Post 2: Harmony in Worship
Broad and Narrow Worship
In the last post I began a conversation about worship. We saw that Christian worship is about the honor, service, and respect of which God is worthy. With this basic definition in mind, let’s continue to expand our thinking about worship. In this post I want to look at four dimensions of worship: broad, narrow, inward, and outward.
When you think about worship, is it an activity for Sunday, or is it a way of life?
The answer should be, both! Worship is both broad (comprehensive, extensive) and narrow (limited in scope, specific). It is broad in the sense that it extends to every area of our lives. Consider what Romans says about worship, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (12:1). The basis of this new covenant offering is all that God has done for us, which Paul described in Romans 1-11, calling it, “the mercies of God.” Because of all God has done for his people, Paul encourages a living sacrifice. Unlike the Old Testament scarifies in which something had to die in the place of the worshiper, the people of God are to offer God their lives as worship. Our lives can be offered as worship to the Lord. All of life is worship when it is directed to bringing honor, glory, and worth to the Lord.
On the other hand, worship has a narrow sense. The church worships the Lord in specific ways when she gathers together. We see an example of this in Acts, where the gathered church is worshiping the Lord (possibly praising) and fasting (13:2). Narrow worship is what we do when gathered together on Sunday each week.
Worship is both broad and narrow. But which is more important?
The truth is that we can’t have one without the other. Broad and narrow worship go together (see Hebrews 13:15-16), so they need to be kept together. One without the other is incomplete, and can become something that really isn’t worship at all (See on Isaiah 58 below).
Outward and Inward Worship
So far we have briefly explored broad and narrow worship. The point is that we need consistency between our worship on Sunday and our lives of worship in the rest of the week. Anything less is not true worship. Now I want to look at another aspect of worship: inward and outward worship.
Outward worship is worship that is outwardly expressed; worship that is seen and heard. This includes our singing and serving. On the other hand, inward worship is worship that is inwardly expressed; worship that wells up from our hearts before the Lord, and includes our emotions. As with broad and narrow worship, there needs to be harmony between our outward and inward worship.
Where does your focus tend to be?
On the one hand outward worship is not enough. Jesus said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8, quoting from Isaiah 29:13). For Jesus the emphasis seems to fall harder on inward worship. Worship that doesn’t come from the heart is just lip-service, going through the motions, putting on a show. True worship begins in the heart.
On the other hand, inward worship isn’t enough. Heartfelt worship will necessarily result in acts of outward worship. Isaiah rebuked God’s people for assuming that their inward worship was all God cared about. He reminded them that inward worship will overflow in outward acts of justice and mercy. This is what Isaiah 58 points to. The people were complaining that God wasn’t responding to their worship, their fasting and contrition. It was like their worship wasn’t achieving the desired outcome; God seemed far away. This was because God knew the hearts of the worshipers; while they were doing those worship rituals, they were also neglecting justice and mercy. Worship had become corrupted, and misdirected as a way of manipulating God. God’s rebuke shows that worship and justice go together. In fact, it shows that the outward expressions of worship reveal the heart of the worshiper. True worship would have resulted in having in themselves God’s own heart for the poor and oppressed, expressed in justice and mercy. If they were really worshiping inwardly, then it would show in their lives outwardly.
All four dimensions of worship are part of true Christian worship.