On worship


Promoted, Walking with Jesus / Friday, February 23rd, 2018

I am not going to tackle the entire subject of worship. I am going to touch on one piece: worshipping with others. Thank you for your descriptive words and stories. I loved them. I’d like to worship alongside you.


Confession: In the past few years, nothing has pushed me out of my comfort zone more often than worship – sometimes others’ worship, sometimes my own.

Worship is an uncomfortably engrossing activity. When you are fully present with the Divine, you are operating on the edge of what a human can handle or understand, and you cannot be sure what is going to happen next. You are submitting yourself to Another. This is always less comfortable when others are watching.

Because I grew up Anabaptist, Minnesotan, feminine, and shy (at times an excruciating combination), worship has always had two sides for me: the stable, comfortable, orderly worship that happens in church services, and the shy, intensely private, dynamic worship that happens at home. For better or for worse, I have rarely been comfortable bringing the passion of private worship to public worship. I am concerned about modesty, in body and spirit. I am concerned about the group experience, not only my own. In fact, until recent years, although I was shaped since childhood by corporate worship, my most memorable and transformative worship experiences were entirely solo.

This has raised questions for me as I have grown in confidence and in love for Jesus, and in belief in his body. No man is an island, especially in Christ. I’ve begun to encounter the Holy Spirit more fully in corporate worship. And, to be honest, I’ve encountered groups who do it differently, groups who emphasize different things, groups who blur my lines and bring the intimacy of what-has-been-for-me private worship into public. No church is an island either, especially in Christ.

Last year I spent time informally with Christians who worshipped in ways that were unaccustomed for me. We sang praise and worship songs over and over. We stood and swayed. We sang affectionate and tender lyrics that made me uneasy (publicly), like

                I wanna sit at your feet

                Drink from the cup in your hand

                Lay back against you and breathe

                Feel your heartbeat.

At my church, that would bring a blush for sure. At my church, we sing

                Immortal, invisible, God only wise

                In light inaccessible hid from our eyes

                Most blessed, most glorious, the ancient of days

                Almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.

You see, it’s not only our worship styles that vary – the personality on top – but also our underlying theology. Who is God, and how do we approach Him? His people do not all answer the same.

Some Sundays in my congregation, my praise stays on my lips and does not make it to my heart. But most of the time, I love (that is, I deeply connect with) the worship at my church. I love the music, like sinking into a hot bath and letting the tension and the dirt wash away. I love the quiet, and the people, and the way we feel much more than we show. Together, we value modesty and propriety, even in our worship. Yet when I first met the Holy Spirit in company with others, and felt in my spirit the smoke and the trumpets and the descending power, it was there.

The worship we do is a valid place to find Him. But it is not the only place.

I grew up believing, for example, that prolonged repetition in music is an unhealthy practice of “other” churches, an emotional trick to sway and hype the masses, but last fall, when I was desperate to connect with God, women from other churches showed me a different side of repetition: that when truth is spoken over and over, it sinks deep into the cracks of a broken heart.

                You’re a good, good Father

                It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are

                And I’m loved by you

                It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

The worship we do is not the only place to find Him. But it is a valid place.

We Christians have always been good at line-drawing, and we are usually the ones who do it best. Or, if we dislike our upbringing, the ones who do it worst. The Catholics are too iconic, the Anglicans too liturgical, the black churches too emotive, the Quakers too quiet, the Methodists too formal, the Pentecostals too hyper, the Mennonites too traditional. Private worship is too individualistic, and public is too contrived or too showy.

In the end, is there any good way to worship? that’s unlike what we are comfortable with?

Not all attempts at worship are successful (that is, acceptable to the One we’re worshipping), but if the only worship we see as acceptable is the kind we like, we have not spent enough time with each other. We have not spent enough time with the holy people of Scripture, the likes of Jephthah and Abraham and Elijah and Moses and King David.

I have never worshipped by preparing to take the life of a child. I have never worshipped by holing up in a cave, waiting for the Voice. I have never worshipped with a face so bright it frightened people. I have never worshipped by dancing fiercely down Main Street, half dressed, with all the town lined up on the sidewalks to watch; but there was a man of God who did it. And when it was time for the judgments to be handed around, they were handed to the sensible woman who watched him from the upstairs window, despising him in her heart.

To an onlooker, worship can be suggestive of all kinds of other things. We label it with nasty monikers, as we stand at the window watching, but in recent months I have found a powerful antidote to scorn:

Participation.

Worship and scorn cannot occupy the heart simultaneously. What would have happened if Michal had fallen on her knees before Jehovah, in that upstairs room?

