Worship is Weird

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[Note: This speech (given at the Xiamen International Fellowship--XICF) was presented in two parts, Nov and Dec 2014]


Worship is Weird

Michael Krigline (December 7, 2014)    www.krigline.com

            Whether we are talking about ancient rituals—involving priests in fancy robes, swinging censors and slaughtering lambs—or modern church services with people mumbling prayers, raising their hands, cheering for God, or sobbing in almost uncontrollable contrition…let’s face it, worship can look really weird.

            If you talk to people who lead musical worship in contemporary services, many (including myself) say we feel very uncomfortable up there. I don’t feel worthy. I don’t feel qualified. I don’t feel like I’m sufficiently trained to lead others in worship. Leading worship makes me sound funny, feel funny, look funny, act funny. And I know that many people feel this way. It is one reason why it is so hard to attract people to take part in the worship teams.

            As I thought about this, I figured out why leading worship makes me so uncomfortable. It’s because worship is weird! Really. Moreover, worship should not even be possible for people like us.

            If you don’t think worship is weird, then try this the next time you are on a public bus: loudly shout or sing out “Praise the Lord” just like you do at church. I guarantee that the people around you would think it is weird.

            OK, it’s weird, but why do I say it should be impossible? We will consider six reasons:

1.         Heavenly activity done on earth

2.         Mostly invisible activity done in the visible realm

3.         Holy activity performed by fallen mortals

4.         Royal/professional activity done by common men & women/laypeople

5.         Biblical worship is full of Extremes people find it impossible to balance

6.         Private/personal activity done in public (others are bound to see it as strange)


Point 1. Worship is weird because it is a…

Heavenly activity done on earth (unnatural)


            First, have you ever seen animals worshipping each other? NO. So worship is “above” the level of the animal kingdom. And other than God or gods, what else do people worship? Nothing! So worship is even above the “human” realm. It is an activity that is part of the heavenly realm, and thus an unnatural activity for us.

            HOW do people worship? First, we need to realize that most people don’t worship. This applies not only to those who don’t attend any religious ceremonies, but it’s also true for many/most of those who attend churches or temples, or burn incense on a “god shelf” in their home. At church I see people sing, and I mostly hear people pray for forgiveness or for divine intervention; in temples and shrines, I’ve also been told that most people are not worshipping but are mostly asking for things, like help for children to pass important exams, or for blessing to make a businesses successful. And I hope you realize (here in China) that when you tell your local friends that you go to church, this is the image that comes to their minds. My former students have told me that they think we meet here, burn incense, and ask God to do things. Of course, such prayers are an important part of our lives, but that is not why we come together each week, in part because we don’t have to do that HERE. Unlike most religions, we don’t think that God is in a certain place, and that we must go to him to make our petitions. But we also know, or should know, the difference between prayer and worship. And if you think about it, worship is a heavenly activity, not an earthly activity. In fact, if we really enter into worship, it is as if we are entering the heavenly realm.

            In Rev 4:8, we get a glimpse of REAL worship, as John takes us to heaven.


            Rev 4:8 The four living creatures worship continually. They…

“do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!”


            I used to wonder how someone could do that forever, and then someone explained it this way: God is so wonderful, so complicated, so different from us that He can spend eternity revealing Himself to these living creatures little by little. And each time God reveals one more part of Himself and His glory, the Living Creatures respond by saying “Holy Holy Holy, I never saw that before! Wow! You are so wonderful, almighty God…” and then God reveals something else, and they cry “Holy Holy Holy! Wow! You are so amazing…”


Back to the text in Rev 4:9


9Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying:

11             “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power;

For You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.”


Continuing in Rev 7:9:

9After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying:

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”


            No wonder worship looks "weird" here on earth; it is a heavenly activity and we are on foreign soil.

            But, as my students love to say, “there are two sides to every coin,” aren't there? In this case, each truth that explains why worship is weird or all-but-impossible, comes with an equally important reverse side—some redeeming quality that makes worship make sense!

