Perhaps you can remember a time when God drew very close to you, almost seeming to whisper in your ear, a time when light seemed to fill your very being and every cell in your body felt vibrantly and vividly alive? And you were overcome with a joy that you can’t explain or describe, but it felt as if you had just received the sweetest gift ever, and you simply couldn’t express the overwhelming gratitude that flooded you. Those mountaintop experiences are the ones that we remember and wish to experience again, and there is no doubt that it is a beautiful form of worship.
And then I wonder…should we expect that kind of closeness with God whenever believers gather? Or are corporate worship and personal worship two completely separate things? Are we simply trying to manufacture something of our own when we expect to slip into a heightened feeling during church worship time? There have been many instances where the Spirit of God has fallen onto a person and caused them to speak or act for Him, but are we supposed to be seeking that when we gather in His name? Some groups believe that if you have never spoken in tongues, then you aren’t saved. They see that as the evidence of a changed heart. Others have their own evidences and expectations that a new convert should follow. But could we be putting too much trust in what our eyes see (which could possibly be what our own hearts and minds manufacture) as opposed to the heart that God sees? Do we put pressure on ourselves to look and act as others do in order to confirm our spiritual standing? Do you find yourself closing your eyes, raising your hands, nodding your head, saying “Amen” or ”Alleluia” as a habit rather than a true affirmation of God’s message in your heart? Do you try to attain a blissful oneness with God (and complete unconsciousness of other people) during the worship time?
–Do you ever feel that maybe you’re trying too hard?
Perhaps corporate worship is more for proclaiming the gospel, for questions and answers and discussion of ideas, rather than actual ethereal worship (an otherworldly experience.) Of course it happened at Pentecost and at other times that many people spoke in tongues or were otherwise overcome by the Spirit, seeming almost to be drunk, but there is no doubt that was an exception rather than an everyday occurrence.
I guess the point I am getting around to is this: Has the feeling of ethereal worship become an idol? Could it be possible that, in our quest for something greater, we have pursued the feeling rather than the reality? Are we wishing for a “high” from worship rather than simply serving God and showing our devotion to Him? And has that desire actually short-circuited the worship experience? Are there people drifting from one church to another searching for a certain surge of emotion?
Most of us attend a worship service on Sunday. Did you ever stop to think why it is called a “service?” The dictionary defines service as “a helpful act” or “the performance of a duty.” Isn’t it odd that we use the word, yet we recoil from that meaning? The King James Bible uses the word service in Romans 12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. In most modern translations, that word service is translated as worship. Worship is not necessarily a euphoric feeling. It can be, but it’s not always. It’s not for the purpose of having a good time. It’s not about sitting under stained glass, following a prescribed order of events, standing up, sitting down, kneeling, saying words in unison or singing in harmony. It’s about yielding ourselves to God and allowing His Spirit to fill us. Worship isn’t receiving—it’s about giving.
If you’re not feeling close to God during worship, the problem is not the pastor or the songs or the church you attend. It’s YOU. You haven’t gotten yourself out of the way. You are trying to obtain a feeling rather than give up your will.
The euphoria I have described is a beautiful thing and very much to be desired, but there are many other aspects of worship that are just as vital. Remember Romans 12:1? Offering your body as a living sacrifice is worship! What does it mean to be a living sacrifice? It means to serve selflessly. It means that even when I really want to just relax, I will read that same story to my two-year-old for the twenty-fourth time this week. It means when I am racing to get home, I stop to talk with an older person who is in no hurry at all. Selflessness means that I give up my wishes when outnumbered (or outranked) even though I am sure that my plan would be better.
Those aren’t exhilarating experiences at all. There’s nothing thrilling about giving up my plans and doing things I don’t want to do. It’s more like drudgery, and sometimes really frustrating. The feelings aren’t what make it worship. Sometimes it’s just… performing a duty. This isn’t at all what we think of when we talk about worship. But God calls it worship.
And sometimes, if we truly give up our selfishness and instead give ourselves, we do receive a burst of that much-coveted joy that is true worship. Yielding myself to God and allowing Him to work through me –a living sacrifice–IS my worship.