Sunday, March 11, 2007

It's Not About Us

That’s right. I said it. What Galileo proved about the Sun 500 years ago, we’re still having trouble figuring out about God. I mean, that God does not revolve around the Earth, or me, or you for that matter. And when it comes to worship, the biggest disservice we do to ourselves and to our children is mistaking our music, our emotions, our praise, our thanksgiving, our instruction, even our love for our worship of the Triune God.
And we’re teaching this to our children.
So, what is worship? We’re teaching them that worship is simply singing and a sermon. It is determined by performance and style. And the most important thing is that worship be relevant to us. But worship comes from worth. That simply means that we tell God who He is — and he will always be the sole subject. When “I” becomes the subject of your sentence, even “I love you” is not worship.
This “I” rears its ugly head in other ways. Anyone heard of the “worship wars?” Do we leave church frustrated because we haven’t “gotten anything out of the sermon?” Or do we squirm or shudder when a child’s cry pierces the air disrupting our prayers?
Try this sometime: without using any personal pronouns like I, me, or my, adore God . . . It’s hard isn’t it? Before we think we’ve got the “worship thing” figured out. . . Just remember how easily our own minds wandered during that last prayer service or how easy it is to require “being fed” as our criteria for “good” worship.
In the book, Teaching Kids Authentic Worship, Kathleen Chapman seeks to reassert a basic fact about God and all of us. When we genuinely return our focus back to God — and who He is— we return to our rightful place in relationship to Him. It’s a humbling thought. We are not the center of the universe. We are God’s people reflecting His image into the world.
So, what is worship? And what does this mean for pre-schoolers who are just beginning to recognize they aren’t the center of the universe? This is a question I want to explore with our pre-school team and with you as parents in the coming weeks and months. I want us to think seriously about what we model and teach about worship to our youngest generation. How do we teach our children what true worship is? How does our Kinderchurch space focus our children toward worship? How do we sincerely incorporate our children into intergenerational worship times? And most importantly, how do we foster authentic worship practices in our children?
I believe that children need to worship. They can, sometimes with more imagination and honesty than we adults can muster, come face to face with the living Triune God. Let’s celebrate the gift of worship God has given to every one of us. Thank goodness it isn’t about us! God is the one who delivers, protects, and provides for His people. And He does it even when we aren’t asking for it.

I wrote this for "The Stream" our monthly preschool newsletter (March issue), but I thought others might like to comment.

The past 2 weeks I have done a worship "exercise" with the Kinderchurch children (ages 3-K). Last week we spent 30 seconds in silence listening to what God was saying to us. You know what? God spoke to 3 year olds! He told one boy that He loved him. He told another girl that she should be kind to her sister. Crazy! This week we spent another time of silence waiting for God to bring a neighbor to mind. These children reverently closed their eyes and bowed their heads and people that they can love and care for came to their mind.

Why do we still choose the strong things of this world -- the brilliant successes, the stunning victories of strength and will to "prove" our God? They shame us.

"But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, (1 Corinthians 1:27-30)."


Anonymous said...

Good post. I love hearing about how God's moving in the life of his people (regardless of their age). I think I'm still coming to grips with the reality that I'm not in the center of the universe. I guess it's a pretty commonsensical thought all things considered (for who who argue that the world should revolve around them), but a revolutionary thought nonetheless, one that Jesus taught. Anyway, I think it's awesome how you've worked with children on this issue . . . it's obviously working.

Bezaleel said...

True worship is a deeply satisfying experience. Some years ago I went hiking in the mountains with some young people to pick huckleberries. On this mountain there was a spring near the berry patch, so we didn’t carry any water with us. When we arrived at the spot, we found lots of big berries, but we couldn’t find the spring. After a while our thirst became almost unbearable. We quickly picked our pails full and made the long descent down the mountainside. Near the place where we had parked our car there was a crystal-clear spring of cold water. We stretched out on the grass and drank. I will never forget the intensity of my thirst and how deeply satisfying it was to drink from that spring. Worship can be like this to the true believer in Christ. The Savior told a woman in Samaria who had come to a well to draw water, “… whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.” (John 4:14.)

In every genuine experience of Christian worship there is an invariable pattern. A classic example of this pattern of worship is found in the vision and call of the prophet Isaiah. (Isa. 6:1–9.) It consists of an awareness of God, a spirit of repentance, and a rededication to the service of others.

“… I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up. …” (Isa. 6:1.)

All worship begins with an awareness of God or it does not begin. The first step in worship is to perceive him whom we worship. A lady once said to Joseph Turner, the great master painter of sunsets, “Sir, I have never seen in any sunset in nature the vivid colors you put into your painting of Sunset in Venice.” Turner’s reply was simple: “But don’t you wish you could?” It takes more than the natural eyes of a man to see into the head of nature. Turner saw, with the eyes of the soul, a glory that natural eyes could not see. The same is true of worship. The soul must be awakened by the Spirit to see the glory of God.

