The Worship Paradox

O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge. – Psalm 62:8

Here’s a riddle: When does emptying yourself out fill you up?

The answer: In worship

When your gas tank is empty, you’re not going anywhere. When your wallet is empty, you’re aren’t going to be buying anything. But when you pour out your heart to God in worship, when you empty yourself of yourself before God, worship feeds your soul.

We live in a consumer-driven society, and unfortunately consumerism has woven its way into our approach to worship. Pastors and worship staff are tempted to plan through the lens of what the congregation wants rather than what will honor the Lord. And worshipers often come to worship for what they can get out of it, judging the experience by whether or not it meets their needs.

But in the drama of worship, God is the audience and we are all the performers. In other words, God is the recipient of worship, not us. A pastor I know once told a congregational member who was complaining that they didn’t get anything out of worship, “If you got nothing out of worship then God got even less.” Perhaps a bit harsh, but true nonetheless.

The great paradox of worship is that our souls are fed when worship is all about God, when we pour ourselves out in praise and thanksgiving. Worship becomes soul food when our lives take on the cruciform pattern of Jesus who “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7) in obedience to God.

Let me share three practices that can make worship a feast for your soul.

First, come prepared. Coming into worship “cold” is like exercising without warming up. I have found great value in these two “warm up exercises” for worship:

  • Practice being mindful of God’s presence in your life throughout the week.
  • Start and end each day with a gratitude practice, thanking God for all good gifts.

These simple practices, done faithfully throughout the week, provide the foundation for why God is worthy of our worship.  They will prepare you to come to worship with a full heart ready to be emptied through praise.

Second, be present. Give your full focus to God in worship. Turn off that part of your brain that wants to evaluate the worship service. Set aside your shopping list and meal plans. Ever see a couple out for dinner, both of them on their cell phones? Don’t be that person in worship. Give God your full attention.

Third, fully engage. Worship is a verb. It’s something we do with our hearts, minds and bodies. Think of worship leaders as choir directors – and you’re the choir. Sing, and if you can’t sing well, at least make a joyful noise! Bring your bible and take notes in it during the sermon to keep you engaged. Give an offering, even if you don’t think you have much to give. Pray during the prayer, rather than just listening. Engage with others in the worshiping community, especially those you don’t know. Your hospitality might be the difference in whether they return next week. Speaking of which, invite someone new to join you in worship next week!

Sound like a lot of work? It is! The word “liturgy” means “the work of the people”. It is our labor of love for the Lord who is worthy of our worship and praise. But rather than wearing you out, this work will feed your soul. That’s the worship paradox.

Jeff Marian serves at lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN

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  • Bernie Dusich

    A great reminder Jeff!