What is worship?

I already wrote about what I think the role of worship leaders should be (http://davidpendy.xanga.com/700817841/preachers-worship-leaders-and-tour-guides/). What I can't get over is how much the term "worship" in modern parlance has to do with (1) my feelings, i.e., my emotional state, and (2) my various expressions of it. Typically, when a church person speaks Christianese, they would define worship as "an emotional, passionate response to God." But, by practice, they really mean more. It means that I have to really squint my eyes. I need to cry when I do it. I should shout when I do it. I should sway when I do it. I should act very emotional, whatever that means, to express my "worship" to God. Furthermore, I need to express it in some type of "passionate" way. I need to raise my hands. I should clap. I should, in some way, act like I feel passionate about God.

Of course, this means that if I sit still, quietly, then I'm not worshipping God completely, or at least, at a level that God requires.

We've done something quite serious when "worship" is understood in this manner. We've done two things: (1) we've completely ignored what God says proper expressions of worship are, and (2) we've confused the expression of something with the thing itself.

The Bible is full of examples of singing, dancing, raising hands, and the like in worship to God. That's all good. It really is. But the prophets were very clear that all these expressions of worship weren't really expressions of worship. What was really an expression of worship was how we treated others. Those other things are expressions for how we feel in the moment.

I'm not suggesting for one second that we can't or shouldn't show emotional expressions during worship. Of course we can and should when it's appropriate. However, these expressions can't be the standard by which other times of worship are judged. Sometimes we don't feel like shouting. Sometimes we don't want to clap. OK. This has nothing to do with whether or not the person is actually worshipping God.

For example, Amos vehemently protests Israelite "worship" because they know all the motions, but are utterly failing in their "worship."

"I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:21-24, NRS).

This is an absolutely crucial point to understand. God understands good worship to be intimately related to how we treat others. I have never heard in my entire life in church a "worship leader" tell me, before, after, or in the middle of a song, "Just one more stanza . . . and let this one (unlike the previous 24 stanzas) really come from the heart . . . and, if you are begrudging, hateful, vengeful, hypocritical, irritable, or a mean person, repent right now or God hates everything that comes out of your vile mouth." This is what Amos is saying. Proper worship is when we treat other people as God treats them, in righteousness and love. It's not about how much I cry. It's not about how much I stand up and raise my hands. It's how much I act lovingly with the love of Christ to my neighbors, even those who are punks.

Or what about Isaiah?

"The Lord said: Because these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote . . ." (Isaiah 29:13, NRS).

Lord knows I understand what "rote worship" is all about. I've been guilty of it repeatedly. I know when to stand. I know when to clap my hands or whatever. It's rote; it's contrived; it's perfunctory. And all the while, "my heart is from Him."

Have you ever been so grateful for something? Have you ever told someone with a simple, or passionate, "heartfelt" gratitude for something they did for you? How did you express that gratitude?

Again, if the goal is to act like I'm worshipping, as measured by what can be seen on the outside in my emotional expressions, then we are judging worship miserably.

A worship leader said at a concert recently, "I want to live desperately for God. And if the measure of my expression is the measure of my desperation, then I'm not desperate for Him." Well, this might be true. But is this good theology? For those of you who have children, this will make complete sense. Is it your goal as a parent, or at least, is it something you cherish more than anything else, that your child stay in a constant state of desperation for your love?

Of course not. That would be both mean and demented. I want my children to come to the point that they feel content in my love, safe in my love, and peaceful in my love. They do not ever need to chase after me.

It sure is special and moving when my children praise me. When they take the time to tell me how much I mean to them, how much they love me, or how much they appreciate what I've done for them, it makes me glow. It makes me joyful.

But you really know what makes me proud? You know what really makes me so content and happy that my children are, in fact, my children?

When they treat other people with charity and kindness.

Then, when they "praise me with their lips," I believe them.

Is this analogy so profane as not to be used for the God of the universe?

I dunno. Ask Amos and Isaiah.