It’s All About You, but it Radically Informs Me
Growing up in church, I used to sing a verse from a chorus which encouraged:
Let’s forget about ourselves
And magnify His name
And worship Him
I appreciate the sentiment and intention. We want worship to be God-centered, God-focused, and God-directed. “He must increase, I must decrease.” And most of us have well heard the penetrating critiques of the “me-centered” worship that has characterized not a small part of our modern evangelical doxology. It’s why songs like “It’s All About You” and “The Heart of Worship” were written.
However, “forgetting about ourselves” is only half the truth of what worship is and does. Worship is also a huge jolt into remembering who we really are. Weekly and daily, on conscious and unconscious levels, we are formed and shaped by visions of who we are, which compete with God’s true Word of our identity. We spring out of worship each week, and these false identities whisper into our ear lies about our true self–“You are your job achievements,” or “You are your success as a parent,” or “You are your reputation as a healthy, fit person,” or “You are fine just as you are and merely need to accept yourself,” or, most penetratingly, “You are an unforgivable sinner, too broken to ever be fixed.” Lies. Painfully mal-forming, degenerating, corrupting, fragmenting, truth-twisting, life-smashing, soul-crushing lies.
Worship Rescripts Us
Similar to what I was saying when I wrote about how worship is the most human thing we do, Michael Horton writes:
Even if we are lifelong Christians, we forget why we came to church this Sunday until it all happens again: We come in with our shallow scripts that are formed out of the clippings in our imaginations from the ads and celebrities of the last week, only to be reintroduced to our real script and to find ourselves by losing ourselves all over again. It is not merely as we entertain the possibility of being a character in this story, or some other purely subjective strategy, that this narrative has the dramatic power to reconstitute us. Rather, it is as God the Spirit works on us through the proclamation of the Word that we are rescripted: our lives, purpose, identities, and hopes conformed to that “new world” into which the Word and Spirit give us new birth–instead of the other way around. Instead of our remaking God and his Word in terms of our experience and reason, we end up being remade–caught in the action of the divine drama.*
Some Takeaways About This Truth
This is not just high-level, un-groundable, esoteric stuff. It’s deeply applicable.
For the worshiper:
- It makes worship not merely experiential, emotional, or ritualistic, but formative. Worship becomes so much more deep than just getting a spiritual high or getting re-charged for a new week. Worship becomes something that actually molds and shapes us.
- It puts corporate worship on the top of our spiritual formation’s prioritized task-list. It throws out the window any sense of lackluster attendance, because it is our lifeline of spiritual health and centeredness, and in it are God’s primary intended means of nourishing our souls.
- It raises the stakes on active participation in corporate worship–engaging the whole self, to the best of your ability, at every moment. Humanly speaking, there is a strong correlation between how actively we participate in worship and how formative it is. God can and does (thankfully) subvert this reality, but the truth is that the more we are engaged, the more we are shaped.
For the worship leader:
- The stakes are raised on our worship planning. We can’t just plan a fast-to-slow “worship flow” and think that we’ve done our due diligence. We now have to analyze the content of that worship flow for its “remembrance-quotient.” We now have to ask ourselves, “Do the songs we sing, the prayers we pray contribute to God’s proclamation of our lives being re-scripted around the identity, person, and work of Jesus Christ, or are we just vaguely emoting about and toward God?” How much of God’s script are we really disclosing to His people? A partial plot-line? A slide show? A chapter? A preview? A trailer? God help us if our worship services are cliff notes of the gospel story.
- The gospel of Jesus Christ moves front and center. If the dead-center of our “remembrance” is the good news of who Christ is and what He has done, it behooves us to make EVERYTHING about worship point to that reality. The more we move away from that, the more we contribute to our people’s amnesia about who they really are. Hear me clearly. A sermon preached without the gospel of Jesus Christ, and a worship set planned without the gospel of Jesus Christ, regardless of how “Christian” it sounds or how “biblical” it seems, is neither Christian nor biblical because it is not ground-wired to the epicenter and source of its power–the gospel of Christ. A gospel-less “Christian” worship service is as good and formative as a pagan service. No gospel, no power.
So let’s remember this paradoxical truth. We come to worship to place our attention outside of ourselves onto God, His promises, and His Triune mission of gathering the nations in to His intra-Trinitarian self-love, to the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit. But it is precisely in the moment of forgetting ourselves and hearing that proclamation that we remember who we are–blood-bought, loved, adopted, justified sinners, completely loved by God in Christ. And, in the midst of this remembrance of who we are, God is remaking us into who we will be.