You may have picked this book up in a section of the bookstore labeled “Religion.” If so, this book was miscategorized. Living Worship won’t help you become more religious. Was this book on the shelf marked “Inspirational”? I do hope this book inspires you, but I am not an inspirational writer. “Christian Living”? Well, I suppose it’s better than “Christian Dying,” but that’s not the full picture either. I certainly don’t want to merely provide you with more information about God—that might serve only to give you enough ammunition to be dogmatic.
I wish there were a section in bookstores called “Transformation.” That would describe my greatest hope in writing this book. My prayer is that the Lord would use what I have written to renew both your mind and your worship. As you begin to see what is meant by worship in the Scriptures I believe you will be excited to enter into that tremendous experience of intimacy with God, your Creator. Psalm 139:14 says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” That means we can trust that it is God’s desire to shape us into people that both know Him and know how to worship Him in sincerity and in truth.
So how do such transformations take place? One thing is sure: We will need to be willing to repent of our present attitudes and to acknowledge our inability to get it right. Humility will be required to make such an admission, of course. But I have found humility and correction to be my friends since they lead me to the wonderful state called repentance. Please don’t be tempted to shrink back or be discouraged by this word. Your idea of repentance may not be true repentance at all.
The repentance that God is after doesn’t involve shame or remorse. It doesn’t involve rending your garments or lying in heaps of ashes wailing. Quite simply, it is a transformation of the mind, a change in how we think about something. When Jesus began his public ministry, His first call to His countrymen was quite simple: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Following this, He began to call His disciples by name. They didn’t have to do a bunch of complicated stuff. They simply needed to recognize that He was someone worth following and to change their minds about what the kingdom of God was all about. Repentance and changing our minds to believe in what is true is all that’s required for us too. I have come to see repentance, a change of mind, as a very refreshing, joyous thing—not the dreadful picture often painted for us by religion.
The stories of repentance in the Gospels involved celebration and feasting—not fasting and lament. Repentance tastes as sweet as honey. It causes your heart to dance with joy. I like the way it is described in Acts 3:19: “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” We’re going to have to release ourselves from our churchy shackles and wrong ideas if we want to embrace genuine biblical repentance.
Now that I’ve freely admitted my agenda and my goal, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I can’t do what I’ve set out to do. I can’t change your mind. I can’t transform you. This book is simply that—a book. And I am totally inadequate to transform even the smallest detail of your life. Only God can do that. So (and here’s the best part) I have prayed and written this book as an act of faith believing that as you read it, He is going to “show up.” I believe He’s getting involved with you right now. I’ve prayed that He will speak to your heart, even when your mind may not fully comprehend something. I believe that the Holy Spirit, as part of a living, communicating, compassionate Trinity, is going to reveal himself in power to you—healing, restoring, forgiving, and transforming you in ways only He can accomplish. As you are transformed, I know that your worship in turn will be transformed. And in that God will receive the glory.
There, I’ve come clean. You’ve spent your hard-earned money to purchase a book that can’t do anything you need doing, written by someone who can’t do any of the things you want done. Doesn’t it just make you laugh? So when “the good stuff” happens, you and I will both know that it wasn’t this book or this author that made it happen. If you’re honest, you’ll admit it wasn’t because of you either. We’ll know it had to have been a living, loving God. Isn’t that great?
So what’s the first step in transforming our worship? The beginning of a transformation in our worship demands that we challenge our preconceived notions about worship. Let me show you why this is important. When someone merely mentions the word worship, all kinds of images are conjured up in our minds:
Are you getting the picture? These confusing and contradictory images point to our problem: We’ve used and misused the word worship in so many ways that the meaning has become obscured. Like love and faith, the word worship has come to mean everything and nothing. What do you mean when you say worship? There have been countless bloody “worship wars” between Christians who misunderstand the true values in worship and use church sanctuaries as their battlegrounds.
As long as the authentic description of worship is not clearly understood, and as long as there are carnal Christians who think it is about their personal preferences, there will always be subjective arguments about worship. We’ll always be distracted by the wrong things if we don’t know what we’re supposed to be looking for.
Our problem is that the original meaning of worship has gotten muddled up with music, praise, prayer, meditation, devotion, and teaching. The church itself has contributed to our confusion by bundling up several corporate spiritual acts in a package and labeling it a “worship service.” Millions of us meet weekly for these services that certainly involve worship but are in larger part focused on preaching or teaching. Many Christians use the word worship to refer only to the music in church services.
Further, today we are swept up into a worldwide “worship movement” in both contemporary and traditional forms. Praise and worship music ranging from Taizé and chant to over-the-edge rock is in vogue. Youth groups are worshiping quietly in dark rooms with acoustic music and in loud concert-setting mosh pits. Seeker churches sport “worship centers” and are staffed with “worship pastors” and “worship leaders.”
If worship plays such a predominant role in our individual and collective spirituality, shouldn’t we carefully examine what worship really means? Wouldn’t it be great to have Jesus explain what He intended when He said “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24) rather than what traditions, denominations, and fads have taught us?
Just what is this phenomenon called worship? If this is central to why I was created, I don’t want to be muddy in my understanding, do you? We can’t afford to use the word worship in a cheap or cavalier way.
Abba, we are generations and cultures removed from the worship of the Bible. We need wisdom about worship. We confess with our mouths: We believe your promise that you will freely give us wisdom if we ask. We’re asking right now. Please grant us revelation—don’t allow us to wander in the blindness of our own faulty understanding or meaningless traditions. Give us a willingness to look at worship with fresh eyes. Please help us to let go of any hardhearted unbelief we’re so prone to clutch so that we can embrace truth. We may not have believed before but now we’re willing to change.
Your kingdom come—in our worship. Your will be done—in our worship. Just like it is in heaven. Thank you for inviting us to ask. You’re the best! You withhold not one good thing from your sons and daughters who ask. What a generous Father we have in heaven! Yours is the kingdom! Amen.
“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 29:13–14a)
Living Worship by John Randall Dennis
Copyright © 2004 ; ISBN 0764229281
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.