Thursday, 20 August 2009

The Importance of Worship Without Expectations (Going To Church Series)

One of the ways to misunderstand worship is to come to worship for a purpose. It is easy to say about worship: I'm coming to be re-filled for a new week; I'm coming because I love hymns (or whatever kind of song); I'm coming to receive the sacrament (celebrated in a certain form, whether traditional or not, catholic or protestant); etc. When we do this, no matter how laudable the reason, we are worshiping for a reason other than what worship is for. Worship is to give thanks, to be open to God, not coming with our agenda. When we do come with an agenda we run the risk of manipulating God and indulging in magic. This is hard because we have all had the experience of worship that is badly done, lacking content and style, or even if spoken in our native tongue, it still seems to be alien to us. So we are tempted to think that what we should do is seek out what we want in worship. I am, of course, sympathetic to this because it has, for one thing, made churches more responsive to people if they wish to survive and flourish. And this has been a blessing to traditional churches, even though some may die because they won't/can't move. But, and this is a very large caveat, the danger is merely magnified when we go to worship with a particular outcome in mind.
Why do I say this? Let's think a bit more about magic. Magic is the use of a formulaic set of words and actions to bring about a certain outcome; manipulation of whatever the 'magic' is being used on. If you come to worship with a certain outcome in mind (whether it be how you should feel, what you should receive/get out of it, the content, the spiritual nourishment) aren't you doing magic? The minister, musicians or preacher become the magicians for you to get what you want from God.
What's the alternative? A couple of places to start. First, let's not pre-decide what we should receive from worship or how we should feel. Maybe your expectations are wrong. Maybe the conversion the gospel asks of us is exactly directed at our expectations of God. Second, come to worship to give thanks for all the graces in life, especially the grace of Christ and the Spirit. What we receive that day, if we come to worship without expectation, can be received as gift, further grace in our lives. this means that, instead of preconceived expectations of what God/worship should do or be like, let us approach worship with the expectation that God will indeed be present (even, at times in an apparent absence or dryness), but not necessarily as we would like.


  1. Hi Warren. It must be an age thing but I've had much the same thoughts of late. It seems to me that so many come to church, and sometimes leave the church, based on what they want and like.

    Eugene Peterson, writes somewhere, that most people are self-centred not God-centred and churches have become shops with the clergy shopkeepers. And it isn't age specific either! Liturgy, music, preaching, teaching and so is so shaped around us and what we like that 'self' has become God. It's about pleasing us, isn't it?

    A contemporary song, that we sometimes sing at Brighton - not to everyone's liking mind you - picks up the theme. The chorus sums it up.

    'Heart of worship' by Matt Redman

    I'm coming back
    to the heart of worship
    and its all about you
    all about you, Jesus.
    I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing
    I made it
    when its all about you
    All about you, Jesus.


  2. The more I think about it the more it is evidence of our turned-in-ness, picked up in the book review I did a few days back.

  3. It is one thing for us to say to our people that you should come to worship with no expectations but to worship; to give thanks to God.

    On the flip side...

    However, should people also expect that the Service will be done well and that it will allow us to worship and not hinder us in encountering the Holy?

  4. Hard to argue with that expectation. Although, interestingly enough, it is probably not as simple as that either. I remember one Sunday where, as soon as the 10am service started we had a technology failure, then something else went wrong. As it turns out I was talking that day about imperfection, so made some comment about imperfection in the liturgy and my sermon that day. The congregation took it in good humour. Some new people said afterward that they like a congregation that doesn't take itself too seriously. So, yes, tight liturgy is good, but that doesn't take itself too seriously I suppose and allows for the mistakes. Which is still light years away from bad liturgy and worship.

  5. It is important to go to worship only God to keep in mind ... In my view going to ask just is not right

  6. Hi generic viagra,

    Yes, I think that is right. Worship is about God not us. And by making God our focus we take the focus off ourselves which reorients our internal sense of who we are in relationship to God.

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