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Sunday, February 22, 2009
Our Worship as God's Response to Himself
A week or so ago I made a claim some may have balked at. I even wondered myself if I had committed heresy. Here's basically what I said:

Worship, in my understanding, is God's response to Himself through his Son by his Spirit in and with his people. Isn't this what it means that we are created for the praise of his glory? For us to worship is to be swept up in a participatory fashion into the Trinitarian movement of Love.  Our participation is a gift not from us but to us and through us.  We don't bring the gift. We bring ourselves as an offering-- bodies coming together as a living sacrifice. God brings the rest.  Listen to our friend, the late Bob Weber, on this point:

Worship is not that which I do, but that which is done in me. That is, worship, which reveals Christ, forms me by making me aware that Jesus is my spirituality and that worship is to form my spiritual life into the pattern of living into the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), 93.

If Christ is "in me" and "in you" does it not make sense that he adores the Father through us-- that our worship is not so much about "our response" but his supernatural Love moving in and through us?

A friend shared this metaphor with me the other day that captures it. We've all seen children put their feet on their parents shoes and hold on while the parent walks around. In worship, it is as though we are putting our feet on the feet of Jesus while he dances with the Father and the Spirit. 

Thoughts? Push Backs??


posted by John David Walt | at 2/22/2009 03:01:00 AM



Blogger John D. Palmer said...

To suggest that we are just props that God uses 1n a cycle that 1s purposed to come back around to h1mself does seem to lean toward a heret1cal understand1ing of the nature of God.

Weber's quote has some d1sturb1ng suggest1ons as well. 1f worsh1p 1s an act1v1ty that 1s done 1n me by God, and 1s purposed toward the end that 1 come to the awareness that Jesus 1s my "sp1rtual1ty" and that "sp1r1tualty" becomes what 1 form my understand1ng of God w1th then ult1mately we end up l1v1ng for ourselves because ourselves 1s God. Somewhere 1n th1s m1x you cross the l1ne of d1st1nct1on, nature and purpose jumbl1ng them altogether ult1mately confus1ng l1ke a dancer that gets so 1nto the dance that he loses h1mself. That sounds really beauf1ful. Problem 1s when you lose yourself wh1le danc1ng you end up crash1ng 1nto people, knock1ng them down wh1le you are fall1ng. 1t can be funny 1n a Chr1s Farley k1nda way, but not someth1ng we want to be confus1ng the people of God w1th.

8:16 AM EST  
Blogger Dean Ober said...

funny thing. i've been wrestling with this for about two years or so, and actually had a song come out as fruit of this topic. it's simply titled "Your Love to You"

i often find the dilemma of pondering how we can give things that we don't have, to be settled with experience. such as the common topic that Mr. Redman put in Seeing You, "no one can sing of things they have not seen."

and then, there's the idea that we are merely stewards in this world of God's creation. does that exclude the intangibles? i think not. (sorry about the double negative...)

in the world of social behavior, there are both the learned behaviors, and the pre-existing/genetic/blood-related/natural behaviors. so if we were born sinners, and learned Love from the example of others, i see the topic at hand standing firm. but, with our natural/blood-related/genetic/pre-existing attraction and need to be filled by His Love, i see only our pride getting in the way.

Regardless, we have the choice of humbling our pride, as well as the choice to act on what love we may be familiar with. However, this is all bound in God's creation, and we may only bring an offering of what we have to give.

i agree with JDW in that our opportunity to participate is a gift, and actually, i believe that to be just like the gift of Christ.

i also agree with JDW in "that our worship is not so much about "our response," but His supernatural love moving in and through us." this statement (although posed as a question) keeps the priorities straight. And in that, i believe the tension of the topic at hand, falls on the idea of whether we're trying to establish/identify truths, which maybe means we're flirting with keeping "our response" a higher priority than God Himself.
On the flip-side, if we're aligning our priorities with God's priorities, we bring our offerings in worship intended for God's praise.

i like this one!

p.s. i have yet to get in touch with a publishing house for that song "Your Love to You", and i would love to share it, but would prefer to share it with a publisher first, any recommendations?

12:22 PM EST  
Blogger JAy. said...

I'll give you a "yes" and a "no."

