Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Call and Response: Life As Worship

I am losing patience with the phrase, in relation to church music times, "God showed up."
I understand what is meant, but the wording is so fuzzy as to be theologically useless. God is omnipresent, and unless one thinks their worship gatherings are Ichabod by default, God was there to begin with.

In a previous post on the contemporary worship culture of the church, I wrote:
The danger we face when we worship is coming into the experience assuming we are summoning God. Assuming worship is our initiative. Assuming we are somehow the ones in control, that we are bringing the best of ourselves and our holy desire to worship. When the reality is, worship does not begin with the worshiper. It begins with God. It is a response to God’s calling upon us.

Our community is learning to treat the time we spend in corporate singing as a response to God's person and works. The division between God and us cannot be bridged by us, although we often act (and sing) like it can.

But "worship music" is not the only place where we should keep this order in mind. It's all worship -- prayer, study, work, meals and conversation, love and romance, sleep. What if we treated it all as our response to who God is and what he's done?
That is a worship that focuses on the object of worship and revels in the joy of grace.
The alternative -- prayer, study, work, etc. all done as ways to "initiate with God" -- treats God like a cosmic trinket machine that must be rocked a certain way to produce for us.

This doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't ask for things. It just means our asking comes with different motives. Our asking is derived from faith and freedom. The other way presumes that it is God who is not free and that he needs us to enable him to bless us.

No one seeks God.
He is both the author and finisher of our faith.
It is God who breathes life into us, it is God who speaks light into the darkness, it is God who commands into the tunnel, "Lazarus, come forth!"
And it is we who respond.

What would our worship in music look like if we came in acknowledging that God has already "shown up" in Creation, that he has already "shown up" in the Incarnation, that he has already "shown up" in the crucifixion and resurrection, and if we came in confessing that although he wants our worship, he does not need it? What would it look like if we played and sang like we are dust and he is the breath of life, instead of the other way around?

Let's stop trying to conjure up God (by which, let's be honest, we're really just trying to conjure up our emotions) and let us marvel and enjoy that he cannot be conjured.

Related:
Theology a "Response to the Word"
The Formation of Reformation, Part 3: Worship Culture

11 comments:

co_heir said...

I'm convinced that if we really worshipped God in our day-to-day throughout the week, we wouldn't have as many "worship wars" in our churches.

dle said...

I'm not sure I agree entirely with the "I bring nothing to the table" idea of worship. If that concept were true, then God would have no reason to create us to worship Him.

When the Bible says that none seek God, it's hyperbole in the same way that Elijah claims that he's the only prophet left even though that wasn't true. (See also Gen. 4:26.)

People do seek God. Especially Christians who have the Holy Spirit in them. I think it's flat-out wrong that some preachers/teachers would have us wallow in a "sinner" mentality that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of NOT seeking God. But we are not worms in darkness, but saints in light. We should act like it.

Jared said...

If that concept were true, then God would have no reason to create us to worship Him.

He created us because he wanted to and because he loves us.
Are you saying we deserved to be created?

When the Bible says that none seek God, it's hyperbole

Disagree. When it says that it means that we are sinners that after the Fall do not naturally desire God. Romans 8 type stuff. "You have not chosen me..." type stuff.

Moses wasn't looking for God, Abram wasn't looking for God, Paul wasn't looking for God.

People do seek God. Especially Christians who have the Holy Spirit in them.

Right. They were called forth from the dead and responded.
That's kind of my point.

I think it's flat-out wrong that some preachers/teachers would have us wallow in a "sinner" mentality that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of NOT seeking God.

You talk about this a lot, and I don't know why you say "some preachers/teachers" when you're commenting here. I assume you're including me here. I would think you read me enough to know I'm not calling for wallowing, and in fact I occasionally take you to task for your doom-and-gloom posts.

In any event, just a cursory read of the last two paragraphs of this post should be enough to prove that "wallow" is not what I'm advocating.

Peace

C. Evan Leonard said...

One of my favorites... Jared...

How true, how true...

I can't count the number of worship services I've participated in... either in the congregation or part of the worship team.... and inevitably... words like.... "inviting God into our presence..." or "we are asking God to come be with us".... or, as you put it... afterwards.... "Wow, God really showed up, eh?"...

I've had numerous encounters with my peers that weren't confrontational... but I walked away feeling like I rained on someone's parade... when I would simply state that... God was glad we showed up and I believe He might only wish that we be more authentic in our worship.... and not make it out to be like... if it weren't for us.... God wouldn't have made it to the worship service....

