Ways of Worship

Being a writer has its disadvantages.

I can’t just “enjoy a book for its story,” not if it has grammatical errors sprinkled throughout or has a tendency to overuse a particular adjective. (Some words like “facetiously” just aren’t meant to be used more than once a book.)

I snicker at the wrong parts of movies because of the stilted dialogue. (Star Wars Episode II: “I truly. Deeply. Love you.” Really, George Lucas? That’s the best declaration of love you could come up with?)

The time I hate this tendency the most, however, is during worship. I’ll be singing along with the worship leader when suddenly, BOOM! I’m completely distracted by the “your” that should be “you’re” or the “desert” that has become a “dessert.”

It’s the little things about worship that have always had a tendency to distract me, whether it’s a misspelled word on the screen, a line in the lyrics that makes little sense, or an overly enthusiastic guitarist. There was one summer, though, when God totally transformed my view of worship and its meaningfulness.

I was 16, and my family had taken our annual trek to the Rocky Mountains in southern Colorado. That Sunday, we went to the church service held in the tiny tourist town where we were staying. We sat on wooden benches facing a cross planted firmly in the side of a small mountain. The high-altitude air was cool as the 30 or so worshipers gathered together. The music was about as simple as it could be – three classic hymns sung acapella in untrained but sincere voices.

The following week, my family traveled from Colorado to Arizona to visit a college friend of my parents who worked at a mission on a Navajo reservation. That Sunday we trickled into church to sit on brightly colored cushions perched atop straight-backed chairs. Music consisted of my parents’ friend leading a series of hymns on a cabinet piano.

The third week of that month, we were back at our home church in Kansas City. We’ve been attending the same moderately sized nondenominational church since I was born, and the praise time is what I would describe as full-out mega-church contemporary worship – a team of microphoned vocalists, drums, bass guitars, multi-colored lights, the whole shebang.

The fourth week, I went with a friend to the nursing home where my great-grandmother lived. My friend and I played a duet of two traditional hymns on our flutes and then listened to my grandfather preach. The rest of the music consisted of hymns sung in the wavering voices of the elderly, saying again the words grown so familiar to them during half a century or more of faith.

None of these times of praise qualified as what I would call a truly “amazing” worship experience. Most of the music wasn’t the type through which I most easily connect to God. I didn’t get an emotional high or feel an irresistible sense of God’s closeness. But I did sense His presence.

What is worship anyway? Honestly, I think the four types of worship I described above fall far short of encapsulating what worship is. It’s more than sitting in a pew on Sunday morning and singing a few songs. True worship has to be a lifestyle, and it is made up of dozens of tiny, daily moments of recognizing God at work and standing in awe of Him.

But that doesn’t mean worship on Sunday morning isn’t important too. And that type of worship can’t be defined by or confined to a particular type of instrument, style of song, or group of people. Worship is pausing to be quiet and respond to the presence of God in our midst. The summer I was 16, I think I caught a glimpse of that.

In the dedication of vacationers to taking time out with God.

In the eagerness of new Navajo believers to learn.

In the enthusiasm of a suburban congregation to sing praises loud.

In the peace of the faithful elderly, waiting their turns to go Home.

Distractions in worship still come for me, no doubt about that. But remembering that summer helps. Looking for sincerity in the hearts of the worshipers helps. Closing my eyes so I don’t notice everyone around me helps.

And if I still chuckle over the deserts that have been transformed to desserts, well…everything about faith – worship included – is a journey, right?

What has been your most meaningful worship experience? 

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