Worship Essays #3
by Prentice Meador, with selected responses

Note: made available here in reprint from "Christian Chronicle," (October, 2000)
August, 2000 | September, 2000--Part 1 | September, 2000--Part 2 | October, 2000--Part 1 | October, 2000--Part 2

Our Search for Wonder in a Broken World
Part 3 of a 3-part Series on Worship
By Prentice Meador
Dallas, Texas

"I saw the LordÖhigh and lifted up" (Isaiah 6:1-8)

In 1968, Robert Day perfectly described the problem in one of his cartoons. Two tired touristsó-husband and wifeó-have finally arrived at those mysterious and mammoth stones at Stonehenge, England. Weary and worn out, the wife drops to the only bench in sight anywhere close to the stones and sighs to her husband, "I am bushed. You go and wander among them in awe." So the harried, hurried pace that most of us travel is simply not conducive to awe. A typical Sunday morning in an average Christian home thrives on an over-stimulated pace. A quick breakfast. Hurrying to dress. A fast drive. Arriving a minute before worship begins. Almost exhausted and without any real mental preparation we wander into a worship service without any real sense of "awe."

But there is another problem. It is tough to describe it! Iím talking about our culture or rather what it seems to be doing to us. More brutality. More violence. More obscenities. More pornography. It leaves us jaded, bored, insensitive. We tend to shudder more than wonder. Indeed, the weird is all turned up side down. The monstrous is the mysterious turned inside out. But wondering is more than shuddering: awe includes more than the weird and mystery encompasses the marvelous as well as the monstrous. In the words of Shakespeare, "The world is too much with us."

But God will not leave us alone. For two reasons: He is "The Hound of Heaven" and "He is not far from each one of us." He arouses our sense of awe and wonder by the mysteries of the familiar which is the beginning of worship. I donít fully grasp it, but I have observed it many times. Unable to account for and fully understand the deep dimensions of life, a worshipper finds himself slowly but surely moving in the direction of a conviction that there is Something or Someone who can account for these deeper dimensions of meaning. So Moses looks down on a common shrub which burns and ends up with his sandals off on Holy Ground. Isaiah enters the temple to see a throne left empty by the death of a king only to leave the temple with the view of a King who never dies. Paul travels down a Damascus road to persecute Christians only to have the blinding experience that opens his eyes.

So Batsell Barrett Baxter, in a January 28, 1962, sermon, says, "Worship is the most important and at the same time the most difficult thing that we can do."

It may be difficult, but everybody does it! Everybody! Everywhere! Worship is the fundamental instinct of life. Atheists worship. Infidels worship. Skeptics worship. Democrats and Republicans worship. Even Internal Revenue Service agents worship! Worship is the fundamental difference between humans and animals. They have no sense of "wonder and awe."

But God has "set eternity in the hearts of men" (Eccl. 3:11). "God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him" (Acts 17:27). This urge causes men everywhere to worship.

But what we worship depends on how we have organized our lives.
William Blake, the famous English poet, stood on the seashore with a wealthy London merchant watching the sun set. Blake asked, "What do you see?" He said, "A large gold coin, the sun looks just like a gold piece."
Then the merchant turned to Blake, "What do you see?" Blake said, "I see the throne of God, surrounded by flames and the angels singing, Holy, Holy, Holy." So true worship is to ascribe worth to God, to reflect upon the value, beauty and character of God. False worship, on the other hand, is to attribute worth to an illusion which is not really there, or which is not worthy.
Many congregations currently face serious questions about worship: Should we make major changes in how we worship? Should we leave things just as they are? Should we begin a "seeker service" to relate to people in our community? Should we worship in order to have some special experience where both the heart and mind are touched?

From the point of view of the Bible, we should be concerned that every person in worship is encouraged, built up, loved, and touched in heart and soul. The Corinthian letters would have us be sensitive to outsiders in language, style, and presentation. Christian worship is not simply doing rituals out of a sense of duty with no thought of the worshiper. But Biblical worship is not primarily focused on the Worshiper. God is the audience in Christian worship so Donald Miller in The Nature and Mission of the Church writes, "To evaluate worship by what happens in the experience of the worshiper is to make men, not God the center of worship." True worship in both the Old and New Testaments is grounded in the character and nature of God. God is Holy, Love, Just, Forgiving, Righteous, and Pure. "He is the Holy One of Israel" (1 Sam. 2:2; Psalm 89:18). The great story is the story of God who creates, delivers, becomes a man, brings hope and forgiveness to man, and rules for all eternity. In worship, we encounter God because He is the audience. We seek Him because He has sought us. We love Him because He has loved us. So the Lordís Supper, singing, praying, fellowshipping, giving, teaching and preaching, serving, and ministering, are not ends in themselves. Rather they are means to an end. And what is the end of worship? That is a fair question. My answer begins this way. For a number of years, I taught antiquities at UCLA and at the University of Washington. I have listened to scholars express their amazement that the enlightened Greeks and Romans would lead such degenerate lives, but it really is not amazing. Look at the behavior of the Greek and Roman gods. They pillaged, raped and plundered. So did the Greeks and Romans. Here is the principle: We become like the objects of our worship. So our many acts of worship will become rituals if they become the ends unto themselves. But God designed them not as ends, but as means. Through all of the experiences of worship, we are to become like God. So while worship focuses on the presence of God, it powerfully impacts my heart so that I begin to look beyond myself and become preoccupied with God. God is not looking for something brilliant, but something broken. With a broken and contrite heart, we can begin to be shaped by God to be like Him. Our life begins to be filled with meaning ó- that is, God. So by the time Moses put his sandals back on, he had considerably more respect for the purpose of his own life and what he could become. By the time Isaiah felt the heat of the coals from off the altar on his lips, he discovered that he had something worthwhile to say with those lips. By the time Paul opened his eyes, he had discovered that he could begin to see the needs of mankind in a unique way.

So worship really connects my life to others. "Our fellowship is vertical," writes Bill Humble in We Know the Joys of Fellowship, "it reaches up to God. Our fellowship is horizontal because it reaches out to one another. We share with God and we share with Jesus and that is what supports our horizontal relationship with one another! Fellowship is what we share because we are in Godís family." A congregation could do worse than to spend the next year opening up itself to a study of worship and all that that means. Once William Temple suggested that the one and only thing that could save us is worship. He gave the most comprehensive definition that I have ever read: "To worship is to feed the mind by the truth of God, to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to purge the imagination with the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God."

PRENTICE MEADOR is in his 13th year as pulpit minister of the Prestoncrest Church of Christ, Dallas. He and his wife, Barbara, have 3 children and 9 grandchildren. His newest book, Stories that Astonish, will be published by ACU Press.

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Last updated February 16, 2001.