What happens when God’s people, stretched uncomfortably both ways by one another’s practices of praise, choose to unite in His honor?

Could it be that we will learn to know Him?

Could it be that we may find ourselves immersed in aspects of Him that have been to us, so far, nothing but words on a page?

And yet I see your red flags waving, and mine are flapping too – because since the beginning of worship, there have been people who’ve incorporated pagan practices into sacred worship and called it all good since hey, it was about God. Think of the golden calf – Here are thy gods, oh Israel, who brought thee out of Egypt; so strip off thy clothes and worship.

How do you tell when your discomfort is a hint that the worship around you is not what it ought to be, and when the discomfort is simply your own inhibition because of – well, your discomfort?

Frankly, the pagan pieces are not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about things much closer to home, worshipful and even Biblical practices that rub us the wrong way. The way she always raises her hands or the way he never does. The way he claps all the time or she never testifies or he doesn’t believe in private words from the Lord or she’s always getting a little crazy. I mean, can they really be of Christ? How can they worship while all that noise is going on? How can they worship without it showing on their faces, without it affecting their bodies? How can they worship with scripted prayers? Or without them? How can they? we ask, from behind our own folded hands.

I have been scornful, and able to be scorned, on both sides of the appearances coin, and I am here to testify that sometimes the Holy Spirit descends so powerfully His humans are undone. In public. And on the other hand, I testify that sometimes the tears slipping down the face of a woman sitting motionless in a church pew are not the signs of repression, but the equivalent of a different woman dancing in circles around the auditorium. Jesus is moving, and she is entirely at his disposal.

In my opinion, worship was never intended to be observed, except by Him (though in this fallen world it often is, raising questions about how we look, and how we may be misunderstood by others). Worship was meant to be experienced. Together.

Unless my heart is also yielded in worship, how am I – who am I – to assess the worship of others? I have only succeeded in separating myself.

From Him.

He said he’d be in the place where His people gather. And I, for one, want to be there too.


I may have made you uncomfortable, and I’m sorry. After I started this conversation I regretted it, but by then I had committed to going on. How have you found this true, or not true, in your own experience? What questions does it raise for you?

26 Replies to “On worship”

  1. Here’s a question I’ve been pondering the past few months… whether Worship is an iniative on our part toward God or a response on our part to God’s initiative toward us? It seems to me, most likely that it is both, but that each of us has a favorite way of thinking about it. 🙂 Thanks for your candid reflection upon worship, both from within Mennonite culture, but open to cultures beyond. Once again, I am refreshed.

  2. I believe the more you know God and love him, the more you can worship him from your heart. Tears flowing from my eyes has been part of my worship experience and feeling a Awe for God! Yes, why are we so ashamed to be different then others in our worship experience? I believe we need to be what God wants us to be and not think what others want us to be.

  3. Thank you THANK YOU for writing this! Your first post about how we would describe our worship has given me much food for thought. I will be coming back to reread this. This past Christmas Eve, we attended a church service very unlike our normal Mennonite service. And it was so good! So refreshing to see how others worship. My husband and I were blessed. Just Amen and Amen to this post!!

  4. This is interesting Shari because for me personally in the music part of my worship, I don’t like songs that have repetitive lyrics. Good Father, the song you have above is definitely one I cringe when we sing it.
    I much rather sing songs like Immortal, Invisible God and actually I prefer hymns over CCM.

    So anyway, I feel that there are ways we can worship the Lord without allowing it to get too worldly. I also need to remind myself that worship isn’t just about the music.

  5. I love this!! Thank you for speaking into some questions I had about worship, Shari… you’ve done it beautifully! Daryl preached a sermon lately about the scorn that the disciples felt toward the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet. We must be wary of the *righteous indignation* we feel toward others sometimes, cause sometimes we are speaking against the very things that Jesus says is true worship.

