Worship is coming together at special times, with special people, to do special things that remind us that all of life is worship. Everything you need is in that definition. It has ambiguity, paradox, and borders on being circular—what more could you ask for?
Here’s something unambiguous—worship is God’s idea! The sacrifices, rituals, and feasts of the old covenant did not originate with Israel, but with her God, Yahweh. And the same holds true for our new covenant assemblies, Lord’s Suppers, and prayers. While these things bring us great fulfillment and joy, they do so because God created us this way. If you think about it, the fact that worship corresponds perfectly to our needs (rather than our wants), points away from us and toward our Father.
But we’d make a big mistake if we limited God’s involvement in worship to simply outlining our responsibilities. Deists make the same sort of error when they conclude that God created the world but then just left it to function on its own. They miss the complementary truth that He also sustains all things through Christ (Colossians 1:15-16; Hebrews 1:2-3). In the same way, we need to see that God is present and active in our worship. Through our praying, singing, and celebrating, He is shaping and molding us as the body of Christ. He is revealing Himself to the world through us. (We dare not limit texts such as Ephesians 3:10-11 to only the proclamation of the word, do we?) The glorious truth is that what God proposed to bring to completion through Christ He is fulfilling by His self-witness through the church. Incredible? Of course it is! It’s not something we would ever dream of appropriating to ourselves but we have it on record that the church is “His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way,”(Ephesians 1:23). We are not to see in our worship only what we do but what He is doing as well.
Across from the Acropolis in Athens is the Acropolis Museum. Opened in 2009, it’s almost as amazing as its namesake. In fact, many of the artifacts from the Acropolis are on display there. As you enter the AM, you’re on a glass floor that enables you to see excavation work going on underneath. The museum was built on a site deemed to be of archaeological significance but rather than find another place for it, they simply raised the building so it sits over the site rather than on it. The result is that while you’re inside looking at the artifacts in the museum, you can look down and see the process that produced them going on.
I think that’s the way we need to look at worship. At the human level there are people singing, praying, and praising God. That’s the way we usually think of worship and it’s certainly legitimate. But if we looked at another level, we’d see God at work in our worship using what we do to transform us as well as provide witness to the world. That’s more than just a valid perspective—it’s a much needed one!