The indignity of worship

Worship in contemporary church has become something pretty and dignified. But worship is not meant to be a face-saving exercise. Nor is it designed to inflate our sense of self-importance. We cannot be worshipping Jesus and at the same time thinking about how good we look. Worship is not about ego or reputation.

Worship can be, at times, the most undignified thing we do. I have seen grown men cry during worship. I have seen people flat on the floor during times of awe before God. I have seen people dance, shake, laugh, clap, bow and raise their hands during worship. Worship is not a time to be seeking our own dignity. If there is a time to completely forget about us and get utterly lost in God’s presence, it is during worship.

And yet we desire dignity. We want to appear mature, balanced, like we “have it all together.” Worship leaders especially can fall prey to this trap. We want to appear confident so that people will follow us. But in doing so, we sometimes fear too much the risk of letting go. We want to stay in control, so we reign in our passion. We remove our hearts from the equation, and while this lends itself to nicely ordered worship, it sadly lacks the authenticity of truly abandoned adoration.

All too often I feel that our worship can be very nice but also very safe. The music sounds good, the prayers are well-meaning, and we leave church in exactly the same state as when we arrived. We stop short of going all-out for God. We stay dignified. Dignity can even become an idol: we won’t do anything that might cost us our dignity.

But we cannot come near to God without being affected by His glory. It’s like getting too close to a waterfall: it’s beautiful, but you’re going to get drenched. If you’re going to get close to a waterfall, expect your hair to get messy, your skin to get cold and your clothes to stick to you for hours afterwards.

When challenged on becoming less dignified, I have heard a fear expressed in some churches of becoming too “penty” (Pentecostal). People seem to worry that giving full control over to the Holy Spirit will result in all sorts of weird behaviour that will become “extreme” and ungodly. Such worry seems to emanate from stories of past revivals.

I’m not sure I buy into that. Sure, the Holy Spirit can wreak havoc, that’s His prerogative. The Holy Spirit can also bring a holy silence that stills people for hours on end. The nature of worship, as with revival, allows us to encounter God in all our vulnerability and in all His glory. I guess the question is whether we really are prepared to submit to God in our hearts, whatever that might outwardly look like.

Often we set limits on worship. “We can’t let worship go on too long,” “I don’t like the number of times they repeat the chorus of this song,” “I’m not a happy-clappy type of person.” And yet we pray for the Holy Spirit to come. We invite Him in. We may even pray for revival. But we don’t get to invite the Holy Spirit into our lives and then stipulate what He’s going to do.

Worried about the risk of becoming “extreme,” we sometimes err too far on the side of caution. But worship falls outside the play-it-safe zone. Worship is risky business. Oh, that God’s people were free from these invisible chains that bind us to conformity! Oh, that we were truly free to worship God with all our might!

I would hate to think I missed an outpouring of the Holy Spirit because it was outside my comfort zone. If He comes, I don’t want to be so busy hesitating or second-guessing Him that I forget to worship. I want to be swept away in His presence.

If we truly want to worship; if we really want the Holy Spirit to come in power; if we are going to ask for revival; we must realise that it will cost us dearly. It will cost us time, energy and complacency. It will challenge our normal expectations and personal limitations. It will even cost us our dignity.

I pray that the Church will embrace the indignity of authentic worship.

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