There’s a lot more to worship than singing some songs and hearing a sermon, with prayers and an offering interspersed between them. There are also a number of purposes for worship, but I want to focus on one I believe is essential.
Worship reorders our imaginations.
Two decades ago, when we were living in Vancouver, BC, high-powered leaders from around the world descended on our city. A new era of globalism was heating up and these movers and shakers were meeting to determine what it would look like. There were protests. There were speeches. There was non-stop televised coverage. This was a big deal.
On Sunday, as it ended, motorcades cleared out all traffic for several blocks along the route these mighty ones traveled on their way to the airport. And we got stuck for a full fifteen minutes because of one of them, which caused us to arrive to worship late.
The powerful of this world had kept me from worshiping God. But not really. Because what took place when we arrived at our house of worship reordered my imagination.
We gathered as a unique community. We prayed. We listened to the Scriptures read and then expounded on. We offered what little we had to God. And each of those things contributed to helping me see and think clearly again.
During all of the hubbub, we had been told for weeks on end that a few men in suits controlled the world. Their muscle flexing had even slowed our trip to worship. But worship took place despite them and flipped upside down everything we’d been hearing.
This community which gathers in the name of Jesus is a different community. Treaties don’t control it. National boundaries don’t divide it. It is truly global and yet absolutely local at the same time. Its currency isn’t kept in banks, but tallied in acts of love.
As we gathered, we told a different story with a different hero. We told a story not where the nations came together to wield power, but one where every nation, tribe, language, and people come together to lay down whatever power or treasure or honor at the feet of our hero, our God.
As we gathered, we spoke of a different ruler with a different power structure. Our God doesn’t use his power to dominate, but to elevate. He is mighty and sovereign and glorious, and yet he is humble. He empties himself that we, the truly empty ones, might be filled to the full. He uses his power not to destroy, but to heal; not to kill, but to adopt into his family.
As we gathered, we prayed with a different hope for a different future. We weren’t going to manipulate and cajole a future into being. We were praying and working and waiting for the coming of our King, who has guaranteed the best future of all. Our hope isn’t in economic treaties, but in the God whose Spirit is at this very moment infiltrating every part of this world and causing life and holiness and peace to spring up with uncontainable force.
As we gathered, we reinforced one another in our commitment to a different value system. Our values are based not on money or power or the whims of a fickle society, but on the character of God himself. For our desire is not to look like our neighbors, but to look like our God in some small fashion. It’s his image we conform to, not that on TVs and in fashion magazines. And catching a glimpse of him in worship, reorders our imagination.
In worship, we see things as they really are, not as we’ve be led to believe they are. What people call the “real world” is not the real world at all, because it fails to include God, the most real Reality there is.
Worship pulls us out of our small circumstances and places us back in the massive context which is our God.
Worship validates our feelings and then teaches us how to feel, giving us a prayed language for the depths and the heights of emotion the world only hints at.
Worship reminds us that God is on his throne, where he is installed forever, and the powers-that-be are here and gone, blown away by the next soft breeze.
Worship exposes our trivial pursuits for what they are and calls us back to God’s mission — saving, healing, reconciling, repairing, unifying a world that is banged and bruised and broken.
Worship puts a song in our mouths, for we are reminded just how fully and finally loved we are and that joy is our most basic state of being.
This is why I do my best not to skip out on Sunday worship.
I don’t need programs or moral lessons, I need my imagination reordered. I need to see reality as it truly is. I need to be in the presence of a people who are having their imaginations rewired just like I am, so we can together continue reminding ourselves of who we are in a world that just doesn’t get it. I need the word “God” to become the most foundational word in my vocabulary again. I need to be pointed to Jesus again.