First, let’s take a look at what we are doing during worship that makes it worth repeating. Last year I read a book about worship by James K. A. Smith entitled, You Are What You Love….The Spiritual Power of Habit. I take notes in the front of my books, and I paraphrased some of my notes for a reading at last night’s worship service.
Worship is the time in which God tunes our hearts.
In Worship God reforms our desires.
Worship is the occasion in which God re-orientates us to see the world in a new way. Worship is not only something we do; In Worship God does something to us.
Worship is a moment when God not only changes our way of thinking; in Worship God forms us in God’s own image.
In Worship we see our lives, our world in God’s light.
When I first started the book I thought it was going to help me understand specifically what we are doing when we sing and pray and read from scripture and preach and stand up and sit down and all the other things we “do” in worship. What I learned is that the practice of worship is really allowing God to do something for us. All the other things we do are a means to the end of helping us to open ourselves to God changing or transforming our lives through the light Jesus Christ.
I’ve often tried to explain the need for this practice to occur in a community. I usually get the question during the summer, “Pastor, don’t you think I can worship God just as well sitting in my boat up at the lake soaking in the beauty of nature?” I say some thing like, “Not only do I understand, but that is also my practice a couple of Sundays a year… minus the boat.” (The only thing owning a boat did for me was confirm the existence of less than gracious forces on this planet.).
Yes, you can praise and thank God, and God can change your life in your boat at the lake. The issue comes when we say that God is changing our lives through the light of Jesus.
If you will allow me to mix metaphors, the light of Jesus in our faith is a very physical thing. We call it “the body of Christ.” It is something that by definition we do together. And I don’t know about you, but anytime I do anything with anybody else, it has the capacity to get messy: Things go wrong, we don’t see the light of God in the same way, people are people. If I may mix a third metaphor, being with other people even for the best intentions can be a lot like the experience of owning a boat I described earlier.
If being the body of Christ is what the “practice” of worship leads toward and that “practice” is something we do with other people that is messy…then it is going to take practice. Being the body of Christ needs rehearsing; “There is no formation without repetition.” There are things we can learn. There are ways to develop what we might call our spiritual muscle memory. Worship can be a time and a place to make a mistake, to learn from our mistakes together so that when a different time comes when we are out there in the real game or performance of life, we will have this body of Christ thing down a little better.
In that book I read, the author finally came out and said that worship is the gymnasium of our souls, it is where we form habits that form us more fully in the image of Christ. Although the last thing in the world I need to hear in my life right now is for somebody to tell me to “ get back to the gym,” Mr. Smith contends it is a very helpful way to understand and experience both what happens in worship and why we need to keep at it.
Keep the Faith,