When we experience this divine awareness of God, we are ready for the second step in worship, and we cry out with Isaiah: “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King. …” (Isa. 6:5.)

When we truly see the Lord, we become painfully aware that we are far from what we ought to be and what God expects us to be. We are sorry for our disobedience. We repent and are forgiven. The great miracle is wrought; we are reborn and become new creatures in Christ. (2 Cor. 5:17.) With forgiveness comes renewal of life and victory over sin and death.

“Then said I [Isaiah], Here am I; send me.” (Isa. 6:8.)

The third step in worship is dedication and service. Worship and service are inseparable; but true worship never ends until the worshiper goes on to serve his fellowman.

True worship can be likened to the gasoline motor. The intake and the exhaust valves perform their separate functions, completing a cycle that delivers power to the wheels. We take in God’s grace in the act of redemption and forgiveness, after which we must exhaust ourselves in service to complete the cycle that delivers the power by which we live.

Worship is vastly more than sitting quietly in church. The true worship of God influences all aspects of life.

Many people have attended church services since they were infants and yet have not learned to worship together very well. We cannot achieve meaningful worship without learning its spiritual disciplines. The word discipline may sound harsh, but let’s think of it as another word from the same root—the word disciple. When we become disciples of the Savior, we accept his disciplines; otherwise our religion is just a good idea that has lost its way.

In Christ’s confrontation with Satan, he is offered all the kingdoms of this world if he will fall down and worship the Prince of Darkness. This offer was founded on a lie. The world is not Satan’s to give. The scripture says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” Jesus knew the lie and answered, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve.”

There has always been the temptation to worship “the creature more than the Creator.” (Rom. 1:25.) We worship what we give our hearts to. Jesus said: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:34.) If we love the things of this world more than we love God, we will worship the devil and receive his rewards. If we reject Satan as Christ did and worship only God, we will receive God’s blessings upon us and our family.

During the Savior’s ministry, his nearness to the Father deeply touched the twelve. They seemed to be especially impressed with his prayers. On one occasion they said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1.) He then gave them a pattern for prayer we refer to as the Lord’s Prayer. Although for centuries this prayer has been used as part of a ritual in public worship, the gospels of Matthew and Mark make it clear that it was given for instruction and not for ceremonial purposes. The prayer begins with a statement of reverence for the name of God. The name of God means the character of God, the kind of God he is. Then it asks that God’s will be obeyed on earth as in heaven. It asks God to sustain us, to forgive us, and to keep us from the evils of this life. The prayer is intensely personal, and should teach us to communicate more clearly with God regarding our personal needs.

Jesus made his most significant statement on worship when a Samaritan woman asked him about the proper place to worship. Jesus explained that the important thing was whom we worship and how we worship. He said that “the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23.) To worship in spirit is to worship in the spirit of humility, eager to learn repentance, love, and forgiveness.

To worship in truth is to worship with full knowledge of God and his son and the Holy Ghost. To worship in truth is to know Gods plan and to act upon our knowledge. True worship requires action in serving others as well as contemplation of the ideal. The ideal must become the idea we act upon.

Toward the end of the Lord’s earthly ministry there were days of dark discouragement for the twelve. John records that many of the Lord’s followers “went back, and walked no more with him.” (John 6:66.) The gospel required too much of them, so they turned back.

All of the synoptic gospels tell us that Jesus “bringeth them up into a high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun and his raiment was white as the light. And … there appeared … Moses and Elijah talking with him.” Out of the brightness that surrounded the transfigured Lord and the other heavenly personages came God’s voice: “This is my beloved Son; hear ye him.”

Peter, James, and John fell upon their faces. The vision had pierced the veil and given them a much larger perspective of the Savior’s ministry. Jesus was not sent to be a popular itinerant preacher in Palestine but to fulfill the intent of the law and the prophecies of past dispensations.

We are not told what Christ, Moses, and Elijah talked about, but no subject could have been of greater consequence than the immediate journey to the cross that Jesus faced. Luke tells us that they “kept it close, and told no man.” (Luke 9:36.) After the resurrection they no doubt shared this revealing experience with the other apostles and believers. We can only imagine how much it strengthened their testimony and confirmed their faith.

The worship experience recorded in the New Testament reached its sublime climax in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Here we see worship at its best. It expresses in sacred drama what the Savior has done for us. It symbolized in one act of worship, the crucifixion of the Savior for the sins of the world and his glorious resurrection. And conveyed God’s supreme overture of love to his children with the promise to all of us of our own resurrection. And it was He who set the perfect example, teaching His disciples both then and now, how to worship.