Worship Paradox

Start with this: I categorically deny that worship is doing whatever you do all day long. I’m not saying that it can’t be, or that it shouldn’t be, but I am saying that Martha-ing is not the same thing as Mary-ing. There is one thing needful, and it isn’t summed up or subsumed in our other daily activities.

Worship is worth-ship. It is the mental and emotional act of ascribing the proper weight to that item which is of supreme value. Any physical act is essentially symbolic, specifically because worship is primarily a mental and emotional act. It is only because physical acts of worship are symbolic that someone can make a ham sandwich as an act of worship.

But we must keep in mind that the symbolism is still the drive train of everyday worship. The further removed from the mental and emotional evaluation of the one for whom all service is due, the less like an act of worship it really is. You can totally run a cash register as an act of worship. But singing is still a better kind of worship, because the physical is more closely tied with the mental and emotional act that makes up true worship. If you must run a cash register, why not rather run the register and sing?

I say this because leading worship is a strange task. And it is not the task of equipping people to wash dishes with a better attitude. By all means, wash with a better attitude, and may your washing be qualified by worship. But worship is more like prayer and less like labor, so leading worship is more like leading people into better prayer.  You prepare, musically, emotionally, administratively – Individually – so that the congregation may worship immediately. You work at worship so that the congregation may worship more effectively without the same  labor.

Judy Renfrow doesn’t sing in the choir. She isn’t on the worship team. She doesn’t play, and not to put too fine a point on it, she can barely sing. Well, music isn’t everything, despite its blessed usefulness in getting our hearts where they need to be. But let’s be honest: she’s not all that great at privat prayer and personal devotions. She loves Jesus, but the fires of her devotion are a little dusty ember. She needs corporate worship to pull her through the next week. When she joins in a congregation that worships well, her heart is lifted, the veil is torn, and she remembers what it is to be human,

A little dusty ember does a better job of burning on a bed of hot coals. It’s the worship leader’s job to make the job of burning brightly as convenient as possible, not by engaging in displays of impossible pyrotechnics, musical and emotional displays of what their worship could be if only the congregation could collectively quit their day job, but by providing songs that engage the heart and mind to the proper glorification of God with as much ease as possible.

It’s a bit like the pattern of excellence in practice my mother taught me when I was a kid: You work hard in private so that you can perform easily in public. Only the worship leader works hard by himself and in a small group so that the congregation as a whole can perform easily in public.  And it has lasting ramifications:  The  worship that is easy in the congregation leads to better and more frequent worship in the prayer closet, and every congregant who worships well in the closet becomes a little worship leader, with the world as her congregation.

Leading worship well is not as easy as it looks, but oh! what work is there that is more like prayer and less like labor?!  How can you practice leading worship, except by worshiping?  And how can you study to worship well without pursuing clarity on what true worship consists of?

The beauty of the Saints Assembled

Psalm 133:

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!
Like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down on the beard,
The beard of Aaron,
Running down on the edge of his garments.
Like the dew of Hermon,
Descending upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the Lord commanded the blessing—
Life forevermore.

It’s in the wee hours, and I wish I had the energy to say this with the lyricism that it deserves, but I would like to urge you, dear brother or sister, to consider the beauty of the saints assembled. How many times have you heard someone say that they can worship God better alone, out in the wilderness somewhere, surrounded by trees or enjoying some scenic vista? The reasoning usually goes that God created the wilderness and we can worship him by admiring His handiwork. If that’s you, I’d like to urge you to reconsider. You may have been catechized by 19th century romantics, rather than God’s word.

Go back to the scriptures. Do a survey, and tell me where, by instruction and by example, we are taught to find God’s presence. I’m sure you will find a prophet alone on a mountain or two, but overwhelmingly you will see people worshiping God together, in His temple, in the midst of the congregation. And where is His temple today? The saints assembled.

You say you don’t like church, you don’t care for crowds, the music annoys you, all preachers are more ignorant than you. I understand. No really, I do. I’ve had entire church movements turn to stale water in my mouth. I joined a church once and spent the next six months regretting it as the pastor preached up to the verge of heresy at least once a fortnight. Sometimes you don’t join for you. Sometimes you don’t get anything out of it. Sometimes, what God intends for you to get out of it is not the sort of thing you would have ever asked for. But life comes from the interconnectedness of the Body of Christ. You cannot be a Christian alone. You may find that you are like the appendix in the body of Christ – no one knows what you’re there for, and they’ll only let you stay if you don’t cause any trouble. Stay. Try not to cause any unnecessary trouble. If you’re hurting, ask for help. But remember: You cannot honestly say you love God if you can’t stand to be with the brethren.

