Why are you here? Part two
(In part one I made the case that we all worship and that it is the object of our worship that determines our destiny. In Part two I tell you how to tap into the transformative power of worship and why it works.)
Two kinds of worship: Personal and corporate.
Personal worship is humbly giving God glory and returning God’s love by joyously joining the Triune One’s dance in the interior of our own hearts. We ought to do that. It is the Communion with the Most High in personal worship that gives us songs in the night (Acts 16). But there is another kind of worship: Corporate worship. Corporate worship, which occurs in church, in a group, is an entirely different ballgame. While worship alone with God is about giving God glory and often involves powerful emotions, worshipping corporately is NOT about feelings at all. Worshipping corporately is the way God reshapes our love – the way God remolds us and re-habituates our desires. The way God helps us learn how to let go of the gods of our culture and worship the true and living God. Let me explain:
Our modernist educational system has sold us the incorrect vision that we are primarily thinking creatures (Descartes “I think therefore I am.”). But we experience our lives, not as decisions or commitments, but as story and longing. We experience our lives, not as thoughts, but as feelings. This is why when you had an Algebra test and a huge crush on someone, you had a hard time studying…even when you knew you really needed to focus on Algebra. Descartes was wrong: We are defined and shaped by what we love!
Our futures are determined by our desires. The pattern of historic Christian corporate worship was designed to allow God to remake our desires into God’s desires.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus first words are a question: “What do you want?” Jesus knows that our wants are the well from which our identity flows. That is why Jesus doesn’t ask “What do you think? Or What do you know? He asks “What do you want?”
His last words in John begin with the question: “Do you love me?” The simple truth is that we want what we love. We are first and foremost wanters. We are lovers. We are not defined by what we know or think, but by what we desire. This is why the secret to lasting change in our lives…learning a new instrument, or sport, or a work out plan, isn’t to make up our mind, but to have a greater desire for something that might be. We have to love the image of us dunking a basketball or having ripped abs more than the the social media that distracts us…or the image of being the spouse or parent or employee or leader we admire more than playing Stack on our phones. It is when our desires are reshaped that our destiny is changed.
In the corporate worship of historic Christianity we follow a pattern that, over years of repetition, reshapes our desires into God-shaped ones. The pattern of historic worship goes like this: We gather and read God’s word, the Bible. Then we sing the Bible, someone teaches from the Bible. Then we respond to the Good News of Jesus by stating our beliefs in creeds, praying for the world, confessing our sins, accepting God’s forgiveness, and being reconciled to each other in the passing of the peace. Finally, we bring a portion of God’s material blessings and offer them back to God and set them aside with bread and wine, asking God to make them the body and blood of Jesus. In this meal we are reminded of Jesus and his saving acts on our behalf. As Augustine said, “Eat what you are, become what you eat.” “Eat what you are” (the body of Christ), “become what you eat” (the body of Christ). This takes a lifetime of shaping in a community. On many Sundays worship might be, like many of Michael Phelps grueling, lengthy training sessions, going through the motions. But they are motions that groove the pattern of God into our souls like the grooves on an old record album. It is a grinding that uncovers who we were designed to be. It is a polishing that unleashes our inner beauty to the light. It is the repetition that builds strength and makes Phelps perfect stroke a habit.
But, you may ask, “What about when I am in a large group and we are all raising our hands and the hair on the back of my neck stands up?” My answer is that those times when you experience the worship heebie jeebies are mostly a private worship experience you are having in the midst of a group. The corporate rituals are where the transformative magic actually reside. The experience of “wow” is like topping out on a fourteener on a backpacking trip in Colorado. You get to say you did it, but the real distance happened in the valleys, with little ability to see above the trees and monotonously placing one foot in front of the other.
So why are you here? Answer: You were designed to worship. We will, all of us, bow before something. Who will you bow before? We will, all of us, dance with someone. Will you, as the old saying went, “dance with the one that brung you”? Bowing and dancing are grounded in God’s nature as holy yet merciful. Worship is always diminished when we emphasize one aspect of God’s nature at the expense of the other. We can never fully dance without bowing, and although one might bow without joyfully joining the dance, don’t.
So start your training. “It’s what you do in the dark”…what you do over and over when no one is looking, that brings clarity and performance in the race of life. It is engaging in the discipline of trained worship that will “put you in the light.”
Engage in a regular pattern of repetitive worship. Begin unleashing your destiny this Sunday.
*Photo credit: http://www.tripwire.com