“I just don’t get anything out of Church.”
I (and I assume many of you) have said this at one time or another. In fact, that may be where many of you are at this time. I hear this often and have given this a lot of thought as I prepare worship services.
To begin a discussion of our worship, I think we should begin with the word, “liturgy.” Liturgy means “the work of the people.” That means that our worship is the fruit of all baptized Christians gathering for a single and faith-filled purpose – we celebrate each Sunday as “a little Easter” and we rejoice in our membership in that event.
We worship together – one Body, one voice, one heart. If I go into worship not realizing that I am a member of this Communion of Saints, believers united one to another, the living and the dead, beyond time and space, I go into my worship time all alone. We worship as the Body of Christ, not as a room of individual souls. Our small groups are a blessing and God is found in them, but to worship on Sunday is to affirm that the Church is a larger reality than my circle of like-minded friends.
To gather on Sundays is to let myself be a part of something bigger and more faithful than I am alone. Each person in the pew plays a role making the liturgy worship – a focus on God and not ourselves. Worship is not just the music, or prayers, or sermon. It is not having an experience. Worship, done well, is about how much each of us enters into the worship. This means bringing our deepest longings, our greatest love, and our clear intention to make this about God and not us.
Worship is not about what we get out of it. It is what we put into it that makes it worship. We remember that we are not an audience, not an observer, not a passive recipient in Sunday worship. We are active participants with God as the focus. The more active, alert, and intentional in focus we are, the more grace-filled (enriched) worship is.
Now worship can be dry and lacking. But even then, God is present and will have something, a small word for us. The Holy Spirit is not limited by this. We can encounter God even in poor worship if we stay open to God. We all want a liturgy that is rich in meaning and speaks to the mind and the heart. Sometimes it is not the worship but the state of my soul, my emotions, my expectations that make worship less than what it should be.
I do not mean that we will always feel an emotional high after worship or feel “pumped.” To have a worship life that in faith we must know that sometimes worship will convict me and call upon me to see a part of me that needs to change – be converted into the image of Christ. Sometimes liturgy (worship) will remind me of what I should be doing (or not be doing). I will not always feel good after the service – but I will have felt God.
How does this begin? Partly by knowing that when I enter the sacred space of our church we go before the throne of God in worship. God will always meet us where we are (not always a good feeling) and God will offer grace (even if I don’t particularly want it). I understand that I do not need to convince God to do anything – I need to be convinced (converted?) that God wants something for me and that in my worship I will encounter it. I worship God, not what I hope to receive.
What is my expectation on Sunday as I walk into the worship space? Do I expect an encounter with the living God or do I expect the preacher, the music, the service, or others to make my encounter with God, “real.” Am I a passive recipient or am I an active participant? The answers do make a difference.
Entering Sacred Space and Time I