I have a paper due in a few days in my class on worship. The task is simple: say *something* about worship in about 5 pages. Interact with three books. And I’ve been hitting a brick wall. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say about worship. Oh golly. It’s that I’ve got too much. So for the next few days, I’m going to be inflicting you, my dear readers, with some of the things I’ve had to work through in order to get on to writing the paper. It’s hopelessly biographical I’m afraid, so I do hope you’ll forgive me. It’s also incredibly long, so I’m going to be breaking it up over a few days. By the time you get to the part that pertains to my paper, the paper (God willing) will already have been turned in.
Worship has been at the center of how I defined myself for the better part of my life. Worship was who I was. I was the worship guy. Worship is what I was all about. At that time, I understood worship to be a kind of mystical experience. When God meets with man, and man sees God for even a piece of who he is, man is both lifted up and demolished, and this… experience… is what I called worship. I have something of a philosopher’s nature in me, so I parsed theories about how worship worked. Worship could be had in private or in groups of various sizes. Worship could be expressed, as God used people to reveal God’s Spirit, character, and nature to other people. This expression came out in the form of spiritual gifts and various arts which could be used to communicate in worship. However, the soul of worship was ultimately in the experience itself, somewhere between catharsis and illumination. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). The process of being transformed, as I understood it, consisted of worship.
But in about 1999, my life came to a crashing halt. Everything I thought I had built my life upon turned out not to have enough substance to get me anywhere. It’s very difficult for me to describe this time, because there’s nothing I can point to particularly that was *wrong*. It was just that nothing was particularly *right*. I was training for ministry at a church that had no particular use for my contribution – but why is it exactly that I needed them to need me? I was lonely – though I had never before cared if I had friends. I was going through one of those classic spiritual dry times, and I should have been content to recognize it as such and ride it out. But things just didn’t add up. All around me everything was as ideal as I had ever imagined it, and yet I was discontent – crying, agonizing, discontent. Something in my worldview – my theology – was incomplete. And I didn’t have the first clue what it was.
So I started everything from scratch. In terms of my public life, I quit my job, left my perfect church that didn’t need me, and signed up for college at a school I had no social connection with. I went looking for churches.
In my private life, I’ve done my best to build my theology from the ground up. At first, all I had that I was sure of was the gospel. Oh, it was like a vein of gold: this was truth; this was reality; this was satisfaction. We were separated from him by the evil of our hearts, by the evil of our heads, by the evil of our hands. Yet he came and purchased us with his blood, and has translated us into his kingdom, that we might be made the righteousness of God! How glorious!
But as to everything else in the Christian life, I hadn’t a clue.
God commanded and it was done;
But Moses’ nephews, Aarons sons,
couldn’t leave well enough alone
They had to *light* the sacrifice
God himself had said that he
Would light the altar with his glory.
But Nadab and Abihu did not believe.
They were drunk when they came before Him
When the fire of God came down,
It burned them in their arrogance.
The glory of God will not be wasted, and
They had already lit the sacrifice
But in *these* days, when we offend,
The complacency so thick around us,
He doesn’t dare release his wrath
To many would be left in ashes.
He simply leaves.
And I can hear on either side
The sound of people worshiping
While I –
I cry out and beat the wind
Seeing, hearing nothing
Wishing for the fire to fall
And consume his sacrifice
What was it that made me to feel as though “Ichabod” were written bold across my house, while everyone else seemed… fine? The gospel was right; my salvation was assured. But there was something about my worship that was… out of joint. Since then, it seems my task has been one of assimilation. I’ve searched far afield in Christendom to see how other people worship, and sought for some common thread in the theology of how we do church.