Worship is...

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Robert Webber, in his website AncientFuture Worship, writes this nugget:

For most, "intelligible worship" and "intellectualized worship" are not the same. Worship that is intellectualized is usually dead, failing to engage the heart and mind. Its language is typically explanatory.

I've worshipped in many settings where worship is continually explained: "We just did this, and that leads us to our next act of worship, which will be this." Explained worship is driven by comprehension, management, and control. It intellectualizes the relationship with God, which normally is cultivated through worship's mystery. Consequently, its transcendence, or meaning, is undermined.

Let me create an analogy. When someone visits you, you greet that person with words of salutation and symbols, such as a handshake or a hug. You create an ambiance that expresses welcome and pleasure. You wouldn't say, "We just greeted each other with words of welcome and a sign of friendship, now we are ready to enter the living room and converse." Such an explanation would be awkward and insulting. It devalues the words and signs used to express the importance of the relationship.

This analogy transfers to worship. Worship establishes, maintains, repairs, and transforms our relationship with God. But this relationship, which is expressed in words, signs, gestures, and the like, is severely damaged through explanation. Explanation removes worship from the mysterious and numinous realm, where relationship truly lies, to the intellectual realm, where worship becomes an object to be understood and analyzed. Worship thus becomes dry, intellectual, and non-engaging.

The antidote to intellectualized worship is to understand the work of worship to be prayer.

Prayer, the meeting between God and God's people, creates the atmosphere of worship. Prayer cannot be explained. It lies in the realm of mystery and bears the quality of transcendence, only intelligible as mystery. The moment it is explained, intellectualized, and analyzed it is removed from the transcendent to the common realm. Most worship is too common, and that's why it's boring. Don't break boredom with entertainment; break boredom with worship as an engaging prayer.


I love his analogy of when someone comes to your home! That explains why I dislike "Interruptions" while we are worshiping God. Don't tell me what we will do next, let's get doing it!


  1. I liked this part of the quote:

    "Prayer, the meeting between God and God's people, creates the atmosphere of worship. Prayer cannot be explained. It lies in the realm of mystery and bears the quality of transcendence, only intelligible as mystery."

    I am beginning to appreciate the fact that I am comfortable with mystery and even more that I can enter into the mystery of communicating with God. I also know the struggles an intellectualizing person has with prayer, letting go, moving into the realm of mystery. I wonder if their worship and prayers take a different shape, or need to, or if God just meant for them to struggle with things mysterious. Because surely God created and understands our different personalities.

  2. Hmmm.

    Not quite sure I agree, or maybe it's semantics. I'm not sure understanding or explantion actually makes any difference to our experience of God's presence. Otherwise how could a worship leader actually worship themselves, for example? However, following the context, I quite agree that continual interuption certainly does interfere.

    And prayer is one of the forms of meeting between God's people and God. Worship is another, but not the same. And both can flow into each other, but neither automatically lead to each other.

    I've just been in contact with one of the local worship leaders from a church plant out from St Aldates (Oxford - major Anglican church). She was telling me how they are experiencing God moving in their worship, with words, prophesy and people responding spontaneously. Brilliant.


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