Wineskins Archive

February 6, 2014

Life Changing Worship (Sep 1992)

Filed under: — @ 5:12 pm and

by Rubel Shelly
September, 1992

Some of the appeals being made today for change in worship may mask a hidden and wrong-headed agenda. From some quarters, it may be nothing more than frustration. From others it could even be an attempt at self-exaltation (i.e., ego satisfaction as the “star” of worship) or an effort t employ worship as a means of emotional manipulation of the participants (i.e., getting a particular “response”).

Worship offered in spirit and truth is neither an exercise in psychological command over an audience nor a means to the end of producing a certain feeling or response in the worshippers. Real worship is always God-centered rather than man-centered. At the same time, however, it is also true that authentic worship is a life-changing event.

I disagree with the oft-repeated dictum that a persons’ values and bahavior can be altered only in small-group or one-on-one encounters. Again, in an effort to avoid being misunderstood, I affirm small-group Bible study, support groups and the like; life change occurs in them. I also affirm the value of what happens in Christian counselling and private teaching; they can open hearts to God. But worship that allows people to encounter God in a congregational setting of 80, 500, or 7,500 also changes lives.

In The Service of God, a book designed to explore the relationship between worship and ethics, William Willimon insists that “while we worship God, we are also being formed into God’s people. While we are attempting to see God, we are acquiring, as a kind of by-product, a vision of who we are and who we are meant to be” (pp. 42-43).

That is my point stated succinctly and precisely. The essence of worship is praise to God, the affirmation of his “worth-ship.” But worship that truly exalts him before his creatures also ministers directly to the needs of those people.

Individuals and families who are wrestling with demons of doubt, alienation, and pain can find healing for their lives only when they shift their focus from themselves to God. When worship occurs, this is exactly what happens. With their world-view altered by the experience, something dramatic happens in these people. Christians are people who subscribe to a view of reality that runs counter to the one offered by our immediate environment. Worship draws us back to the One who is real and to the life commitments that are legitimate. It is a life-changing event!

Worship not only brings people into the presence of God but also into the experience of the community. The debilitating sense of loneliness is banished by a powerful sense of belonging. Sharing the Lord’s Supper reminds us, to echo the words of Paul, that alienations cannot go unattended within the Body of Christ; indeed, it allows us to recognize one another as the Body of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:17-34, esp. v. 29).

The very events of worship, while focused on God, affirm his drawing near to us and our coming to him. We are caught up in those events and lifted beyond our selfishness, pettiness, materialism, anger, and other life negatives to the presence of the Living God. There we are nourished, redirected, and changed.

What one man recently told me was the “worst time of his life to date” had made him apprehensive about worship on the Lord’s Day. A pain greater than death was overwhelming him. On one level, he did not want to worship for he saw no way to “get anything out of it” (or to put anything into it!). At another, he said he was strangely and powerfully drawn to worship. So he did not forsake the assembly, and there he discerned that God had not forsaken him. Hymns, communion, and a lesson that affirmed the all-sufficiency of the cross to save lifted him out of death to life. His life was changed by that event – over a year ago now – and remains different and Christ-affirming.

Whether traditional or modern, whether with old favorite hymns or contemporary ones, whether emphasizing the security of old forms or the freshness of the Spirit – worship does change worshippers as a by-product of their encounter with God. Thus worship is too important to be discounted or abandoned. For those who lead it, it must be given the same hours of prayerful planning and preparation that the preacher is expected to put into his sermons rather than allowed to become stale from indifference.

Our responsibility in worship is not to manipulate either it or the other participants. It is to create an atmosphere where people can experience the transforming presence of God.Wineskins Magazine

Rubel Shelly

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