By Lenny Smith
I believe authentic worship is not an action, but a reaction. While an action is initiated by an actor, a reaction is caused by the object or person being observed. God is not an Audience of One, watching us on stage performing (or worshiping). God is the Actor on the Stage Of The Universe, and we are the audience. God is performing His Cosmic Extravaganza, and we, when we see the show,rise and applaud hilariously.
God is worthy. We see, hear, feel, smell, taste, or experience God’s worth and we react. If we do not see, hear, or experience God’s worth in some way, there will be no genuine reaction; therefore, there will be no genuine worship.
A young man is walking down a path in the woods and sees a lovely young lady about to run past him going in the opposite direction. As she passes, she smiles slightly and says, “Hi.” The young man’s heart leaps and he says to himself, “O, wow! Who is she?” That is a genuine response to what he saw and heard and, in a sense, it is worship. Hopefully, the young lady is saying to herself, “O my, wasn’t that the boy who just moved-in next door!” Again, a genuine response to what she saw.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “We imagine the Divine as distant and inaccessible, whereas, in fact, we live steeped in its burning layers.” Paul of Tarsus says, “In Him we live and move and have our being.” Basically, he is saying our beings are, even now, within His Being. Jesus said, “I am in My Father, and you in me, and I am in you.” The Presence of God is present, and we live in that Presence. (Various religions offer a bridge to help us cross over to go back to God, but the bridge winds-up being the thing that has a separating effect.)
A Present God
How do we, as earthlings, experience the Presence? The same ways we experience anything else, through our senses and our minds. Our spirits are already eternally at one with the Spirit of God, but our minds (our computers) need to be transformed (re-programed) and bodies need to be rejuvenated. Jesus pointed to the earth and the things of the earth and tried to show us how every thing reveals something about God, the God Who is present in each thing, not far away, looking down, but right here with us.
He told us to study the birds. Did you know that hummingbirds can fly upside down and backwards? Volumes could be written about how birds show us the genius, love, power, playfulness, and even melodies of God. The story about Pelicans feeding their young with their own flesh might just be a story, but it reminds me of a Someone I know who gave, and gave until it really hurt.
Jesus told us to study the lilies of the field. Their loveliness and beauty speak to us about God’s sweetness, kindness, and gentleness. They speak about the Creator within them, sustaining them, glowing in them. “Glory” really just is “glowing.” Things glow with the glowing of God within them. Charles Manley Hopkins said it best: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out like shining from shook foil.” Jesus once pointed to a grain field and claimed that the Creator was present there more truly than in the temple.
There are so many earthly things that Jesus used to show us the characteristics of the One Who creates those things and of the One Who is sustaining those things. He spoke of wood, nursing mothers, washing feet, money, wine, eagles, dancing, flutes, rivers, tongues, swords, donkeys, fish, chickens, speaking stones, blood, splinters,spit, sweat, and on and on.
Creation speaks about the Creator, not the way a book speaks about its dead author, but the way a humming motor speaks in a moving car. God is sustaining everything from within each thing. Once we have eyes to see that and ears to hear that, we will realize thatwe are surrounded by God. We are like the fish in the ocean. We are in the ocean and the ocean is in us. We even “breath” the ocean. He really does have our backs! He also has our fronts and our sides and our bottoms and our heads, and our insides. “In Him we live and move and have our being.”These temples are not empty! Soon we start to relax a bit and something honest and real starts to rise on the inside and we say, “O, my God, I am going to be fine! Thank you, God!” That is genuine worship. It is a real response to seeing clearly the love and power and Presence of God. “Why should I worry? Why should I fret?” Someone once said: “I AM with you always!” (I AM is God’s personal Name: Ex. 3:14. “Hallel-u-Yah” is “Praise I AM.” “Yah-shua” is “I AM is Savior.”)
All this is just background to try to paint a worldview, or a view of the world that has God at the very center of everything. I know the systems of this world are fatally flawed, but I also know “the earth belongs to I AM and everything that is in it.” Those very flawed systems are limping along within a Perfect Being. It is fine to glance at those flawed systems, but we are to stare at the Perfect Being. If we just nibble from the tree of Knowledge of right and wrong, but FEED from the tree of Life, we will be fine. “If your mind is good, your whole body will be full of light,” as Rachel Galloway’s song says.
