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Embodying New

the Worship Relationship

Whole Theology and Practice Required

Worship  Study

Chapter 1   The Relationship of Worship



Who and What God Gets: Three Major Issues for Worship Practice

1. The Person Presented

2. The Quality and Integrity of Our Communication

3. The Depth of Our Relational Involvement

The Key of Jesus' Relational Language

"The Measure You Give is the Measure You Get"

For Your Theology and Relational Response:

     "The Whole of God Embodied"


Ch 1

Ch 2

Ch 3

Ch 4

Ch 5

Printable pdf of entire study

Table of Contents

Scripture Index




These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.

They worship me in vain.

Mark 7:6, NIV[1]




            Christians worship God in many and diverse ways, depending on our understanding of worship, our traditions, our sociocultural context and how we perceive God. Also, our celebrations and confessions of faith in worship may be long established or recently developed. However, not everything we do in corporate worship has significance to God, nor can worship include everything expressed as worship in churches today.


In its primacy, making secondary all else, worship is our relational response back to the transcendent creator God, who initiated relationship with us. And because worship is this reciprocal relational response to God, worship can’t be just anything we want it to be, even if well established; nor can we make assumptions about whether our worship has significance to God based on good intentions. God is the one who establishes the terms for relationship with God. This has always been the nature of covenant relationship with our holy God, which historically has been reshaped by human terms—including in worship today. Any assumptions on our part about worship are what Jesus challenged (and still challenges) in his words opening this study. Not all our expressions—verbal and otherwise—serve God’s relational desires and purpose for our worship gatherings. What then in worship integrates with God’s relational desires and purpose and has the relational outcome both pleasing to God and satisfying to us in our innermost?


            For our relational response of worship to have significance to God, it must by its relational nature involve the following: (1) It must be compatible with the righteousness of God—that is, the who, what, and how God is and thereby is present with us; and (2) it must conjointly be congruent with how God is involved with us, which is distinguished by the whole of God’s (the Trinity’s) intimate relational involvement.


The whole of God’s presence and involvement were vulnerably embodied by Jesus in the incarnation, and are now extended to, with and in us by the Spirit. Therefore, based on God’s relational nature and intimate involvement, worship is relationally significant only in the wholeness of our reciprocal relational response to the whole of God as Subject—not a fragmented response that reduces God to merely an object of our worship. For God’s worshipers to whole-ly respond in worship is to ‘embody new’ the worship relationship—that is, in compatible and congruent response to the whole of God that Jesus embodied. And the terms for our response in worship are composed only by God’s relational terms, which are distinguished from our terms that are unavoidably shaped by tradition (including Christian traditions), culture (including Christian subcultures), or any other influence (notably modern technology) from our human context.


Jesus succinctly summarized God’s terms as “in spirit and truth” (with the vulnerable honesty of our heart, Jn 4:23-24), terms which we easily revise with substitutes for direct relational involvement. Our terms for the worship relationship will always lead us to ‘embody old’ our response with simulations, resulting in invalid, idle, vain (matēn) worship according to Jesus; and it may surprise many to see just how contrary our terms are to God’s. Vain worship on our terms has no relational significance, the point of Jesus’ critique of certain Pharisees in Mark’s Gospel (Mk 7:6-9,13; par. Mt 15:6-9).


Jesus contrasted those Pharisees’ worship (embodied old) with certain persons who embodied new (i.e. “in spirit and truth,” cf. Jn 4:23-24), for us to learn from. Rather unexpectedly, the disciple who demonstrated compatible and reciprocal relationship in both her discipleship and worship was Mary, Martha’s sister, whose response to Jesus was both a challenge and in contrast to the other disciples. And Jesus further illuminated what composes worship that pleases God when he affirmed some children who were shouting praises in the temple soon after Jesus restored it to its primary function (Mt 21:12-17). These persons—Mary and the children—are examples for us to help us see the extent to which we need to undergo redemptive change (dying to old, rising in new) in our person and function in relationships that is necessary to transform from embodying old to new the worship relationship. They are discussed in the next two chapters to demonstrate for us what it means to be worshipers unfettered by secondary matters that constrain even most dedicated followers of Jesus.


Mary and the unrestrained children are our unlikely teachers who show us wholeness in their ‘person’ who respond to God with relational significance. And we should be both challenged and encouraged by them, to help us grow in our relationship with God integrally with our relationship of worship, in conjoint function individually and corporately.


This study is an extension of my two previous worship studies.[2] Along with the others, the current study is written with the prayers that through it the Spirit will encourage and help all God’s worshipers go further and deeper in our worship practice—that is, in whole practice to reflect the whole theology distinguishing God’s presence and involvement with us. I urge you to engage this study in ongoing interaction with the Spirit.




Who and What God Gets: Three Major Issues for Worship Practice


In proceeding to talk about the worship relationship, crucial relational matters need to be established from the outset that will be built upon throughout the study. Integral to our growing in the worship relationship are three major issues for our relational involvement (i.e. our practice) as Jesus followers to be whole in worship; without focusing on parts of us, this involves inseparably our discipleship and spirituality (growing deeper in relationship with God). The worship relationship must never be separated from discipleship in relational terms, which is first and foremost the relationship of following Jesus in the relational progression from disciple to family of God, and not primarily about serving and ministry (though these are important), as is commonly promoted in worship services (cf. Jn 12:26). While the worship relationship beyond the corporate gathering ongoingly involves serving, service is not the primary focus for discipleship or worship.


The three major issues for all practice were vulnerably embodied in Jesus’ earthly life, and provide a necessary framework by which to ongoingly examine our notions about and our practice of (1) who and what we are as worshipers/disciples (our ontology) and (2) how we are involved in relationship (our function). Our ontology and function compose our theological anthropology, which underlies all that we discuss in this study. These three major issues for practice get us to be very specific as we examine our actions and their significance in worship. If we are willing and committed to the Lord for redemptive change, the three issues for worship practice are invaluable for clarifying the ways we need to change in order for our worship response to be compatible to God for congruent relational connection. The three major issues for all practice are as follows:


1.  The significance of the person presented, demonstrating the integrity of the person we present to others (especially to God) particularly in worship.

2.  The quality and integrity of our communication to God, which also reflects how well we hear and receive God’s communication to us.

3.  The depth level of involvement in the worship relationship, reflecting qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness.


1. The Person Presented


How would you feel if you met someone for the first time who was wearing a face mask or a bag on their head and wouldn’t take it off? Or perhaps you had a meeting or date with someone, who sent another person in their place? It’s impossible to make any kind of relational connection with such persons. These extreme examples illustrate who and what God gets in worship—something less than whole persons, or some substitute.


