Psalm 95: 6-7
“Come, let us worship Him. Everyone bow down; kneel before the Eternal who made us.
7 For He is our God and we are His people, the flock of His pasture, His sheep protected and nurtured by His hand. Today, if He speaks, hear His voice.”
How and why do you worship?
As a disciple of Jesus Christ, and someone who has long been involved in “worship” ministry, this is a question that I find myself encountering frequently. And not always from the outside, but often from within. The questions of “how” and “why” in worshipping God always bring me to a place of self-examination. What is the purpose of this action? What is the benefit? If someone were to ask you this question personally, what would your answer be?
I was recently watching an episode of the NBC series, “This Is Us” with my wife. In this particular part of the story, two of the main characters, married couple, Jack and Rebecca, were having a pretty serious spat. As it wound up to its climax, Jack tried to tell Rebecca that he loved her, and she immediately asked, “why?” Of course, in the heat of that moment with the intensity of their fight at its peak, he couldn’t answer. She then told him something to the effect of, “next time you tell me you love me, make sure you’re saying it because it’s true, not because it’s habit.” I’ve been involved in some church gatherings over the years where it often felt like they simply needed someone up front with a guitar, leading familiar songs for it to feel like church was happening. But is this why we worship in this manner? Because that’s what we know and what makes us feel comfortable? Is this truly worship at all?
I’ll go ahead and make a confession right now: I actually don’t find myself all that connected to what we refer to as “worship music.” I don’t spend a lot of time listening to Christian radio stations when driving in the car (believe it or not, it’s pretty much always jazz radio for me), nor do I find myself purposefully putting on worship songs when I want to listen to music. Outside of gatherings with other Christians, I have never found much of a connection with this type of music. And yet, music speaks to the deepest part of my soul. When I find a piece of music that I love, I want to be immersed in it, swim in it, and allow it to envelop me. In these moments, where something beautiful speaks to me on such a deep level, I feel connected to the God from which all beauty is brought into existence.
In these moments, where something beautiful speaks to me on such a deep level, I feel connected to the God from which all beauty is brought into existence.
Some find the same experience when they are witnessing the natural beauty of our world. Others find it deep in a well told narrative, whose story might mirror their own, or maybe even help them to better understand the story that God has been telling throughout the history of humanity. I believe when we recognize God’s goodness in these moments and turn to Him, we worship.
But there’s also something important to be said about the times when we just aren’t “feeling it.” When it might not exactly feel like our thing, or maybe something personal in our own life is creating an emotional block, making it difficult to connect. Can we still worship in these moments? I believe it is the most important to look to God in worship during these times, and it is here that the “why” becomes far more significant than the “how.” Some methods of worship (like songs on a Sunday morning) can definitely become simply routine or habit, but worship should really be a discipline. One of the things I have found myself most thankful for over the last couple of years as I’ve worked on the Immanuel Lectionary Song compilations has been really connecting to and ruminating on the Psalms. Far from the often generalized worship songs I hear a lot of on contemporary christian radio today, these writings cover the gamut of human emotion and experience. Sometimes they are incredibly jubilant; sometimes they are deep laments. But the themes that stay consistent throughout remind us why we worship God in the first place. Because He is good. Because He is the creator. Because He deeply loves His people. Because He is always faithful. And because He commands us to do so. Again and again, the Psalmist paints pictures of the oppression and difficulty that life brings forth. Through it all, he always returns to the faithfulness of God and how He delivers on His promises. And he worships.
The “goodness” of God can be such a vague, spiritual idea. If someone asked me why I worship God, and I simply told them, “because He’s good!”, I don’t think they’d really be sold, especially with what they might see around them in the world. But I believe this is why there is such a rich tradition in both Jewish and Christian faiths of looking to the past at all of the ways that God has been faithful, and celebrating them with gratitude. Things don’t always look good from where we stand. But if God is eternal, then His perspective is eternal. We are all part of something much bigger than ourselves, and submitting to God in worship helps to remind us of that. As we look beyond our current suffering, we can see the ways that God has delivered us, given us strength and blessed us. We may carry a heavy burden now, but if we remember how God has delivered us in the past, we can recognize His faithfulness in the present and how much stronger we will be on the other side of the current struggle. I believe this is one reason why God commands us to worship Him, regardless of the form it takes; worship actually allows us to exhale, recognize His faithfulness, and remember why we trust Him in the first place.
How do you connect with God on the deepest level? If someone who knows nothing of the Christian faith were to ask why you worship God, how would you answer?
I pray we would be people who worship out of love, gratitude and devotion, and not simply out of habit.
I pray we would be people who worship out of love, gratitude, and devotion, and not simply out of habit.