This blog is the second in a new series of blogs called “The Heart of a Worshipper” series, or HWS. You’ll find the first article here. My prayer is that you will be blessed and transformed as you grow in your own worship of the King of Kings.
Deliberate Attentiveness to God
You won’t find a definition of worship in Scripture, but you will find a first commandment:
Thou shalt have no other God’s before me.
You’ll also find the exhortation by Jesus (quoting the Old Testament) to:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
(see Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27).
These Scriptures are at the heart of worship and must be in the forefront of a worshipper’s mind.
I find it pretty easy to put my own needs, wants and desires before God; I find it pretty easy to love God with only a portion of my heart, soul, mind and strength, reserving the rest for my own pursuits. True worship, however, begins and ends with the Lord. He and he alone is our audience. When our focus is on ourselves or others (or what others think of us), our worship turns into performance and then quickly becomes religion. Our worship ought to always be for an audience of only One, the Lord.
It doesn’t seem to matter whether I’m singing, praying, meditating on Scripture or listening for God’s voice during worship, though, I find that focusing completely on the Lord (and not on my wants, needs and desires) can be a challenge. It requires discipline. I include sign language in my worship to the Lord because it helps me to stay focused on Him and on the words of the song I’m singing to Him. Christ alone deserves my attention in worship.
Eugene Peterson, author of The Message paraphrase of the Bible, includes a definition of worship in his book Leap Over a Wall that addresses my proclivity to be more concerned about my agenda than about God. His definition begins like this:
“Worship is the strategy by which we interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to the presence of God….”
I like this definition so much because it goes right to the heart of the matter – that I need to interrupt my preoccupation with myself. This tells me that the very act of worship works in me the process of dying to self. It helps me to make John the Baptist’s statement “He must increase and I must decrease” a reality in my life. Worship strikes at the root of my self-centeredness. As I learn to “attend to the presence of God”, the fleshly “me-first” response that is in me is cut away. Worship transforms me by creating in me a heart and mind that thinks of God first instead of me first.
This is what Eugene Peterson is saying. Let’s look at his entire definition:
“Worship is the strategy by which we interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to the presence of God. Worship is the time and place that we assign for deliberate attentiveness to God – not because He’s confined to time and place but because our self-importance is so insidiously relentless that if we don’t deliberately interrupt ourselves regularly, we have no chance of attending to Him at all at other times and in other places.”
The words and phrases Peterson uses in this definition are so strong: I must “interrupt” my “preoccupation” with myself and set aside time for “deliberate attentiveness” to God because my preoccupation with myself is “insidiously relentless.” I’m afraid that this is a true statement. My preoccupation with myself is insidiously relentless. If I’m not proactive to set aside a time and place for worship it doesn’t happen. Furthermore, if I’m not deliberate in my attentiveness to God during those times, I might as well spend the time watching television!
Being deliberately attentive means that we must be participants in worship, not spectators. It’s not enough to come to a place where others are bringing their offering. We must bring our own offering and personally give that offering to our Lord. To do less is to miss the mark.
Perhaps you’ll join me in this prayer as you set aside time for personal worship this week or join others in worship next Sunday:
Lord, I want to love you with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. Please break into my preoccupation with myself and help me attend to Your presence. Begin (or continue) the process of transformation today, Lord. Cut away my self-centeredness. Circumcise my heart, Lord.