And so we keep going…there’s just so much to say on the subject of worship. (Links to the previous posts are found at the end of this one.)
I have been a big fan of corporate worship. By corporate worship I do not mean worshiping corporations. 🙂 I mean the act of coming together as a people to worship God–as a people, in one accord. I still like that dynamic when it happens, and I think God does, too. Looking through the Bible, and through history, it seems like God has a tendency to manifest Himself when people come together with the common purpose of seeking Him. (Pentecost is just one example of many.)
HOWEVER…that’s not all there is to worship, either.
When our home church first began exploring this idea of re-thinking and re-shaping our worship, one question I laid on the table for discussion was this: “How do you think you receive most from God–through instruction, through discussion, or through reflection?” Now, we don’t have a large group of post-moderns; most of us are recovering institutional churchgoers. And so most people answered, “Discussion,” which is how most of our gatherings are structured.
Surprisingly, almost no one (initially) answered, “Reflection.” (One person came to realize she receieved through reflection when she said that everyday things, nature, etc. spoke to her about God.) And yet–everyone admitted that reflection is a good way to connect with God.
So…why don’t we do it more?
As I said before, corporate worship is still important. But perhaps an unfortunate byproduct of focusing only on the pulpit/pew, center-stage, worship-leader method of doing corporate worship is that we have programmed ourselves to be entertained. It’s as if we have dumbed down our own spirituality so that we must be led by the hand into the Holy presence of God rather than take the initiative ourselves. Our culture has somehow lost the art of reflection.
What do I mean by reflection? I mean to quiet our heart before God, to ponder, to look, to listen, to meditate. Reflecting upon the aspects of God, like His beauty, His goodness, His love–rather than having someone tell us about Him through a message or a song per se. We don’t do that too much anymore. We have been conditioned to wait for our cue from the stage to know what we ought to do. In fact, many of us are so conditioned this way that we start squirming when things get too quiet. Many times, even while leading corporate worship, I’ve felt drawn to bring the music down, or end the music completely, allowing the group to go into a time of quiet or silent reflection. Most times, it didn’t last more than a few minutes. People (including me, the worship leader) start squirming and feel like we need to move on. We have lost the art of reflection.
It seems that in some circles, there is a trend now toward what is being called “ambient worship.” Rather than have a leader “rally the troops” in corporate singing, the musicians will create a musical environment, allowing people to seek God for themselves–to reflect. Sometimes there won’t even be live music–just a recording. Sometimes there are prayer stations, art, or other things to stimulate reflection. But the remarkable thing is that there is very little direction given, and people are encouraged to seek God out for themselves in that environment. And for the postmodern crowd, it seems to be a strong point of connection for them.
Looking back, I realize I’ve touched on this element of reflective worship without realizing what I was doing–not only in the quiet worship times I described, but in some of the other things we’ve explored recently. We did prayer stations once in our living room, but didn’t repeat it because our folks didn’t seem to know what to do with it. Another time we had an “art night” during a night of public worship, encouraging people to draw or paint during the worship. The band sang songs, but also did a lot of spontaneous instrumental stuff, and didn’t urge people to sing along. It was more like a coffee house feel–except we didn’t have any coffee. That ended up being a pretty powerful time of connecting with God–even without the coffee. 🙂
I guess I’m realizing that this art of reflection, even though culturally we may feel alien to it sometimes, is something we need to rediscover. I’m convinced that there is so much that God says to us that we miss because we aren’t “tuned in”. We only listen to Him on a couple of channels, so to speak. But He speaks to us in other ways than through sermons and Bible verses. He speaks through music; He speaks through art; He speaks through sunsets; He speaks through the wind in the trees. (Not trying to go new-agey here–He just does.) Sometimes, if we’ll stop and just take the time to look around us, and reflect upon Him, we might find a stirring of our soul that will cause us to respond in worship in new and fresh ways.
All through Scripture there are references to reflecting on Him, meditating on Him, pondering. And through the history of the church, reflection has been part of worship. I think it’s only been fairly recently that this art has been lost. I think whatever our worship is going to look like in days to come…this element needs to be part of it.
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