            Yes, worship looks weird because it is unnatural on earth, but the other side of that coin is that worship gives us a taste of Heaven. In fact, if you are a worship leader, this is part of your job description: God wants to use you to give others a taste of heaven.

            As I said, when we worship, it is as though we are entering that heavenly realm, seated in Christ. Sometimes, we can almost sense that. There are times when we can forget about the words on the screen, the people on the stage, the less-than-heavenly microphones, close our eyes and almost catch a whiff of the fragrance of worship that surrounds the throne of God. For me, this doesn’t happen as much as I’d like, but when it does happen, it is glorious!

            So how do we get to that place? I think that one key is to sing to the Lord more than we sing about him. That is, the next time you are trying to worship, don’t sing as if God is not here—as if God is just listening way off in the distance someplace—because the good news is that He is HERE, or perhaps more accurately, when we worship the way He directs, we are with Him, or in Him.

   Jesus prayed the following, so we know it is true: “The glory that you [Father] have given me I have given to them [that’s us], that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:22-23)

            So, point one is that worship looks weird on earth because it is really a heavenly activity, being done on foreign soil. If it doesn’t feel weird to you anymore, then it just shows that your citizenship is really someplace else. Worship is part of your culture now, as citizens of heaven, so it feels natural. (In China, our friends think it is weird—every Christmas—to decorate a dead tree and eat candy out of large fake socks. But to us, it is just a fun part of our culture!) But don’t be surprised if it looks odd to others.


Point 2. Worship is also weird or unnatural because it is a…

Mostly invisible activity done in the visible realm


            Have you ever seen someone in a bus, or walking down the street, having a lively conversation, smiling and laughing, but there’s no one there—they are talking to themselves!

Perhaps I’m showing my age, but when I see that, my first impression is that they are on drugs or they are crazy. Someone put this on Vivian’s Facebook: “Have you ever just looked at someone and knew the wheel was turnin’ but the hamster was dead?” Or as we used to say, “The lights are on but no one is home.” We don’t normally talk to or about unseen things. If you told someone that you are just talking to your best friend Harvey, a six-foot tall invisible rabbit...well they might try to put you in a room where you can't hurt yourself!

            OK, now, if I look close enough at this “crazy person,” I often see a little device in her ear, but that is not what I expect. You young people might not believe this, but I actually remember when phones had wires—curly things…that were attached to a wall!

            But the point is the same, people look funny when they are talking to someone who isn’t there, even if they know they are not alone.

            Worshipping is no different, for the Person we are worshipping is unseen, and thus to worship we must admit that unseen things are important. On the other hand, thinking people know that unseen things are important—even if they don’t admit it. If you meet someone who denies that unseen things are important, just say two words: iceberg and Titanic. Or give them a list like this: Grace, Wisdom, Serenity, Relationships, Righteousness, Forgiveness, Courage, Honor, Love… Can you SEE any of these things? Not really, but life would not be worth living without most of them. So why is it so hard for some to believe that the same is true about an unseen God?


            The Scripture on this wallpaper says: “Things that are seen don’t last forever, but things that are not seen are eternal. That’s why we keep our minds on the things that cannot be seen.” (2 Cor 4:18 CEV)

            Not only does a worshiper admit that unseen things are important, but in worship we invade the unseen realm of the Spirit. In worship we do REAL work and bring REAL force to bear in a different realm (not unlike a soldier in one country who pushes a button and an explosion soon takes place in a different country).

            Admittedly, the UNSEEN nature of worship has long given people difficulty. Let's consider an example from Jesus' life: the story of the Woman at the Well (John 4:5ff). Watch the conflict between the reality of what is SEEN and what is UNSEEN.