Psalm 68:15-18

Mount Bashan is God’s towering mountain;
Mount Bashan is a mountain of many peaks.
Why gaze with envy, you mountain peaks,
at the mountain God desired for His dwelling?
The Lord will live there forever!
God’s chariots are tens of thousands,
thousands and thousands;
the Lord is among them in the sanctuary
as He was at Sinai.
You ascended to the heights, taking away captives;
You received gifts from people,
even from the rebellious,
so that the Lord God might live there.

The Better Part of Worship

I want to push back just for a minute on the idea that all of life is worship. All of life could be worship, but saying it don’t make it so.  Like love, worship has components.  The two components of love are loyalty and affection, and a shortage in one can’t be shored up by a surplus in the other.  I think you can say that the two components of worship are adoration and obedience.  But it feels as though, when people say that worship is all of life, that they mean the most important part of worship is the obedience.  But a “surplus” of obedience can’t make up for a shortage of adoration.  Martha was of the “all of life is worship” party.  Jesus told her that Mary had chosen the better part.

There are lots of reasons why we should be obedient to God in every area of our lives, and every part of our lives should be worthy to be offered up to him as a fragrant incense. Everything should be done to the glory of God, but remember that he is already glorious, and not one thing we do can add to the glory that is him. He is altogether worthy of our adoration, and without that adoration, obedience is rather worthless.

links

Some links:

* The Curse of Motivational Speaking, which curse being that it doesn’t actually change anybody, and prevents them from listening to the stuff that does.
* Viral video leads to university president resignation. Apparently, he was allergic to the words “free college.”
* Civilization
* Immigration, and Red-headed property.
* Compulsory voting?
* Divorced from God? Doug Wilson says, “Prove it!”
* Matt Waymeyer on the continuing spiritual hope of Israel. One could wish he would write with the same biblical perception and clarity on the subject of continuing function of spiritual gifts.
* Personals. The author at Outer Life shares a few traits with me, including a poor ability to modify reality without irony.

From Pseudo-Polymath:

* German court declares circumcision illegal. Two views, sympathetic, and unsympathetic (to the circumcision party, that is).
* When I was at OCS, my platoon sergeant thought it would be funny to give the little guy a 240B machine gun. I didn’t think it was all that funny. In fact, I was tempted to complain. Now, I’m just glad he didn’t make me carry this.
* Everybody’s got an Economic Crush, don’t they? Currently, I’m geeking out on Adam Smith.
* A bird of prey gets goosed.
*Okay, maybe weapons safety is an oxymoron after all.
* New research indicates that the zombie apocalypse is rabies.
* Gospel: the only answer for pornography. My experience was that pornography was a replacement, not for sex, but for worship.

Enough for now?

Opening Thoughts, Marred by Verse

This poem isn’t really finished, but it’s at least round the first bend, and since somehow I’ve already managed to post it once by accident, I’ll let you read what’s there while I work on the rest.

I have been reading Dante, so
Forgive me, if you may,
The way that I am strewing all
These iams on the page.

The mind adapts itself unto
The pattern that it’s fed
And replicates it endlessly
While pulling on its thread –
Unraveling, re-raveling
With endless permutation,
A master-house that has the goal
Of its own renovation.

Who has seen a created thing
That’s made quite like the mind?
Do fish, or birds, or arthropods,
Or beasts that feed on grass
Create themselves the path they follow
And set their lives to plans?
But such is man who’s made like God
The created who creates.
He picks a star and sets his course,
And rides in his own wake.

Yet, unlike God, who gets to choose,
Man also cannot choose.
The mirror shines, and so must he,
Reflecting what he sees.
He halts a bit, and modifies,
Changes meter, or the rhyme,
Opens up his aperture,
Adjusts his shutter speed.

But he cannot cease to worship.
He cannot cease to feed
On wisdom, honor, truth and beauty.
The numinous, the seed
Of glory ever lives inside him
and grows there like a weed.
It forces him to seek the holy
With a holy sort of greed.

And Lord, here is your gardener,
Standing in the field:
He has his seed; he has the soil,
He has a hoe to wield.
He has his purpose, and his duty,
And has the call to choose.
But still he cannot force himself
To ever choose the good.

And like a telescope deciding
Stars are without worth –
It twists itself to look for something,
Unhinging from it’s posts,
Then sways and tips, and holding… falls,
Its lens now mired in earth,
Its vision-shaft now soundly bent,
And lost to starry hosts.
Yet something still is working there,
Receiving what it sees,
Passing up exhumous visions,
Displaying rotten leaves.

So the human constitution,
Though broken by its fall,
Cannot help but seek its purpose,
Shaping self and all
The cosmos to the god it’s fashioned,
Cycling god and self
And cosmos, thralled with choosing, still
Desiring something else.