With all the talk in Christian circles about worship, worship services, experiencing God through worship, and so on, you’d think the New Testament was full of such sentiment, too, right?
The idea that humanity was created to worship God, or that one day when we die we’ll all go to heaven and have one big worship party around the throne for endless ages is nowhere to be found in scripture. Even in the story of creation, where you might (rightly) assume we’d be given some view of God’s original intention for mankind, we find no such element. Strange, is it not? We do find some mention of eating and drinking, of walking, of bearing God’s image and exercising authority, but not a single word about worship. Nowhere does God say, “Adam, you are a worm of the dust and I am Almighty God. I have created you to worship me for who I am.”
And what about the New Testament? We Christians believe that God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. And though Jesus’ disciples were slow to grasp the significance of who He was, there were flashes of light here and there which helped them to see into the mystery surrounding this unconventional Rabbi in whose footsteps they were following.
So did they spend their days prostrated at his feet? Singing praises and chanting hallelujah as they swayed from side to side to the heavenly music? Actually, no. In all the gospels we only find one or two instances where it says “they worshipped him.” And in each of those moments their worship was a spontaneous response to some clear, heaven-sent revelation to their hearts concerning Christ.
Looking at my own life and relationship with the Lord, I find it to be very similar to this pattern. In all honesty I can think of only a few times when true, spontaneous worship has risen from my spirit unto the Lord. And each time it was in response to some sighting I’d just received of Christ.
For instance, I can take you back to the very moment and the spot on the bed where I was sitting in the room of a friend at college when I first said the word “hallelujah” in true and living response to a revelation of the Lord. It was during a time of fellowship as I sat listening to some brothers share about their experience of God. As one of them spoke it was like a light turned on inside my spirit-some connection was made-and I saw the Lord in a way I’d never seen Him before. Instantly, without thought, from hidden depths within me, worship arose and came out of my mouth in that word which I’d used rhetorically countless times before.
This is not to say I was never sincere in my attempts to “worship” God, or “press in” to His presence in all those church services from the past. I was, actually. But so much work remained to be done in me (and still does) in the way of what the writer to the Hebrews calls “dividing between soul and spirit.” I had no idea that the majority of my thoughts and feelings of connecting with God in those moments was taking place mostly in the realm of my soul, and therefore was very natural and not spiritual. Unfortunately, this is what so much of what passes for “worship” across the Christian world today seems to be based upon: A highly orchestrated emotional experience (or, for you thinkers out there, an intellectual experience) masquerading as fellowship with the living God.
The soul is an incredible thing, don’t get me wrong. Our minds are God-given. The intellect, the emotions, the will-all are wonderful in their proper place. But they are there to express the life of God residing in our spirit, not to be the source of our living themselves. This is where we all know so very little compared with what we ought to know. This, in fact, makes up a great deal of the Christian quest: learning to live by the life of God in our spirit rather than the natural life we each possess in ourselves. And what a long and arduous quest it is! But well worth the effort, if you ask me. I was never fully convinced I was connecting with God in those vaunted times of “worship” anyway, to tell you the truth. I strained and strived and tried my best, but deep down I knew I was really just practicing at faking it.
I hope what I’m trying to say with this post has come across clearly enough. Dividing between soul and spirit is not a topic that gets much airplay in the evangelical world today. I would love to open up a conversation among anyone out there who has anything to say in relation to the thoughts I’ve shared here.