Worship can be very simple to understand. Worship can also be very complex.
I am not attempting to navigate the various complexities of worship in this brief post. However, I was given a fresh picture of worship recently that has shaped my understanding.
It began with my son. As a father, my eyes have been opened to new understandings of how we relate to God as Father. When Jesus instructed us to pray, he began "Our Father..." In Galatians, Paul tells us that we have been adopted as sons and daughters of God. My experience as a father has helped me to have an increased understanding of how we relate to God. While my relationship to my children is far from a complete representation of my relationship to God, I have seen some things in a new way.
My birthday was a few months ago, and my wife and I went out to celebrate. We had a babysitter come over to watch our children so that we could go out. With two littles running around, dates are hard to come by, so we were excited to get out together. Unfortunately, our son had a very difficult time with us leaving that night. He really wanted us to stay home. It broke my heart to leave him as he asked us over and over again to stay home. Even though it was difficult to leave, it was necessary for the health of our marriage, so we went anyway.
Our keen babysitter suggested that Liam and she make a birthday card for me while I was gone. He jumped at the opportunity to make a card for his daddy. They took out a blue piece of paper, folded it in half like a card and wrote "Happy Birthday, Daddy" on the cover. With colored pencils, Liam included some random marks and traced his hands a couple times. They also wrote Happy Birthday on the inside with the words, "I Love you Dad." Our babysitter gave me the card when I got home, and it was so precious.
The card was not anything special. It was actually sort of a mess. There were random marks all over, and scribbley-traced little hands. The colors didn't coordinate well, and there was a lot of blank space that had no real purpose. It was not aesthetically pleasing from a purely objective sense and I do not assume that Hallmark would duplicate this card in order to sell it anytime soon. But for me, no card that could be found in the endless racks of Hallmark or Target would be sufficient to replace the card that Liam made. It was priceless.
A short time after receiving the card from Liam, I was sharing about it when speaking to a group of students and it nearly brought me to tears.
Why would the card mean that much to me? From a design standpoint, it wasn't anything special. There was no poem. There were eloquent words. The value in the card came because it was an authentic and genuine gift from my son, whom I love dearly.
The value of our worship
My experience with the card that Liam made for me helps me understand the heart of God for His people. The value of our worship is not found in the eloquence of our speech. It isn't found in the harmony of our singing. Our worship is not valuable to God because we adhere to certain traditions. It isn't found in our ability to choose the correct songs or know all the words. The value of our worship is not in our physical posture. We are not better worshipers because we raise our hands or because we lay prostrate on the ground or because we shuffle our feet with our hands in our pockets. The value of our worship is not in the type of building we worship or the theological system to which we ascribe. It isn't because we know the definition of justification, propitiation or sanctification.
The value of our worship is found primarily in our identity as God's children, created in His image and redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Our worship is valuable not because of how we do it, but because of who we are.
God desires our hearts
Flowing out of our identity as God's children, our worship is meant to be marked by hearts of humility and love. God says that he desires "steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings (Hosea 6:6)." More than our sacrifices or our traditions, God wants our hearts. He desires for us to offer Him pure and authentic worship in response to His character. As we learn more about God and are reminded of His love through Jesus, we respond in worship. God wants our hearts. He wants our real, raw and authentic worship.
The card Liam gave me was not special because of its quality. It was special because Liam is my son. It was special because as my son, Liam wanted to give me a card to express his love and appreciation for me on my birthday. I have tried to remember this in my worship lately. My worship to God is special because I am His son. As His son, I want to give Him worship as an expression of my love and appreciation to Him as my Father God.