            John 4:5   So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. 10Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” (UNSEEN) 11The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. (SEEN) Where then do You get that living water? 12“Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” 13Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14“but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (UNSEEN) 15The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” (SEEN) 16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ 18“for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”(SEEN—TO SHOW THAT HE CAN SEE THE UNSEEN) 19The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. (RECOGNIZES UNSEEN) 20“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain (SEEN), and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place (SEEN) where one ought to worship.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father (UNSEEN). 22“You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” 26Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” (John 4:5-25 NKJV)


            The woman was drawing water—a practical need—so Jesus started there, with what she could already see (so to speak). But He tried to broaden her vision by talking about something unseen (living water). Then they talk about relationships, a “seen” realm in which the woman had not successfully found fulfillment. I think Jesus was trying to open her eyes to her own poverty or limitations in that realm. As the conversation turned to religious things, the woman stayed in the visible realm (and worldwide, people associate religion with places you pray in or toward), but again the woman proved to have a shortsighted understanding. What she really needed (just like us) could not be found in either a man (someone she could see) or a place (Samaria or Jerusalem). She needed a RELATIONSHIP with the UNSEEN FATHER, in the unseen realm of the Spirit; and to Jesus, worship was the key to that relationship. In His own words: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

            Such a relationship is not self-evident (Jesus said, “you worship what you do not know”). And this brings us to the other side of this coin. What is humanly impossible—or at least as weird as someone talking to himself—is possible with God.


   In fact, the Eternal yet invisible God desires that we cultivate this kind of satisfying, personal RELATIONSHIP with Him. But because worship is a heavenly activity (not an earthly one), it is only possible (1) because of the Messiah (Jesus told the woman, “I who speak to you am He”), (2) only possible in the unseen realm (“God is spirit”), and (3) only possible if we come to God on God’s terms (“In spirit and truth”), i.e., in Spirit-led worship (“the Father is seeking people …who will worship Him in spirit and truth”).


Point 3. Worship borders on the impossible because worship is a…

Holy activity done by fallen mortals


            Let’s face it. When we worship, we are out of our league.

            God is HOLY. God is PERFECT. And God demands no less of those who approach Him. Do you FEEL up to His Standard? How dare you approach God?! King of Kings, Lord of Lords, omnipotent, omnipresent…

            The Bible’s Old Testament (OT) has many examples of the permanent consequences of getting too close to God. At Mt Sinai, even animals who wandered too close had to be put to death. And remember Uzzah (2 Sam 6), who reached out to steady the Ark of the Covenant, to keep it from falling from a cart (which it shouldn’t have been on, in the first place!)? God instantly struck him dead. Touching that Ark was a job for professionals—but I’ll get to that in a moment.


            BUT I have good news this morning!

            Paul leads us to the “redeeming quality” of this truth, in Romans 7:

22 In my mind, I am happy with God’s law. 23 But I see another law working in my body, which makes war against the law that my mind accepts. That other law working in my body is the law of sin, and it makes me its prisoner. 24 What a miserable man I am! Who will save me from this body that brings me death? 25 I thank God for saving me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:22-25 NCV)

            FALLEN PEOPLE can’t worship the living God, but SAVED PEOPLE CAN!

            When we worship, we must never forget that we are ONLY able to do so because of the Blood of Jesus Christ. ONLY by the Blood.


(continued in right column) 

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Point 4. Worship should not be possible for us because it is a…

Royal/professional activity, unsuited for untrained, common men and women (laypeople)


            Not only is Worship a Holy Activity and Heavenly Activity for which humans are not naturally suited, it is also a professional activity unsuited for untrained, common men & women/laypeople.

            What did the OT “professionals” (Levites) have to go through in order to worship God? Among other things, they had to change their clothes, wash in prescribed ways, sprinkle things/themselves with blood, use a specially-formulated incense in specially-made sensors, undergo training, and be in Judah’s “blood line.” They couldn’t be sick in any way, bleeding, impaired, handicapped…. In a nutshell, it was not easy to become an Old Testament worshipper, but this was a high and holy calling, so why should it be easy?!

            Even today, many think that worship is only for the theologically trained, and to some extent they are correct. The BLOOD gives us access, but we must not trample that grace underfoot in an unworthy manner. Thus the role of a worshiper (especially one who leads worship) must not be taken for granted. I tremble when I must stand before people as God’s spokesman, and a little of this awe and fear is a healthy thing for anyone who gets to stand on this podium!