"Yes": I like the image of dancing on Jesus' feet. It is appropriate of worship. We allow ourselves to be moved by God's love as given through Jesus.

"No": "Our participation is a gift not from us but to us and through us." I disagree. We bring a gift - a sacrifice - to God that is our selves (which you go on to say also). But that is our gift.

The opportunity to participate is a gift from God. We have to accept the invitation, and that is our gift in return. Our presents are our presence. Worship is then begun by dropping the actions and urges of "us" to concentrate on Him and let Him move us.

However, I worry that your overall thesis is too passive. Yes, worship involves dropping the pretense of "me" and opening myself to God. However, worship is also then following through on what we find to be the call of God upon us. In this sense, worship isn't just stepping onto the feet of Jesus while he dances, but working to remain on his feet as he dances. And this is hard work. No, we do not tell our feet where to go, but if we put our weight on the wrong foot, the other foot loses connection and we fall.

Mr. Weber only takes us half way. After trying to "form my spiritual life into the pattern of living into the death and resurrection of Jesus," I have to take action on that formation. My worship isn't complete until I take His yoke upon my back and fight, with His help, towards the finish line God has laid for me.

And JD, why are you posting at 3:00 AM?????

3:10 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When Jesus says he says only what the Father has told him to say, even so far as saying that he says it how the Father has told him so say it, you could, perhaps, apply the same argument. (John 12) You might say that Jesus has nothing to offer but what the Father gives him. Is it the same?

I think that God has created real persons to be in relationship with. So we do have something to offer. Granted it ultimately originates in Him, of course, but then he lets us go and then we are consequential beings who can in turn meaningfully participate in the life of God.

Jesus worshiped his Father by obeying him. The Father gave Jesus the source material ('commands') which Jesus used to join himself to his Father. So too the will of God has been revealed to us so that we can participate in the activity of God through obedience (love).

Maybe instead of dancing on Jesus' feet like ragdolls... we are students learning the steps of the Master Dancer and clumsily joining in?


1:57 AM EST  
Blogger Rob said...

Ditto Jay. However clumsily, we seek to stay on those feet and hold his hands and make our movements his movements. Of course the form and choreography is God's, but we stay on those feet and move with him. We also say, "Do it again, daddy."

We learn to mimic the dance because the master may ask us, as a first step and being part of his body, to put someone on our feet and dance them to Jesus. Still his dance, and granted - anything beautiful in the dance is his shining through us.

What I hear in the post is more a picture of puppets, who have no movement of their own and no potential movement of their own. On Jesus' feet, we submit our potential movement to his. Poorly, and not without his graceful hands holding us...but he does allow us to walk away if we so choose.

What think ye, Calvin?

7:05 AM EST  
Blogger John David Walt said...

WARNING-- if you don't like long rambling late night comments-- skip this one. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.

I appreciate the challenges, encouragements and push backs in this conversation. It is an important one. It could be the most important one we will have here. It is a perennial sticking point for us. Admittedly I have more questions than answers. To even ponder the Trinity is to seek for a knowing that is beyond knowledge.

I am hitting some land mines. I make this observation based on the way some of you are reflecting only a caricature of what I am actually saying. (i.e. props, Chris Farley, Ragdolls, Puppets and the Calvin jab.) (smiling at that last one) no offense taken, just critiquing your methodology.

JDP's comment seems to be tinged with an underlying fear of "losing oneself." We might, he suggests, crash into people and knock them down." Is this a lack of confidence in the Spirit's ability to choreograph and animate or a lack of confidence in we human dancers? In my estimation, this is the essence of discipleship-- learning to participate with the Divine Nature. (i think anonymous gets at this)

I would suggest that this issue of fear of "losing one'self" is precisely at the core of the human condition. Our fear of losing ourself prevents us from giving ourself away. Even our poet laureate hymns of being "lost in wonder, love and praise."

Re: mixing natures-- In Jesus, hasn't the fullness of God taken up the fullness of humanity? Isn't our High Priest the perfection of the Divine and the Human seamlessly intermingled in an inseparable union? In Jesus we see our future and in baptism we begin the journey of actualizing our future in the present. (i.e. this is eternal life: "knowing you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.) Admittedly, full realization of our baptismal identity awaits the culmination of all things, but Scripture seems clear that we are on that way now. What implications might this have for us and for our worship?

