Right off, take note that I hate the title of this blog post. The thing is, back in the early 90’s in the charismatic movement we were all about worship conferences. And I think every worship conference had a session or workshop titled “Worship as a Lifestyle.” We had all realized that “worship” is not just the singing of songs (with guitars and drums, of course) on Sunday mornings. Worship had to be something that could affect one’s entire life, something one could live out day-to-day. Problem was, it never sunk in that way. The presentations were often incomplete or unconvincing… or sometimes just that in a context where all the other seminars were about songwriting or musicianship or some facet of worship leading, the one workshop for which one didn’t need to be able to sing tended to look like the add-on bit that the organizers threw in for the people who weren’t really worshippers, they just came with their spouses or something. Worship really has very little if anything to do with singing or playing guitar, but we never have portrayed that belief very well. We believe that worship isn’t singing, but when it comes down to it, we can sometimes find ourselves hard-pressed to define worship.
I blame the resurgence of these thoughts on this post at GG’s Probes. Back in the day, I mused on the subject of worship as a lifestyle until something finally took shape for me, something that I can not only live with as an explanation, but something I find actually beautiful. Something that makes me want to “waste” my life laying up treasure in heaven. Bear with me on a figurative journey and I will explain what it means to live a life of worship.
In passages like 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 and Matthew 6:1-4 we find that there exists an eternal reward for us in Heaven based on our deeds, how we live our lives, how we practice religion. This is of course not a question of whether or not we earn passage into Heaven (there’s no “earning” involved), but of what our works will amount to once we’re there. These works, the ones done in secret or with God at the centre are equated with gold, silver, and precious stones. In our conceptual traditions, we have come to speak of these rewards as “jewels in our crowns,” the crown being the “crown of life” (e.g., James 1:12 and Revelation 2:10).
We are encouraged in this vein to live our lives relating to those around us in such a way that our deeds are of eternal value, such that they will adorn our brow in eternity. (Remember, we’re on a figurative journey here.) Naturally since we all know “you can’t take it with you”, all we have in eternity is whatever we manage to store up as treasure in heaven. Note this is a whole Sermon on the Mount thing so far. Live your life that way and you will have a reward in heaven to show for it. In heaven, this reward, these gemstones, are all you have to show for your whole life, the life which while you were living it was temporal, time mattered, and you spent it on heavenly things in such a manner as to obtain a heavenly treasure. In heaven, though it is not temporally-bound, that means something.
Now consider the scene in Revelation 4. A time will come some day when we behold this scene for ourselves. We’ll be there with the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, and the cry of “Holy, holy, holy” will be hanging in the air… and we will see the twenty-four elders remove their crowns and cast them at the foot of the throne, because he alone is worthy….
Then we will take our crowns and remove them. We will examine them and say to ourselves, “This represents my entire life, every earthly thing I ever did that is of any value whatsoever is here, in this crown. Through all the years of pain and turmoil and striving, the good and the bad, everything that’s of worth in the life I’ve lived is here. It is my eternal reward, it’s all I have, the only thing of value in heaven.” And we’ll look at it and say to Him who sits on the throne, “Everything I did to receive this reward, I did for you it’s not about the reward at all, I don’t even want it, it was all for you. I don’t need this, and it isn’t even fitting for me to have it. It’s all for you. It was always you.” And we’ll take it and cast it at the foot of the throne.
And that, my friends, is worship.
It’s late. I’m alone and lonely. Because I’ve just had a really rough week trying to relate to some people who should have been willing to discuss spiritual things with people from different faiths… but they weren’t. My feelings and desires to connect with people who are trying to think outside the box are right on the surface for me. Very raw.
So when I checked into your site tonight, which I found the other day and have been wanting to come back to and introduce myself to and tell you how much I apreciate your juicy out-there-ness, I was looking for something tht I could feel connected to. But after reading this article, I started to cry (don’t worry, I’ve been crying on and off all day). My best friend is a worship leader and has been to many of those conferences and loves to express that way. Worship as Lifestyle is something she is very familiar and comfortable with. But not me. I’ve often wondered what’s wrong with me. This stuff leaves me cold. Most talking about worship does that.
As I’m typing this, I’m also listening to an interview between Ken Wilbur and Father Thomas Keating. What a wonderful sweet man. And a modern. I’ve been reading about the Centering Prayer thing and learning how he came up with it and I recognise what an incredibly modern thing it all is. The practice was developed partly as a result of the mass exodus of American post-Western-religioun kids into India in the 60’s. He saw that they were going there to find spirituality and came back with methods. They didn’t bother to investigate whether or not the Western Church had methods or even deeper spirituality at all. Their experience of it was devoid of such things, so they went looking elsewhere. So Keating and friends developed a method even though they didn’t really have such a thing, it was just there, and he offered it to other religious and then out to lay people and on and on. Packaging. The experience of worship had previously been too naked to even recognise, so they had to put clothes on it so people would notice. Bleh.
I have had experiences with worship, so I know that it exists. But when I report my experiences to my friends and some others, they get a curious look on their face and can’t relate. What does this mean? There has been so much talk… so much talk. So much packaging. So much this is why we should worship… why God is worthy… why we’re not… motivation… method… technique… paraphernalia… I think the emerging church is desirous to worship, but the Vinyard thing and other intense modern reductionistic pragmatic teaching has left us with a case of advertizing fatigue. We’re even a bit cynical about our own use of smells and bells because they too can be packaged and marketed as method. Cold. Bleh.
I’m coming to realize something. One of the reasons why the Emerging thing is defying all the usual labels and verbage is because it is an experience which occurs inside the human being and beings which make it up and it cannot bereduced to something that can be packaged and bought and sold. Ideas can be packaged, words, paraphernalia. But not an experience. The modern methodology which consists of controling ideas and such through method is not and should not have jurisdiction in the realm of this experience. I think we know this instinctively. We know because the Holy Spirit of God has been revealing it to his little children and their increasingly common experience is inside of them. We’re just “getting it”. It’s confusing because we’re still suffering from detoxification from the modern methods of isolation and control, but we’re learning to let go.
Incidentally, my experience of worship that means something to me has to do with relationships. When something happens and I feel connected to the people around me. We all cross an invisible line together so that we all arive in some sort of understanding together, then worship happens for me. Usually humility is involved, awe, power, love, gratitude and such. Too many more words and then I’ll be saying things I don’t mean and it will elude me. All I know is that I suddenly feel as if we’ve stumbled upon something that God intended us to experience, but which our sin and destruction makes very hard to find. He seems to feel our nearness and our insides vibrate with His excitement. I don’t know. Kinda weird, I know. Sorry.
I just have to say, what an eloquent and emotionally raw comment. And I thank you for it even though this isn’t my blog. Thanks for your honesty, and I think you raise some great points that compliment Maynard’s post.