            You don’t just waltz into a king’s presence or into an audience with a President—unless, perhaps, he is your daddy—and there lies the positive side to this aspect of the impossibility of worship! The Holy Spirit invites US to worship the Father, and even to call him “Abba/Daddy”—and when we thus approach with the boldness and innocence of a son or daughter, even the angels marvel. BUT even a child knows it is best to wash his hands before going to see his Daddy the King.

            Listen to Paul’s instructions to Timothy: 

            8I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” (1 Tim 2:8-10 ESV)

            Since worship is a “royal” activity, only suited for professionals (and relatives), it is important that we enter the Divine Presence in the way God expects—with clean hands and a clean heart, with modesty and self-control, realizing that this is our Daddy who bids us to come, but also realizing that He is our GOD.


Point 5. Worship is easy to describe as weird because…

Biblical worship is full of extremes that people find it impossible to balance


            Biblical worship is also easy to describe as “weird” because it envelops so many EXTREMES. What looks perfectly Biblical and uplifting to me, may look pagan (or worse) to you. And people are not very good at balancing such diverse forms of expression. Just think of how different Christian worship looks in Rome, Moscow, Greece, Ethiopia, Cote d’Ivoire, Los Angeles, Duluth and Atlanta. Should worship be loud/soft; slow/fast; using noisy instruments or only the human voice; involving repentant prostration or exuberant dancing? They are all in the Bible.

            According to the Spirit Filled Life Bible, even the Hebrew word “Shabach” (praise) goes in two directions. The verb occurs 11 times, 8 to mean to commend, praise; to adore; to glory in something; and 3 to mean to still, quiet, or pacify someone.

            It is hard to synthesize all of this variety, and accept practices that differ from our own. Dr. Robertson McQuilken, the university president when I was in graduate school, liked to say: “We humans find it easier to take one side of Biblical truth to one extreme or the other, neglecting the balancing truths of Scripture rather than finding the center of biblical tension.”

            Worship is weird because it envelops diverse extremes. Mix in traditions and temperaments, and the result is a lot of “tension” in the Church, especially in an international fellowship like this one. We are blessed to have a diverse group of worship teams; if you are visiting and didn’t particularly like the worship style today, come back next week and it will be a bit different. Leading worship in a fellowship like this is particularly difficult, so when you are tempted to complain about something, why not pray for the teams instead? No matter what our worship looks or sounds like, someone is going to see it as being weird.

            The “other side” of this tension between extremes is the way that it expands our understanding of the One we worship, giving us a broader circle of friends in the Body of Christ. Again, it’s a taste of heaven. When we get there, maybe we’ll be holding hands with someone who thought that only those who sang from their hymnal or who had tasted their Communion wafer would be there. As they look at us in surprise, we can say, “I’m so glad that God’s grace is bigger than any of us could imagine.”


So, again, to review--worship is weird because it is a…

heavenly, invisible, holy and royal activity, for which we are ill-suited; an activity full of extremes that are hard to balance.


Point 6. Worship is easy to describe as weird because it is a…

Private/personal activity done in public (others are bound to see it as strange)


            And finally, others are bound to see your expression of worship as strange because worship is fundamentally a private/personal activity, but we often do it in front of other people—that is, in public.

            The best way to illustrate this point is to look at how some of the people in the Bible worshiped God. Now maybe you are used to these stories and understand the worshipper’s intentions, but think about them from the point of view of those around at the time. Friends, these actions are weird.

            Let’s start with the OT sacrifices. Let’s say you are a new convert to Judaism in the first century, and you want to know how to worship God. We can get an answer from a number of scriptures, but let’s look at Exod 29:38.

            “Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day regularly. One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight. And with the first lamb a tenth measure of fine flour mingled with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and a fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering. The other lamb you shall offer at twilight, and shall offer with it a grain offering and its drink offering, as in the morning, for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord. It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there.” (Exod 29:38ff ESV)


            To a Greek intellectual or a northern European slave, this would surely sound weird! “Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to play with or waste food?”

            Now, I admit that sometimes I envy the OT priests. At least they KNEW how to worship God, because God had very specifically told them! But how much more precious is New Testament worship—full of the variety and personal expression that we enjoy!

