“Come Worship with us …”  That’s a common tag line on church websites and marquee signs. I just saw it on my own church’s site. And I had one of those moments. “What does that even mean?”

“Worship.” Yeah, we all know what the word means, and we probably have a mental image in our head associated with it. It might be hands lifted in the air to pulsing music and smoke machines. It might be kneeling silently before a crucifix holding a rosary. Worship means different things to different people, but it involves the basic idea of recognizing and honoring a presence greater than ourselves, and giving it its due. We make time for it, we make space for it. And, hopefully, we’re not just going through automatic motions; hopefully we soak in it. It can be a wonderfully peaceful, centering, and restoring moment.

Worship isn’t just about satisfying God’s ego. He doesn’t need our worship. I’d even go so far as to say God doesn’t want it.  Not that he dismisses it, but his desire for us is much more personal, more intimate. He isn’t after us just telling him how great he is. He wants that moment of connection with us. THAT is his greatest desire.

And that means “worship” can take place anywhere, not just inside a church. (Yeah, you knew that already.) It can happen in our kitchens, at our desks, in our gardens, walking in the park, sitting alone in our rooms. But here’s the thing: you have to do it deliberately. It’s something you do as an act of will.

That means, taking time to do it — even if just for a moment. It means making space for it: putting down what we’re doing at that particular second, taking a breath, shifting gears mentally, and making room for God to enter.

So, back to my opening thought: worship at church. What are we doing?

First, the very act of going to church — either in person or just tuning in online — is taking a step in that direction. We’re making an effort to meet with God. The difference here is that we’re doing this together, and there’s something special about that. There is a spiritual power that is built and released when we do things together. We all know this even if we don’t think about it. Like going to a baseball game versus watching it on TV alone. Or going to a concert versus listening to music in our earbuds. Singing in a choir versus singing alone in the shower. The dynamic is different. The energy level is raised, builds off each other. And from a biblical point of view, that’s probably why from the beginning God said it wasn’t “good” that humans be alone; and why Jesus said that where two or three of us are gathered in his name, he is there. There is a special quality of presence, a compounded dynamic we experience, that we feel, when we do things together.

Worship is about intention. About being deliberate. About making an effort. Making time and creating a space for the holy to occur. It is where we connect with the sacred, with something beyond us.

So we’re in church. Then what? Hopefully, everything we do from that point on is directed at that goal: meeting God, encountering the sacred.

Greeting each other can be a spiritual act, a holy moment, when we recognize that God loves that other person, that God dwells inside that person as he does in you. When you recognize that saying hello, smiling (even it we can’t shake hands anymore during this pandemic), even a nod of the head, when we “see” that other person, acknowledging their presence, we honor God. It is an act of worship.

When we sing. That’s what most of us usually think of as worship. It’s a human activity. There’s something special, almost magical, about music that allows us to express our deepest feelings. In some ways, we by-pass our higher brain functions, our over-thinking parts, and tap into something basic and essential about who we are as human beings. It’s easier to connect.

We pray. Hopefully we’re not just bowing our heads and letting our minds wander off while the lady at the lectern reads holy-sounding words directed at God. Hopefully, we’re joining our thoughts with hers, agreeing, saying that inner “amen, yes, Lord.” As a community: one voice, one heart, expressing similar thoughts and requests. That’s what being intentional is about — “intention,” that deliberate act of will toward a specific purpose. Joining our thoughts in community prayer is powerful.

Giving. We used to pass the plate. Now many of us click the “Donate” button. But the same intentionality, the same deliberate act of will can turn that simple action into a moment of worship. “God of the Universe, I’m adding my small part to this cause, to your work. By doing so, I’m declaring that I am part of this, and I am honoring you with my resources.”  It doesn’t have to be a long, elaborate prayer; just a moment of being aware of what you’re doing. And that’s worship.

Scripture reading. Many churches have parts of the service dedicated to reading bible passages. It’s easy to tune out. But when we read along or listen intently, we’re joining in together. It becomes a shared moment. It can be a space where God suddenly speaks to you, shows you something you’ve never seen before, or something you need to hear at that moment. And in that meeting of minds, you and God, that’s worship. You hearing and recognizing God interacting with you, and you making space in your heart to listen.

The sermon. If the preacher is worth his or her salt, she’s spent time before God during the week seeking a message for you — that is, being a messenger from God to you. We’ve all been present when the sermon or homily just doesn’t speak to us that day. That’s okay. Sometimes the message is more for someone else. But hopefully there is always at least one nugget that reaches us. That’s the power of the Spirit, speaking through another human being, reaching out to you. Hopefully, this is a regular occurrence. This is a moment of contact between you and the Spirit, and that moment is a point of worship — you, again recognizing God present and active in your life.

And Communion. The Eucharist. That re-enactment of Jesus’s last supper, where we sit and participate in the Lord’s body and blood. However we interpret that dynamic, it is another moment of contact, another moment of us getting still long enough to recognize God’s presence and letting it touch us. It can be moment of healing, of receiving peace. It is meant to open our eyes to each other, too, that we are all equals sitting at Jesus’s table, that the person sitting near us is just as loved and as valuable and important as we are, and that we’re all in this together.

Worship is about intention. About being deliberate. About making an effort. Making time and creating a space for the holy to occur. It is where we connect with the sacred, with something beyond us.

That moment of encounter can bring balance into our crazy, hectic lives. It can adjust our perspective. It can give fresh insight, new vision, new hope. It can calm our racing pulses. It can even heal our bodies. Something happens to us physically as well as spiritually when we make space for that encounter.

You don’t need a church for that, but a good church will help you do it.

“Come worship with us this Sunday …” Sure. Yes. More than just sitting in a pew or joining a Facebook watch party. It is me choosing to join in, to participate. To allow a brief moment where I can encounter God — where God can encounter me.  And in that moment of connection, of recognizing the interaction between the Divine Presence and my own human existence — that is worship.

 

 

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash