Languages of Worship (The Biblical Illustration)

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. Genesis 12:7

David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might… II Samuel 6:14

Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. John 12:3

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death… Philippians 3:10

My first post on this topic (and by this title) was  here.  Think of it as an introduction.

If you have ever had to plan a corporate or “gathered” worship experience for a diverse group of people, you know how challenging it can be.  This person prefers hymns, that person prefers choruses.  This person loves  Power Point, that person hates it, and so on and so forth.  And it is those differences in preferences which have contributed to what we call the “worship wars” troubling so many of our churches today.

I believe those differences can be sorted out into two categories.  Some of them have to do with cultural upbringing.  In that respect, the preferences are learned languages which we have developed over time.  I grew up singing hymns so I have developed a love for them, a preference.  Others did not grow up with them and find them to be difficult to understand.  They prefer a more “user friendly” chorus.  This category of preferences is very akin to the Mac versus PC issue in the computer world.

But there is a second category of preferences that go beyond just cultural or learned responses.  Going back to the computer metaphor, there are some worship preferences which have more to do with our circuit board than with whatever application we happen to be running at the time.  They are about temperament or personality.  They have to do with how God created us.  If the first category of issues is essentially a “software” issue, this second category is more of a “hardware” issue…all the culturalization in the world will not change it, because it has to do with how we were hardwired from birth.

In his book, Sacred Pathways, Gary Thomas challenges us to consider how very different many of the “worshipers” in the Bible were from one another.  For example, consider four of them: Abraham, David, Mary of Bethany, and Paul.  If you were called upon to plan a worship experience that would engage all four of these worshipers, what would it look like?  Abraham was a traditionalist, always looking back at what was and remembering.  He approached God best by building altars.  David, on the other hand, was passionate and exuberant in his worship.  He celebrated being in God’s presence with singing and dancing.  Mary’s (of Bethany) pathway to worship was just sitting in Jesus’ presence, gazing adoringly at him, contemplating His love.  Paul was an intellectual.  If you want to engage him in worship, you better have your Bible opened and be challenging him with thought-provoking truths.  Each of these dear friends loved the Lord and was loved by God.  Each of them were wired completely differently in terms of the environment in which they preferred to approach the Lord.

Can we in the church today learn to give each other the leeway to be wired differently from one another?  Can we learn to embrace those differences and use them to make our worship experiences even richer?  Can we as leaders in the church learn to exert our influence so as to promote tolerance in our people for a variety of forms of worship?  I say yes, yes and yes.  I have faith in the church.

By the way, for more on this concept, you should check out Gary Thomas’ website and particularly his book, Sacred Pathways. Intriguing stuff.

© Blake Coffee

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