God came into our human context embodied whole-ly for all to see and experience in the person of the Son—that is, a person embodying a subject for relationship, not an object to be observed. During his earthly ministry Jesus presented nothing less than and no substitutes for his whole person, inseparable from the Father and Spirit. Persons witnessed and experienced in Jesus’ person the whole of God (the Trinity), who is vulnerably available to anyone for relationship together. And even though the whole of God embodied in the Son is not the entirety of transcendent God, who and what persons experienced was nothing less than and no substitute for God’s being, nature, and presence. Beyond the significance of the manger, cross and resurrection, the person Jesus ongoingly presented was who, what and how God is—signifying the incarnation principle of nothing less and no substitutes. This is how the person Jesus presented is the ontological, functional and relational keys for our own person that we present in relationships, as noted above for worship.


Could the Father have sent someone other than the Son? Instead of the Son, the Father might have continued sending his angels or some other intermediary to be a guide for us in this life, or hand someone a book of ready-made New Testament Scriptures—which is often how we treat God’s vulnerable communicative acts—but he didn’t. The OT records that at one point while Moses was leading the Israelites, God was ready to send an angel in place of his own presence had Moses not argued for God’s own presence (see Ex 33:1-3,12-17). For Moses, a substitute was not good enough, was not acceptable to Moses, and God received Moses’ plea and responded with nothing less that God’s own presence. As the arc of God’s thematic relational action to restore humanity and the rest of creation to wholeness unfolded in history, God made improbable strategic and tactical shifts by sending the Son himself into the human context to meet us Face to face (e.g. Jn 1:14; 2 Cor 4:6)—nothing less than the whole of God embodied in Christ, and no substitutes for his vulnerable presence and intimate involvement. When persons vulnerably received in their hearts Jesus’ person extended to them on God’s relational terms of his grace, those persons were made whole from inner out—the enactment of reconciled relationship only to be whole (the biblical meaning of ‘peace’).


God chose the most improbable and vulnerable way to enact his relational response to the human condition and need, presenting his very own whole self as Subject for relationship and not merely parts to observe and be the object of our worship.


Our perception and reception of Jesus (God vulnerably with us) must therefore include his life between the manger and the cross. After you die and go to heaven, do you want your loved ones to remember you only for the day you were born and the last week of your life? This is essentially how even the most ardent of believers (both in church and the academy) fragment ‘the whole of God embodied’ and ironically miss Jesus’ profound relational significance for us. Furthermore, when we do actually pay attention to his earthly ministry between the manger and the cross, we tend to use a quantitative outer-in perceptual interpretive lens; we thereby pay more attention to what Jesus did (e.g. miracles, ate with sinners, even died for our sin) and had (power, wisdom for teaching, attributes of God in a comparative process), consequently giving primacy to secondary aspects of Jesus’ person. That is, we fragment and reduce his person by defining him primarily by what he did and had. But these aspects of Jesus do not give us whole understanding of his whole person who has made the Father known (Jn 1:18). This narrowed-down view of Jesus essentially ignores the whole of Jesus’ revelation, with the relational consequence of ignoring the integrity and significance of the persons presented.


Rather, during his time on earth, Jesus ongoingly made known his intimate relationship with his Father, and made intimate relational connection with his disciples in order to bring them to the Father for their own relationship together in likeness of Jesus’ relationship with the Father. John’s Gospel highlights Jesus’ words revealing that the relationship between Jesus and the Father is so intimate that they are “one” (Jn 10:30,38; 17:20-26), such that to know him is to know the Father and to see him is to see the Father (Jn 8:19; 12:45; 14:7,9). As Jesus’ disciples would grow in deep relational connection with Jesus, this would bring his followers into whole relationship with the Father in the relational progression of discipleship. Jesus further revealed that the Spirit would be his relational replacement in whom the whole of God (the Trinity) would come to dwell in the hearts of his followers (Jn 14:15-21, 23).


In all these disclosures, Jesus is the key for us to understand how the Trinity relationally responded to the human relational condition “to be apart” from relationships necessary to be whole. The full significance of Jesus’ incarnation isn’t understood until we experience the relational outcome of being made whole in relationship together with the whole of God. Therefore the common view of Jesus (from manger directly to the cross) fragments and reduces the whole of God’s self-disclosures, thereby functionally reshaping the God we worship in a process of “idolization of God” (to be discussed later).


Worship services through the church calendar year regularly reinforce this fragmentation and reduction of Jesus’ whole person. What now dominates much of worship is the narrowed-down version of Christ in an incomplete Christology. This reduction of Jesus’ whole person has had extensive and complex consequences—epistemological, theological and relational consequences which render us to a relational gap without the relational connection necessary for our worship to have significance. Moreover, we cannot know who Christ fully is, and thus cannot become who we, as his followers and worshipers, have been saved to become. In your worship experiences, what is the predominant focus about Jesus, notably in avowed christocentric worship? Does this focus help us relationally know Jesus so that we are made whole and redefined in our person from inner out?


The dominant factor creating and maintaining this gap is the perception of God that has been shaped by reductionism. Reductionism—the prevailing influence of human contextualization—fragments a whole into parts, then redefines that whole by one or some of the parts. Reductionism forms our “lens” of what we pay attention to about persons (human and God), namely what persons do (e.g. job, reputation, role in worship) or have (e.g. resources, attributes, even spiritual gifts); with the reductionist lens we increasingly ignore whatever is qualitative and relational. Reductionism turns even the most significant beliefs and practices—originally defined by only God’s relational terms for the primacy of relationship together—into mere human tradition, or as Jesus put it to the Pharisees, “your tradition” (Mk 7:10,13). How Christians historically have shaped the practice of Communion and baptism are prominent examples of this. These become our terms for relationship with God, including how we celebrate and confess our faith in worship. Human contextualization and its dynamic of reductionism is a force to recognize and examine for all worship (including discipleship) practice, the necessity of which is indispensable for distinguishing ‘embodying new the worship relationship’ from embodying old.


The relational process to depth of understanding and knowing Jesus—and thus the Father, as Jesus says (e.g. Jn 10:30; 12:44; 14:9) can take place only in God’s relational context and by the trinitarian relational process of family love. This relational context and process determine the primary purpose and significance of discipleship (inseparably with spirituality): to follow Jesus in his relational context, in the relational progression from disciples to friends (Jn 15:13-14) all the way to the Father, with the relational outcome to come face to face before God as adopted daughters and sons in his new creation family. The relational process by which we follow him in this life together is the dynamic of intimate relationship in likeness of the trinitarian persons’ interrelationships—which Jesus vulnerably makes known to us. God’s relational context is distinguished from the common human context (confused by our usual notions of heaven and earth, respectively, as physical locations), which is illuminated as follows:


If our theology is the outcome of relational connection and involvement with God’s communicative action in self-disclosure—not merely from an authoritative Word or an inerrant Bible—then we are contextualized beyond human contextualization to the further and deeper contextualization in the now-accessible relational context and process of the whole of God. That is to say, this distinguished contextualization is the trinitarian relational context and process into which the whole of Jesus—the embodied communicative Word who vulnerably came to us to “take us” experientially to the whole of God—not only intimately contextualizes us but whole-ly constitutes us in relationship together. This gospel cannot emerge whole in referential terms, but only in the relational terms initiated by God’s improbable theological trajectory and determined by the embodied Word’s intrusive relational path. Anything less and any substitute of the whole gospel neither distinguishes God’s improbable theological trajectory and intrusive relational path, nor has significance for the human condition in our need to be made whole.[3]


Therefore, the corporate worship context, in order for all that takes place in it to have significance to God, can only be God’s relational context and must function by the trinitarian relational process (intimate relationships together of family love). In all of God’s relational work to reconcile us together, Jesus’ person presented vulnerably in wholeness—nothing less and no substitutes—is the indispensable key who embodies for us all that we need to flourish as beloved members of the new creation family. The person Jesus presented is this key as follows:


(1)  Jesus provides the epistemological key to open the relational epistemic process with the Spirit for whole knowledge and understanding of God.


