I wear on my wrist a little black band that says One With Them. It’s in the shape of barbed wire, and evokes the tragic image of Christians imprisoned the world-over for their faith in Jesus Christ. It reminds me to pray for them. It reminds me to remember them. It reminds me to not take for granted the unbelievable privileges I have as a follower of Christ.
Privileges like worship. There really are two kinds of worship: the exaltation of the One True God of the Universe, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and the exaltation of anything other than him, including myself. I believe that within the exaltation of the One True God there are three ways to worship. Consider these carefully.
First, I worship when I live my life moment-by-moment remembering I am a redeemed child of God. Thus it is the Apostle Paul pens “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). Every breath is a hymn of praise, every act of kindness the strumming of a virtual lyre, every act of obedience a hand outstretched. All of me is exalting all of him.
Secondly, I worship with private and intentional adoration of the One True God. I sit in my office at home (think Mancave) and listen to various musical expressions of worship, inviting me to sing quietly (and sometimes loudly!) to him, listen contemplatively, or just sit in silence. Sometimes this is in my truck. Sometimes this is while on my lawn tractor. Sometimes this is while walking. Interwoven with my songs of praise are tears of repentance, prayers of petition, expessions of gratitude, recitations of Scripture, and so forth.
Thirdly, I worship within the broader community of the redeemed, normally, of course, as we gather corporately, say on a Sunday in the worship center of our church facility, or whatever facility I find myself entering anywhere around the world. This invites me to something that stretches me. It invites me to be sacrificial because there may be elements that while appealing to another are not appealing to me. This invites me to be selfless in that I have to publically offer myself over to my God; suddenly my Christianity is not a mere private affair. This invites me to be sympathetic, for now I am one messy man caught up with still more messy people. Their aches and pains prick my soul. My aches and pains prick theirs. We’re together for a cause far greater than ourselves—the majesty of our God. Their joys inflate my heart, enhancing my praise. I pray my joys could do such for them.
People ask me how I go to worship. “How do you prepare for corporate worship or private worship or what not?” Perhaps the following reflections will help. To begin with, I remember that worship is an act of volition, somewhat like love. I have to choose to recognize the “worth-ship” of God. He is worthy; I shall not hold back. Moreover, when with others I remind myself that the imprisoned Christian would give his life to enjoy corporate worship with other believers. I must never take it for granted or hold back in my praise. Next, I work to look beyond structures and styles toward the Substance which is my God and King. This allows me to sing robustly with naked villagers in Papua New Guinea, gathered as they are in their grass chapels, crying out to the Father. This allows me to stand boldly and with joy in the face of the loudest singing and dancing with my African friends in Jos, Nigeria. This allows me to sit quietly and reverently in an empty and tiny sanctuary near Carlsbad, California, wherien I sit before candles and incense and pray. This allows me to raise my hands high in the atmosphere of the most progressive worship music possible, even if the words themselves are hard to hear as I get older. And this allows me to sing with gusto the great hymns of the faith all alone or with my friends and family who relish the sounds of the recent centuries. I may have my own personal preferences, but I choose to adapt at whatever moment requires adaptation for the greater opportunity of letting the King know I treasure him above all. Finally, I keep my heart hungry for my Lord and Savior. Absorbing the Word of God not as some long lecture but as a love letter whets my appetite for my King. It keeps my heart tender, my pride at bay, and strips me of my self-sufficiency. Embracing this reality while asking for the Holy Spirit to turn my eyes upward rather than within makes all the difference in the world.
I am learning to celebrate various styles and structures, for it is my God who captures my affection and before whom I pour out my praise. The variety and spectrum of song and dance, sound and structure, posture and practice, are like muticolored chips embedded within some ancient mosaic—fascinating and unique and even unusual. But when I step back from the individual chips and see the image they all together create, an image of my King receiving the deepest praise of his people, then I know I have found something that pleases God, even despite myself. It is this that I remember when I go to the house of praise.