Is worship a natural expression that flows from our hearts? Or is it a discipline that requires effort? Is it spontaneous or practiced?
Another way to look at it might be this: Which do you like better broccoli or cheesecake? Which one is better for you?
An expression is something that just happens.
- We love God so much that we just worship.
- We see our children or our dinner and are just so floored with gratitude that we worship.
- We make a mistake and remember how deep the Father’s grace is for us, and we worship in amazement.
God comes to mind and immediately we worship. It’s a natural overflow of what’s inside of us. It sounds like the ideal, right?
But then there’s the other side: discipline. That’s not a word that most people like – maybe because of bad experiences with school principals in the distant past. But it’s really not that bad of a thing.
A discipline is simply something that you can do today that enables you to do tomorrow what you can’t do today.
So, for example, today you can’t do 500 push-ups, but you can do 50. So today you do 50 and you commit to doing at least 50 every day. Tomorrow you do 51. The next day you do 54. By the end of the next week you’re doing 60. If you stick to this practice, you will keep getting stronger. As you get stronger, you’ll be able to do more push-ups. Eventually, you will be able to do 500. But today, you start with 50, and a commitment to do it again tomorrow. That’s discipline.
Are you always ready to worship? Not me.
There are times when my head isn’t in a place of worship at all. I’m distracted. I’m moody. I’m definitely not noticing things to be thankful for. I may be holding on to some grudges or bitterness or some other self-justifying sludge. If I spontaneously express something, it’s probably not going to be worship!
Sometimes that happens just as I’m about to be a part of a worship experience. Sometimes it even happens just as I’m about to lead worship! What then?
Well, I have two choices.
- I can put on a plastic smile and participate with fabricated enthusiasm.
- Or, I can decide that even though I don’t feel like worshipping, I will submit myself to the discipline of worship.
This is different from faking it. I participate, not because this is how I feel in the moment, but because I know what’s true. This stretches the muscles of my soul which are tightly contracted in self-absorbtion.
Some might agree with my distinction, but say that the expression is the ideal and the discipline is something lesser. I disagree. At least this side of eternity, I suspect that we will never experience worship as pure expression all the time, maybe even most of the time.
That means that the discipline of worship is an important part of our spiritual growth.
Maybe it takes both Broccoli and Cheesecake?
It’s like broccoli and cheesecake.
Broccoli is a fine vegetable, especially with a hint of butter. It’s high in vitamin C and folic acid. It’s a great source of fiber. It contains a number of compounds that seem to help with cancer prevention. But even with all those great benefits, no one would mistake broccoli for dessert.
A really good dessert can be mind-blowing. The mix of flavors, the texture, just the right level of richness. It’s something that sticks in your memory, something you brag about on Facebook. For some people a really good cheesecake can be like that. It’s not just something you eat; it’s an experience.
The thing about broccoli is that all its great benefits don’t come from one serving. The benefits of those nutrients accrue slowly over a lifetime of eating broccoli. You don’t remember a particular meal – “Oh man, remember that one broccoli – that was the one that gave me that shot of indole-3-carbinol. Yea! That was amazing.”
That’s not how it works. If those ingredients are going to change your health, it’s because you ate broccoli regularly, over the long haul. There were countless forgotten meals where broccoli played a part.
When it comes to worship, most of us are looking for cheesecake moments.
We want to open the Bible and in fifteen minutes come away with a revelation just for us from God. We want to stand to our feet as the music starts at church and be swept away into an experience of closeness, passion, and commitment. We want to have a realization or break-through or Word From The Lord that we can underline in our journal, and blog about online and Know – capital K know – that God spoke to us.
But I suspect that our worship experiences are more often like broccoli. They’re fine. Nothing that amazing. Nothing to write home about. But over time, as we regularly worship, the process shapes our heart and mind. I don’t think this is a deficiency. I think God intended it this way.
Think about it like this. People who eat a lot of brocolli can afford to eat some cheesecake from time to time, and they do pretty well. But people who only ever eat cheesecake – or similar things – don’t end up very healthy.
I wonder if it’s the same with worship. People who engage in the regular ongoing practice of worship are equipped to deal with amazing, transcendent moments of connection with God when they happen. And maybe they even have them more often, since they are more aware of what it looks like when God shows up.
But people who are constantly seeking out a significant experience of God, who need the goosebump moments to validate the Holy Spirit’s presence, are not as healthy spiritually because they aren’t getting that regular diet that sustains them.
John Dalrymple said: “The truth is that we only learn to pray all the time everywhere after we have resolutely set about praying some of the time somewhere.” The same is true of worship.
Practicing the discipline of worship is the very thing that create the space in our hearts from which the spontaneous expression of worship can grow.