(2)  Jesus provides the hermeneutical key that opens the ontological door through which the Spirit further discloses to us the whole of God, the triune God, the Trinity.


(3)  Jesus also provides the functional key that opens the relational door to the whole of God’s ontology and function, the necessary way through which the Spirit transforms us to intimate relationship with the Father, belonging together as the whole of God’s family (new creation and church) constituted in the Trinity.[4]


The integrity of the person presented by Jesus is defined by nothing less and can be determined by no substitutes.


Given the above understanding about what is primary to God, can the persons we present to God in worship be just anything less and any substitute for our whole persons, from inner out?


What would your experience be if your primary relationships functioned only on the basis of obedience? Parents, what if your children were simply only obedient, where obedience is all they expressed; what would your experience with them be? Or as children, what if your parents only expected you to obediently do what they told you to do? In these scenarios, parents only gave the rules, children only obeyed. These relationships in the extreme illustrate the focus that we get from reductionism on ‘what to do’. Both are views that wrongly depict God as only expecting us to obey (read ‘do’), and accordingly we think that to obey (‘do’) is how we are supposed to function. This bleak scenario can describe what God gets in worship: being treated as a duty-minded or even demanding parent, and worshipers as mere obedient and relationally passive children (even while engaged in much ministry and service). Would this response be significant to God?


Where does this perspective come from? From common misreading and mis-hearing of God’s Word with an interpretive lens focused on ‘what to do’. My husband and I heard a sermon in essence about how we as Jesus’ followers are sheep who simply need to obey. There was no focus on relationship together with God, just doing what we’re told and follow the lead of the Good Shepherd. If we define our person primarily by what we ‘do’ for God, then the person we present in worship will be reduced accordingly. That is, we function more as objects rather than the subjects necessary for involvement in relationship together. For what has shaped our worship perspective, we also need to take a deep look at what have evolved as Christian traditions (e.g. ancient and denominational) and how we appropriate them for worship. If for example we rely primarily on tradition to drive corporate worship, resulting in “honor me with lips but without significant relational connection,” then Jesus’ words to some Pharisees and their worship (Mk 7:6-8) are meant for us now.


Here we need to honestly critique ourselves, compelled by Jesus’ words to “pay attention to what you hear from me” (Mk 4:24). Tradition based or not, he wants all of each of us as subject-person, and all of us together, to make intimate relational connection in worship. Worship leaders, preachers, singers, and musicians can no longer hide behind performance of their roles or their credentials (e.g. education and training), and the congregation can no longer hide behind the former, can no longer depend on others to mediate their worship, and cannot take comfort in passivity or anonymity. All those persons presented do not have the integrity of being whole, but rather only present parts of their person, if not some substitute. While such presentations may be sufficient for those participating in these gatherings, who and what God gets have neither inner-out integrity nor relational significance. Accordingly, if God vulnerably embodies his heart to be relationally involved with us, anything less from our persons would not be compatible reciprocal response for congruent relationship together.


So, who among us are willing to drop the masks and let it all hang out for God? Mary and the shouting children show us what that looks like. Of course there were negative consequences for them, an expected outcome that highlights the incompatibility between embodying old and embodying new in the person we present to God.


2. The Quality and Integrity of Our Communication


Imagine how you would feel if you were at a meeting or on a date, and the other person kept referring to you in the third person. Or that person spoke to you through a third party even though you are sitting together? How d0 you feel when another person talks to you only indirectly through telling stories (either about themselves, or about others), or talks only in reference to some topic? Likewise, how significant a connection can you make with a person by only texting? The substitutes for face-to-face, person-to-person interaction extend from the first issue of our practice to the second issue addressing what’s taking place in any interaction. These examples can translate to what God receives from us in worship. Who and what can God receive in such worship? Only fragmented persons in shallow relationships, from indirect communication, and in referential language that constrains communication in relationships.


Worship is reciprocal communication—God to us, we back to God. Whether or not this communication has the blessed outcome of intimate relational connection depends on the quality and integrity of our communication. We learn something important from Moses. In his first encounter at the flaming bush, Moses heard his name being called, and Moses answered (Ex 3). Moses knew the ontological difference between this God and himself, yet “the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Ex 33:11; cf. Num 12:6-8). He complained to God about God, about the Israelites, and talked back too. Moses was just Moses, responding with his person—nothing less and no substitutes—no embellishment, no recitation of ancient creeds, nothing indirect. If only we were so free with God! Yet, this is the relational dynamic necessary to compose the worship relationship that God seeks from us (as Jesus summarized, Jn 4:23-24).


Can God count on us to be whole-ly who we say we are? On God’s part, all the words Jesus uttered were congruent with the person he vulnerably presented, for the integrity and quality of all his communication. Although we often find that much of what he said is downright baffling, our failure to understand him reveals more about us and the inadequacy of our interpretive framework to interpret Jesus’ language. What is more, for communication to make relational connection, how the listener/receiver hears is inseparable from what the speaker utters. God doesn’t speak in a secret language that only “elite” Christians (e.g. mystics, scholars) can understand, nor does he speak only in theophanies (see Num 12:6-8); and for persons (and traditions) to claim so are wrong, perhaps elitist, certainly self-serving or exclusivist—the position assumed by temple leaders objecting to the children worshiping whole-ly (Mt 21:15-16).


Whether in worship or in discipleship, the problem for us is that we can never adequately understand and receive Jesus’ relational language by using a referential language lens; and this was the disciples’ ongoing problem in understanding Jesus. “Do you still not perceive or understand?” (Mk 8:17), and “Have I been with you [pl.] all this time, and you still do not know me?” (Jn 14:9) Ears that fail to hear, eyes that fail to see, hearts that fail to understand (Mk 8:17-18) keep us at a relational distance, because his language is only for relational purposes and not primarily to dispense information, as referential language is designed. Modern church leaders and scholars continue to depend on referential language and thus make assumptions similar to the above temple leaders. We need to be reeducated in Jesus’ relational language and thereby have the integrity and quality of our communication transformed to his relational terms.


