I apologize for the long delay between updates–there were travel woes and a mission trip and computer problems all working together to prevent my weekly updates.
Why do we worship God? I’m not asking why we believe in God; that’s a different question. Why do we worship God? Why go to church? Why repeat ceremonies every week, why put so much importance on once-in-a-lifetime rituals such as Baptism? Why follow the same rituals that our ancestors did, when the world seems to be changing so much so fast? Christianity, after all, is not an “orthoprax” religion; righteousness is not based on performing the correct rituals. Christianity is “orthodox”–righteousness and salvation depend on correct belief. Although our faith should be acted out in our lives, the focus is on right belief rather than right action. So why do we go to church?
This question struck me with particular force the Sunday after Christmas. On Christmas Eve, the church is filled to the rafters. But the Sunday afterwards, less than half the people who were there for Christmas attend services. Many people only come to church twice a year, on Christmas and Easter. These days the only churches that seem to be growing are the ones where worship is an entertainment experience, with praise bands and multimedia presentations and nothing more required of their members than to sit back and enjoy the show. People complain that worship in mainline churches is boring, that it’s the same thing every week, that there’s not enough excitement. We have been conditioned to expect things to come in sound bites, and become impatient when they’re not served up to us easily. They’re not looking for worship, they’re looking for entertainment. But what is the difference, and why is it important?
I think the fundamental difference is in the focus. When we truly worship God, we are focused on God and God’s desires, not our own. When we are entertained, we are focusing on our own wishes. But the more we focus on our own wishes, our own desires, the more we turn in on ourselves. We stop looking outward at other people, and so become selfish and isolated. When all we search for is our own gratification, we have no time or attention to build true and lasting relationships with anyone, whether that is with God or with with other people. With so much focus on ourselves and our desires in our culture today, worship is a regular time to build up our relationship with God, to remember that God is working in our lives, and that God’s plans are deeper and wider than our own convenience and petty wants. Yes, our faith in God is more important than ritual; but the rituals help us see in concrete ways that we are a part of God’s family, and that God is a part of our life. It is our faith that makes us Christian, not our actions, but it is our actions that show that faith is more than mere words. It is our actions that remind us, in a tangible form, that our faith matters, to us and to the world around us. Our relationship with God is not academic, not based only in our thoughts. It’s not something to be put off to the future, it’s something that sustains us and guides us through good times and bad. Worship is one of the ways we remember and enact this.
If you have any topics or questions you would like me to address, please comment.