As you might imagine, such persistent rejection eventually takes its toll on an already fragile self-image. One day, after yet another rebuff, I asked her, "How can you turn down something that I prepare for you with such loving care? What difference does it make if it's a little soggy?" Wholly unmoved by my emotional plea, she callously replied, "If you loved and cared, you'd do a better job."
Sometimes…often, people's approach to worship is like my approach to cereal preparation. They put something together, such as a service or an anthem, and assume that as long as they present it in love, it does not matter that the hymns and scripture have little connection or that two of the choir's voices have never really gotten their parts right. "What difference does it make if it's a little soggy?" What we fail to hear is God's reply: "If you loved and cared, you'd do a better job."
There are two common assumptions that shape (and distort) people's view of worship. The first assumption many Christians have is that…
- Worship is everything we do.
While we should be conscious of God's presence at all times and should cultivate a reverent demeanor in all activity, such a diffuse understanding obscures the much narrower definition of worship that scripture presents as the model for our worship. Of the many words biblical authors use to describe worship (e.g., praise, bless, laud, extol), there is one Hebrew (and one corresponding Greek) term that occurs with greatest frequency, the same term English translations generally render as "worship." It entails the cessation of all activity, the concentration of all attention, and the communication of all adoration to God alone (2).
In other words, worship, in the primary biblical sense, is not something we do while doing other things, no matter how worthy they may be in their own right. It is our singular focus on the person of God. Worship is also not about meeting our needs. It is not about making us feel good or loved or appreciated. It is not at all about us; it is all about God (3).
While we can and should be conscious of Him in everything we do, especially on the Sabbath, neither the sermon, which concerns exhortation (to right behavior), nor the SS lesson, which concerns education (to right thinking), matches the biblical definition of the term. To generalize the connotation of worship-by implying that all manner of activity, when done with reverence, fulfills God's expectation-is to trivialize the commandment to worship (4). Although believers should always be aware of God's presence, being generally conscious of Him is not the same as concentrating exclusively on Him, which is the essence of biblical worship.
The second assumption many Christians have is that…
- Worship is anything we do (regardless of the quality).
- What does it matter that the choir anthem is not as polished as it could be? People will appreciate whatever the group presents.
- What does it matter that the hymns do not relate to anything in particular or even to each other? People just want to sing familiar pieces (5).
- What does it matter that the pastoral prayer does more asking God (petition) than adoring God (praise)? People have many needs.
- What does it matter that the choruses are repetitive and vapid? People (especially young people) say it puts them in the mood (6).
- What does it matter that we spend more time listening to ourselves (in conversation) than listening to our Lord (in meditation)? People are uncomfortable with periods of silence.
We also demonstrate our assumption that God has no particular opinion on the matter, as long as our heart is right. If God does not care how His people worship, only that they worship, then…
- The animal sacrifices would not have had to be perfect,
- The Levitical musicians would not have had to practice, and
- The priestly services would not have had to be precise.
- The animal sacrifices did have to be perfect (8),
- The Levitical musicians did have to practice (9), and
- The priestly services did have to be precise (10).
Endnotes[This article is by Dr. Paul Manuel, originally posted on Wednesday, Aug. 16. Having messed up his formatting, I have tried to compensate. Standfast]
(1) Some Christians, not limiting this concept to what goes on in church, think that everything one does can and should be an act of worship. Whether mundane or sublime, profane or sacred, all of life is an opportunity, yea, a responsibility to express devotion to God. As Paul says, "whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31). While it is always appropriate to maintain a reverent awareness of God, that exercise constitutes worship only in its most elemental and unfocused form. The biblical use of the term is far more specific.
(2) Although often translated as "worship," the Hebrew (and Greek) word actually denotes the physical act of prostration and emphasizes the contrast in the relative positions of a liege and his lord (Ps 99:5; 138:2). The secular use of the term is similar. When one goes before an earthly king, the subject gives undivided attention to his sovereign (2 Sam 14:4; 1 Kgs 1:16).
There are two extended accounts of worship services, describing the practice before and after the exile. In the pre-exilic instance (2 Chr 29:27-30), the focus of attention is clearly on the Lord. While the priests are offering sacrifices to God, the congregation gives its attention to God (v. 28). After the priests have offered sacrifices, the royal court gives its attention to God (v. 29). As they sing, the musicians give their attention to God (v. 30). In the post-exilic instance (Neh 9:3-8), the people distinguish between the sermon and the service (v. 3; cf. 8:8). In worship, and regardless of their posture (v. 5), all their attention is on God, on His actions (vv. 6-7) and attributes (v. 8). NT uses of the term, most common in the last book, also illustrate the singular focus of worship (Rev 4:10-11; 5:13-14; 7:11-12; 11:16-17; 19:4).
(3) For this reason, congregational applause after a music (or dramatic) presentation in the service is inappropriate, because it directs attention away from God and to the performer(s). When biblical writers mention clapping, it is only in appreciation for what God has done, never for what man has done (Ps 47:1; 98:8; Isa 55:12).
(4) The imperative occurs both to enjoin the act and to ensure the object (i.e., God alone; Ps 29:2; 97:7; 99:5, 9; Rev 14:7; 19:10; 22:9).
(5) A related problem is that hymns are generally more about us (horizontal) than about Him (vertical). What kind of music did the Levites perform? It was not just any song, and it was not just a religious song.
The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: "He is good; his love endures forever." (2 Chr 5:13)The music of worship possesses two essential characteristics:
(6) Many choruses, if they are not about me-what I think, what I feel, what I want-limit their purview to me and God.
- It is "to the LORD," something the author states twice in this verse, and
- It is about the LORD, in praise of His attributes and actions.
(7) Other, seemingly mundane matters, might include: Is the sanctuary dirty, cluttered, or in disarray? Does the bulletin have numerous grammatical or typographical errors? However accustomed regular attendees are to such things, what impression do they give to others (visitors) about the congregation's reverence for God?
(8) Only unblemished sacrifices were acceptable to God (Lev 22:20; Deut 15:21; 17:1; Mal 1:8). Produce offerings also had to be of the highest quality (Exod 23:19; Num 18:29).
(9) Only those with training could be temple musicians (1 Chr 15:22; 25:7; 2 Chr 5:13; 23:13; Neh 12:42; Ps 33:3).
(10) The preeminent example is Yom Kippur (Lev 16:2-3).
(11) NT believers did not approach the Lord differently from OT believers. Jesus' atonement did not lower God's expectations of His people and signal that He would, henceforth, accept mediocre expressions of devotion as long as they were sincere. So Paul exhorts Timothy, "Do your best to present yourself to God" (2 Tim 2:15).
(12) Several common hymns speak about the importance of giving our best to God.
(13) Equally important, we may discover that mediocrity is not only unacceptable to Him but detrimental to us (Heb 12:28-29).
- "Give him the best that you have" (Give of Your Best to the Master, vv. 1-3)
- "Merits my soul's best songs" (Love Lifted Me, v. 2)
- "May we give thee of our best" (Praise to God, Immortal Praise, v. 4)
- "Unto him is due our best" (Our Best, refrain)