Communication theory describes basic features about personal communication: (1) one cannot not communicate; (2) “Any communication implies a commitment and thereby defines the relationship;”[5] and (3) “Every communication has a content aspect and a relationship aspect such that the latter classifies the former.”[6] The third feature, the relational content of any communication, is conveyed as relational messages as follows:


(1)  What one is saying about him- or herself in relationship with another person.

(2)  How the speaker feels about the other person.

(3)  How the speaker feels about their shared relationship.[7]


How have you felt when family or friends tell you they’re going to do something—such as come by at a certain time, do a favor for you, repay you—and then then don’t come through (consider message 3). Or, how do you feel when you get to worship service early, and as people arrive, they avoid sitting next to you (consider message 2)? These are examples of negative relational messages that aren’t spoken yet communicate clear messages to us. We are more likely to understand relational messages that are conveyed to us (both positive and negative), but not so clear about the messages we give or perhaps just don’t pay attention to them. Yet, in terms of relational awareness, we’re not very good at receiving God’s relational messages.


God has made it clear in his covenant (old and new) promises that he can be counted on in the covenant relationship with his people to be who he claims to be and to do what he promises—how God composes relational message (1) with the quality and integrity of his communication. Additionally, this is the significance of the person presented in God’s righteousness, more accurately rendered ‘relational righteousness’ to distinguish it from the common use of ‘righteousness’ as an abstract static attribute of God. As this study progresses, ‘relational righteousness’ will become increasingly clear as essential to ‘embodying new the worship relationship’. Relational message (2) is the one we Christians think we understand best: God loves us. Yet even this message has gotten reduced in our understanding, as we will see. And relational message (3) is one that we as the new creation family must grow further in hearing from God, and will be increasingly blessed in as we do.


For our worship response to be compatible, we can no longer maintain our preference or predisposition for referential language; rather we need to undergo the inner-out change necessary to hear Jesus’ relational language, to deeply receive him. Then we will be able to both hear from God and ‘speak’ (with words and otherwise) congruently to God for the relational connection we all seek and desire. For despite our need and desire to be loved by God, we have yet to deeply hear the abundance of God’s relational messages to us, to receive his heart, and respond for the depth of relationship together that God desires with us, and the purpose for which he created us and for which he has acted throughout human history. The critical issue revolves around whose language we use.


What can God count on from his worshipers based on our relational messages? In spite of our own declarations through sermons, songs, prayers that say positive things, we also give many negative relational messages to God in worship, thereby exposing our insensitivity to the relational nature of corporate worship. This also exposes the existing hermeneutical impasse preventing our knowing and understanding God. Negative relational messages can be communicated to God even when we praise and thank God—pointing us to the three major issues. For example, an obvious negative relational message we give to God is habitually arriving late to worship; the implied relational message is, “God, you’re not that important so I don’t need to be there when worship begins.” Related to this is when worship service regularly starts late (the responsibility of persons leading worship); the relational message is, “God, worshiping you is secondary to other more important things demanding our attention.” Yet starting late and coming late are so normative in God’s church that we are numb to what we’re really communicating to God; our practices have become normative by default, further reflecting our endemic unawareness of such relational messages to God. Additionally, the stated start times become meaningless, thereby exposing lack of integrity of communication (cf. Mt 5:37). Worshipers cannot count on the worship leaders to start when they say they will; worship leaders cannot count on worshipers to come on time—both exhibiting a lack of relational righteousness. What can God count on from either? If God can’t count on us for as a minor thing as starting worship on time, how can he count on us for more significant matters?


The point here isn’t to become obsessive about punctuality—God doesn’t function by the clock (chronos)—but to be guided by the primacy of relationship together with God, who is relationally righteous and seeks compatible response from his worshipers. Cultures that do not revolve around clock-time also need to examine the primacy given to relationship together defined by God’s terms and not by cultural terms.


In the same vein, consider the messages we give God when we are distracted in worship. Certainly accidents happen, such as errors in the power points, wrong musical notes, things falling, and other such distractions taking our focus off God. But being distracted by the ‘outer’ aspects of worship (e.g. style, order, vocabulary) doesn’t mean we have to let them be distractions. They are only secondary issues; we need to take more responsibility as gathered worshipers not to let secondary things distract us from the primary, and not stress about a lack of so-called perfection in secondary matters.


I think we make too many excuses to try to cover up our own lack of quality and integrity in our communication to God by pointing out others’ “faults” in secondary matters. We need to grow in relational awareness, and to hold each other accountable for the primary, the relational messages we give God, and each other as well. This all requires both communicating in relational language and engaging a deeper level of relational involvement.


For example, to grow whole in our practice, worship needs to be designed to set the relational tone for all who gather. Be resolved to clearly communicate relational messages to God of his importance to you, and your feeling giving primacy to the worship relationship: first, by starting worship on the agreed time (what is communicated otherwise?); and then come at that time prepared to worship our Lord! And persons leading worship need to lead even before worship begins by helping to cultivate this relational focus on God in their own actions, not on preparing music, instruments, or related matters and details. Then, leaders need to help establish and/or deepen connection directly with God, not assuming that a song accomplishes this. Reading words from God and expressing prayers to God help us directly focus on God.


3. The Depth of our Relational Involvement


How would you feel if you had a significant other whose primary way of relating was through giving you something, performing a role or function, always doing things for you, ostensibly for your benefit? And what would it imply that they never asked you what you want, and if they got upset when you were not excited about all their efforts? In these cases, your significant other neither treats you as a whole person, nor engages relationship together as a whole person. What they present and communicate to you are only secondary parts or substitutes of their person, and they are involved with you just on this reduced basis.


Or how would you feel if you were the honoree at a special event for which the planners and guests spent a lot of time, effort, money (even to the point of sacrifice), yet, hardly anyone talked directly to you? At best, they would limit their focus to talking about you in referential language to highlight information about you without any further involvement with you.


These fictitious scenarios illustrate the third major issue for all practice in a lack of depth of relational involvement. Such involvement is shallow and results in only shallow relationship engaged on their terms that keeps them relationally distant from you, that is, at their comfort-level. In much of our worship, this shallowness is what God gets from us, embodying old the worship relationship.