At minimum, you must grant that the position i am taking is far more Wesleyan-Arminian than Calvinistic. i am suggesting the notion of "perfection" (for which Wesley was so misunderstood) and "entire sanctification."

It seems that many of you want to say what I am trying to say but you can't bring yourself to it. For instance consider the following:

JAy suggests I am too passive, but then seems to agree with me. The "no" ends up seeming like a "yes."

it seems in saying the following that you agree with me: "The opportunity to participate is a gift from God. We have to accept the invitation, and that is our gift in return. Our presents are our presence. Worship is then begun by dropping the actions and urges of "us" to concentrate on Him and let Him move us."

I agree with you here and concede that perhaps you have said what i am trying to say better than I.

JAy comments-- After trying to "form my spiritual life into the pattern of living into the death and resurrection of Jesus," I have to take action on that formation. My worship isn't complete until I take His yoke upon my back and fight, with His help, towards the finish line God has laid for me.

I guess this seems too oriented around "us." In my own understanding, I am not forming my own spiritual life. This is what the Holy Spirit does. neither do i take action on that formation. Again, this is the work of Christ in me by the power of the Spirit. My sole work is to "believe" (John 6:29) and to "abide." (john 15) I would call this the way of "activist abandonment." Discipleship is all about learning this way.

This is a challenging conversation. i hope you hear my respect of you all for engaging it with me.

My greatest challenge of much of what you all are saying is that it seems to fall into a "functional" spirituality. I'm searching for more of a transcendent spirituality. The former depends highly on our actions. The latter on our dispositions. The former depends highly on our doing something. The latter on our attention and attachment and on God doing something. The former lives on desperation and the constant expression of "I need you to come through so I can get it done." The latter lives on devotion and the constant disposition of "I love you."

What does a text like, "i am crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me," mean?

what does it mean that in Christ "we live and move and have our being?"

what does it mean that I am "buried with Christ and raised in Christ in baptism."

it's for another post, and I am moving into late night territory-- but perhaps there is a progression of worship that begins with "I need you," proceeds to "I want you," and culminates with "I love you." might the former two ways imply the retention of self--even the clinging to self? the latter way implies the abandonment of self. I am not eschewing the former two stages, only trying to make helpful distinctions.

i'm done for now. thank God, right? ;-)

p.s. the secret to my 3:01 posts is scheduling. ;-)

12:21 AM EST  
Blogger Rob said...

Good comments, JD. I'll write here with the understanding that with blogs the conversation pretty well ends once 2 more posts are made. But here goes. BTW, I ramble in the morning better than late at night.

First, I honestly apologize that the Calvin comment came as a jab that landed enough for it to be considered methodology. I own that. In my family it was common to make a point quickly by a playful jab because we all loved and respected one another and knew that. Sometimes when I love and respect someone I feel at liberty to do that and perhaps shouldn't because it is not the same context. I do not think you are a Calvinist, but was making the point that what I hear seems to approach that.

Second, is worship an interaction? Is it relational? What resonates with me in the comments from others is an effort to moderate the pendulum swing from self-centered worship (which you are rightly trying to correct)to the other extreme of non-relational, automoton programming.

What I hear (which may not be what you are saying) is that we have become PVC pipes for the flow of God's own praise and nothing more. Believing, abiding, taking on a yoke (decision not an actual action, for I agree Christ affixes it) are a component of worship. It is clear to me in the Epistles that Paul and others are not simply talking to those who have not yet been crucified in Christ, but to those who either have or may pick up their lives again. He is encouraging to remain.

The fruit is God's; the output part of worship is all God's doing, I agree. But we have our part of participation or else we are loveless robots; conduits for God's love to flow to God. The two greatest commandments are not "allow God to love himself through you, and others, too." Yes, it is God that purifies that love and perfects it, for we know not how to love. But I believe we do participate with him. Not adding to, but following along. Come follow me. Abide in me. Take on my yoke. Love me with heart, soul, mind and strength. Forgive others as I have forgiven you. These beckon participation. Not performance as if we can do it on our own, but participation.

