What is worship? A while back in Reformed Worship, John Witvliet created a diagram to show the different meanings of the word “worship.” In the outer circle of the diagram is life worship, the spiritual worship we give when we “present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1). Inside that circle is the worship service, that time we set apart on a Sunday morning for corporate acts of worship. An inner circle is praise & worship a music style often associated with intimate expressions of adoration.
John’s diagram helps us untangle things a little, and may keep us from saying “worship was great today” when we really mean the music was great. It may even help us think more robustly about our worship services or how we worship God with our lives. But it doesn’t get show the relationship between the two. The second diagram makes the relationship between worship services and life worship more explicit.
Orbiting around the life worship circle are all the things we offer God on a daily basis. Some of them are the usual suspects: Bible study, prayer and evangelism. Some are more subtle, like working for justice or aligning our vocation with God’s call. But sports? How does that fit into life worship? We need to offer all the stuff of life to God as worship: sports, eating, studying and knitting. God doesn’t just want our “spiritual” life. Orbiting around worship service are all the kinds of things we do in worship. It’s not just music and preaching, but a host of elements that form a complete picture of our relationship with God.
But here’s the most important part of the diagram: the two arrows that connect worship service and life worship. Vatican II called worship the “source and summit” of the Christian life. Jack calls it “the essence of our faith in ritual form.” Both state that worship flows into life, and life flows into worship. For example, we pass the peace each Sunday; that worship ritual becomes a habit of peacemaking in our life. We experience sorrow and doubt during the week, and we bring it to church on Sunday to pour it out in lament and prayer. Worship is not a respite from life, but an intense and compact version of life.
Perhaps all these diagrams and discussion make things more complicated than they need to be. Mahalia Jackson boils down the whole subject when she sings “I’m Going to Live the Life I Sing About in My Song.” She knew that a holy song is worthless if it’s not backed up by a holy life. God said it through Amos like this: “Put away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
This year we’ll be studying the relationship between worship services and life worship in a Sunday school called “Liturgy & Life.” It would be great if you could join us. But even if you can’t take part in the class, let’s allow worship to challenge us to live the life we sing about in our song.
Can’t tell the Queen of Gospel from the King of Pop? (Hint: they’re both Jacksons) Contact Greg: email@example.com.