In contrast to the above, Jesus’ presence and involvement with persons was always available for deeper relational connection—open and vulnerable for heart-to-heart relational connection. Whenever his deep involvement with persons was reciprocated, connection was made and persons were changed—made whole by God’s relational grace Face-to-face in relationship together. Mary (Martha’s sister) is one such disciple, whereas other disciples (notably Peter) had difficulty reciprocating. Jesus’ vulnerableness in his deep relational involvement with persons was evident throughout his earthly life as he experienced the range of responses from humans, from open reception (e.g. Jn 1:12-13), to relational distance (e.g. the disciples, Jn 14:9a), to rejection (Jn 1:11, 6:66). Moreover, he was exposed to human sin (notably as reductionism), and deeply affected by it (e.g. Lk 19:41-47). Yet, without being influenced and shaped by these human contexts, Jesus vulnerably embodied God’s relational grace and family love (agapē) to human persons with nothing less and no substitutes. Persons such as Levi (Matthew) and Zacchaeus experienced Jesus in this way (face to face, heart to heart) especially at Jesus’ table fellowship—a relational context whose process becomes for us the definitive expression of the depth of Jesus’ involvement with persons, and will be discussed more fully in chapter four.


Even before we can talk about depth of relationship, we need clarity about reciprocal relationship with God. God does not do relationship unilaterally, yet this is what many worshipers expect. Unilateral relationship is not the relationship God composed at creation or with the covenant, but we Christians practice this oxymoron as worship. Reciprocal relationship is incongruent with any notion of unilateral relationship, and precludes our worship posture as passive objects, for example, who expect God (or worship leaders) to do all the relational work. A passive posture is dissonant with covenant relationship with God because God cannot be other than what God is by nature: unequivocally relational. On the other hand, worship leaders need to examine ongoingly that they are not engaging in unilateral relationship by performing before God or trying to make things happen during worship gatherings.


Furthermore, for deeper involvement in the worship relationship we need to pay attention to and take responsibility for the relational messages we communicate to God in worship: what we’re saying about ourselves, about how we see God, and feel about our relationship. That is, everything that takes place individually and corporately in worship says something relationally from us directly to God (intentionally or unknowingly). To make the shift from practice unaware of relational function to practice having awareness of our relational function requires the deliberate action of redemptive change involving dying to the former practice so that the latter practice can emerge and grow. The three issues for practice then help form the qualitative relational lens necessary for us to grow in our awareness of what is taking place relationally, and thereby make any needed correction to (1) the person(s) we’re presenting, (2) what and how we’re communicating, and (3) the level of reciprocal relationship we’re involved in.


Only with this qualitative lens can we transpose all the dynamics in corporate worship into a compatible key for our ecclesiology of worship, such that the relational outcome of our ‘singing’ has relational significance to God. In other words:


‘Singing’ is the integral relational dynamic of life that clearly distinguishes God’s family in the tune of the new song composed in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God, the song of which worship is the chorus. And, worship is the integrating focus and the integral relational convergence of our (both individual and corporate) reciprocal relational response and vulnerable involvement in relationship together with God—the ongoing primacy of which is the sound of consonance significant to God’s ear.


Nothing less and no substitutes for this composition can embody new the worship relationship. All else is fragmentary, unable to compose wholeness for persons and relationships.


Portraying as ‘singing’ this qualitative-relational focus and function in wholeness distinguishes the qualitative depth level of relationship from discursive referential language and function taking place from a relational distance. The level of worship that we embody new can take place only ‘behind the curtain’ in God’s holy and intimate presence (discussed further in the next chapter). God’s language is only this ‘singing’!


These three major issues for worship/discipleship practice help us ongoingly examine whether or not our response to God in worship is compatible with the righteous God (as defined earlier) and congruent for relational connection with the whole of God as Subject. Who and what we bring before God as his worshipers, whose language we use in worship, and the presence or absence of relational clarity and relational significance in worship either converge in our embodying the worship relationship new—that is, in wholeness of persons and relationships—or diverge into fragmented worship that maintains and reinforces embodying the worship relationship old as a fragmented church reduced to parts of persons without depth of relational connection. Lack of relational awareness underlies much of what seems to be missing, even wrong, in so much of our worship; conjointly the three major issues also help us move forward with specific ways to change from inner out for a blessed relational outcome of wholeness in worship that has deep relational significance to God as well as to us.


There is much written these days about worship/liturgy and spiritual transformation. Many worship thinkers believe that by virtue of attending worship on a regular basis that persons will be transformed. That is wishful thinking based on the view that change can take place from outer in (metaschēmatizō, to change the outward form or appearance, cf. 2 Cor 11:13-15)—wishful because the redemptive change of transformation simply doesn’t work that way. Scripture tells us that to change from inner out involves metamorphoō (cf. Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 3:18). This is the redemptive change composing transformation, which requires both dying to the old (outer in reductionist ontology and function) so that the new can emerge—made possible by Jesus’ relational work on the cross and the experiential reality of ongoing intimate connection with the whole of God (Rom 6:4-11; 2 Cor 3:17-18). Recognizing the need for deep change in us is an essential first step.


Redemptive change (metamorphoō) takes a lot of relational work on our part and isn’t for the faint of heart. Yet, we are immeasurably blessed and loved by the whole of God’s provisions for us for this redemptive change: the Father has adopted us into his very own family; Jesus provides us with the necessary keys we need for this change, including his work on the cross that opened up the curtain for us to enter into the Father’s intimate presence, to establish us as his very own daughters and sons for Face to face connection (2 Cor 3:18; 4:6; Heb 10:19-22; Rom 8:29); and the Spirit now dwells in us for reciprocal relationship together (Rom 8:14-17; Gal 4:6). ‘Transformed persons in transformed relationships embodying the new that Jesus saved us to’ is what we are focused on in this study as pertains specifically to corporate worship. Who and what God gets back in worship are significant only when composed by this relational outcome distinguished by who and what we get from God. Accordingly, redemptive change is never about ‘what to do’ nor about unilateral relational work (even by God), but it is the reciprocal relational work involving our willful choices to let go and die to the old so that the new composed by God can emerge in us as whole persons in whole relationships together as the new creation family of God. Only this distinguished relational outcome composes the basis of the ecclesiology of worship.


And Christians throughout the global church need to claim the experiential truth of the whole gospel (not selective parts of it) that Jesus embodied. Then we, individually and collectively, are responsible to address the experiential reality that the whole of God expects, even demands, nothing less and no substitutes in reciprocal relationship together that he embodied in relational response to us.




The Key of Jesus’ Relational Language


How would you feel if someone kept speaking to you in a language that was unintelligible to you—even though that person knew your language but didn’t like to speak your language (too difficult, didn’t like the sound of it)? This is what God has to experience from us in worship. A lot of Christians “don’t like” to be immersed in God’s relational language, even though they might give lip service to it. In so many words, “we don’t like what we feel threatened by.” But many of us aren’t even aware that God’s relational language is any different from our referential language, and that the latter is dissonant to God.


