My third daughter was born on May 1, 2002. I remember calculating her graduation year and thinking how cool it would be to be the Class of 2020. We talked about that often through her years of schooling. When we greeted the New Year in January I heard countless messages proclaiming the year of perfect vision. I wanted to embrace that title, but it felt off. Three months time has brought much clarity to my hesitation. I now firmly believe this year will not be marked by perfect vision but by refocus. This pandemic has brought our world to a standstill, sending us home like we are all in “time out.” Even our houses of worship are closed. It brings us to the point of questioning, a point of re-evaluating, hopefully a point of refocusing our faith. This process of refocusing should cause us to ask, “What is essential to my worship?” and “What does God require of me?”
These are not new questions. Humanity has been asking them for generations and finding different answers, some right and some wrong. Consider Cain and Abel. They answered the same question differently. God honored one and corrected the other. Unfortunately, Cain did not respond well to that correction. My prayer is that we respond well to the correction or refocusing of our perceptions of worship during this season of individual and corporate reflection.
The Essence of Essential Worship
My husband and I have pastored for more than two and a half decades, which provides at least some context and experience with common perceptions of what God requires in worship. Many worship by performing religious duties such as attending church, singing in the choir, serving in the nursery, tithing, praying for others, teaching a class or small group; the list can go on and on. While all of these activities are good, and essential to the function of a church organization, they are essentially works flowing from our worship, not worship itself. This nuance can be easy to miss. In fact, James addresses it in James 2:14-26, so we can be assured this struggle is not new to followers of Christ. That doesn’t change the fact that our current worship paradigms have shifted significantly in this time of “sheltering in” requiring us to ask and answer the question again.
The Biblical Essence of Worship
Micah, an Old Testament prophet, asked the question as well. He struggled with the concept of essential worship in his culture. Of course the worship paradigm in Israel and Judah was different at that time. Instead of singing in the choir or writing a check, worshippers in Micah’s day brought a calf, dove, wheat, or oil to be offered as worship before the Lord. I guess it was a little more difficult in his day to “pass that plate.” Micah knew, through the prophecies that God had given him, that a time would come when his people would no longer be able to come to the temple and offer their worship. He struggled through these really important questions in Micah 6:6-8. What does God require? How can I worship him now?
Micah 6:6-8 What Does the Lord Require?
6 “With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with [will the Lord accept] thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
8 He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, [steadfast love]
and to walk humbly with your God?
I love the answer Micah reaches. He realizes it doesn’t matter the size of the offering brought to the temple. God doesn’t care about a herd of rams or barrels of oil. He doesn’t even ask us to sacrifice our firstborn. God is not counting the hours we spend in a church building each week, monitoring our tithing to the penny, analyzing our fasting, or keeping a checklist of the ministries we lead. His concerns are different. What pleases God, what God requires, is different. According to Micah, God requires that I “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with my God” (vs. 8). Will this require some action from me? Yes. Do these activities need to be completed inside a church building? No, which is quite relieving since we cannot be inside a church building worshipping in our traditional, cultural expression right now. Knowing this allows me the freedom to continue worshipping while corporate gatherings are on hold.
Micah redirects his audience to consider what God really required of them. According to the prophet, God already told them what is good and they kept doing other things anyway. Did you ever wonder why? It seems the things God required were even harder to perform. It is so much easier to measure my time, sacrifices and gifts than to measure qualities like justice, kindness, and humility. It is easier to serve when someone organizes an event and tells me where to go and what to do, and of course, it doesn’t hurt if it is fun and I get to spend time with people I like. This isn’t bad, but in this season of refocusing, I will need to be more intentional with my personal worship.
Essential Worship in 2020
How can I apply this right now, in 2020, during my coronavirus isolation? How can I worship in a way that God requires while obeying the directives of my state? Do Justice: do I have any responsibility to the elderly and weak around me? How are my actions (hoarding, going out, gathering) impacting those around me? Is it right that people should endure poverty due to this illness? What about the businesses that will close or the families who will lose their homes? What can I do about this? Love Kindness: ask, how am I acting toward the people in my home? What about the people in my neighborhood? Am I serving anyone beside myself right now? Walking Humbly with God: ask, am I relying on God’s leading right now? Am I following him? Am I sure I have all the answers? Am I willing to accept a change in my plans? It’s Your Turn: How are you applying this right now? Justice: what are you doing to establish justice? Kindness: how are you demonstrating kindness? Walking humbly with God what does it look like for you to walk humbly with God?
Does this mean I won’t return to my Sunday worship routine when the shelter in place is lifted? Of course not. Corporate celebration of God’s goodness and Christ’s sacrifice are an important expression of my faith. Serving in my Christian community allows me to be more effective; my works united with the works of others bring synergy as we labor together to proclaim the kingdom of God is near. Learning together with others sharpens me and the other Christians with whom God has surrounded me to share in life and faith. This is all good, and perhaps a separate blog.
Next in Series: Essential Faith, Essential Community