Jesus on Lifestyle Worship
In John 4 Jesus makes a significant statement about the nature of worship under His Lordship. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that “an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (v.21), but rather “an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (v.23). Jesus’ redirection of the preposition in from speaking of external location to internal focus is a grammatical shift of enormous spiritual significance: He is saying that He is changing the rules: no longer is it a matter of where or when you worship, but how you worship. No longer is there a geographical center for the people of God. Worship is now to be everywhere and at every time. As has been said, this is not a devaluing of times and places for corporate worship, but rather a hallowing of every time and every place as suitable for worshiping God.
Paul on Lifestyle Worship
Paul develops this thought further in Romans 12:1. As an appropriate response (“Therefore”) to all the wonderful “mercies of God” he has been explicating in chapters 1–11 of his epistle, he enjoins believers to present as their “bodies,” that is their entire lives, to God living sacrificial gifts of thanksgiving. There is to be no sacred/secular compartmentalization in the lives of Christians. Paul reminds us elsewhere that we have been “bought with a price,” and again the fitting response is to “glorify God in your bodies” (1 Cor 6:20). As “temples of the Holy Spirit,” both individually (1 Cor 6:19) and corporately as the church (1 Cor 3:16), the place of worship is always present with us, and the time for worship is always now: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).
Implications for Us
Since God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3), that means that we are in possession of all that is necessary for a life and lifestyle of worship. Through the mediating ministry of the living Christ (see Worship Notes July 2006) and the enabling, empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit within us (see Worship Notes August 2006), we can enter into the presence of the Father—anywhere, any time. Each believer has a responsibility to cultivate his or her own life of worship (cf. Gal 5:25; Heb 12:14).
This crucial perspective has huge implications for what we do when gather for corporate worship. It is not the responsibility of the pastor or the worship leader to supply or actuate worship for the people of God (only Christ in the power of the Spirit can do that anyway, as we have seen), but merely to facilitate its corporate expression. We should not be in the habit of coming to the service with an empty spiritual “tank,” hoping to get it filled in order to be able to face the week ahead; the ideal for Christian living is to come to church out of a week of daily worship throughout all of life, and then to join hearts and voices together in a corporate expression borne out of the fullness of our spirits. Sunday should be less a preparation for our week, than our week a preparation for Sunday! It is true that sometimes we may indeed come spiritually empty and dry; and God in His grace will meet us in our need, and refresh and restore our spirits, and send us into our week with a renewed passion for God (see Bob Kauflin’s article below for more on this perspective). We often need to be reminded, by gathering with like-minded believers, of what is the true center of our lives (since that is constantly being challenged out in the workaday world). But our goal should be to come to church with a heart full of love and devotion to God from walking with Him throughout the week.
In the children’s story Stone Soup (by Marcia Brown [reprint edition: Aladdin Paperbacks, 2005]) three soldiers are returning home from the war. They approach a village, but the villagers, seeing them coming, scurry to hide all of their food, because there is a shortage and they do not want to have to share with outsiders. They tell the soldiers that they have no food to give them. The soldiers, being rather shrewd fellows, tell the villagers that they will make some stone soup, and ask simply for a large kettle filled with water. They choose several large, round stones and add them to the kettle, with the curious villagers looking on. Then the soldiers remark, “This soup should be excellent; but if we only had a couple of potatoes, it would be even better.” One of the villagers says, “I think I might have a few to spare,” and goes off to retrieve some potatoes from her stash. The soldiers add these to the pot, taste the soup, and say: “Wonderful! Now if we just had a few carrots . . .” and someone runs off and gets some. The same happens with onions, and cabbage, and so forth, until a hearty soup has been prepared. The soldiers invite the villagers to join with them in their feast, and the villagers are amazed that such a marvelous soup could be made with just stones!
In our corporate worship, our rituals, hymns, anthems, even our sermons are like those stones—they are nothing that particularly impresses God: they’re just a framework, a skeleton. What makes it special and makes it worship is when our members come and add to the pot from what’s been stored up in their hearts during a week of worshiping and walking with God, a week of loving God and cherishing and savoring His glory—then we are ready to worship God together. When our corporate adoration is the overflow of many hearts rejoicing in the goodness and greatness of God, which the Spirit can then energize and transform into something far more than the sum of the parts—then our congregational worship will truly be a nourishing and invigorating feast for the people of God, and—more importantly—a fragrant aroma to the God of glory, who delights in the worship of His people.
(C) 2006 Ron Man
This post is the theme article from the October 2006 issues of Worship Notes, a free online digest of reflections, views, news and reviews on biblical worship produced by Ron Man of Worship Resources. The entire issue (containing Bible texts and extensive quotations on the same theme, a guest article, a book review and notices of upcoming events), along with previous issues, may be accessed at www.worr.org. There are many other free resources there as well.