My daily Bible reading is currently taking me through Isaiah and a verse from it really resonated with me this morning.
“The Lord says:
These people come near to me with their mouth
and honour me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is made up only of rules taught by men.”
Isaiah 29:13 (NIV)
It’s something that Jesus himself quotes in Matthew 15:8-9, so it’s definitely something to be mindful of, if Jesus specifically picked it out. “…honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” How often have I done that! Going through the motions in a service, saying the words, but with my mind and will being in some place entirely different. This was especially the case when I was younger and equated being a Christian with just showing up to church every Sunday morning. Go, say the words, come home and do nothing about it the rest of the week. For an hour and a half on a Sunday morning I was a ‘Christian’, but any other time of the week you couldn’t really convict me of anything, other than being a big Star Trek fan. In the early years of our marriage, there was more evidence for that in our house than there was of my husband and I professing a faith. There were a couple of Bibles, there was a small book of prayers that had been a gift and there was the Alternative Service Book 1980; a book that listed all the various services, daily readings (collect, epistle and gospel), for the Church of England. Along with tables of feast days (and situations when those needed to be transferred if they clashed with something else) and of course very important bits of information, such as what colour your altar needs to be this week. It’s actually quite a fascinating book and testament to (as all this was done pre-1992 and the election of women priests), man’s ability to make things really complicated.
Not that other denominations of the church are exempt from a ‘we’ve always done it this way’ mentality. At our church I can tell you pretty much how things are going to go, we have the same basic service structure each week and although the songs may be in different places we still essentially do the same thing every week. I know if it’s twenty to twelve and the preacher’s not on, that someone, somewhere behind me, will be fretting about their potentially overdone chicken.
We may indeed find comfort and reassurance in the familiar words of a Eucharistic service or a familiar structure, but surely we’re missing the point if we think it’s about our needs, our comfort, our desire to be out of church on the dot of noon, or our desire not to be aurally assaulted by the latest offering from the happy-clappy worship brigade. Surely, and maybe I’m wrong, who knows, I’ve only been kicking about for the last forty one years – and maybe I’m missing a trick somewhere; but surely this all should be about God? We attend church service to worship God, so surely we should be working out what God wants from us? I can tell you off the top of my head than it’s much more than paying weekly lip-service to Him. Worship should be, not just a whole body experience, but a whole being experience.
Amazingly, if you’ve ever glanced even casually through a Bible, you won’t find anything that says ‘ you must sing only hymns from Ancient and Modern’ or ‘Only worship songs written by Matt Redman are allowed.‘ It doesn’t give any direction on start times, structure, specific prayers and certainly nothing about altar cloth colours. It does give us one helpful piece of advice about worship though, which regardless of which Christian denomination we are part of, we would all do well to heed.
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and truth.”
John 4:23-24 (NIV)
Spirit and truth, that is all that’s required, and if we go all the way back to Exodus 20 and the Ten Commandments, and indeed Jesus himself in Mark 12:29-31, we find that the most important thing we can do is love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength. Every bit of our being should be involved in worship, not just our mouths and occasionally our brains (if we can clunk them into gear at that time on a Sunday morning).
Also, it’s not got to be just about church. Our love of God needs to be carried through into every area of our lives. If you were put on trial for being a Christian, is there enough evidence in your life to convict you, or would they have more evidence to convict you of being a worshipper of Doctor Who?
It’s all about worshipping in spirit and truth. Anyone who insists that we dress it up with fancy rituals, specific words, structures and ‘oh we’ve always done it this way’, is missing the point.
I’m off to worship God with my breakfast. Have a great day!