I suppose we will always find a way to thrust ourselves into the mix in a way that diminishes God... due to our inability to understand that God cannot be programmed into 30-40 minutes of worship... no matter how many skits, popular worship songs, big screens and etc... we have in our "God come be with us" arsenal...

Ahh.... I love the smell of infancy.... in the morning... [Pastor Robert Duvall - Apocalypse•Then & Now]

Kind regards,

C. Evan Leonard

Matthew said...

As a worship leader, I use those phrases "God showed up" or "asking God to come be with us" because I see a gigantic difference between those times where God is here (because He is omnipresent, and those times where His presence is simply overwhelming. Scripture shows examples of this happening:
Ex 24:16, Ex 40:35, Acts 2:1-4, Acts 10:33, Acts 4:31, John 17:5

It seems that there is a greater level of presence or glory that occurs at moments...it's not the same at all times...

Am I misunderstanding what you're writing about?

Jared said...

Matthew, while I think words are important and we should use them thoughtfully, I think this merely being a semantic difference occurs when phrases like "God showed up" are used to reflect on something God is doing.

My issue is with the heart of worship and the too common notion that worship is about getting something from God (as opposed to glorifying him because of who he is and what he's already done). The only cause for alarm I would have is if "his presence is overwhelming" really just means "people are more emotional."

I am not a cessationist and have experienced an overwhelming physical presence of God myself. So I think I know what you're talking about.
And I wouldn't say that worship should be un-emotional. I'm not one of those people who thinks emotions are bad. God gave them to us and I think it only right that we feel something when we're glorifying him.

I just see that "feeling something" tends to be the focus of worship in many churches, and that is worship of someone other than God.

Hope that makes sense.

dle said...

Jared,

We'll have to disagree on the seeking God part. As I noted, we have a very early reference in Gen. 4 stating that men started calling out to God. The very fact that so many religions exist today (and then) shows that men are, in fact, seeking God.

From the Psalms it's quite obvious that David sought God. In fact, all the righteous kings sought God. The prophets sought God, too. (Paul did , too. He believed he'd found him in Phariseeism, but obviously, that was a dead end.)

Whether people are seeking Him the right way or in the right place or to the right amount is a whole 'nother issue. God created Man with a desire to worship. The original intent was that this desire would be wholly for God. After the Fall, that went awry. It's clear from all the world religions that the desire is still there, only that it's been marred.

As for Christians responding to God, reading your post makes it sound like Christians still aren't seeking God and have no real desire to do so even after regeneration.

But our standing has been changed if we've indeed been born again. (That's the sinner/saint divide I'm referring to.) We have a desire to worship fueled by the Holy Spirit in us. So yes, we want to reach out to God.

And yes, too, God does "show up" in varying ways. If a person has never encountered the difference between a "normal" meeting and a "God moving in power" one, I say, "Find another meeting!" Because the differences are quite obvious to those sensitive to the moving of the Spirit.

People do desire those power encounters. And power encounters exist. The prayer meeting was shaken in Acts 4 by God coming in a distinctly different way than the "normal abiding" of the Spirit.

Jared said...

Dan, I'm not convinced you're reading carefully what I wrote. I would respond to most of what you just wrote by redirecting you to what I've already said in my post and subsequent comments.

But I won't.

I'm not sure we disagree, which is why it's kind of frustrating to talk about how we're wired for worship and then have you disagree with me to say we're made to worship.

This is an ongoing thing with you and me, and I don't wish to continue to it. I consider you a friend.

Peace

Brian said...

People do desire those power encounters. And power encounters exist. The prayer meeting was shaken in Acts 4 by God coming in a distinctly different way than the "normal abiding" of the Spirit.

I'm sure these things happen but to take a unique, descriptive incident from the beginnings of the early church and to turn it into a normative expectation is just looking for disappointment, IMO.

Especially, as Jared hinted at above, if what you're really looking for is just an emotional experience. Then you start equating how you felt with whether God was really, really. And it all becomes very me-centered.

Good post Jared.

Brian said...

above should read :

Then you start equating how you felt with whether God was really, really there.

dle said...

Sorry, Jared. I didn't intend this to be contentious.

We have churches that manufacture an experience in worship.

We have churches that foster an environment of expectation.

We have churches that like everything to be orderly, and maybe even a little dull.

We have churches that stomp on even the slightest bit of what they deem emotionalism.

We have churches that ...

And the problem is that whenever we try to make worship be exactly what we think it should be, we end up adding something in that shouldn't be there or leaving out something essential.

I just don't want to see either of those things happen.