What is Worship?

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Worship is a deeply spiritual experience, but not how you might think. To most people, worship is only for those who follow a religion. I believe that like breathing, everyone worships. Pause for a minute and take that in.

Low level religion is highly dualistic and creates faith systems that stunt our growth. This is why so-called religious people often operate in a spiritually competitive framework. Worship is often quarantined into a narrow idea, particular tradition, religion, or god concept. For example, Muslims worship Allah on Friday, Jews worship YHVH on Saturday, and Christians worship Jesus on Sunday. Hinduism has thousands of gods that are “worshiped” and Buddhism is one incarnation of them where the Buddha is worshiped. This is how most people understand it.

When worship is reduced to “My God can beat up your god” then I’m sorry to say, we haven’t got very far. Many sacred texts depict how early religion operated in just this way (1 Kings 18:24). Unfortunately many who interpret the various scriptures cannot distinguish between a description (indicative) and a prescription (imperative), and as a result modern religion tends to be regressive rather than progressive.

Within each religion, competition for whose worship is best further illustrates how little we understand about worship. One tradition views worship as the singing part of the weekend gathering, another as strict obedience to the rules and another as acts of justice toward others. Institutionalized religion benefits when worship is synonymous with showing up over the weekend and since the non-religious don’t go to such gatherings, we conclude that some people worship and some don’t.

It’s the tale of innies and outies all over again. We can do better.

We all worship, but it’s not as cliché as WHO or WHAT. We get no further when we say my thing is more worthy than your thing, because worship ceases to be worship when competition enters the heart. We all have preferences to our particular delivery system, but that doesn’t make one right and another wrong.

Worship is far bigger than we understand. It encompasses but goes beyond all that we know.

“We praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Lewis’s words helps us gain understanding. Worship is the thing behind the thing. What most of us call worship is the thing (singing, praying, bowing, obeying). What worship really is the thing beyond the thing (satisfaction, acceptance, approval, validation).

A viral video is worship. A popular restaurant is worship. A vacation, a nap, or time with a loved one are all worship.

This may not sit well if our framework for worship is exclusively a subject/object duality. Worshiping something other than the God we are taught to fear, appease, and obey is tantamount to idolatry or breaking the first commandment. I agree. I’m not suggesting everything we enjoy is the worship of God, I’m suggesting that everything we enjoy is enjoyable only because God is the sacred space beyond it, and all those things allow us access to small bits of this bigger joy. Idolatry is our default mode if we miss this truth.

Thus the entire world is the event horizon to experience the joy of God. Recreation, animals, cuisine, business, sports, reading, music, family are all tools that create access points through which the transcendent touches the depth of our soul. When deep touches deep, its called worship. It’s the satisfaction of the soul, it’s the recognition of our life and being within a context of a greater life and sense of being. Awe and wonder abound.

Worship is what we seek when we go on vacation. Worship is what we hope will take place in a family gathering. Worship is the mountain top experience we long for in all of our pursuits. Worship is behind, beyond, and within it all, but must never be confused with its transport or delivery system.  Worship is not going to church. It’s not the act of praying, singing, meditating or bowing, but found within each discipline. Worship is the consummation of truly belonging within each crucial moment.

By contrast, suffering is our confusion of worship. Suffering is the soul-level disappointment of placing our hope in an empty delivery system. Suffering is the unsatisfied soul among a billion access points to God. Suffering is disconnected worship or life unaware.

This reframing of worship means that everything we do engages us in a worship experience. Even the mundane requirements of life such as eating and drinking are done to the glory (celebration) of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Worship then is not a lifestyle, but our actual life. Worship is not sequestration but incarnation. God is not out there, up there, or only there, but is seen and celebrated IN and AS our very life.

To truly live is to worship. We all intuit this at a deep level.