I don't want to speak for others, but that is the push back I hear in the comments.

9:53 AM EST  
Blogger John D. Palmer said...

Apologies if my reference to Chris Farley were received as a "dig" I intended them to be a "push" It is indeed a lack of confidence in the human dancer. More specifically my concern has to do with potential confusion between "my spirituality" and "Jesus". This is an important distinction for me.

12:54 PM EST  
Blogger John David Walt said...

ok-- in all seriousness-- i don't want anyone walking on eggshells on my blog. nothing like a good sparring match though.

rob-- i guess I don't understand myself trying to issue a corrective to "me-centered worship." i agree that is a problem, but it is not where i am coming from. i am for sure not attempting to argue for worshippers as a "non-relational automaton" or a "conduit," a mere pass-through.

You hit on what I am trying to say with the notion of participation. As in "worship is the gift of participating by the power of the Spirit in the incarnate son's intimate communion with the Father.

worship is the gift of entering into something that is already going on. we are located "in Christ." we are caught up in his mystical yet human Body, simultaneously located both on Earth and in Heaven. It is how one is able to claim "to live is Christ and to die is gain."

In this sense our will is completely subsumed in the will of the Father. Do we remain actors in this participation-- absolutely. We have responsibility, not in the sense of a "duty" but in the sense of an ability to respond, an empowered ability, a response-ability. Discipleship becomes the pathway of growing in the human ability to discern in the Spirit the supernatural wisdom of God.

We are given the ability to respond with the abandonment of ourself in Love to the One who has abandoned himself in Love for us. I have no will but thine, as the hymnwriter sings.

Again-- I am not contending for the Calvinistic notion of irresistible grace, but rather for the Wesleyan notion of the perfection of Love.

I am having a hard time distinguishing what you are saying from what I am trying to say. you and i always seems to wind up in this quagmire don't we? The only distinction I can draw is that you are contending for some level of human independence or a retained sense of autonomy (self government). My central claim-- to be in Christ is to disown one'self. It is to say "I am not my own. I have been bought with a price." "I no longer live." "I have died." As Wesley prays in his famous covenant prayer, "I am no longer my own but thine. . . ." Autonomy is traded for Freedom. The shackles of sin are exchanged for enslavement to righteousness. The nature of Adam is buried in the dust that the nature of Christ, the second Adam, can inhabit the New Creation.

so if i am not arguing for the PVC approach to divine human relations, how are we differing?
to be "in Christ" is to los

9:32 PM EST  
Blogger Rob said...

I don't think we are differing much at this point. For me, this was good discussion:

- you spoke
- we said, "so here's what i'm hearing"
- you said, "not that, but this."

What nagged at me in the original post (and what I heard others expressing as a concern) is not nagging at me in this last comment. Thanks for clarifying.

Two kind of odd questions I have, though; how does the scene in Revelation 5 work with what you are saying here ("worship is the gift of participating by the power of the Spirit in the incarnate son's intimate communion with the Father.") Is the Father aware of our worship or only of Jesus communing with him and we are in Jesus? Said another way, maybe, are we caught up in Jesus or with Jesus?

4:42 AM EST  
Blogger John David Walt said...

thanks Rob-- these can seem like insignificant distinctions (i don't hear you saying that at all)--- but the difference between "in" and "with" are quite significant. i need to ponder this one for awhile.

in other words, i don't think this is a "how many angels can you fit on the head of a pin" kind of issue that gets debated in ivory towers.

thanks for the question-- what could be more worthy of our time than to explore the hope of our future and how that might impinge on our present.

7:47 PM EST  
Blogger Rob said...

No, not a "Can God make a rock so big even He can't move it" question. I'm really asking because I really don't know. I keep trying to go back and forth between worship as gathering and worship as life. Kind of feel like whatever we come to for one ought to fit fairly well for the other. It's why I like that dancing on the feet thing. Works in both realms.

4:40 AM EST  
Blogger John David Walt said...

rob-- this is precisely why i love the definition--- the gift of participating in the incarnate son's communion with the Father in the power of the HOly Spirit.

this is movable--- same communion-- inside and out. reversible jacket of sorts.

