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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