There’s a story recorded in John chapter 4 where Jesus is interacting with a Samaritan woman at a well. The woman is shocked for the fact that not only is this man speaking with her, but this Jewish man is speaking with her and knows things about her he shouldn’t possibly know. She then says this:
19“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
In other words… you used to worship somewhere, but now the time has come to worship everywhere. If prayer, as we talked about last week, needs to begin somewhere in order for us to do it everywhere, the opposite is true of worship. In order for us to experience meaningful worship when we gather together as community on Sundays, we need to be people familiar with worship in the everyday, in spirit and in truth.
So let’s start with a basic a definition of what worship is, “Worship is to honour with extravagant love and extreme submission”.
I read a description once that has always stuck with me where the author described worship as ‘adornment’, meaning with our words, actions and deeds we are adorning our King. We are crowning Him and wrapping him in His kingly robes. We are enthroning Him with our worship. Thats what worship is – it’s us saying ‘God, take your rightly place as King and Lord.’
As accurate as I think that description of worship is, sometimes we can get it a little twisted and we think that somehow when we worship, we’re doing God a favour. Like He needs this.
Have you ever seen the movie Elf? There’s a scene near the end of the movie where Santa’s sleigh can’t fly because it runs on Christmas Spirit and Christmas Spirit is low. So this group of people, they started singing Christmas songs together because “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” As they sing, Christmas Spirit increases and Santa’s sleigh is able to fly. I think we can view worship like that sometimes. The more I worship, the harder I worship, the louder I sing- the more power God will have to be able to move in my life and in my circumstance. If I could just worship harder, God will be able to move. He can fly his sleigh and the presents will be delivered to all the boys and girls.
But that’s not how it works. God does not in fact NEED our worship in order to accomplish anything.
So then why worship?
Let’s go all the way back to the Exodus story for moment. This is the story of God calling his people, Israel, out of slavery in Egypt. God raises up Moses as a leader and His spokesperson who then goes to Pharaoh and presents the Lord’s request which is, “Let my people go…” But the second, often overlooked, part of that request, is “…so that they may worship me.’
God’s intentions for Israel in freeing them from captivity is for worship. But why? He doesn’t need it.
Let’s look at two main reason for worship from the Exodus story:
- Worship changes us.
After the Exodus event we have to assume that everything God requested of Israel was meant to be worship. Everything – from what they wore to what they ate, how they interacted with one another, even how they treated animals – it was all worship. It was God’s plan from the start that worship first and foremost would be a way of life. Not just an event or occurrence. Worship truly was meant to be the lifestyle of God’s people.
And this worship – this lifestyle of worship – was what God used to form His people into His people. It wasn’t performing rituals and following commands that made them holy- what made them holy was that they were doing all of these things as worship to a Holy God. We become what we worship.
Did God need Israel to worship Him? No. But Israel needed to worship God. Let’s go back to that description of worship as adornment – that image of crowning God has King and putting Him in his rightful place. We don’t do that because if not God cannot be King. He is King. We do that because WE need to recognize God as King in our lives. We need Him to be our Lord.
Here’s how one author has perfectly described God:
From all eternity the ever-existing, never-becoming, always-perfect God has known Himself and loved what He knows. He has eternally seen his beauty and savoured what he sees. His understanding of His own reality is flawless and his exuberance in enjoying it is infinite. He has no needs, for he has no imperfections. He has no inclinations to evil because he has no deficiencies that would tempt him to do wrong. He is therefore the holiest and happiest being that is or that can be conceived… To share in this experience – the experience of knowing and enjoying His glory – is the reason God created the world.
That’s why we worship. Because God has invited us to share in who He is. To experience that. Worship is an invitation from God not an invention of man. He moves first, He invites, we respond.
Just as an aside here, as I’ve mentioned already, worship is more than one specific activity. Our work can be worship, cleaning our house can be worship. There are a lot of ways to express our worship to God. But, that being said, there IS something about a song that helps us connect those Spirit and Truth pieces of worship.
When Israel was called out from their captivity in Egypt, to their new life of worship do you know what the first thing they did was?
Exodus 14:29-15:1 says, But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.
Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:
“I will sing to the Lord,
for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.”
I don’t believe this is a coincidence. The very first thing God’s people did when they were freed from Pharaohs’ hand and they arrived on the other side of the Red Sea to live their new life of worship was sing a song together as a community. And I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the first ever song recorded in the Bible. There’s something about a song. There’s something powerful about music.
Here’s a question for us to consider today: how do we know we are successful worshipers? How do we know we’ve done a good job at worshiping God? What does successful worship look like?
Constance Cherry is an Anglican minister who’s written many books on worship and she says this: “The measure of a worshiping heart is the active disciple.”
Which bring us to the next reason why we worship:
2. It changes our world.
Worshiping hearts make for active disciples which makes for a changed world.
Let’s go back once again to that Exodus story. Now you have God’s people living their lives of worship in the Promised Land. And from the outside, that ‘life of worship’ can look very insular. From the outside looking in, it can appear that in order to be God’s Holy people they must be cut-off from the world. It could appear that all these laws and regulations were to keep the bad away. But true worship, as NT Wright says, is not world-denying but world changing. When we pull back the lens and zoom out we see the bigger picture. We see that this life of worship and holiness wasn’t just for the sake of God’s people right there, at that moment in time. It wasn’t just for Israel. It wasn’t just so that they could have their life of freedom out there in the promise land. When we see the bigger picture we see that this bunch of crazy worshipers changed the world. And you know how I know that? Because we’re here right now.
When the catholic church gathers for worship, it’s called mass. Mass comes from a latin word that means the sending. I love that. This is the sending. This is why we gather together to worship. It’s for the sending. It’s so that the world can be changed.
(written & taught by: Rebecca Chase)