The Heart of Worship
I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You, all about You Jesus
I’m sorry, Lord for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about You, all about You, Jesus
In my adventures throughout Christendom, from high church to low church, from Catholocism to Orthodoxy, to Anglicanism, all the way to non-denominational Protestantism (and nearly everywhere in between!) I see a common issue: a misconception of the meaning of worship. The most common thought amongst congregants is that worship is comprised of the music that is sung. And “worship style” is considered to depend on the style of music, whether old fashioned hymns, gospel, contemporary praise and worship, Christian hip hop, and so on. Is the music lively or staid, exuberant or solemn? These are the things that are often in mind when someone asks, “What’s the worship like?” or says, “I don’t really like the worship there.”
I’ll lay out my thesis up front: Style of music has no bearing on authentic worship.
And the conclusion: To focus on style of music is to miss authentic worship.
In Augustine’s Confessions (circa 4th Century AD), he writes of his inner dilemma during church services: He liked the music too much! He found it to be so beautiful and evocative that he feared he was paying more attention to his own emotions than to the Lord. If only believers today were as sensitive to this subtle trap! (I speak from within the American context). Instead, we intentionally seek out churches where the music gives us the greatest emotional return for our time spent there. And “emotional” doesn’t necessarily mean jumping up and down or stomping your feet. It is also found in the well-to-do Episcopal congregation with a choir of classical vocalists performing Bach cantatas. The Christian who is a lover of classical music is still in danger there of being drawn into the beauty of the music for its own sake rather than on its purpose as an offering to the Lord.
It is easy to believe that if we are connecting to the music in a church that we are worshipping. But such an idea is not scriptural. What does Jesus say?
“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” John 4:21;23 ESV
The Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well pointed out to Him that the Samaritans worshipped on the Mount of Olives, but that the Jews insisted that Jerusalem was the right place to worship. From her perspective, “worship” related to temporal characteristics—the location. But rather than telling her the right physical conditions for worship, Jesus told her that true worship was not about the physical, but rather the spiritual. He said that those who are genuinely worshipping the Father do not depend on certain physical conditions for their worship, but rather on spiritual conditions. It is not a place, but a posture before God. True worshippers worship in spirit and in truth.
Man is comprised of body, soul, and spirit (for more on this, Google Watchman Nee’s The Spiritual Man, and also “The Dangers of the Soulish Life”—they’re free to read) The body is understood well enough, but the distinction between soul and spirit is not. The soul is made up of our intellect, will, and emotion. Our spirit is that which communes with God’s Spirit. It is also that which ought to direct our soul and body. When our spirits direct our lives, then we can be led by the Spirit. But most believers get stuck at the soul level. We seek and follow God not from our spirit, but from our soul—our intellect, will, and emotion. We attempt to serve God out of our ideas and judgment, our determination and, and our feelings.
And so, when we become emotionally enraptured by a song in church, we tend to think that’s what it’s about—that so long as our emotions are moved and our intellect engaged that we are worshiping God. But again, what does Jesus say?–“true worshippers will worship in spirit and in truth.”
When we operate at the soul level in worship, how meaningful a church service is to us will depend on our personal preferences and how well the style of service conforms to our soul. But if our souls are subject to our spirit, then we can be directed by the Holy Spirit, and the meaningfulness of the church service will be a result of His movement in us and through us rather than on whether a particular song tickled our fancy.
There is nothing wrong with musical preferences, and everyone has them; but music does not create worship. I cannot find worship by looking for a certain style of music that really moves me. Rather, if I am genuinely worshiping, then there will be an overflow from within me which will express itself in a certain way. If I’m a musician, then my worship overflow will take on characteristics that are unique to me—they’ll have a certain style. But it is the spirit of the true worshiper which creates the music and not vice versa. (Likewise, no particular kind of church service can create worship either, but we’ll address that issue another time.)
Furthermore, if I am a spirit-worshipper then style of music is of little importance to me because when I hear a song, a hymn, or even a rap—my fellowship is in the Spirit and not in the soul. If the spirits of the people who are singing and playing are themselves directed by the Spirit, and if His truth is being spoken through them, then I will be able to worship the Lord in spirit with them. It will not matter if I personally like the music itself, what will matter is whether we are worshiping in spirit and in truth.
Related Post: Worship as Gift