  6. QUERIDA HERMANA EN CRISTO: HE LEIDO TU PUBLICACION SOBRE LA ADORACION, DEJAME CONTARTE QUE HACE 20 AÑOS QUE ME CONGREGO CON LA FAMILIA EN LA MISMA IGLESIA CRISTIANA EVANGELICA, NUESTRA ADORACION AÑOS ANTERIORES, ERA DEL HIMNARIO, CANTABAMOS MUCHOS HIMNOS Y CANTICOS DE AVIVAMIENTO, COMO ME GOZABA CON ESOS HIMNOS ANTIGUOS, RECIEN ERA NUEVA EN EL CAMINO DEL SEÑOR Y FUI CRECIENDO CON ESAS LETRAS PROFUNDAS QUE LLEGABAN HASTA LO MAS INTIMO DE MI SER, HASTA HACERME LLORAR Y LLORAR, SENTIA COMO QUE ESTABA TOCANDO LOS PIES DE JESUS, SINTIENDO SU PODER, SU AMOR Y SU GRAN PERDON. HOY LA IGLESIA HA CAMBIADO Y MUCHO, PARA MI, YA NO ME SIENTO COMO ANTES ME SENTIA DURANTE LA ADORACION, LA IGLESIA O LAS IGLESIAS, HAN SIDO INVADIDAS POR MUSICA CRISTIANA, PERO CON RITMOS DEL MUNDO, MUY RUIDOSAS, MUY FUERTE, NO SOPORTO LA MUSICA ALTA, YA QUE NO ME PUEDO CONCENTRAR EN ALABAR Y ADORAR AL SEÑOR, PREFIERO ESCUCHAR EN MI COMPUTADORA LAS ALABANZAS QUE ME GUSTAN CUANDO YO QUIERO, EN PAZ Y EN LA TRANQUILIDAD DE MI HOGAR. A VECES CUESTA ADORAR EN LA IGLESIA, CON TANTOS GRITOS Y RUIDOS, SI BIEN TENEMOS LIBERTAD EN CRISTO, PODEMOS CANTAR, GRITAR, APLAUDIR, PERO NO A TODOS NOS GUSTAN ESAS DEMOSTRACIONES TAN EXAGERADAS. YO NO APLAUDO AL FINALIZAR UNA ALABANZA, PERO LA MAYORIA SI, NO ME SIENTO A GUSTO CON ESO, EN CUANTO A LA DANZA, NO HAY QUE EQUIVOCARSE, UNA COSA ES LA DANZA AL SEÑOR, INSPIRADA POR EL ESPIRITU SANTO Y OTRA ES EL BAILE QUE SALE DE NUESTRA CARNE, CONTORNEANDOSE LAS CADERAS EN UN RITMO CASI SENSUAL, SE QUE SE PRACTICA, EN ALGUNAS IGLESIAS, ESTAS SON COSAS DE LA CARNE, NO DEL ESPIRITU. QUE DIOS NOS DE REVELACION DE SU PALABRA, QUE LE AGRADEMOS EN LA ADORACION EN ESPIRITU Y EN VERDAD.

    1. I agree. Some of what passes as worship is distracting at best, sensual and unholy at worst. In every place I’ve been, there are those who worship Jesus “in spirit and in truth” as you said (a beautiful phrase about worship)… and may their race increase! 🙂 God bless you. Thank you for these thoughts.

  7. You did not make me feel uncomfortable.

    I love when I feel and experience freedom in corporate worship.

    I love to see others experience that same freedom.

    Sometimes it’s the freedom to sit silently. Other times it’s the freedom to raise the arms and sway a little.

    All in all, I feel some conviction for being that scornful onlooker at times.

    I appreciate your call to participation.

  8. I feel these words rearranging the furniture of my mind, or maybe the walls. At any rate, they are uncomfortable in a good way. There is so much good in every culture, and person (yes, yes, and bad too) and so many ways to be, and to be loved. And its so hard to be loved together. I have been thinking of the prodigal’s older brother, and how many of our squabbles may have to do with telling God, “You never gave me even a kid so I could have a party!” When he is saying, “Daughter you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” I wonder, if we really believed Him, if other people’s worship would bother us so much.

  9. I loved your musings. I attended a Pentecostal church through my college years and still have a longing so often to meet God in worship corporately like I did there. Once in a while, I have a little taste of it in our Mennonite services, but I think we can learn a little about abandoned and passionate worship from others.

  10. This brings tears to my eyes, and an ache to my heart, along with a terrible wistful longing… I can’t find words, but thank you.

  11. I enjoy the traditional songs too, but when our youth group sings children’s choruses at the nursing home (motions included) the transformation on those elderly faces is amazing.
    In my own worship experiences, I have been most lifted up when I have felt the most in need of Christ’s work in my life. And isn’t that the real purpose of worship- that Christ be exalted?

  12. I find myself struggling for words to explain how much my heart agrees with all that you said here, and how much it touches me. I’ve had so many questions about this, and the differences in practice between different groups (quiet and methodical versus loud and chaotic) has been sometimes confusing when I try to think of what the ideal way must be, because I have seen God move so powerfully in both types of situations. I really love your thoughts on how we all need each other, not just individually but as churches. I’ve found that I need occasional doses of both types of worship, and I know I probably won’t find it all in one church. One example… I love the old, beautiful hymns, and they often inspire my worship in a big way, but if that’s the only type of music I experience I find my worship fading to dullness. Same thing for praise and worship music… it can be so refreshing and beautiful, but I find myself starving if that’s all I get.

