At the age of twelve, I remember the first time I heard the golden tones and glorious shape of the melodic lines produced by the renowned violinist, Isaac Stern. The mystery of how such precision and artistry could be combined to spellbind an audience was indeed a phenomenon. To a neophyte violin student, such beauty and bravura seemed more of a dream than a possible reality. But down deep in my spirit, something began to churn that said, If I were the best violin player on earth, I’d like to play like him!” I desired to own his recordings, to attend his concerts, and to become familiar with how he interpreted the great violin literature. I began recognizing his playing, his sound.

During those years I began to develop my own style, my own tone, and my own abilities. I heard stories of musicians who rehearsed eight to ten hours a day. For me, practice proceeded through phases of deep commitment as well as periods of sloth and dislike. Underlying all of this was the measuring stick of my own progress: the success and brilliance of Isaac Stern. It was what I remembered and experienced that shaped my idea and expectation of my musical journey. Isaac Stern and his marvelous virtuosity became a tool by which I could identify where I was in my musical progress. He served as a marker that brought the reality and quality of my own playing to light. I recognized my own glaring inadequacies when I witnessed who Mr. Stern was.

The Focus of Worship

Worship, when it is authentic and Christocentric, allows us to see who God is. Worship is ultimately a window through which we see the face of God, experience the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ, and sense the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We are another step closer in our own relationship with God when we have truly been in worship where he is revealed. When I see who I am in relationship to the white-hot heat of God’s pure love and grace, I am made painfully aware of my own inadequacies, my need.

We can liken our experience of worship to that of the prophet Isaiah, who exclaims, Woe to me! … I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.

Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’

And I said, Here am I. Send me!’ ” (Isa. 6:5 – 8NIV).

Identity for the Christian is found in the very roots of worship. Both sin and grace are experienced in the process. Once we see the glory and majesty of God, we recognize our inadequate little minds and selfish hearts. The worthless and rationalizing words that spill from our mouths now become caught as lumps in our throats. We agonize over the vileness of our desires and ache to be like the Father. And in the middle of the battle comes the extension of God’s grace that sets us free to play, to worship, to serve, to live, and to be living ambassadors of Christ to a hurting world.

Whether worship takes place in our private devotional time, in a small group, or in a large corporate setting, the results are the same. Our identity is established by the One we worship and the practice of doing it. Why should we not worship when this is the only discipline of the earthly Christian life that will continue into and throughout eternity?

A Convergence of Worship

In our world today we see a great convergence of emphasis upon worship. The importance of the right way to worship concerns many. Some proclaim that we must return to the ancient worship liturgies of the second century. Others urge us to incorporate more contemporary expressions of the arts and technical mediums of our day. We witness less congruency of worship practice between congregations within the same denomination than ever before. What is right? What is valuable? What brings honor to the God we worship? These are the questions that we must grapple with mightily.

From The Report of the Theological Commission on Worship, Fourth World Conference on Faith and Order come these statements: We do not find in the Bible … an attempt to systematize … variety or to evaluate various types of worship over against each other.… There is no preference for corporate worship as against a private worship, or vice versa. There is no competition between a sacramental worship and a type of worship centered around the preaching of the word and prayers. There is no sign that difference between spontaneous prayer and the use of fixed formularies’ caused any controversy, although both types of prayer are evidently there. The tendency to standardize a specific type of worship … is alien to the Bible. There is in the New Testament a greater variety of forms and expression of worship than in the majority of divided churches and traditions today.”

If I were to relate our current worship practices to my own early years of learning to play the violin, I would first need to recognize the model that my heart and mind are trying to emulate. No other but our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ could be that center, that ultimate psalmist, that personality who mirrored the heart of the Creator, his Father. He became, as one writer has expressed, the Lord of the Dance.” Christ’s worship, which was to do the will of the Father, leads us to the elements he lived out for us.

Our Model and Our Task

Christ’s exaltation of God as the Maker and Giver of salvation; his thanksgiving for life and all of its blessings; his confession of who he was in light of his relationship to his Father; his transparency of not wanting to go through the Passion and death on the cross; his affirmation of God the Father; his joy of serving; his respect for the personhood of all people; his prayers and worship both privately and corporately to the Father; and his continual abiding in the function as well as the attitude of worship give us worship practice examples.

From what should we take our cue [in] the second millennium? Could it be something as simple as allowing the Christ we celebrate by the revelation of his Holy Spirit to lead us into meaningful worship? Could it be that we continue to invest the event of Christ with interpretation and meaning? Could it be that we transmit the continuing life of the Word through forms which declare its authenticity and power? Could it be that we continue to use the worship traditions of the past as well as inculcate new ones? I resonate with what Paul Waitman Hoon says in his book, The Integrity of Worship: The Spirit is as much the source of continuity, of order, and of heritage as it is of newness and freedom; and it is this truth which those who reject tradition conveniently ignore. Present-tense or future-tense theologies cannot be permitted to stake out a monopoly on the doctrine of the Spirit. The Spirit’s reality is to be marked as much by what it has done as by what it is doing or shall do; and out of its richness the wise man brings forth treasures both new and old.”

Worship must be given primacy within the Christian community. Without it, the visage of Christ is blurred and oftentimes lost. It is through worship and its icons that Christ is revealed to us. A Christocentric focus must always be present. Texts, actions, hymns, movements, liturgies, and silences must all point to the life and example of Christ. In worship we tell the story of God’s creating and redemptive work through Christ. And we must wisely decide to tell that story through the rudiments born out of the past while consciously choosing to incorporate new ones.

Doing so authenticates our identity in Christ. It becomes as sacramental as the bread we eat and the wine we drink. Our life is changed. At one time, we had no identity. But now we are the people of God. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet. 2:9 – 10, NIV). Through worship we become a people, a people with identity.

What is Worship?

In the Renovaré approach to worship, we attempt to blend the past, the present, and the future. This blending best expresses the various streams of our faith — Contemplative, Holiness, Charismatic, Social Justice, Holiness, Incarnational. We cannot afford to throw away the prayers of St. Francis. Nor can we refuse without loss the singing of Bill and Gloria Gaither’s hymn, Because He Lives.” How fulfilling it is for me personally to lead worship in a manner that embraces all of creation, all of the arts, and all of the elements extended to us through God’s abundant grace.

Let me share with you my defining process of worship: Worship is that moment in Christian celebration when we see God’s children touch the hem of Christ’s garment as did the woman in need. We seek, we come, and we reach to the God who waits to meet us where we are. At that moment, we see who God is, realize who we are, and accept who he desires us to become. This is transformation from the old into the new spirit born through faith in Jesus Christ.

Worship is the process whereby we thank, we praise, we honor, we confess, we celebrate, and we purpose to the God of all life through his Son, Jesus Christ, that we are his daughters and sons. Therefore, worship is filled with ingredients which allow us to focus and to express our love and appreciation: singing, giving, praying, reading, teaching, preaching, enacting, responding, baptizing, dedicating, communing, partaking, and sharing.

Ultimate worship takes place when we, like children, find ourselves climbing into the lap of our heavenly Father with the desire just to be with him. At that moment there is no agenda other than to sit in his presence, to love him, to whisper in his ear our gratitude, to feel his face, to hear his heart, to rest in his embrace, to enjoy the moment, and to understand more fully the God who yearns to enjoy us.

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