Worship at CVP
There are two words in Hebrew that are translated in our Bibles as “worship.” The first, abad, means to serve, and the second, shachah, means to bow down or fall prostrate before. The first certainly reflects the reality that we humans were created to serve someone or something; as Bob Dylan wrote, “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re going to have to serve somebody.” Surprisingly, however, the Hebrew grammar is often unclear as who is doing the serving; are we serving God or is he serving us?
The second word, shachah, makes both our role and God’s role in worship clearer. In Psalm 145:14 we read, “The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.” The image is that of bowing before the greatness of God and being lifted. The stress is on the reality that in the process of worship the LORD lifts us up, gives us strength, and reinforces in us the reality of our adoption. When we come to worship we come in need—in need of something meaningful to serve, and we need to be served, we need to be lifted up, given strength and renewal.
Our word for worship is derived from the Old English word worth-ship, which means that we can define worship as seeing the worth of God and giving God what he is worth. But in light of the Hebrew words we must also understand worship as God seeing the worth in us and giving us what he thinks we are worth!
In all Christian traditions, whether the church practices a formal liturgy or informal liturgy (there is always a liturgy, a shape or structure to the service), two core elements exist:
1) There is hearing from God and him listening to us. The Bible is read, heard, and proclaimed in a variety of ways. We praise him in prayer as well as request aid and forgiveness. God sees us as worth reaching out to and spending time with; we are lifted up, challenged, and encouraged by his words. We serve and honor him by hearing, remembering, and speaking his truth to one another.
2) There is giving from God to us and from us back to God. We give him our sins (confession), our substance (offering), our praise (singing, other responses), and our needs (prayers of the people). We give him our problems (completely trusting in him), our devotion (recognizing and rejecting our idols), and our thanks (eschewing self-pity). He gives us assurance of forgiveness through Christ Jesus, and strength, comfort, and counsel by the work of the Holy Spirit.
How do I prepare for worship?
The great American pastor Jonathan Edwards described our part in worship. He said, “Worship is setting the affection on God.” The affections are not merely emotion, but our motives, the things that drive us, that we truly treasure. We were created for worship, and so when we do not worship God, we worship other finite things. We set our hearts on relationships, career, money, accomplishments, approval, comfort, power, and control. We set our affections on these things, and they become what the Bible calls idols. We derive our meaning and sense of self-worth from them. When we worship God we pull our affection off these things and set them on God.
Preparing to worship God (alone or with the community of faith) then requires two things: the desire or willingness to discover and admit what really has your deepest affection, and, second, the desire and willingness to see how only God both deserves and returns the affection.
Where does the structure (liturgy) for the worship service come from?
The basic structure for our worship comes primarily from Isaiah 6:1-8. In the heavenly worship that Isaiah participates in there are four main parts. The first is the LORD’s calling of Isaiah into his presence which is followed by the praise of the LORD by those in his presence; in our service this happens under the opening heading God Calls Us. The second heading God Renews Us comes from what happens in verse 5; Isaiah recognizes and confesses his own unworthiness to be in the presence of the LORD because of his sin. The LORD’s response is to renew him, to assure him that he does belong. Third, there is instruction and commitment, not surprisingly under the heading God Instructs Us. The LORD teaches Isaiah in verse 7, and Isaiah responds to the call of the LORD to serve. The fourth heading God Feeds Us comes from the understanding that we need the LORD’s strength to serve him and our neighbor. The Lord’s Table is, according to Jesus, the primary (not only but primary) way in which God has chosen to feed and strengthen his people with his grace.
These are the key elements or basic building materials for worship. To these basic elements we can add different music, language, and style as the Holy Spirit leads and as we seek to worship by reflecting our God-given uniqueness.
How do I know I’ve worshipped?
Is your wallet lighter? Kidding aside, you have worshipped when, in the words of the Apostle Paul, the eyes of your heart have been enlightened to grasp the immensity of God’s love (Ephesians 1:18). Or in the words of the theologian Peter Toon, you know that you have worshipped when, “the mind descends into the heart.” When you’ve worshipped, every part of you has been engaged: mind, will, and emotions. Has truth led to a changed life? If all three are not organically connected, worship may be an intellectual event, and emotional experience, or volitional pressure—but none of these alone are worship.
From the Anglican archbishop William Temple, worship is the:
• Quickening of the conscience by the holiness of God
• Feeding of the mind by the truth of God
• Purging of the imagination by the beauty of God
• Opening of the heart to the love of God
• Devotion of the will to the purpose of God