worship: choosing

see worship: preface for a quick introduction to this post

Worship begins with a choice to respond to God. It begins with a choice to offer God time and energy, and demands our willingness to approach God with gratitude and with a degree of honesty about who we really are.

To that extent, I think it is a basic choice — a life choice — that we may need to reaffirm regularly, but that we make knowing that it is about who we are, and how we will live rather than a question about how we might fill a Sunday morning.

But for most of us, Sunday mornings are the start. And that demands choice too. Are we willing to get up and go out to pray while all our friends are settling in for a quiet morning with the newspaper and the dog? Are we willing to commit to worship when there are so many other demands on our time? And if we are willing to set aside time for God, are we really going to risk the precious time we have for God by gathering with other people — who might disturb us, or annoy us or distract us from God? Are we really going to choose to go to church in order to respond to God?

Well, I’m obviously biased in this, but I think if we are going to respond to God well, the answer has to be yes — because it’s in the gathering together that we learn how to respond to God. The very things that drive us crazy about church help us be more honest about who we are as we approach God. And by choosing church, we choose to recognize that when we worship, we are joining in something that is bigger than we are; something that does not depend on our mood; and therefore, something that can change us.

And that is where the business of choosing relates back to the question of a the previous post: how do we evaluate worship? How do we engage with it meaningfully?

If we try to engage with worship as a series of one off choices (‘what will I do today? shall I go to church or go to the beach? pray or sleep in?’) then we are likely to make bad choices. We will try to determine whether to engage with worship according to how we feel (‘do I feel like responding to God today? Do I feel up to being honest?’) And then we are likely to try to evaluate worship by how it makes us feel (‘did I enjoy that? Was there a sense of God’s presence? Was it fun?’) .

If we mistake enjoying worship with engaging in worship, we will miss out on a lot. Sometimes, of course, we will enjoy it: the hymns will be good, the sermon will challenge us, Christ’s presence will be palpably real. But other times it is not like that. We may feel bored, or annoyed, or endlessly distracted — but that doesn’t mean that it is not worthwhile.

When we choose to worship, we choose to offer the reality of our lives to God. If we are only willing to offer God the good bits — the mornings we feel focused and prayerful and loving — there is not much chance of our being real. And if we only recognize God in the good bits — a beautiful hymn, a weighty silence, a glimmer of glory on angels wings — there is not much chance of our letting God be real. We cut God off from the parts of us we find hard to handle, and we cut ourselves off from those aspect of God we find hard to handle. Which means we may find comfort, but no growth. Reassurance, but not, ultimately, salvation, healing, or new birth.

So, meaningful worship begins with a choice: to give time and space to God, no matter what. To put up with the days when you feel nothing, and seem able to offer nothing — trusting that the truth is otherwise. God is there. You are there. You have both chosen.

3 thoughts on “worship: choosing

  1. While I know that church on a Sunday morning is, theoretically, a choice, it feels to me more of an imperative. Taking a Sunday off is akin to taking a day off work – illness and holidays are the only legitimate excuses. I’m not sure how healthy this is – I just know I don’t wake up on a Sunday morning and make a choice. Hmm – maybe this says more about my own nature than about my relationship with God . . .

  2. I tend to feel I am impelled to go to worship on a Sunday morning because I need to spiritually. Yes, I need private, personal times with God – but I need the affirmation that I am just one of a whole group of us who collectively represent, albeit on a small scale, what God’s ‘church’ is all about. Whether or not I have enjoyed the music, appreciated the sermon etc or not I come away with a sense of fulfilment in God. I have probably explained this badly – so I hope others understand what I mean.

    I didn’t go to church today, Sunday, because I was feeling really shattered after being unwell on Friday – my energies could only cope with private time with God – but I do feel the ‘miss’ of it. So I don’t think attending worship is just a ‘habit’ for me – when I don’t go I feel a certain emptiness – so hopefully I am not kidding myself.

  3. Actually, I don’t think church as a “habit” is all bad (of course, this from a sister – and no personal pun intended). A few years ago, when it seemed that God had gone away entirely, it was the rhythm of the offices and the Eucharist, like a heartbeat, that kept me going when I couldn’t pray otherwise, much less enjoy worship. There’s something about being there together, too – as though we were carrying each other with our prayers at times. If I hadn’t had that as a built-in part of my life, a habit of going, I don’t know how long it would have taken me to move out of that space.

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