Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from our friend Johnny Markin. You can follow Johnny on Twitter at @JohnnyMarkin. Many thanks to Johnny for sharing this perspective on worship with us!
When Ellen DeGeneres took a selfie with her mega-star entourage at the Academy Awards a while back, she wasn’t just setting a trend. She actually picked up on the fact that for many cell-phone owners, the most used ‘app’ is the camera. And a big part of that use is for ‘selfies’. If you aren’t sure what that is, it’s the use of your cell phone at arm’s length to capture you (and maybe some others) ‘in the moment’ of some activity… somewhere.
At the root of all selfies is this: they reflect our current culture’s preoccupation with living in the moment – the notion that ‘experience’ significantly defines who we are and what is important to us. But sadly, it’s the same mentality that has invaded how we gather to meet for worship as Christians.
For many worshippers, Sunday is about personally experiencing the ‘presence’ of God – visibly, audibly, or probably mostly subjectively (a feeling). It’s hard to argue that God is not present, since we believe God’s omnipresence is true both theologically and biblically. Yet in our postmodern experiential culture, feelings are practically the unquestioned standard for truth. If you can ‘feel’ something, then who am I to argue? And if don’t feel anything, then I start to wonder if there’s something wrong with me and my worship. So is experience the correct measure of worship?
Who Is Worship For?
Worship is for God first and foremost. Of course every Christian will shout ‘amen’. Still, we often approach our worship as an ‘event’ that entails ‘me’ experiencing something – perhaps something worthy of taking out my cell phone and snapping a selfie to freeze that moment in time. When that happens, worship has become more about us than about God. Instead, is it not more God-honoring to approach by faith the God who is unseen but truly present? Present, at the very least, by his Holy Spirit indwelling every believer. We needn’t think that every gathering is to be a ‘glory display’ like Leviticus 9 or 2 Chronicles 5. These were special moments in biblical history. To believe that those incidents are the norm is to set ourselves up for many kinds of disappointment. We needn’t be under the pressure to feel anything or experience anything beyond the love and fellowship of our brothers and sisters as we worship together. We edify each other by our communal acts of worship, which renew again our connection with God and the Church.
We Gather Because…
Scripture tells us that we were made for worship – for the relationship established in the Garden with Adam, and restored by Christ in our sin-fallen world on the Cross two millennia ago. But worship also implies that God is ‘most High’; to be revered, honoured, adored, praised. He is an other-worldly being that our created universe cannot contain. He leaves his mark on it in observable ways (Psalm 19) and through interjections into history (“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 ESV). But all in all, he is truly THE Awesome One to whom we can and should bow down to and live wholeheartedly for.
So don’t be trapped by the temptation to hype or drive our worship gatherings into something we think we have to experience in order to validate it. Instead, take the Ephesians 4:11-16 or Hebrews 10:19-25 model that tells us when we glorify God by declaring corporately his glory through his deeds, we build one another up in “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3, ESV). When we make worship about God, we see our universe the right way up, and can declare like John The Baptist, “he must increase and I must decrease.” That is where my true worship begins – with me getting out of the photo!