By Chuck Smith Jr.
Worship can be life-changing or it can be “in vain.” Prayerfully responding to God “in Spirit and in Truth” causes shifts in one’s inner life. This is beautifully illustrated in Psalm 73.
Asaph begins his poem with a confident assertion of God’s goodness to Israel. But he then recalls a time when his “steps almost slipped.” Ruminating over social ills and of injustice, his soul spiraled downward. He felt that his efforts to maintain a pure heart and clean hands were a waste of time.
Asaph would have continued his descent had he not visited “the sanctuary of God.” What happened there? He “perceived” a new horizon. Looking at the world through new eyes changed everything for him.
Preaching and teaching–I do both–may challenge, educate, enlighten, and inspire people, but do they transform? Short answer: No. Jesus told a parable to explain why his word did not flourish in every heart. In the seed and soils parable, stable growth comes when a person is receptive to the word, spends time with it, allows it to sink deep roots, and resists distractions.
Worship creates possibilities favorable to transformation.
Briefly, habits are formed when brain cells “fire together” and thereby “wire together.” Imagine a vacant lot. Someone walks through it, trampling whatever vegetation has grown there. Another person follows, then another, and so on until a clear path transects the field.
Our brains automatically use similar shortcuts. These are helpful for a repetitious activity like getting dressed, but they can also be distressing if their pattern tends toward irrational fears, cynicism, angry outbursts, and mood disorders.
One of the breakthrough discoveries researchers in neuroscience have made in recent years is the brain’s neuroplasticity–that is, its ability to change. For me, this has shed new light on the word repent (Greek, metanoia, change the mind). In whatever ways a person becomes a “new creature” in Christ, it entails significant changes in the brain.
Learning new information can create new connections between neurons, but it does not rewire our brains in ways that transform us. “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.” Something has to happen that moves us through information to transformation. This requires not only hearing the truth but having an experience of the truth.
Big changes involve the integration of various structures of the brain–those related to the body’s sensory experience and motor functions, the heart’s emotions, and the mind’s will and intentions. This is why it is important in worship to present our bodies to God as well as our minds.
Worship that engages the whole person creates moments in which we feel our trust, physically express our love for God, and actively renew our commitment to Jesus. In these ways, we cultivate the heart’s soil.
Word and worship do not make up the entire transforming process, but when they engage all the heart, all the mind, and all the soul–well, that’s a good start.