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Last week I was talking to a fellow minister of worship. In his church, the sermon dominates the worship service, and we were discussing ways he could help the people move from a warm-up-songs-and-lecture model of worship to a more interactive work-of-the-people model. At one point in the conversation he blurted out an exasperated “What is worship, anyway?”

I have never been one for carefully-crafted worship definitions. Worship—like love—is better experienced than defined. But I was on the spot and came up with the best thing I could formulate on the fly: “Worship is a time to come together and reorient ourselves to the Kingdom of God.” I went on to explain that I see worship as more than a time to learn, more than a time to pour out our hearts—although it includes these things. Instead, it’s a time for the people of God to align our deepest instincts with God’s character, growing holy reflexes for life outside of worship.

Deepest instincts? Holy reflexes?

Granted, these may not be the most precise phrases, but I’m trying look deeper than just heart, mind and body, to the very core of who we are as human beings. In the Old Testament they called the core of the being the kidney. For example, Psalm 16:7 could be translated “I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my kidney instructs me.” The word is usually translated heart, but that’s not quite right. Our current use of the word heart connotes the passions, and we know that the passions can be exceedingly fickle. In old English the word bowel was used, resulting in rousing hymns like Isaac Watts’ “Blest Is the Man Whose Bowels Move.” It’s fun to contemplate the possibilities for reviving the word, but probably not fruitful… Jonathan Edwards used the word affections to describe this seat of the human will, but that word has been weakened in modern English and is generally reserved for babies and high school sweethearts. Even the word soul seems a bit disembodied to fully describe the way we engage with God in worship.

I think gut might be a better word. Every use of the word connotes the very center of one’s being: “She sure has guts” (convictions). “I just have a gut feeling about it” (instincts). “He poured out his guts” (deepest emotions). “Now she hates his guts” (his very essence).

Let me get to the guts of the matter: worship engages our minds, hearts and bodies, but it doesn’t stop there. Over time the things we learn, feel and do in worship begin to shape our core convictions. Through repetition we develop habits of thanking, confessing, forgiving and sharing that we practice in our every day life. Worship aligns our deepest instincts with God’s character and grows in us holy reflexes for living.

Can’t tell your gut beliefs from a Gottesdienst? Contact Greg: