Pastors letter October 2018
It’s not about you! No really you are not the one who gets to judge the quality of an act of worship. It’s not about you!
Once a wise Pastor was asked a tricky question about worship. “If there is only one in the audience, is it really worth having a worship service?” He answered, “Unless there is only one in the audience then it isn’t really worship in the first place!”
The English word “worship” comes from the word “worthy,” and here is one of its classic expressions: “worship” means acknowledging the worth, the worthyness, of the one who is worshiped. It means gladly recognizing and celebrating the fact that this God is who he is and does what he does. Worship is about giving an expression of worth to God alone. Any kind of worship, which is centered on the congregation, or the pastor or the musicians or the building or the denomination or the latest political or religious, spat IS NOT WORSHIP! It’s clearly not about you!
True worship, Jesus says, is to worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. John 4:23. The two qualities are first ‘Spirit’, which is all to do with the attitude of the heart. God searched the heart of the worshipper to check the attitude. He does not care about the posture of the body, the correctness of the liturgy, the style of the music, the eloquence of the preaching or lack thereof. The Father is seeking such people (the right spirit) to worship Him. John 4:23b. In a worship service we should not be looking around at other people and judging their heart for worship, that is only the Father’s business. (Read Luke 18 the parable of two worshippers) Instead we should be judging our own heart and offering ourselves as best we can through whatever means are available to us in the service. Suppose a prayer is to be read in somewhat antiquated language, which is not really our preferred style, what do you do? You recite it as carefully and as meaningfully as you possibly can with heart felt enthusiasm. Otherwise you are not worshiping. Remember it is not about you! Or suppose there is an upbeat song, which encourages some others to raise their hands or even clap out the rhythm as an augmentation to the music, what do you do? You do your best to get into the mood of the song and put your focus on God instead of others, because real worship is not about you!
I was touched by the opening of Psalm 141:3 used in out congregations last week, ‘Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.’ Incense and hand rising, two very different styles of worship (Anglo-Catholic and Charismatic we would say today) in the same verse, tied together by spirit – heart felt attitude, judged by God alone. Amazing, it’s not about you is it?
The second quality about genuine worship is truth, “True worship, Jesus says, is to worship the Father in spirit and in truth”. John 4:23. This kind of truth has both an objective and a subjective aspect. It is objective in that we are expected to use our intellect, a gift from the creator, to explore the nature of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, the redemptive work of Christ and the work of Christ in the world today through his body, which is the Church in the broadest sense. All this so that our worship is informed and relevant, remember it’s not about you! Bring your brain to worship in other words! Truth is subjective in that being in the presence of a holy God makes us immediately aware of our failings as unworthy servants. Confession is about truth whether it be confessing our sins verbally using the general words provided but thinking about our personal failings as we recite the words or confessing the objective truth of the faith in the creed or responses. Worship demands authenticity on our part. It demands integrity of word and deed, heart and mind; otherwise it is not genuine worship. Remember it is not about you!
Bishop N T Wright says, “Worship is grounded in the fact that God is the creator of all. Any attempt to slide off into a dualism in which creation is secondary, shabby or evil is ruled out. Second, the task of humans is to bring to conscious thought and expression the worship of the rest of creation. Heaven and earth are full of God’s glory, but God’s image-bearing creatures, we humans, are called to know that it is so and to put it into words of praise. That is what you do every time you say “hallowed be thy name” or “glory be to God on high.” Remember it’s not about you!