What is worship? Some would say it is when Christians are singing together as a part of their Sunday gathering. I think it is far more than that. To me, worship is an attitude of submission and surrender to God my Father. The Sunday gathering does play a role in our worship. The entire service should be worship, assuming we enter it with the right attitude. This includes a desire to submit and surrender to God as a group of gathered believers.
In You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith the author is making a case for worship being at the core of spiritual formation or discipleship. The way we become more like Jesus is by repetitively doing things that form our character. In the third chapter, he begins to focus on how this impacts what we do during our Sunday morning gathering, otherwise known as the worship service.
To further his case for the power of habit he highlights an experiment done with a modified bicycle. The bicycle is changed so that turning the handlebars to the right makes the front wheel turn left. Adults who know how to ride bicycles find it almost impossible to learn to ride this new bicycle. However, a young child can develop proficiency in two weeks. How we spiritually form our children matters. What they learn early will be very difficult for them to unlearn. You can check out the video here:
There is a lesson here for us as we think about our own discipleship. If we have a lifelong habit that has become unconscious to us it will take a long time and great persistence to develop the new habit. Can you believe that anyone would invest 8 months in learning how to ride a backward bicycle?
There are many ways to view our Sunday gathering. The two I want to focus on are expression and formation. In expression, I am the primary actor and in formation, God is the primary actor. I think the ideal is a mixture of the two. I also believe that it is easier to understand our role when we view God as the primary actor.
The issue is where these two different approaches lead us. In the expressive approach, content is the focus and it can be delivered in any form that works. It is a good thing to want to share the good news with as many people as possible. However, what if the form is more powerful than the content. What if everything we do on Sunday morning communicates that what is most important is that we are comfortable and happy? What if we’re encouraged to be consumers and our evaluation of our experience is based on whether what we paid is worth what we received? How does this make us better lovers of God and others?
In the formative approach, both content and form matter. The form of the service, the things that we practice and repeat, should communicate that God is present and active. In this approach, we are trusting that God is present and that as we surrender to Him we are being shaped to be more like Him. What if everything we did on Sunday morning communicated God’s presence and His desire to change us to be like Him? What if we’re encouraged to become lovers and our evaluation of our experience is based on whether our desire to love has increased after our time with God and one another?
When we realize that worship is also about formation, we will begin to appreciate why form matters. The practices we submit ourselves to in Christian worship are God’s way of rehabituating our loves toward the kingdom, so we need to be intentional about the Story that is carried in those practices. – James K. A. Smith in You Are What You Love
For my grandchildren:
What you do for God is important. What God is doing in you is even more important.