            Yet, whatever it’s limitations, OT worship demonstrated the COST involved in worship, and it met the need/desire to show God one’s love. When you brought the choicest part of your flock or wine or harvest, it was like saying:

                        “Here, God. Here is meat for you to eat, wine for you to drink.

            I could have kept these for myself, but I give them to you. See how I love you.”


            Next, let’s look at David. Turn to 2 Samuel 23:14. David is well known for his musical worship, but this is an interesting story of a different form of worship.

            To put this in context, turn to your neighbor, and tell him/her what food, spice or treat you miss most from back home….


                David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem. And David said longingly, “Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!”

            [When I read that last direction—“by the gate”—I can’t help but think of someone saying; “If you are ever passing through the Hong Kong airport, bring me a Popeye’s Biscuit—its in the main concourse, go up the stairs, it’s by the gate…]

 16Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David. But he would not drink of it. He poured it out to the Lord and said, “Far be it from me, O Lord, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it.  (2 Sam 23:14ff ESV)


            Think of how you would have felt if you were one of those soldiers. You’ve just risked your life to get the general a cup of water from his hometown, and when you give it to him, he pours it on the ground. Friends, that is weird! “Hey, David, drink it—you said you wanted it! Don’t waste it! Don’t just throw it out!”

            But David wasn’t throwing it out. He was giving it to God. “Here, Lord. Here’s water, from the place closest to my heart. It represents the faith and love of my men, and thus my own love as well. I pour it out to you. Here’s water from my heart—I pour it out unto You.”


            David poured himself out in a different way in 2 Samuel 6. A special chest called The Ark of the Covenant had been in enemy hands, and then it had been in some guy’s barn, and now David wanted it back in the Tabernacle. So he had quite a parade for the holy box! They sacrificed animals every few meters, and David danced around like a wild man. This is how it reads in the Contemporary English Version (CEV).


David was dancing for the Lord with all his might, but he wore only a linen cloth.  15 He and everyone else were celebrating by shouting and blowing horns while the chest was being carried along.

16 Saul’s daughter Michal [David’s wife] looked out her window and watched the chest being brought into David’s City. But when she saw David jumping and dancing for the Lord, she was disgusted.

17 They put the chest inside a tent that David had set up for it. David worshiped the Lord by sacrificing animals and burning them on an altar,  18 then he blessed the people in the name of the Lord All-Powerful. 19 He gave all the men and women in the crowd a small loaf of bread, some meat, and a handful of raisins, and everyone went home.

[NOTICE that David’s worship also has a practical side that blesses others.]

20 David went home so he could ask the Lord to bless his family. But Saul’s daughter [David’s wife] Michal went out and started yelling at him. “You were really great today!” she said. “You acted like a dirty old man, dancing around half-naked in front of your servants’ slave-girls.”

21 David told her, “The Lord didn’t choose your father or anyone else in your family to be the leader of his people. The Lord chose me, and I was celebrating in honor of Him. 22 I’ll show you just how great I can be! I’ll even be disgusting to myself. But those slave-girls you talked about will still honor me!”  (2 Sam 6: 4-22 CEV)


            To David, this jumping and dancing was a way to take worship to a higher level, but to his wife it looked weird—even disgusting. So don’t be surprised if people misunderstand your intentions when you worship.

            Should David have toned down to suit his wife’s opinions? He didn’t, and gave no indication that he planned to do so. Sometimes we DO have to compromise for the sake of our brothers and sisters, but the point is: worship is an intensely personal expression, directed toward God. So long as the Father, your PRIMARY audience, is pleased with what you are doing, you don’t need to be overly concerned about how weird you look or sound to the physical “audience” that happens to be in the same room.


            Finally, let’s see the weird ways some New Testament ladies chose to worship their Lord.


            Look at Luke 7:36.

            Imagine that you are having dinner with a city council member, and a local pastor has also been invited. In fact, this pastor has become rather popular and you are interested in meeting him. As you are talking and eating a fine meal, a woman with a bad reputation—perhaps dressed in a provocative way, or all coated with makeup—a “known sinner” comes in and starts polishing the pastor’s shoes and crying like a baby. Then she sees that she has missed a spot and wipes it with her hair. Friends—this is weird! But this is how a woman chose to worship the Lord Jesus.


