This study is not designed to be a “how to” manual of what to do for worship. Rather, in it we address what matters most to God about worship, with a focus on how we function in relational terms. This is the theological approach I take in this study because our theology by its nature is inseparable from our function, and they should be congruent, though this is not the prevailing approach in the theological academy. What unfolds then in this study will, I hope and pray, challenge our theological assumptions, most notably our theological anthropology, and our basic assumptions of the gospel, along with certain assumptions about worship. This may make you uncomfortable, perhaps even confront you, and will likely be more than you bargained for in a theology of worship. Yet, if you have a serious interest in and concern for worship, and what serious Christian should not, then I encourage you to hang in with the pages below. I trust and pray that you will not be disappointed.
The theology of worship unfolding in the study approaches worship with the following perspective to be embraced in relational terms, not referential terms:
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 the whole of God—nothing less and no substitutes.
This relational dynamic involves ‘singing’, that signifies in this study more than singing but the integrating relational dynamic of life as God’s very own daughters and sons.
By necessity, this relational dynamic requires ongoing relational involvement with the Spirit, whom I have engaged both in and for this study. One experience I’ve had during this time notably illustrates the Spirit’s relational work in taking me further and deeper in relationship together with God.
During the intense work on this study, I started experiencing a ringing in my right ear that was different from the usual ringing I get once in awhile. This caught my attention because one of the strong messages that God has been sharing with us lately is to distinguish between what is of primary significance and what is secondary. Relationship with God (and others) is primary to God, and as we give ourselves to the primacy of relationship with him, we can trust him with the secondary. As the ringing got progressively louder over the next several days, my husband Dave and I asked God to take care of it because it was a secondary issue for me, and I really felt that way.
During those days I did some earwax cleaning, but did not stress about it. On the sixth day, however, I woke up without the ringing—but also with no hearing in that ear. Dave and I affirmed God that I am in his hands, and that we are counting on him to make me adequate, and also asked him to make me whole from inner out. I then went to see a doctor that day and the next. Everything went so smoothly—traffic, parking, minimal waiting—in which I experienced God’s presence and intimate involvement. More importantly, I also had a sense that he had a purpose for this to happen to me.
As I reflected with him about my physical hearing loss, the Spirit nudged my thoughts beyond simply hearing, more deeply to how I need to grow further in listening to him both relationally and qualitatively to fully receive Jesus’ relational messages (verbal and nonverbal) in the relational language of Scripture. I have written a lot about the Father’s relational imperative to Jesus’ disciples at the transfiguration—“This is my Son, the beloved...listen to him!” (Mt 17:5)—and he was further speaking this deeper to my heart. He wanted me to listen to the depths of Jesus’ whole person extended to me in God’s primacy for relationship, to go deeper with him ‘without the veil’ because I cannot write about that which I do not experience myself. Writing about being the worshiper the Father seeks kept me accountable ongoingly in the imperative to make primary what is primary to God—reciprocal relationship together.
The medication I had to take for my ear seemed to disrupt my sleep; either that or the Spirit kept me awake. I have been listening to him, reflecting, praying for others, opening my heart further during these night times together. Increasingly, I have experienced a qualitative difference in me. He has freed my heart to feel deeply with him when his people don’t listen to his deep relational messages to us and don’t receive his whole person vulnerably extended to us.
If nothing else in this study gets across to you, I hope and pray that it will be the depth of God’s heart vulnerably extended to you for intimate, reciprocal relationship together, and that his relational response of grace to us is sufficient for relationship together to be whole. My experience here illuminates how intimately God is involved with us, how deeply he shares his very heart with us, so that we can grow as daughters and sons who can boast that we relationally know and understand our Father, rather than boast of secondary matters (see Jer 9:23-24). I boast in this relational outcome from the primacy of relationship together and its further outcome in the following study—‘singing’ a new song to my Lord.