I have found that it is relatively easy to worship God with my voice, yet much more challenging to worship with my heart. It is not really difficult at all to sing a song or read out loud a Scripture passage with all those who are gathered together for worship. Other than the skill it takes to read and sing, the effort that is required to worship on this level is slight. My body responds easily as well, as I can stand or sit, raise my hands and even clap them without too much trouble. My presence in the pew is not challenging for me, and if attendance qualifies as genuine worship, then I could almost do it in my sleep. If we believe that worship is defined by our external participation in whatever worship service we have attended, then honestly, worship asks very little of us.
If I desire to worship with the whole of my heart-let’s say with the entirety of my being-then that is a completely different matter. If I hope for a connection between the thoughts of my heart and the words on my lips, then more is required than simply the engagement of my vocal mechanism. If I purpose for the sentences that I sing or speak to be purely a vocalized version of what is already occurring deep within me, then worship is much more challenging and engaging then I might have ever experienced. If genuine worship requires the whole of me and not just my body or voice, then it is conceivable that I might have gone through the motions every Sunday for my entire life and never actually have worshiped.
Jesus’ own teaching reinforces this point, seeming to stipulate that genuine worship is defined by a deep connection between words and thoughts, actions and the heart. He sharply criticizes the worship of the Pharisees in Mark 7:6, recalling for them the words of the prophet Isaiah: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me…” Jesus is seeking to show the hypocrisy of the Pharisees’ worship, pointing out that while their external actions of worship might be flawless, they are meaningless without a corresponding heart component. While this is perhaps an extreme example, it reveals the principle: genuine worship requires a heart engagement, an interaction between what we think or feel and what we say, sing or do.
In the past, we have perhaps conceived of worship as a concert of praise. We have seen ourselves as coming to worship in order to enact a sacrifice of praise, and so our role in the presentation becomes that of a performer. While our audience is still God alone in this understanding of worship, our participation is defined by what we bring, not who we are. Therefore, the focus easily begins to turn on the quality or excellence of our sacrifice, and not on the consonance of the heart that makes that offering. When worship is conceived as a concert of praise, we bring the engagement of our voices, but our hearts can easily become disconnected.
While there is nothing unbiblical about this approach, I believe that worship is more than just an offering that we enact for God, but is also a time in which we interact with His Spirit and are deeply transformed. In this sense, worship has a twofold purpose: glorifying God, and being transformed by His glory. The apostle Paul makes this point in II Cor. 3:18, when he notes that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Gazing upon the glory of the Lord is intrinsic to the sacrifice of praise that we bring. We also find in the interaction, however, that we are deeply changed, and that is the twofold nature of worship.
As we open our hearts to the Spirit in worship, preoccupying every part of our being with the activity of praise, we will find that we are deeply changed. However, if we pursue worship as something that engages our voices but not our hearts, then worship will not be a vital venue for transformation in our lives. Therefore, all of the activities of our worship services should be geared not only to glorify God, but to richly till the soil of our hearts. The Holy Spirit desires to create fertile ground for growth, and our hearts are the fields that He would enrich. We open our hearts in worship and the contents of them should spill out of our lips in praise, thanksgiving, confession and repentance. When we bring an offering of worship that originates from our hearts, God is more glorified and our worship is empowered as a sacrifice of praise and as a vehicle of transformat