In my last post, I pointed out a dilemma that frequently comes up for discussion especially in street ministry. Do we preach first and then feed or do we feed first? It is my opinion that the prevailing mood of street ministers is that we feed first, then preach. There are a host of issues related to that question – a lot of them come up only after we pit the “spiritual” against the “practical” service. I could write more posts along that line, but that line is pretty much barking up the wrong tree. So, why bother?
In this post, I want to talk about the substance of worship and how it is a (often discounted) world-ordering force (or power/potential). I think it is discounted so easily because the very idea of it has been largely reduced to a cultural decoration – nice (or fun) to experience, but nothing more than a pretty novelty. Hopefully, when we establish worship as a world-ordering force/power, questions, such as the one addressed in the previous post, become either less important or completely irrelevant, freeing us to share the Gospel uninhibited.
1. Worship reduced to novelty
Allow me to demonstrate:
When I say the word “WORSHIP”, what comes to mind? A church service? People singing, praying, and otherwise mostly just passively sitting through a sermon?
I have friends and family who attend various churches around Lubbock with whom I am apt to share lunch afterwards on a Sunday afternoon. Almost invariably, when I ask these friends and family, “How was worship?“, they answer describing the sermon they just heard – usually with a remark of some evaluation. “It was good,” they are apt to say, “The preacher talked about loving our enemies today. He did a good job….”
Does that sound familiar? But go back and look at my question carefully. Did I ask about the sermon? The sermon gets the reaction about 99 times out of 100. The sermon. The most passive part of the whole worship assembly; the part we consume. The part we pay the professionals to do for us, and we get our money’s worth when her word convicts, inspires, or entertains!
But that is not really what the question asks. And the appropriate answer could be/should be something like: We praised the Creator of the universe with all our hearts, with all our strength, with all our minds! We honored his name and gave him all due glory and praise! We bowed low and showed the world who is boss! But honestly, I NEVER get that answer or anything like it.
Hmmm… Worship has become a commodity we consume, it seems – something like going to a movie or a concert instead of something we do or supply.
2. The Substance of Worship
Okay, so now that I have demonstrated reductionist worship, what is the substance of the real thing?
In the Greek and Hebrew translations we find the definition painting the picture(s) of a kiss, of a dog licking the master’s hand, of bowing low – in fact face down to the ground – in reverence to the king. And I am willing to let those definitions/pictures speak for themselves. You can plug that in to your sentence where you would normally use the word “WORSHIP”, and suddenly your sentence stands to be stretched as your imagination is expanded.
But I want to stick a bit closer to the Old English definition that I find in the writings of N.T. Wright. Our modern word “worship” is actually a contracted version of a much older term: WORTH’SHIP. Worship, as a verb, is all about ascribing value. What do you value, and how do you express value appropriately to/for that object of your worship?
With that foundation stone in place, let me talk about two kinds of worth’ship: Mundane and Exuberant.
Don’t discount mundane worship. (I bet most of you, my dear readers, instantly think of stuffy/traditional worship styles vs. contemporary worship with guitars and drums. But no. I am not talking about worship styles. I will let you figure that stuff out for yourself.) No.
Mundane worth’ship is a very important (though subtle and often unenthusiastic) world-ordering process. An example that comes quickly to my mind is the bagboy down at my local market with a price gun in his hand sticking price tags on loaves of bread at about $1.99 each. He is ascribing value to bread! That is quite mundane, but it also brings order to the world. I need to know the price of bread, and he just told me. His mundane worth’ship facilitates a lot of commerce that feeds the community.
The underlying point is that placing appropriate value on things plays a vital part of ordering our world! We do it all the time, but normally don’t see it for what it is. Ascribing appropriate value to various created objects is a form of worship that in turn highlights ascribing ultimate worth/value to the Creator himself. Sticking price tags to loaves of bread is just one small example among hundreds, perhaps thousands, that I could easily offer. But it demonstrates how we order our world, in part, by ascribing worth to objects in it as a means of ordering all of it.
So, if the bagboy at the grocery store is ordering the world with his mundane worship, what is exuberant worship?
Exuberant worth’ship is the more familiar use of the term – the usual sense of liturgy associated with “worship”. This worth’ship is prayer and fasting, song and sermon, kneeling and bowing, preaching and prophesying, speaking in tongues and dancing whether in a reserved fashion or ecstatic. And ultimately it is a matter of offering your very body – which is your spiritual ascription of value to God (Rom. 12:1). This is worship reserved for the Creator.
God is worth how much to you??? You show that … how?
This too is a world-ordering force/power. In fact it is the ultimate force to proper, abundant-life-giving world order. God created the world to give him glory, honor, and praise. When every aspect of creation does that, the world is in proper order and death and chaos have no place in it.
Funny, in today’s marketplace and marketplace of ideas, this world-ordering force is largely considered irrelevant. Your 3rd grader’s earth science textbook will make no mention of it. Your college history text will describe how differing ideas on worship have caused wars all over Europe, and how in the Great Enlightenment, the founding fathers of the United States purposefully separated church (worship) and state (governmental order) as a way of addressing those war-causing differences. Thus our culture has marginalized exuberant worth’ship to the back alleys of private, personal piety and made it a matter of pie-in-the-sky-in-the-sweet-by-n-by – otherwise completely irrelevant.
Obviously the implications for WORSHIP go far, wide, and deep. Less obvious, perhaps, there are different kinds of worship and they can, and do, serve different agendas and different gods. And finally, despite seeming almost irrelevant, worship is the most central world-ordering force there is and our culture either overlooks it or reduces and belittles it.
I am just a simple street prophet. I am working from the bottom up. This ministry is not ordered by budgets, administrative decisions, marketing techniques and strategies, science, or money. It is ordered and powered by worth’ship. We ascribe ultimate value to God and then appropriate value to people and then to things. And we express that value in mundane ways as well as exuberant. But even more, we see God in the humble people of the streets. Thus we both ascribe value by celebrating him in them, and we express his image there for all we are worth in our humble worship. And these humble ones in turn invite you to the party.