9:12 AM EST  
Blogger Rob said...

I'm not sure if you want to continue on here or have coffee sometime. I kind of miss you, JD. Anyway, I don't disagree with that definition, but two specific things come to mind when I hear it.

One (you've heard this from others in previous blog entries), does the Holy Spirit have communion with the Father? With the Son? If so, are we not a part of that. It is a "Trinity question" that may simply be too mysterious to answer, but the gist is that the definition seems incomplete...like it doesn't include the Holy Spirit fully in Trinitatian community. The Holy Spirit becomes fuel, but not relational. I know you're not saying that, but that definition raises that in me and I've heard it from others.

The second is this - and I might be heretical here. There are times when I meet people or are around people I know, and it is as if the Holy Spirit in me recognizes the Holy Spirit in them, and my spirit jumps like John the Baptist in the womb in proximity to Jesus. There is some kind of instant love and bond that goes beyond who they are or if I like them. I've always felt like that deep, pure, Godly love for another was worship (of God, not the other person). It's the second half of the great commandment as worship and not just obedience. Maybe it's not worship, but it seems like it to me. I'm probably out to lunch on this one, but it has been real to me - as if God is praised and exalted in that love of other. And I'm not sure how that is covered in the definition.

Thanks for exposing your thoughts to the masses. Always easier to pick at creativity than to create. I very much respect you, JD.

1:52 PM EST  
Blogger John David Walt said...

yes rob-- i do think you have pointed out the weakness of the definition (i.e. underplaying the person and work of the Holy Spirit). i need to read more. seems like some of the Fathers spoke of the Spirit as the very bond of Love between the Father and the Son. thinking of the Spirit like this doesn't make it such a functional notion (i.e. in the power of the Spirit). or does it?

how might we improve on the definition proferred? how can we strengthen the person and place of the Spirit in the definition without creating a nebulous reality?

8:21 PM EST  
Blogger Rob said...

it sounds nice, but what does it do to my kids and what does it say about my marriage if I were to say, "My kids are the very bond of love between Kristy and me."

I think these are hard, but interesting questions, JD. What do passages like John 17 say about this? Is that worship or just a state of being (I in them and they in me)?

I don't know in terms of the definition. It seems like the work of Jesus allows us into the room of worship, and the Holy Spirit works in us so that we know how to participate in what's going on in that room. I think the definition is not bad, but incomplete. It's like a frame in a movie frozen on the screen. Or since it is one of the better definitions, it is a scene from a movie, but not the whole movie.

I guess another picture I have is this; the work of the Spirit is to assure us we are children of God, and to work in us to form us into those very children (belief, attitude, behavior). Worship as life is then living outward as a child...as an ambassador of the family; doing THE child's work in our own unique way by the power of the Spirit (just as THE child did). Worship as gathering then becomes like the family gathering where the head of the family is given appropriate honor and we are reminded and reoriented to the reality of the family relationships. I don't know...it all kind of dies in dissection.

8:17 AM EST  
Blogger John David Walt said...

on the one hand-- what you dissect you must first kill. . . . but on the other, the way we define worship will determine the way we design worship.

i'll be pondering your image.

my first impression has to do with making worship a room. i'm pondering that. also- i am wondering what it means that we are "in Christ" in your definition. it seems like we are in the room with Christ, but not exactly in Christ.

this is definitely a conversation worth pursuing-- thanks for engaging. i think you and me are the only ones still on this particular post.

10:42 PM EST  
Blogger Rob said...

Perhaps you can start another post as your ponderings take shape. I think your language leans prophetic and mine priestly...that's why we wind up in these conversations. Maybe I'm wrong about that.

7:19 AM EST  
Blogger John D. Palmer said...

I've been following the vollies. Just don't have much to add to it.

Things popping in my mind have me asking didn't Jesus make it to synagogue every Sabbath? Was what Jesus and the Disciples participated in on these Sabbath's corralary to what we do when we join together in Worship, whatever day it is? If not how is it different? Do you presume that Jesus was worshiping God every minute of everyday of his existence? Is how we understand worship the key to getting to the Kingdom?

Getting lost in Worship is that what Christ wanted for us?

4:05 PM EST  

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