The irony of being asked to write this blog is beautiful, considering that the last time Owen asked me to speak on worship, was a few months before lockdown when I was asked to teach on the importance of singing with our young people! None of what I am about to say contradicts that teaching, but it’s good to recognise that God does have a sense of humour!
‘Worship’ is one of those words that can mean multiple things, it can have a broad meaning while at the same time meaning something very specific. It can be used in many contexts in life, while at the same time be said of something very specific that churches ‘do’, or a Christian ‘does’. When said in conversation, the word ‘worship’ to most Christians in our style of Church causes them to subconsciously think “we’re now talking about the specific act of singing when we meet together as a body”.
In our context here at ChristChurch, after a Sunday meeting, people might say something along the lines of “wasn’t the worship good?’ or ‘I really met with God during worship this morning’ or even sometimes, ‘worship was a bit loud today!’. So, what is worship? And have the recent singing restrictions on Churches that have been put in place due to the current pandemic, stopped us from doing ‘worship’?
I believe that the answer to that question is yes and no. And here’s why…
What does the bible have to say about worship?
When the bible mentions ‘worship’ in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word most commonly used is hishtahvah. And it means ‘bow down’ with the sense of reverence and respect and honour. This word occurs 171 times in the Old testament. In the Greek Old Testament, 164 of those occasions the word is translated as proskuneo. Now the interesting thing is that in the Greek New Testament, the word proskuneo is the main word used to describe worship. So when we think about this concept, or act of ‘worship’ from a biblical standpoint, we know that it is consistently understood and written to mean ‘bow down’.
Next, one of the key verses that the New Testament presents as the true nature of worship, comes from Romans 12:
Romans 12:1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
So when we think about these two ideas of ‘bowing down’ and being an offering to God, it is clear that true worship is about the bowing down of our whole lives as a living sacrifice, holy and blameless, allowing God to transform every part of who we are so that we can bring him the glory that is due his name. Does this include singing? Yes! Is singing an important part of this? Yes! But singing is not the overriding factor for worship. Singing is an outward expression of the inward resonations of our hearts. To worship in Spirit and in truth, is about the work of the Holy Spirit within us, celebrating the truth in him, and God has given us the gift of music and song as a way of expressing and declaring this. But… that’s certainly not what it’s all about. Worshipping God in Spirit and in truth is about all of our actions! It’s about our thoughts, our lifestyle, our finances, our friendships, our families, and every other part of our lives. It’s the laying down of our wills and wants and becoming obedient to His will and wants.
The fact that we have been prevented from singing does not prevent us from meeting with the living God; it does not prevent God’s Spirit from working in and through His Church and it does not prevent us from worshipping Him.
On a practical level, our Sunday mornings have looked different- we used to worship through song for around 45 minutes of our meetings, we now only have a short time of front led singing. But as I said earlier, because worship is about more than singing, this hasn’t been detrimental or a reason to neglect meeting with one another. In the early Church, the model set by the apostles for meeting was this; to devote ourselves to teaching, prayer, breaking bread and fellowship (Acts 2:42). These have all been a part of our meetings, and as you would expect, doing these things as we meet together in our Sunday morning meetings and our mid- week meetings have enabled us to enjoy God’s presence and continue growing spiritually as a Church. Do we miss singing? Yes, of course, it is an important part of the worship life of any Christian and Church. Have the restrictions prevented the us from fully expressing our worship? Yes. But isn’t this just the most timely opportunity to think about how we worship God with the rest of our lives? Do our lives sing of his wonder, or declare his praises? I believe that God is deepening our worship, taking our emphasis off singing and causing us to see what worship is really about. I believe that when we do sing again, our songs will resonate with our hearts and Gods’ heart in a more powerful and meaningful way than they ever did before.