once a month.  Not twice a month.  As much as you can.  No excuses.  Come meet Jesus.  As your heart is moved toward Him, you will notice the difference.


John Flanagan said...

I agree with many of your points. We should worship regularly because God commands it, and we need to come to Him collectively to pray, praise, and sing. We should do this because we love God. But.....it is important we worship in a faithful church, where we will not receive false doctrines and heresy articulated as truth. We must choose our church and denomination wisely.

Kathy Suarez said...

I agree with John: We must find the truth. You wrote:

"If that fits you, I invite you to worship. Regularly. Not once a month. Not twice a month. As much as you can. No excuses. Come meet Jesus. As your heart is moved toward Him, you will notice the difference."

What you wrote is the very essence of true faith. We are called and saved by the Grace of God. Then, we put our faith into practice and grow closer to God during our lives. Weekly or daily worship is part of this. Regularly hearing the Word and receiving Christ in the Eucharist is a WORK. We are saved by faith, and sanctified by works and the grace we receive through them. God acts, we respond.

So simple.

And yes, sound doctrine certainly helps!