Scripture differentiates between two languages that are used in worship: relational language and referential language, both of which are present in any human tongue; all humans have the ability to speak referentially and relationally. Relational language is what Jesus distinguished as “my language” (lalian tēn emēn, Jn 8:43). “My language” openly disclosed the intimate family relationships within the Godhead in deep relational tones from the Father (e.g. Mk 1:11; Mt 3:17; 17:5; Jn 12:28b) and the Son (e.g. Mt 6:9-13; Jn 11:41; 12:28; 17:1-26). Relational language (including family language) discloses the whole of God’s intimate relational being and vulnerable involvement together for our benefit (e.g. Jn 12:30) because “my language” also defines the primacy of Jesus’ relational work to make us whole together in relationship to compose his new creation family.


Because language (in various forms including song, prayer, non-verbal) is the primary means of communication in worship, we need to take God’s many words about language far more seriously than we have up to now. We learn how critical language is when we listen carefully to God in Scripture, who critiques referential language in worship (i.e. honor with lips but distant hearts), challenging us to examine the assumptions we implicitly make, week after week, even in our confessions of faith. In order for us to embody new the worship relationship that has significance to God, we need to ‘listen’ to key words from both Jesus and the Father. “This is my Son….Listen to him!” is the Father’s command to Peter, James and John at Jesus’ transfiguration, in key relational language (Mt 17:5; par. Mk 9:7). The Father’s command extends to all of us in relational terms, not as a ‘law’ to obey but as the relational imperative needed to pay attention to him who has the keys to relationship together with God.


By necessity, Jesus qualifies this imperative, telling his disciples to “pay attention to how you listen” (Lk 8:18). The most common way we listen to God’s Word focuses on the words that Jesus speaks as referential words—a focus that disembodies his words from his person and thus that de-relationalizes his purpose in communicating those words. Most of the time we “listen” to Jesus’ words in Scripture to find out what we need to do. Such listening is from outer in, which narrows down our focus to the transmission of information by shifting God’s relational language to referential language. This has deep relational consequences: fragmenting Jesus’ whole person, reducing the integrity of the person he presents to us down to parts, notably his teachings and examples, and thereby ignoring the significance of the person and the quality of his communication with us for the primary purpose of reciprocal relationship together. Such listening in function is unilateral in that we only receive Jesus’ words in referential terms as a deposit of knowledge for us to accumulate (the bank deposit notion), to better ‘do’ what’s asked of us, not in relational terms for relational connection.


The only language sufficient to make relational connection is relational language, which, again, is what Jesus referred to as “my language” (cf. Jn 8:43), and which composes God’s vulnerable communication that makes relational connection only when received and reciprocated compatibly by us. The listening “to my Son” that the Father makes the relational imperative for us is only a function of relationship (namely the depth level of relational involvement, the third issue for practice), requiring our vulnerability to Jesus’ relational language, and our compatible response. Both discipleship and worship must, by their relational nature, be embodied by relational terms over referential terms. Otherwise listening becomes another method (albeit a spiritual methodology) of what to do, keeping relational distance and focusing instead on what we have (knowledge). So listening isn’t merely the physical function of the ears, but the involvement of our whole person in compatible reciprocal response to God.


When Jesus rejected the practice of honoring God with lips but with distant hearts, he was exposing and rejecting the referential language that typifies worship on our terms. All traditions, creeds and confessions of faith fall into this category when composed by referential language and/or practiced in referential terms—no matter how correct the theology or good the intentions of the practice. Referential language is any use of language for purposes other than making relational connection with God on his relational terms. Lectures and reporting—the imparting of information—are clear examples of language for information as an end in itself. Referential language in worship speaks about God and focuses on what God has done, does, and will do (e.g. delivers, does miracles) or has (attributes); but referential language lacks the qualitative relational involvement for compatible reciprocal response of worship because it doesn’t involve the whole person (signified by the relational function of the heart from inner out).


The narrowed-down terms of referential language by design keep persons and relationships from being vulnerable. With uninvolved, distant hearts, our congruent connection with God is impossible. This is the critique Jesus makes about ‘lips without heart’. Much of Christian tradition has been reduced to this, and needs to be redeemed and made whole, that is renewed by the transformation unfolding only from redemptive change.

Sadly, many prayers and songs presented in worship, whose primary purpose is ostensibly relational, are in practice focused more on secondary aspects (e.g. embellishment, lengthy, high volume), thus reducing the relational communication that prayer and song should compose to referential language. It should become axiomatic in our understanding that in the absence of the primacy of relationship together, our worship involvement will give primacy to outer in, increasingly focused on secondary outer aspects of our worship language, such as how skillful singers are, how eloquent, even moving, a preacher is, how embellished prayers are. Sermons can be merely referential language, though not always; it depends on the person giving the sermon and his/her involvement with God and the gathered worshipers—reflecting the three major issues for our worship/discipleship practice. If, for example, a sermon becomes focused on secondary aspects of Scripture, it becomes referential language in the process of ‘referentialization of the Word’.


Because referential language doesn’t involve our whole person from inner out, this so-called communication in worship actually creates or maintains relational distance—perhaps even while giving the illusion of relational involvement. The consequence is to fail to fulfill the primary purpose of communication in worship, which is to make relational connection with God. Again, the three major issues for all worship practice are essential to giving us needed feedback about whose language we are using in worship—God’s relational language for embodying new the worship relationship, or referential language of worship on our terms, thus embodying old the worship relationship.


Referential language in worship is most recognizable when we speak or sing about God (e.g. in the 3rd person), indirectly referencing God—recall personal examples raised earlier. In such worship, it is also often the case that instead of focusing our attention on God, we are really paying attention to the speaker, the singers and instrumentalists, or other activity going on during worship, creating ambiguity about who is the central focus. Performance by singers, musicians and dancers create such ambiguity. Ambiguous worship lacks the relational clarity that is basic to worship having relational significance to God. Ambiguous worship de-personizes God and de-relationalizes God from the Subject in relationship to an object observing, which are the consequences of trying to ‘do’ relationship on our terms. And yet, ambiguous worship is so normative in worship that we don’t notice it. Is it any wonder that we don’t “encounter” God in worship, as much as we long to? And from God’s point of view, where can he find those worshipers who are available for intimate relational connection, that is, worshipers who worship in spirit and truth, vulnerably in the honesty of their heart?


All this illuminates why any and all worship of lips without our hearts is vain (Mk 7:7), why we cannot include just anything in worship, and why everything expressed isn’t worship that has significance to God.


Worship planners and leaders bear much responsibility to ensure relational clarity defines each worship gathering, and this requires relational awareness and qualitative sensitivity on their part. There are specific ways to work and grow in leading worship directly to God, which we address later in this study. Relational clarity is but one dimension, though it is the necessary first dimension to move us from ‘lips without heart’ toward growing corporately as God’s compatible worshipers.


For examples of relational clarity needing to emerge in worship practice, eliminate relational ambiguity to help ensure that the focus of everyone’s attention is directly on God—not, as is common, on the worship team, choir or other leader. Diverting the relational focus from God challenges us to make every effort to reposition those leading worship to the back or sides of the worship space, away from front and center stage; at the very least, they should turn around to face God and not those gathered. All worshipers need to function as subjects to clarify their relational focus on God, and thus eliminate performances in the service that render worshipers as observers. Also, facilitate singing the words of songs directly to God by communicating in the second person, not indirectly in third person (including in PowerPoint displays).