            One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment (or “fragrant oil” in some versions). (Luke 7:36-38 ESV)


            This woman wasn’t likely a religious person who understood the OT sacrificial regulations. She wasn’t a professional worshipper. But she had somehow come to love Jesus and to find faith in Him, and this led to an intensely personal and unquestionably weird form of expression. And ever since it has served as a symbol of worship. Oil upon His feet. Tears to wash off the dust, and her own hair to wipe them dry.


            In John Chapter 12 we see another woman (some say it was the same woman?) doing something similar. It is Mary, whose sister and brother were Martha and Lazarus. Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead, and in John 12 we find Mary at the feet of Jesus in worship.


            Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, [“Why this waste?” Mt 26:8] “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:1-8 ESV)


            Like David, Mary did an intensely personal thing. Again it was misunderstood by those who watched. It was a great sacrifice—it cost her a lot.  Interestingly, Jesus was clearly pleased, and publically praised Mary’s private act. But she was determined to fill Jesus’ life with her praise, even as the costly oil filled the air with its rich perfume.


            So yes, worship is weird—or at least it is sometimes bound to be seen as weird by others.         Yes, worship is unnatural for natural humans, because it is a…

            Heavenly activity done on earth

            Mostly invisible activity done in the visible realm

            Holy activity performed by fallen mortals

            & a royal/professional activity done by common laypeople

Biblical worship is full of extremes people find it impossible to balance, and it is a personal activity done in public. If you ever feel weird or awkward when you worship around others, or even help lead worship, you are not alone—and now you know why!


            But it is equally true that worship gives the worshipper a taste of heaven. To be a worshipper you must acknowledge that the unseen realm is even more significant than the realm we can see and touch, and amazingly, God actually SEEKS people who will worship Him in spirit and truth. Thirdly, while fallen people can’t come near God, our savior Jesus Christ makes it possible for US to perform this holy act—in fact, we can approach ONLY by the blood of Jesus. To be an effective worshipper you should be committed to learning more and more about the way God wants you to worship—you should seek to become a “trained professional” worshipper, with clean hands—even while you understand that your Daddy is the one who calls you into worship and into relationship with Him. Because of the variety in the Body of Christ, when we are around our brothers and sisters we should strive for that dynamic place in the center of Biblical tension, not at either extreme; we should humbly allow our brethren to worship differently than we do, while also realizing that “what people think” about your worship is never as important as the opinion and directions of your real Audience, the One who remembers, and derives pleasure from our worship.

            Worship is a personal activity, expressed in the Bible with images like wild dancing and penitent sobbing, loud music and silent tears. This variety again gives us a taste of heaven, and challenges us to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:18-19 ESV)

            Biblical worship is expressed as the pouring out of oil upon Jesus feet, water poured out that was dear to David’s heart, and perfume that pours out to fill the house with its costly sacrificial fragrance.

            How does one express, in words or actions, the fullness of this relationship we have with a God who is so far beyond words? Can any words—any form of worship—be enough? Of course not. But aren’t you glad that God has given the precious gift of worship—so that we can at least try to express the depth of our love?


(I ended this session by singing a beautiful old song that inspired the message: “Pour My Love on You,” originally recorded by Phillips Craig and Dean)

Originally written for a worship conference at the Shanghai Intl Church 5/3/02; this piece was adapted into two “Communion” (shorter) sermons for XICF 12/7/14, and then put back together (and updated) here.

© 2014 Michael Krigline. As far as I am concerned, people are allowed to print or copy this article, or link to it, for personal or classroom use.

 (see Website Standards and Use Policy)


Versions of the Holy Bible used:
English Standard Version (unless stated otherwise; Crossway Bibles/Good News 2001)
New King James Version, (Thomas Nelson 1982)
The New Century Version (Thomas Nelson 2005)
The Contemporary English Version (American Bible Society 1995)


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