The Emotional Journey of Worship

Human beings are God's image bearers - we represent him in his creation. Our whole job is to reflect his nature, from our care of the world to the way we worship him. He's made us as whole beings - embodied and spiritual; made of the dust and yet made for eternal life. Our physical and spiritual selves are both essential, which is one reason that gathering together, in person, is such a crucial part of the Bible's teaching on worship for the church. As we heard just this past Sunday, even the Greek word for "church" in the New Testament means a gathering! Ekklesia is formed from two words: ek, meaning "out of" and kaleo meaning "to call." In Jesus' day, it was a common word for any assembly of citizens called out from their homes to gather for a public purpose. We're called out and called together to form the body of Christ in the creation.

When we gather, there's another both/and reality that we affirm: we are both intellectual and emotional. We come to worship bringing not just our minds, and not just our affections, but both. Our very nature as humans bearing God's image makes these inseparable. In our worship services, we seek to call both of these faculties together for the purpose of seeing God accurately with our mind, and responding to him appropriately  with our heart.

This Sunday (September 25, 2022 if you happen to be reading this sometime in the future), is a great example of how we work these intentions out in a liturgy - an order of worship. Join me, if you will, on a tour of this week's liturgy, to help prepare you to better engage in worship!

We begin, as we usually do, with prayer, led by one of our elders. This time is all about making our hearts ready to surrender to whatever the Lord wants to do among us in this gathering.

Then, we will sing the song Love Shines, written by Austin Stone Worship. With this song, we start to actively declare truths about God - that in the moment of Jesus' death, the Father's love shines more brightly than any other time!

Your love shines! Love shines at Calvary!
Now we proclaim that Jesus reigns in victory!

Calvary is the Latin name for Golgotha - the Place of the Skull, the hill where Jesus was crucified. There, just as Jesus appeared to be defeated in death, he achieved the greatest victory of all: victory over sin that would culminate in his victory over death at his resurrection. This is what is looks like when love gives everything.

After we sing this together, we'll open up the Bible and continue studying the Gospel of Matthew. As Jesus is moving toward the endgame of his ministry, his death on the cross, he makes what may be his most challenging call yet to his disciples: if anyone wants to follow me, he has to take up his cross to do it. He hadn't been crucified yet - the disciples didn't know what we know now about what was going to happen. To them, this must have been a scary thing to hear: following me will require you to carry the Romans' most brutal instrument of execution, a cross. The thing about carrying a cross is that the one who carries it is the one who is getting ready to be killed on it. Do you feel the uneasiness that the disciples felt? Do you think following Jesus is worth this? He goes on to tell them losing your life is actually the way to gain it; that if you keep your hold on the world, you will lose your soul. There's a judgment coming, where those who have given up their life will be rewarded by gaining Jesus and his Kingdom. And as a preview of that, he promises that some of the disciples he's talking to will get to see something of this Kingdom, and Jesus shining in it, before they die.

This not only paints a vivid picture for the disciples and for us about the cost of following Jesus, it also shines a light on the joy of the payoff. And as we contemplate what that means for our own lives, we will sing again.

This time, we'll sing a song called Is He Worthy?, by Andrew Peterson. As we sing, we ask ourselves and each other if the cost of following Jesus is worth it. "Is he worthy of this?" And we answer out loud, to ourselves and to each other, "He is!!" With that, we will make another declaration: we will declare his death through taking the Lord's Supper together.

In the physical act of Lord's Supper (or Communion), we will remember Jesus broken body and poured out blood - the signs of his covenant with everyone who trusts in him. In the bread and cup, we will see a reenactment of what he did for us, and what he is calling us to do in imitation of him. We can expect to feel the brokenness of suffering when we walk the steps he walked. But when we are united to him in his death, we are also united to him in his resurrection!!

After we eat in remembrance, we will stand to sing again - this time recounting the story of how Jesus came to meet us in our world, taking on the form of a servant, but ultimately showing himself to be the King of Kings - the title of the song we will sing together. With one voice we will cry out,

Praise the Father!
Praise the Son!
Praise the Spirit!
Three in One!

 We know that this King will forever keep us, and that his church will not will not be defeated no matter what the gates of hell might throw at us.

And finally, we will sing the great commitment of the day, Jesus I My Cross Have Taken. This song, with its 6 verses, is a lot to take in. And if we're honest, we can all say that it reveals in us the very same conflict the disciples must have felt: can I really say that I'm ready to drink from the same cup of suffering that Jesus did? The song's author, Henry F. Lyte, knew what loss felt like, and what it meant to be taken in by someone else's sacrificial love. As a child, his father was what we might call a deadbeat - preferring fishing and hunting to caring for a child. He sent Henry off to boarding school, and when he wrote him letters, he signed them "Uncle," not even allowing his son to call him "father." The headmaster of Henry's school saw his need, paid his tuition, and included Henry in his own family gatherings at holidays. Henry also lived with terrible health for most of his adult life, dying at the age of 54 with the last words, "Peace! Joy!"
Just consider the boldness of these lines:

Jesus, I my cross have taken
All to leave and follow thee
Destitute, despised, forsaken
Thou from hence my all shall be

In modern language: "Jesus, I have taken up my cross, to leave everything to follow you! Even if I'm poor, hated, and abandoned, from now on you are my everything."

Go then, earthy fame and treasure!
Come disaster, scorn, and pain!
In thy service pain is pleasure;
With thy favor loss is gain.
I have called thee Abba, Father
I have stayed my heart on thee.
Storms may howl and clouds may gather;
All must work for good to me.

In other words: "See you later, good life. Hello suffering. Bring it on: the more it hurts, the more I rejoice in  you, my King! In you I have a Father! The storms of life can do their worst; you're going to work it all for my good."

THAT is the confidence we need for the journey of discipleship. THAT is what the surrendered life looks like. When you leave worship this Sunday, I hope these words are still ringing in your ears, speaking directly to your soul:

Think what Spirit dwells within thee!
Think what Father's smiles are thine!
Think that Jesus died to win thee!
Child of heaven, canst thou repine? (can you mourn??)

No, we can't truly mourn no matter what we lose, because we are children of the Kingdom of Heaven through Jesus as we walk in his footsteps and count the cost. Think it. Feel it. And then, live it.

(Photo by Sven K├Ânig on Unsplash)

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