At the very least, worship needs relational clarity; without this dimension there is nothing of relational substance to connect our worship. However, relational clarity alone is never sufficient for our relational response of worship to be compatible with God and congruent for relational connection with him. This is because even speaking or singing directly to God (e.g. in the 2nd person) does not ensure the involvement of our hearts (signifying our whole person from inner out) with God. As mentioned previously, our response to God must be compatible with God’s whole person presented to us, and congruent with God’s relational involvement. Who and what we bring in our worship cannot be some generic, general offering of ourselves, but must be specific to God’s person and God’s terms for relationship together, which then requires our direct involvement in God’s relational context and process. Once relational clarity is established, our involvement needs to go deeper for any relational connection with God to have significance.



Our worship therefore needs to have relational significance to God, which is determined when our response has the following function: our whole person vulnerably involved for intimate relational connection is compatible to who and what God is, and congruent with how God does relationship. Relational significance is specific to God—whose ‘being’ is heart, whose nature is relational, whose involvement is intimate—and always giving primacy to relationship together, thereby ongoingly making secondary all other expression and activity in worship.


The old axiom ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’ accurately implies that is up to each individual to make the relational choices to have relational significance to God. Ongoing relational choices involve both living as a subject rather than an object, and engaging in reciprocal relationship over unilateral relationship. Worship planners can do all that’s possible to have relational clarity in a worship time, but the experience of relational significance depends on “the measure of relational involvement you give” (Mk 4:24) for each worshiper. Yet, on another level this relational responsibility isn’t merely an individual issue but needs to become the collective concern of the church family together.


We are individually and corporately accountable for who and what we bring before God, and for how we are involved in relationship together. This is our relational responsibility for our relational significance to God in our worship gatherings. Worship teams alone do not bear this responsibility for everyone, though they have the relational responsibility to ensure relational clarity and lead the church family in worship with their own reciprocal relational response to God. Likewise, the whole church family needs to be intimately involved with each other in order to build each other up by encouraging, admonishing, and sharing deeply in life together. This is the relational work of family love that Paul rigorously engaged in, for example, as he challenged and corrected the Corinthian church members about their divisive Communion practice (1 Cor 11:17-34), and their self-serving use of spiritual gifts (12:12-13 and 14:4-5).


            Jesus’ rebuke of referential worshipers (Mk 7:6-7) gets to the heart of the matter (as he always does), in which he also challenges our own assumptions we make about who and what we give to God and thus intrudes on the status quo of our worship. And the heart of the matter is the heart, the qualitative function of which integrates the whole person inner and outer. God, whose very being is heart (“God is spirit,” Jn 4:24), whole-ly embodied his heart in relational response to us, giving us nothing less than and no substitutes for his whole person in vulnerable presence and intimate involvement in the primacy of relationship together. God doesn’t play games, is not capricious—not like us. Nothing less and no substitutes is how God is always present and involved; this is the significance of God’s relational righteousness, mentioned earlier. God’s relational righteousness is only a function of covenant relationship (whose terms are determined by God, not us)—that is, contrary to the common concept of a righteousness as an abstract static attribute—so that we can always count on him to be whole-ly who and what God is and how God engages in relationship. This understanding of God is critical for the truth of what we can expect from God and for the reality of what we experience with God in relationship together.


Based on who, what and how God is, God desires and expects nothing less than and no substitutes for our whole person in compatible reciprocal relationship together. This relational basis is why the worship relationship must go beyond honoring with lips only—no matter how innovative, eloquent, or theologically correct—in order to be the reciprocal response of our whole person signified by the heart’s qualitative function. That is to say (in relational terms), only our righteousness in worship as ‘nothing less and no substitutes’ composes the response of worship that is compatible in response to and congruent in connection with the whole and holy God—the worship that has relational significance to God. Distinguished only by God’s whole relational terms, this composes the worship relationship embodied new, which is not a template demanding our conformity.


God’s deep and affirming relational message here is that God wants us, our whole person—he loves us whole-ly for intimate relationship together, not what we do for him or give to him. We have to distinguish these vital relational messages from God; and we also have to account for the relational messages we give God by our worship.


Finally, ‘embodying new the worship relationship’ as our compatible response to God and congruent connection with God cannot remain at the individual level. The latter alone is limited and, like referential language, is rendered to embodying old. But embodying new must be composed in whole relationships together as God’s new creation family. In Jesus’ prayer to the Father at his last table fellowship, Jesus deeply prayed for his followers to be “one as we are one” (Jn 17:11). For us to become “one as we are one” has to be understood as those who have been freed from our sin (especially the sin of reductionism, addressed throughout this study), transformed and made whole in intimate and reconciled relationship with the Father, who has adopted us into his very own family as daughters and sons together (cf. Eph 1:3-14; Rom 8:29). Our corporate worship does not yet reflect this in practice, even if it is in our theology. It doesn’t help that some in the theological academy see adoption as only a reality for the end times. Jesus and Paul both attest otherwise (cf. Mk 3:35; Eph 1:5). But, again, carefully listening to Jesus’ relational language makes it imperative to give primacy to his indisputable family language.


By holding us accountable, God affirms us as persons equalized in his family and helps us to grow further and deeper in transformed relationships together in likeness of the Trinity (as Jesus prayed). This is who and what God desires and pursues us for in his ongoing relational action in the gospel of wholeness—the complete gospel of what God has saved us from and to. And because wholeness (šālôm) cannot be realized in disparate individuals—even a group of individuals—particular focus needs to be given to our worship language and its integral importance to relationships together as God’s family, God’s relational whole. Relational language is only for the building up of God’s whole, thus worship language has an integrating function for the maturing into wholeness of the church in all our relational bonds together—in the relational outcome of the ecclesiology of worship. This uncommon relational context with its whole relational process is integral for the significance of worship of the whole and holy God.


Transposing from embodying old to embodying new the worship relationship therefore needs a transformed ecclesiology that has expression in whole worship theology and practice. Most worship experiences in Western contexts today remain highly individualistic, either by design or by default—despite references in church to “family.” Worship in collective contexts may not highlight the individual but tend not to illuminate the church as family in relational terms. Much of what takes place in any given worship really gives only an outer appearance as family, inadvertently or perhaps intentionally. As such, our worship reflects a truncated soteriology that doesn’t take us fully into God’s family, that is, the new creation family we are saved to. Truncated soteriology yields a limited ecclesiology that has been renegotiated to our terms, and both of these reflect an incomplete Christology that remains narrowly focused on only Christ of the cross and thus limited to what we are only saved from. Embodying new the worship relationship is all-embracing—that is, embodies the whole of persons and relationships, not parts or limited aspects—and requires major transformation (metamorphoō) from inner out that will surely turn a lot of church-goers away. God is waiting for all his daughters and sons. How well are we listening to “my language”?




