Remember the days when church signs said something like “Jesus Saves”, or “All Are Welcome Here”? You don’t see many of those anymore. Signs now read, “Contemporary Worship at 9:30, Traditional Worship at 11:00”, or however the church has chosen to separate their worship. Imagine how confusing this must be to a non-Christian. Imagine how confusing it is to some Christians!
Worship is a word I first heard at about age five when I attended a Pentecostal church with my grandparents. I loved Sunday School, but when it was time for the “worship service”, I was ready to go home. Sunday after Sunday, my grandmother would herd me into the sanctuary, sit me down beside her on the hard wooden pew and say, “Now listen to the preacher. He’s going to teach us about God.” I’d comply with her request for as long as I could, usually about two minutes, then search for another source of entertainment. Sometimes I would make funny faces at the people sitting behind me or play “connect-a-dot” with the music notes in the hymnal. My personal favorite was waiting until everyone closed their eyes for prayer, then tossing small pieces of wadded paper into their hair.
Somehow through the mischief making, a word or two must have seeped through. I remember hearing the preacher say that in order to get to heaven, we must worship the Lord. That statement generated a loud “Praise the Lord” followed by a chorus of “Hallelujah” from the congregation. I wasn’t sure what the preacher meant but I knew I wanted to go to heaven. For several weeks I studied the reaction of the parishioners, trying to understand the meaning of worship. Finally, I figured it out and decided to give it a try.
One Sunday morning soon after, the pastor stood before the church with the sad announcement that the poor old Widow Faye had passed away. I sprang to my feet, held both hands in the air and shouted, “Praise the Lord, Hallelujah!” Every eye in the room shot through me as my grandmother jerked me back into the pew. “What are you doing?” she scolded. “I’m worshipping the Lord”, I replied. “Didn’t you hear the preacher say that the Widow Faye is dead?” Grandma asked. Smugly I answered, “Sure I did! And now she’s in heaven, and that’s a good thing . . . she was old, and kinda ugly . . . she had whiskers on her chin . . .” Grandma smacked me on the knee. “I don’t want to hear another word out of you!” she warned.
I was confused. If heaven was such a great place, why wasn’t everyone happy the Widow Faye had gone to live with Jesus. In heaven, the whiskers would be gone and she would be a beautiful angel. Then it dawned on me. The Widow Faye must not have made it to heaven, and that’s why everyone was so sad. She must not have worshipped the Lord!
A young man who was visiting our church found my outburst amusing and turned to smile at me. “You better pay attention and worship the Lord, or you’ll wind up in hell, just like the Widow Faye!” I warned him. That was the last time he visited our church.
Some years later, my parents joined a Baptist church where the worship style was more conventional. They worshipped through responsive readings, formal prayers, and traditional music. The closest thing to an “Amen” ever spoken was when a bee flew into Deacon Jones’ mouth during the singing of “We Shall Overcome”.
Through the years, I have searched many denominations and churches in an attempt to find the meaning worship. What I found instead was confusion, frustration, and sometimes even a battleground. All too often, churches adamantly promote what they consider to be the “right” style of worship, dismissing all other possibilities. Radical differences in belief can even exist within one fellowship of believers. I experienced this first hand when the “contemporary versus traditional” worship war evolved and caused a split in the church I had attended for nearly twenty years.
So, how are we supposed to worship? The answer for me came not from a church or denomination, but from the first daffodil of spring. One morning as I rushed about my way, I caught a glimpse of the yellow wonder peeking through the ground. Something made slow down and take a closer look. As I stared at the miracle God created, I felt His presence there beside, admiring the beauty of His creation. In that moment, we shared this tiny piece of heaven. A gentle voice whispered, “Be still and know that I am God”. (Ps. 46:10).
David worshipped God by dancing in his undergarment. Jesus worshipped God through quiet meditation. Their methods of worship were drastically different, but had one thing in common. They both sought the face of God rather than the approval of man. I encourage you to look beyond religious boundaries and seek God’s presence. You will find quiet moments with Him in the most unlikely places, where His peace and glory engulf your soul. That is the meaning of worship.