A Definition of Worship

Planning and leading worship services for the church week in and week out can sometimes drain the essence out of worship itself.  Worship becomes something I do, an act of professionalism rather than encounter with my heavenly Father.  As Presbyterians are known for doing things “decently and in order,” our worship often takes on a rehearsed tone, and “passionate worship” is not how visitors would typically describe the service.

So it is that I came upon the following by A.W. Tozer in his book, The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship.  May this serve as a corrective understanding for all of us as we prepare to enter into worship again.

A Definition of Worship

First, worship is to feel in the heart. I use that word “feel” boldly and without apology. I do not believe that we are to be a feeling-less people. I came into the kingdom of God the old-fashioned way. I believe that I know something of the emotional life that goes with being converted; so I believe in feeling. I do not think we should follow feeling, but I believe that if there is no feeling in our heart, then we are dead. If you woke up in the morning and suddenly had no feeling in your right arm, you would call a doctor.  You would dial with your left hand because your right hand was dead. Anything that has no feeling in it, you can be quite sure is dead. Real worship, among other things, is a feeling in the heart.

Worship is to feel in the heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe.  Worship will humble a person as nothing else can. The egotistical, self-important man cannot worship God any more than the arrogant devil can worship God. There must be humility in the heart before there can be worship.

When the Holy Spirit comes and opens heaven until people stand astonished at what they see, and in astonished wonderment confess His uncreated loveliness in the presence of that ancient mystery, then you have worship. If it is not mysterious, there can be no worship; if I can understand God, then I cannot worship God.

I will never get on my knees and say, “Holy, holy, holy” to that which I can figure out. That which I can explain will never overawe me, never fill me with astonishment, wonder or admiration. But in the presence of that most ancient mystery, that unspeakable majesty, which the philosophers have called a mysterium tremendum, which we who are God’s children call “our Father which art in heaven,” I will bow in humble worship. This attitude ought to be present in our church today.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was one of the greatest minds that ever lived. When he was only in his teens, he wrote advanced books on mathematics, astonishing people. He became a great philosopher, mathematician and thinker.

One night, he met God, and his whole world was changed. He wrote down his experience on a piece of paper while it was still fresh on his mind. According to his testimony, from 10:30 pm to about 12:30 am, he was overwhelmed by the presence of God. To express what he was experiencing, he wrote one word, “fire.”

Pascal was neither a fanatic nor an ignorant farmer with hayseeds back of his ears. He was a great intellectual. God broke through all that and for two solid hours, he experienced something he could holy characterize as fire.

Following his experience, he prayed; and to keep as a reminder of that experience, he wrote it out: “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and of the learned.” This was not a prayer for somebody who reads his prayers; this was not formal religious ritual. This was the ecstatic utterance of a man who had two wonderful, awesome hours in the presence of God. “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob not of the philosophers and of the learned. God of Jesus Christ… Thy God shall be my God… He is only found by thy ways taught in the Gospel… Righteous Father, the world has not known Thee, but I have known Thee. Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy…” And he put an “Amen” after it, folded it up, put it in his shirt pocket and kept it there.

That man could explain many mysteries in the world, but he was awestruck before the wonder of wonders, even Jesus Christ. His worship flowed out of his encounter with that “fire” and not out of his understanding of who and what God is.

Tozer, A. W. The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship. (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker House Books) pg. 108-110.

Feelings, nothing more than feelings…

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…

(Ephesians 1:3 ESV)

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians begins with one of the most effusive expressions of praise ever found, “Blessed be God… who had blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing… as he chose us… predestined us… adopted us… to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he as blessed us.”  Volumes of books are necessary to unpack this simple yet eloquent explosion of praise to God.  You’ll find the opening verses of Ephesians to be a “Cliff’s Notes” guide to covenantal reformed theology, and without crossing the line into plagiarism, every candidate for ministry should use these verses as the basis for their statement of faith.

We have been blessed by God in Christ with every spiritual blessing.  This could be read, with every blessing of the Spirit, the Greek is a little ambiguous here, but ultimately it all means the same thing.  Paul unfolds the blessings that God has showered upon us.  We have been chosen by God to be holy and blameless.  In love, he predestined us to be adopted at sons, for the praise of his glorious grace.  I know words like “chosen” and “predestined” make some people shy away muttering “free will” under their breath.  But this is the word of God, His promise to us.  It is meant as good news.  God’s will is that we know His love, encounter His grace, be called His children – and God determined this when our will was set against Him.  That’s good news.

Moreover, we have redemption in Christ Jesus, the forgiveness of trespasses, and the revelation of the will of God with all wisdom and insight.  The blessings of God go on and on throughout Paul’s letter – Praise be to God for His goodness and grace!

Except –

There are times when we don’t feel blessed.  The world seems set against us.  Money’s tight, or even non-existent.  Friends are few and far between, and those you thought were close only got there so they could stab you in the back.  Anxiety and stress rise up around you, you feel lost and tossed around in the storm.  The winds blow and your life is turned upside down (literally here in NW Iowa).  It’s hard to echo the words of Paul, it’s hard to say that we’ve been blessed with every spiritual blessing.

There are times when we are in the desert.  We feel dry, spiritually – we’re thirsty for closeness with God.  We want to know those blessings that Paul is talking about here, but it’s just not connecting.  We hear about the blessings, why don’t we see them?

It’s at times like these that it is important to remember this truth, God’s word is true regardless of how we feel about it.  So often we think that our religious affections (to borrow the phrase from Jonathon Edwards) all rely on how I feel about God at this particular moment.  If I feel passionately about God, then I must be close to Him and He to me.  If I’m feeling distant from God, then there must be something wrong in my life.  While there may be some truth to this, I think that sometimes we may put a little too much emphasis on our feelings.  If I don’t feel like I’ve “connected” to God in prayer, does that mean that God didn’t hear my prayer?  If my heart wasn’t really in my worship and preaching last week, does that mean that God wasn’t still glorified by my preaching and in our worship?

One of my favorite quotes in literature comes from Dickens’, A Christmas Carol.  Scrooge has just encountered the ghost of Bob Marley, his former business partner who warns him of the coming visits in the night.  In disbelief Scrooge replies, “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”  How many times are our feelings, either positive or negative, toward God based on our lack of sleep, our indigestion, or the run-in we had at the supermarket yesterday?

The truth of the matter is, regardless of how you feel about it today, for those who are alive in Christ Jesus, God has blessed you with ever spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.  This doesn’t mean that we won’t encounter poverty and pain, it doesn’t mean that we won’t face hardship and setback.  But it does mean that God to supplies all our needs “according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). It does mean that regardless of what we face, we may say, as did Job, “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Friends, when you don’t feel it, know it.  Know that God has blessed you in Christ Jesus our Lord, and you are blessed indeed!