4 Qualities of Worship as a Way of Life

cosmosBy Matt Sapp

This is the third article in a new message series at Heritage Baptist Fellowship, Canton, Georgia, that focuses on finding meaning in a chaotic world. 

For the next several weeks we’re spending our Wednesdays at Heritage Baptist Church asking questions about worship.  What is worship?  Why do we do what we do when we worship?   Why do churches in our neighborhood worship differently than we do?  What’s the history and theology behind what they do?  And what’s the history and theology behind what we do?

We got off to a great start yesterday as one of our leaders inspired us to think about what worship is and why the regular practice of worship is important.

Usually I lead Wednesday Bible studies, so yesterday was special for me.  I listened and took notes.  I reflected on the comments and thoughts of our church members as we sat around tables together, not as a pastor called to respond or give direction to those comments, but as someone who simply enjoyed them. And that’s exactly what I did: I enjoyed, reflected, and was inspired.

During the course of the evening, we were asked to define worship.  As I look back through my notes of church members’ comments, I think I’ve come up with my own definition of worship.  I’m sure it’s not original, and it’s probably not my once and for all definition.  I may even decide tomorrow that it’s entirely inadequate.

But this is my definition for today.   Today, worship is a verb and sets the tone for certain qualities of the worship-filled life.

Worship is participation in the presence of God. 

Being in God’s presence is a participatory experience. If God is present and we are participating, then our hearts, minds, souls, emotions and spirits all engage at the same time. That’s worship.

Now I know some say that God is present everywhere, all the time.  That’s true; but, I, at least, don’t find myself participating in God’s presence all the time.  Mostly I’m just eating potato chips and watching TV–that’s not worship.

This definition, combined with God’s omnipresence, does let us in on a secret: Worship is something that’s available to us all the time.  The opportunity to worship is as ever-present as God is. At any given moment the only thing hindering worship is our willingness to participate.

C.S. Lewis Quote.jpg

Here are a few of the other things Heritage members said about worship yesterday that I found helpful. I hope you will, too.

Worship is Holy

Worship is dedicated to God or a religious purpose. It is sacred. That might seem self-evident, but it’s important because very few things fit that definition. That makes worship a singular act, counter-cultural even.

When we gather to worship, we do something radical in that we acknowledge allegiance to and signal the importance of a powerful Creator who exists beyond the ins and outs of the everyday world. In the early church, Roman Emperors saw allegiance to God as a threat to their authority.  It was. And it is. Worship is radical, and it is holy.

Worship is Focused

In a world where multi-tasking is the norm, worship—at least most corporate worship—asks that we maintain a sustained focus on a single thing for about an hour.

In our daily lives, we are bombarded by distractions. Sensory overload is the norm.  Sights and sounds and notifications; internet browsers with 19 windows clogging our internet; the TV on with our tablets in our hands and our phones dinging alerts at our sides; kids and email and dinner and laundry and work all at the same time—and worship asks us to focus.

Worship is committing yourself to focus only on one thing. Without that focus, daily or weekly, one of our members reminded us, “You’re missing the object of your whole life.” Amen. Worship is focused.

Worship is Listening

Worship is listening for God.  Finding God in the noise of life is a prerequisite to participating in God’s presence.  Worship requires that we quiet the noise around us and within us and listen.

We participate by listening to music and scripture, to prayer and sermon, to the wind in our ears, the birds in the trees, the waves on the shore, even by listening to the silence of a starry night. And in listening we discern and experience and participate in the presence of God. Worship is listening.

Worship is holy. Worship is focused. Worship is listening. Worship is those things and much more.

What would you add? What is worship? Share with us in the comments section below. 

I’ll have more to say about worship next week. I’d appreciate your thoughts as we continue the conversation.

Simplicity: Ingalls Style

The other day, my daughter was wearing the only ankle-length skirt she owns.  I love that skirt. Whenever she wears it, I call her Laura Ingalls.  You know–the Laura Ingalls from the 1970s TV show, “The Little House on the Prairie”?

The last time I called her Laura Ingalls, it hit me: She has no clue who Laura Ingalls is.  In fact, my daughter has not watched a single episode of that fantastic program.  She’s never met Pa and Ma Ingalls, never reviled Nellie Oleson, never imagined tumbling down a field of grass with little Mary.  What a tragedy.

On the contrary, I probably watched too much “Little House” when I was growing up.  My mother was practically addicted to it.  Her dream was to buy a cottage just like the one the Ingalls called home.   She longed to live where the family could tell stories and enjoy a hot pot of stew fresh from the pot-bellied stove.

(Ironically, my mom got her wish when my parents moved into an old, circa 1920s cabin in the Poconos several years ago.  My mother found out that country living is not all fun and games; especially last week, when the pipes froze and broke.)

I’m quite convinced that the appeal of “Little House” for all of us, including Mother, was not necessarily the home or the characters (though that helped), but was what the show portrayed in the first place: the simple life at its finest.

Walnut Grove had no frills (just the occasional drama) and few big-city choices.  Everyone had a good job and faithful neighbors.  Around high noon, the town stopped for lunch; boys and girls took naps under huge oak trees with some book of poetry or Shakespeare slung over their eyes.

Even I have been bemused by the type of simplicity “Little House” boasted: I can’t tell you how many times I suggested to my wife that we should use candles instead of lights at night during Lent.

Simplicity does get lost in translation for many Christians in this fast-paced, consumer-saturated world.  It is an important spiritual discipline in which we scale back on the technology, drama, and materialism that entangle us like a web.

The basis for simplicity goes back to Jesus, of course, when he told the rich young ruler to go and sell all that the ruler had.  Jesus’ ministry was one that required few resources, for he was always on the move ready to go wherever His father led him.

When he dispatched his disciples, Jesus told them to pack light.  In the earliest church, many believers gave away most of what they owned to those in need.  If you had two coats in the closet, you gave one to a friend.

Even the Old Testament speaks of the benefits of simplicity: “Thus says the Lord: By waiting and calm, you shall be saved.  In quiet and trust lies your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

Several years after Jesus ministered on earth, several Christians took this command seriously and headed out to the wilderness to live simple lives.  These aristocrats-turned-priests worked, prayed, and worshiped with very little funding.

They became known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and they lived by the Latin phrase, “Fuge, tace, et quiesce,” which means, “live in solitude, silence, and inner peace.”

Simplicity helped them see God through the fog of prestige and wealth.  It improved their prayer life, and it challenged their very faith in God.

Perhaps our spiritual practice of simplicity won’t look anything like that of Walnut Grove or the Desert Ancestors, but it might behoove us to at least get in the spirit of what it means to live humbly, crave simplicity, and pursue fellowship with friends and family around a pot of stew more often.