Unbracketed Worship (Psalm 8)
Reflections on Psalm 8
From my earliest memory, my church experience has been populated by singing. The songs gave voice to the feelings resonating in our hearts, and the music seemed to lay them at the foot of God’s throne. For us, music and singing were the brackets bounding worship. Activities outside of that expression could be considered God-honoring, but they were never worship proper.
As I grew older I began to realize that this discipline was much more encompassing than a Sunday song. What, then, I asked myself, is worship? The New Oxford American Dictionary defines it as “the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity.” Different Christian traditions realize this expression uniquely. For a Catholic, worship emerges from a ritualized liturgy as well as taking the eucharist (Lord’s Supper). A Reformed Protestant might offer that praise is found in our response to the sermon. In a charismatic or evangelical context, worship is usually identified with singing praise songs. While these traditions perceive worship differently, they all treat it as a set of brackets restricting what praises God and what doesn’t. What if, however, worship includes more than these? Can it burst our brackets?
While the biblical record gives high praise to singing, liturgy, and the sacraments, they are never treated as the totality of worship; rather, they are crucial actions that cooperate to inspire worship in the believer. The heart of worship is ultimately found in arranging our lives around what we love.
The things or people we care about shape our lives. We may pick up the speech mannerisms of our parents, start listening to the same music as our friends, and begin sharing hobbies with significant others. The act of acquisition leads to the state of reflection. Doing the same thing as someone you love leads you to resemble them.
Because our lives are a hierarchy of loves, the depth of our reflection matches the level of love we attach to the person or object. If I had a dog (one day!), I would plan my day to take him out for walks, but I would never quit my job to take him for a stroll. If my mom were diagnosed with a terminal and debilitating illness, however, I would immediately alter my work arrangements to take care of her. The one, therefore, who occupies the pinnacle of my affections will have the most formative influence on my life; that resident will have the power to shape and guide me. When we look at our internal hierarchies, who lives at the top? Is it God, a person, an ambition, an object?
Call and Response
In the beginning, God created us to be cups overflowing with his love. He wants to inhabit the top of our hierarchy of love. He calls us to love him with all our heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5). In order to obey this command, we have to understand what initially ignites our affections.
Our ability to step into this high calling starts with God’s love for us. His desire to know us and be with us precedes any desire we have for him (1 John 4:19). The love God has for, and demonstrates toward, us is the soil in which our love for him sprouts; his love displayed on the cross is the seed that grows into our love offered in response.
God’s affection for us, therefore, is a call-and-response. He initiates and we react. As a result, the substance of worship comes in how we answer God. When he says our sins are forgiven, do you believe? When he commands us to honor our parents, do we give them the respect they deserve? Ultimately, worship is found in hearing God and responding to him.
Growing in Love
As we grow in our love for the Lord, we’ll situate our lives around people who also love God, prioritize listening to biblical preaching regularly, and living out the Bible commands. In these spaces, we’ll be able to hear God clearly and respond appropriately; we will be surrounded by reminders of his perfect love and learn how he wants us to react.
True biblical worship is loving the right Person and shaping our lives around him. Whether I am in church, at home, or on the job, I will do all those things as a response to him who loved me first. Slowly, I’ll find myself looking more and more like him. Let us, therefore, eagerly pursue worship with the totality of our lives, for, as A.W. Tozer writes, “we must never rest until everything inside us worships God.”
Footsteps—putting feet on our faith
1. How do you define worship?
2. What, or who, do you love?
3. How does that love shape your actions?
4. How does God’s love reshape your life?
Dear God, before I knew you, you already loved me and cared about me deeply. You moved heaven and earth to situate your affections in front of me. As I hear this deep cry of your heart, I am moved to reply with love. The call and response of our loves gives shape and meaning to my life. It is the fount of all my worship for you. Take every piece of my life, and fill it to overflowing with your love. In Christ I pray, amen.