Worship is a Terrible Word
Sunday morning is about receiving, not giving.
Worship is a terrible word for what happens on Sunday mornings in church. Worship is an English word that means "to show worth to." The word, therefore, implies that we are the primary movers. It makes God sound like an egomaniac who needs our praises to boost his fragile ego. I am being a little dramatic, but when we imply that we do something for God rather than the other way around, it is dangerous, no matter how subtle.
Sunday morning is about receiving, not giving. God is the primary mover as he enters our world and shakes things up. We go to church on Sunday to receive his good gifts. He doesn't need our prayers, songs, praises, or anything else from us. In short, he does not need our worship, but we need his grace. So he speaks to us. He feeds us. He absolves us. He washes us. He is the prime mover.
Think about going to grandma's house for Thanksgiving dinner. If you have a bad grandma, Thanksgiving is about her. She sets the table, cooks and bakes all day, and finally presents the turkey while the guests praise her. Imagine now that she sits down on a chair slightly higher than the other seats at the table, and the guests present themselves to her, bow, and kiss her ring. That would be a terrible Thanksgiving and a terrible grandma.
I am willing to bet that your experience with your grandma is the exact opposite. She didn't care about the praise. She didn't demand thank you cards. She only wanted two things: for you to enjoy the food she made and for the family to get along for at least one afternoon! Why do we think that God would be the bad grandma and not the good grandma?
And yet we still worship. God even demands us to do so. We praise and worship God for the very same reason we thank and compliment Grandma at Thanksgiving. Not because she needs it or even desires it but because it is the natural response to such gifts. So we praise and thank God on Sundays. But here is the thing about our God, he is even more gracious than Grandma. Those hymns you sing? Those petitions you pray? Those creeds you confess? God makes our worship responses about us. Who benefits from hymns, prayers, creeds, and even offerings? We do! God doesn't need your worship, but you do. And so do the people in the pew next to you who hear the gospel proclaimed in word, song, creed, and prayer.
God doesn't need your worship, but you do.
Worship is finally trust. We trust that God is doing something for our good. We take him at his Word. We come into the presence of a holy and perfect God who has every right to flick us away as the ungrateful sinners we are. But he doesn't. And we know that. We know that he will not destroy us but will embrace us as a loving Father. He washes us because we are dirty. He feeds us because we are hungry. He absolves us because we are guilty. He speaks to us because we need to hear his love again. He is the prime mover in worship.
This is how he made us. We are speakers, drinkers, and eaters. No matter what culture you come from, if you gather together for a family reunion, you will do three things: speak, eat, and drink. From the very beginning, this is how God interacted with humanity. Adam and Eve listened to God and then ate what he provided. They were to take him at his Word when he commanded them to eat from the Tree of Life but not from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Listening, eating, trusting. All there in Eden. No wonder many have called the two trees in the Garden the first church.
Notice then that Satan attacks our worship. He attacks our speaking and listening, our eating and drinking. He wants us to worship anything but the true God because if we worship something other than the true God, we trust a false God. So what are your false gods? What do you trust? Follow your money (offerings), follow your calendar (holidays and events), follow your music, your reading, your speaking, your eating, and your drinking. There you will find what is important to you, and it may just be a rival god. It is the thing that is your number one, the thing that gives you your identity, the thing that you trust above all else. The problem with those rival gods is that they cannot save you. They cannot love you back. They will take your time and your offerings, your identity, and your trust, but they can never love you back in the way Christ can and does.
Perhaps we should have another name for Sunday mornings? I prefer "Divine Service" – it is God's service to us and, yes, our divine service of worship to him and those around us. Whatever we call it (and worship is a fine word when understood correctly), it must be about Christ for us.
I wrote On Any Given Sunday: the Story of Christ in the Divine Service to introduce, expand, and explain this idea that when we gather on Sunday morning to worship, God's gifts are present for us. This book has two parts. The first part is a story of a young couple who go to church. Each part of the Divine Service is related to their lives and struggles. The story of Christ is their story. It is Christ for them. The second part explains in more depth each aspect of the classic Divine Service used by countless Christians from every era and culture. Perhaps this book will be a good refresher for your understanding of worship or a primer for the new Christian trying to figure out what is happening in church on Sundays.
Either way, I hope you will give it a read because there is so much at stake on any given Sunday. Are we the prime movers, or is Christ? Is this about him or us? When we answer that question correctly, we find Christ for us. It is an encounter with the almighty God. It is a family reunion of all the faithful. Heaven and Earth are crashing together. God speaks and hosts a meal. It is the story of Christ told in poetry and prose. It is also your story because it is Christ for you.