Last time we asked: Is God really just an insecure bully? Doesn’t it seem a little selfish for a God of unselfish love to ask us to worship only God?
Which brings us to our next question: What really is worship, anyway?
Worship is a two-part word, like leader-ship or companion-ship, formed from the combination of worth and ship (from the Old English sciepe, meaning shape, state, or condition). Basically, to worship is to give or recognize the worth of something.
The truth is: We’re worshiping all the time! Whenever we prioritize something with our time, money, energy, or affection, we are attributing worth to it, and therefore, by definition, we are worshiping it. The things we invest in or orient our lives around demonstrates - both inwardly and outwardly - what values we align ourselves with and what we worship.
Some of these values are life giving and some are life stealing. To be honest, I don’t always choose the life giving ones. Sometimes I find myself aligned with little gods and idols who steal the life I really want.
A few years ago, there was a Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit that came through Philadelphia. In addition to the scrolls, there were other archaeological finds from ancient Israel. The most fascinating display was a collection of little idols found in Israelite communities. It was almost humorous but mostly tragic that a people who worshiped the infinite Creator God had stooped so low. I took out my phone to take a picture and thought how ridiculous it seemed that people would have something which they had manufactured themselves, something small enough they could hold in their hands, and worship it! I see the irony now, but I’m sure many others around me, also on their phones, were thinking the same thing.
Maybe we don’t have little figurine idols anymore, but it's still so easy to get stuck aligning ourselves with things that just don’t even matter. Maybe for you, it isn’t your phone, but we all have something. For example, I often get lost on YouTube for hours. It begins with looking up a recipe for dinner, but it ends with videos about heavy metal cats or cats flushing toilets (If you click on those links, please come back! Don't get lost in the void! And why does it always end up with cats on the internet?). I have to ask myself, "Did I really want to spend that much time on this?" There are so many things, even good things, that we waste too much time on.
Or maybe for you it's spending way too much money on the latest luxury item that really only improves your life by 0.0002%. Maybe it's when we side with pride instead of admitting we're wrong, or make it more important to be right than to be forgiving, or choose convenience and safety instead of kindness and trust. These are all little idols we hold in our hands and align ourselves with, instead of looking up into the bigger picture of life.
And this is why I think God asks us to worship God. Because if worship is a question of alignment, of what we value or don’t value, and if you, like me, sometimes find yourself out of alignment, then how can we truly live a holistic, integrated life?
The beautiful thing is that worship reminds us of who we are and who we want to be. When I worship God, not just as one of many gods in my life, but as the one above all others, I realign myself, not just with the values I want, but with the God of love, the God who empowers the way of living I long for. I’m re-centered, re-focused. When I worship God first, it enables me to truly see the worth in others and in myself. When I love God first, I’m empowered to love others better.
This brings us to some practical questions: how do we worship, and what does worship look like?
In Deuteronomy 6:6-9, it says: “These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
This is spoken in the context of worship and the teachings of God. What we’re talking about here are practical, everyday ways to stay focused and aligned with God. These are common ways of worshiping God through all our choices, big and small. Yes, worship includes weekly gatherings, but there is so much more!
Worshiping God with all our heart, soul, and strength means worshiping God with our entire life. Not a church life over here and a work/play/school life over there, but an integrated, whole life where all we think and do is aligned with the values of love.
Worshiping God can look like the things we like or share on social media, the way we vote in elections, the jokes we laugh at or don’t. Worshiping God can look like spending time during our busy schedule to sit and listen to someone who needs to talk. It can look like cheering for and supporting those who don’t normally get to be in the spotlight. It can look like being an ally to the marginalized and mistreated.
Praying for a homeless man is worship, and so is taking him to dinner and getting to know him. Singing songs about the God of justice and mercy is worship, and so is educating others about the justice problems in our country or doing the work of mercy for those in need. Reading our Bibles is worship, and so is going to work or school or playing in a way consistent with loving God first, and our neighbors as ourselves. All of this is worship.
So back to my earlier question: is God more than just an imaginary friend? Does God actually do anything? For me, the answer is yes. What God does is clear to me in the way worshiping God brings my life into alignment, in the way it connects me to God, and to others, and to myself. I see what God does in the way worshiping God empowers me to walk in the way of life-giving, not life-stealing.
Sometimes we think that worshiping God means God only wants all from us, but really it means God wants all for us. God wants us to have the most life and love possible. May we live every day in worship, in all that it brings us, in all the ways it reminds us who we are, and in all the ways it empowers us to love.