Avoiding the Audience Temptations of Worship, Part 1
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.
In yesterday’s reflection, we considered an analogy from the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. He said that when it comes to worship, God is the true audience. We who gather are the performers. Those who lead—pastors, choirs, bands, readers—are the prompters of worship. This notion of worship fits well with Ephesians 5:19, which urges us to “sing and make music from [our] heart to the Lord.”
There are at least two “audience temptations” when it comes to our worship. The first I mentioned yesterday. It’s the most pervasive temptation among Christians in our day; I think it deserves a little more scrutiny. What is it? It’s the temptation to think of ourselves as the audience for worship. The worship service exists primarily to meet our needs, to inspire us, to instruct us, to fill us up so we can live faithfully for another week. Now, I should say that these things often happen when we worship, thanks be to God. But to make any of these the primary purpose of worship is a mistake. Worship is not for us, first of all, but for God. When we allow ourselves to become the audience of worship, we are actually putting ourselves in a place reserved for the Lord. (Never a good idea!) If we remember that God is the true audience of worship, then our minds and hearts will be primed to offer all that we are to him.
How can you avoid the temptation to think of yourself as the audience for worship? First, you need to be convinced that God and God alone is the primary audience for, not just worship in general, but your worship. When you gather with God’s people each week, you are doing this for God’s glory, not your own enjoyment or edification. Of course, in the context of worship you will receive many blessings because that’s what God does for us when we worship. But the blessings are not the main point.
Second, you might ask the people close to you to help you learn to think of worship in a new light. For example, if the tradition in your family is to evaluate the music or sermon on the way home from church, you could agree together to ask new questions. Rather than, “What did you think of the sermon?” you could ask, “What helped you to worship God in the service this morning?” The support of your community will help you learn to live out the reality that God is the audience for your worship.
In tomorrow’s reflection I’ll consider another “audience temptation” for worship. For now, let me encourage you to consider the following questions.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you find it easy to think of worship as an experience in which you are the primary audience? How might your heart become filled with the truth that God wants to be the primary audience of your worship? What difference might this make in your corporate worship? In your worship throughout the week?
PRAYER: Gracious God, I must confess to you what you already know. I do give way to the “audience temptations” of worship. It’s so easy for me to sit back and think that the show is for me. I forget that I’m on stage for your delight. O Lord, I long for the day when I come to worship for you and you alone, ready to give you all that I am, caring only about your glory. Shape me by your grace and Spirit to be this kind of worshiper. Amen.
Mark Roberts is the Executive Director of Digital Media and the Theological and Cultural Steward for Foundations for Laity Renewal. He is the author of eight books, including No Holds Barred: Wrestling with God in Prayer. He lives in Boerne, Texas, with his wife, Linda. Their children spend most of the year away at college on the East Coast. Send a note to Mark.
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