I believe it is critical that we see God here and now in everything and in everyone. Jesus said, “He who sees me sees the Father.” It is not true only of Jesus. The Father, the Creator, is reflected through Jesus, but He is also reflected through the waves rolling up on the shore, the moon shining, Jesus’ friend, Mary, washing his feet with perfume, the brave little foul of a donkey carrying a humbled Jesus to His death, the tree that was chopped-down to become a cross, the iron that became the nails, the stone that was chipped to become the tombstone of a carpenter.
Now we can approach the subject of worship. Once we get a glimpse of God’s mountain of love for us, His endless mercy and the utter forgiveness He has toward us, His riches He pours-out on us, His power He exercises to protect us and provide for us, we will just fall down and say over and over again, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” Genuine worship is not an action, it is a reaction…a response. It can be dance, or words, or songs, or instrumental music, or hands raised, or kneeling, or silence, or sitting, or crying, but it will be honest, real, and heart-felt.
We would do well to re-MIND our people of these truths about which the Bible speaks and about which all creation constantly speaks. We can do this in an opening prayer. We can also do it in the song selection. Songs about us will probably not result in a standing ovation. Songs about the faithfulness and love of God and His provision and support and trustworthiness and genius will stir in people a genuine response of relief and joy and gratitude. “O, yes, now I remember. I am safe in His arms. What was I worried about? God loves us and is strong and wise enough to take care of me and mine. Thank you, O my Father!” Then would be a good time for songs, not just about God, but songs TO God, about God: “Thou Art Worthy. “Thou Art Worthy.Thou Art Worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, glory and honor, glory and honor and power. For Thou hast created, hast all things created, for Thou hast created all things. And for Thy pleasure they are created. Thou art worthy, O Lord.” God takes pleasure in us and we can feel His pleasure on the inside!
God did not create everything and then go rest on a throne somewhere far away. God is Spirit. The only body He has is creation. “This is my body. This is my blood” is not confined to bread and wine. He is still creating and sustaining everything up close and personal. He is a good shepherd who stays with His sheep day and night, leading us to green pastures and running water. He is so close we can see his feet and hear him walking and breathing.
We are so much more safe and secure than we ever dared to think. Jesus told us as much, but somehow we have not done all that well lifting the veil and seeing and feeling “the heaven on earth” that is really here. Emmanuel is “God with us.” I tell my wife, “When I am with you, I’m already where I want to be.” She laughs, but there is something to it. If we are now with God, we won’t be in any hurry to go somewhere else.
We serve the bread and the wine at communion, but forget they come from the earth and “the earth belongs to I AM and everything in it.” Being earthlings is a good thing. Being earthlings that reflect the Creator in us is a very good thing. The pipe should not be occupied with “pipeness,” but totally with the water. It exists for the water. The pipe will always be wet, but it owns none of the water.
I tell people, only half-joking, that when I die I want to go to earth. I see him “peaking through the lattice,” playing with the dolphins, riding on the clouds, pushing-up the asparagus, ripening the tomatoes, shining-out of my wife’s eyes.
I see You, Lord, playing in the sand. I hear You speaking mysteries day and night. That breeze is Your breath. That babbling brook is You humming. That honk from that goose flying over my house is your “Hello.” Your Presence shines through and makes me so happy that I want to call my friends, tell them to bring their drums and guitars and bells and come on over so we can sing some love songs toYou, our Maker and our Father and to Jesus, our Shepherd and Friend.
During his 7 years in seminary, Lenny began writing scripture songs with his guitar. During the Jesus Movement years he wrote his 50th song, “Our God Reigns,” a song well received worldwide. Lenny has continued writing songs and has been leading worship for 30 years in churches from many different traditions. He writes and speaks about worship and songwriting, and loves playing and singing his songs as often as possible at concerts and praise events.