“The Measure You Give is the Measure You Get”


The heart of the matter (the heart) that Jesus ongoingly addresses also involves the deep issue of how we define who and what we are (our ontology), and what determines how we engage in relationships (our function), notably in the worship relationship with God. This is about our theological anthropology and specifically where our heart is. Knowing where our heart is is essential to understand in order to grow in wholeness as the persons transformed in righteousness, worshipers God can count on for intimate relational connection.


Jesus said to his disciples about relationship with him: “Pay attention to what you hear from me; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you” (Mk 4:24). Jesus knows we often don’t pay attention to all his words or ignore certain words because of our biases, our selective listening. Listening is critical to any and all relationships. Accordingly, not only do we need to pay attention to what we hear from Jesus, we also need to pay attention to how we listen (Lk 8:18). How we listen—that is “the measure you give”—critically determines the quality and depth of our involvement in relationship together (the third major issue for all practice).


What Jesus points to in these key relational words is applicable to God’s worshipers (and inseparable from our discipleship): when our response of worship is with nothing less and no substitutes, then intimate relational connection is always made. This is beautifully illuminated for us by Mary (Martha’s sister), whose response of worship shows us compatible response and congruent connection with God. As we will see further about Mary, she responded to Jesus’ person with her own vulnerableness necessary for intimate relational connection together. The relational outcome was that Mary deeply knew and understood Jesus. Mary didn’t focus on Jesus for what he did or had (in contrast to how Peter often related to Jesus), but was qualitatively focused on his whole person extended to her, and relationally responded to his person. Her interpretive lens was qualitative and relational, not quantitative and at a relational distance (characteristic of the other disciples). She shows us by her own worship that the interpretive framework and lens we use (either outer in, or inner out) is the determining factor for the depth of our involvement in relationship with Jesus (“the measure you give”), and the depth of relational connection made and outcome of relationally knowing each other (“the measure you get”).


This unavoidable relational process composes the relational paradigm critical for our ongoing practice of discipleship and worship: “Who and what we give is who and what we get in relationship with God.” Stated in nonnegotiable relational terms, the relational paradigm we need to embrace ongoingly reads: “The vulnerableness of our person we extend in worship will be the connection we get with the Father in Face-to-face relationship together.”



‘Lips without heart’ is God’s relational critique that is relevant today, exposing what takes place in too much corporate worship. Even though we sing God’s praises, deliver dynamic hymns and praises to honor him, and work hard each week to ensure excellence in all that we bring to God, without the qualitative involvement of our hearts from our innermost, vulnerably involved with God, then our worship isn’t compatible with God’s whole person vulnerably embodied in relational response to us, nor is it congruent to make relational connection with him. And in spite of any talk about the primacy of relationship as Jesus’ followers and intimacy in worship, by our not coming before God in the vulnerableness of our whole person(s) presented to God as our compatible response of worship communicated in relational terms, we show that we don’t understand what it means to be the worshipers the Father seeks. Those are the worshipers, as Jesus revealed to the Samaritan woman at the well, who are compatible with God (“God is spirit…must worship in spirit,” Jn 4:23-24). The worshipers whom Jesus distinguished and the Father seeks are distinguished only from inner out. In relational terms the worship relationship cannot be embodied new by embodying distinctions from outer in—even if these distinctions have been long revered or are widely esteemed today.


Therefore, whenever our involvement in worship doesn’t make the relational connection with God (as Mary did) that is congruent with how God engages in relationship (notably within the Trinity as Jesus vulnerably revealed in the incarnation), then who and what we bring to worship aren’t those who worship in spirit and truth (vulnerable honesty of heart). And it is critical indeed for our practice to embrace the full reality that ‘who and what we give is who and what we get in relationship with God’. More than likely we aren’t even aware of all these relational implications, even those of us who see ourselves as ‘relational’. Yet we have a lot to look forward to with anticipation, but only if we’re willing to be vulnerable with our ‘vulnerably present and intimately involved’ God. Are we ready to learn Jesus’ relational language? Who and what God gets depend on it!


As we continue, keep in focus that whole theology and practice will always be required.




For Your Theology and Relational Response


Carefully consider the following song composed in the key of Jesus’ theological trajectory that he vulnerably embodied on his intrusive relational path in order to relationally respond to our human condition—and for only one relational outcome. May the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement embody us new in the worship relationship.



The Whole of God Embodied[8]


(words in parentheses optional)         

Transcendent God, holy God

vuln’rably present

is who you are (who you are)


O, Righteous God, faithful God

Int’mately involved (with us)

is what you are (O, what you are)


Revealed by grace, with your love

here for relationship (with us)

is how you are (yes, how you are)


O Praise be to God, embodied God

only for relationship (with us)

the whole of God (whole of God)


Thanks be to God, embodied God

relationship together

with the whole of God (embodied God)



Hmm who you are, yes

relationship together

with the whole of God

Hmm what you are, yes

relationship together

with the whole of God

Hmm how you are, yes

relationship together

with the whole of God

O Praise be to God, embodied God

vulnerably present

the whole of God, whole of God


Thanks be to God, embodied God

intimately involved

the whole of God


(Repeat song)


(Descending slowly)       The whole of God

                             the whole— of— God




[1] Scripture references throughout this study are taken from the NRSV unless otherwise noted. Wording in italics indicate my renderings.

[2] The two previous studies are: A Theology of Worship: ‘Singing’ a New Song to the Lord (Theology of Worship, 2011) and Hermeneutic of Worship Language: Understanding Communion with the Whole of God (Worship Language Study, 2013). Both are available online at http://4X12.org.

[3] T. Dave Matsuo, “Did God Really Say That?” Theology in the Age of Reductionism (Theology Study, 2013). Online at http://4X12.org, 5.

[4] T. Dave Matsuo, The Gospel of Transformation: Distinguishing the Discipleship and Ecclesiology Integral to Salvation (Transformation Study, 2015). Online at http://4X12.org, 80.

[5] Paul Watzlawick, Janet Helmick Beavin, and Don D. Jackson, Pragmatics of Human Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, and Paradoxes (NY: W.W.Norton & Company, Inc, 1967), 51.

[6] Watzlawick et al, 54.

[7] This rendering of principles from communication theory of Watzlawick et al (“This is how I see myself...this is how I see you...this is how I see you seeing me”; p. 52) is developed by T. Dave Matsuo in The Relational Progression: A Relational Theology of Discipleship (Discipleship Study, 2004). Online: http://4X12.org. Chap 1, section: “Understanding the Word.”

[8] ©2008 T. Dave Matsuo and Kary A. Kambara. Printable sheet music available online at http://4X12.org, Worship Songs.




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