    I also love your conclusion… lay observation and judgment aside and turn your eyes to Jesus- it’s the only way to experience worship yourself. That’s just exactly what I need reminded of. A simple solution that I know will have a profound effect on my worship experience, no matter what church I attend.

  13. No red flags waved for me. I’m thinking, though, that I believe we were made to love and worship. Something so foundational to our design is going to be a prime target for attack and differences, but that’s no reason to avoid talking/thinking about it.

  14. Not all churches that claim the name of Christ are actually preaching the Gospel, and many are teaching unbiblical things. So when I consider how others worship, I also consider where they stand on doctrine–and what their fruit is like. That says a lot. I am not saying that everyone has to see every tiny thing in the exact same way, but there are many principles that matter much. I prefer hymns, and avoid praise and worship/CCM, as the flesh tends to desire that. And perhaps David’s wife would have done well to have quietly addressed him in love. All of this may sound rigid–and I’m sorry that it does–but for me, the red flags were waving away! 😮

    1. Hi Christine, I was waiting for the first red flag. 🙂 Thank you for stating your differences honestly and with respect; I appreciate that.

      I hear what you’re saying and I care about that piece, though for me the correct doctrine and practice requirement becomes tricky as a standard for worship. It is certainly Biblical to draw away from believers who are promoting bold sin and heresy, but on the other side, churches including Anabaptists have at times used that argument to draw very painful and divisive lines over, as you said, every tiny issue. In the end, I think we’d agree there has to be both truth and grace in the discernment package, or the church disintegrates and grieves the heart of Jesus, who prayed “that they may all be one.”

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  15. Your thoughts are right with mine. We can try to create atmospheres but in reality atmospheres are created by reality. Are you with me? If I meet with a group of believers and raise my hands and voice on high but my heart is empty, I’m only working to create a “worship” that is unreal. Worship is defined by our daily lives. What do I esteem above all else? Am I willing to obey Jesus? That is true worship. I also have felt stifled by my culture at times. When I wanted to shout hallelujah, I knew it would create a huge disturbance. That didn’t take away my desire. Only the ability to express myself. I like honest Mennonites. We need more of them!

  16. I’ll share a few thoughts on what you, Shari, and others said. This was, I think, a brave post, and I’m not sure my bits are worth sharing in the bog (as per Emily Dickinson), but I’ll say something anyway.
    I come from Mennonite and red flags, but in the last several years I’ve been learning that God has people in many places, and that Jesus doesn’t call us to judge but to love. I prefer hymns, know and love hymns, but try to participate in and not scorn (great observation, btw) the more contemporary songs when appropriate. I loved your bit about repetition sinking into the cracks of a broken heart, because a similar thing happened to me. I was in setting out of my comfort zone, doing my best to participate to honor my husband whom I was with, and some people came in and “led worship.” I didn’t know the songs, so I couldn’t help sing very well, but this “Good Father” song was one of them. It came as a true message from Him, because I opened my heart to receive, not to pass judgment, and was the message that I needed down in the cracks of my heart.
    Am I allowed to comment on people’s comments?
    Julie, keep thinking, you’re on the right track.
    Ana, gracias por compartir su historia. Que Dios le bendiga y le ayude a serle fiel y a adorarle con la verdadera adoracion que el desea.
    Treva, thanks for highlighting the conclusion.
    Marie Lapp, agreed!
    Shari, I liked your loving response to Christine.

  17. WOW!!! Very well written. You are gifted in the sculpting and delivery of your words and you do it with such kindness, tenderness and honesty. Thank you so much. I was moved to tears at the truth here. May God helps us all to keep this balance. God bless you, Shari!

  18. I tried to reply to your blog On Worship – but can’t because my filter blocks social media. I wanted to comment on your thought “Worship and scorn cannot occupy the heart simultaneously. What would have happened if Michal had fallen on her knees before Jehovah, in that upstairs room?” As an older, old order man, I have never been comfortable with David in that scene, and have felt much more sympathy with Michal. I look at David’s marriages to Abigail and Bathsheba and find it hard to respect David. Your question, of course, is valid but I guess I have absorbed enough feminist thought that I have trouble with the David/Michal situation.

    1. I will be happy to post your comment. Thanks for your interesting perspective! I do not think Michal responded well in the situation I referenced, but I have always loved her and felt empathy for her. She married David when he was young, and lost him, only to have him returned seasoned and strong and distracted, married to several other women. That must have been terribly painful for her.

      One of our daughters was given Michal as her middle name. 😊

      Thanks again for your thoughts.

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