I am not saying my understanding of worship is original to me, nor is there a single source from which it comes. That being said, there are three aspects in my understanding of worship: corporate worship, holy moments, and worship as life. Far too often, we relegate worship to what happens in a corporate setting. More specifically, we relegate worship to songs that are sung in corporate worship. While the music we sing, when gathered together, is a part of the worship life of the individual and the church, such a relegation of worship is risky and reductive.
One major part of my understanding of worship, to be sure, is what is done in times of corporate worship. In such moments, we get to both perform for God (in a sense) while we dialogue with God. To highlight this point, there are two paradigms of worship that can be helpful to consider.
If talking about “performers” and “audience” in worship, it’s best to consider the congregation as the performer and God as the audience. This paradigm then tasks those who lead worship, pastors and musicians alike, with the responsibility of equipping and inspiring the congregation to fulfill their purpose. It, however, is probably more helpful to view worship as a covenantal conversation. Have a moment for an activity? Grab a bulletin and a pen and draw arrows up and down, next to each element of the service, identifying who is speaking to whom. We speak to God in confession, God speaks in assurance, we respond in song, God speaks his greeting, we speak again in prayer, God speaks through his word, and so the dialogue of worship continues.
Corporate worship, as performance and/or dialogue, is definitely a major component of worship, but there’s so much more. Worship is also experienced in holy moments. Moments that can occur both in and out of our sanctuaries. Moments in which time seems to stand still and nothing seems to exist in the world except for you and God, or God’s people and God. Such moments are not easily forgotten. They transform us, and mark us forever.
Finally, and ultimately, worship is life. Worship is not about what happens when we gather, worship is about the lives we lead. I have often defined this aspect of worship as “anything that makes God smile.” This of course means almost any task can be a meaningful act of worship. Anything from baking cookies for a neighbor, to spending time with a lonely friend, even delighting in a healthy sex life can teach us more about who God is and how we were created to relate to others in this world.
Worship forms us. Practice doesn’t make perfect … perfect practice makes worship. So, whether you are experiencing worship in a congregational setting, in a holy moment, or in life be vigilant to ensure that the subject and the object of your worship is clear. Be sure you are seeking to make God smile in all that you think, say, sing, and do.