Monday, August 28, 2006

Do you experience God in church?

Worship ought to be an encounter with God. I envision Isaiah 6: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.” (IS 6:1 NKJ)

We know that worship can occur anywhere but how often does it happen on Sunday morning? If you conducted an exit poll after Sunday services, how do you suppose people would answer the following question?

“Did you experience God today in worship?”

People seek different things from the Sunday morning service including a good sermon, entertainment and fellowship. All of these are good but they are not worship.

Many larger churches have a worship leader to set the stage for worship. But I wonder if emotional manipulation is the same as worship. An opera can make a person cry but that’s not worship, either.

Worship services at the small desert camp where I am currently stationed are far different from the “sermon-centered” Baptist services and the “praise-music-heavy” contemporary services to which I have become accustomed. These are liturgical worship services with lots of ritual, formality and quiet reverence. The chaplain doesn’t warm you up with a few jokes at the start of the service. We sing traditional hymns (with an organ), read prayers in unison and Psalms responsively, listen to three readings from the Bible and brief sermon, and celebrate communion.

I have truly felt God’s presence in these simple services. There are no stars here; neither the preacher nor the song leader attempt to draw attention away from God. I feel more like a participant than a spectator through the singing and the responsive readings. There are no long periods where I sit and enjoy a performance.

Am I being fed? Am I being challenged? I know that my soul has been nourished and refreshed through worship and, because I have been in the presence of God, I am confronted with my sinfulness and filled with a desire to me more like Christ. Like Isaiah I cry, “Woe is me,” but then I feel God’s cleansing and I am ready to respond, “Here am I, send me!”

I am not ready to discount lively worship and challenging sermons. I, also, understand that ritual can become meaningless repetition. But an encounter with God must be the object of worship. Otherwise we have a motivational seminar, political rally or sing-a-long.

“…Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)

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