Is worship all about our therapy, to feel good about our problems? Is the Sunday morning service primarily for focusing on getting rid of our metaphorical burdens and chains? Do we approach Sunday mornings as if it is all about “having an experience with God?” And those experiences all too often (if not every week) turn into us dwelling on how God can free us from our discomfort and pain. I know that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17), but there’s gotta be something more to worship than having it always being about our situations. I just don’t seem to think worship therapy is what discipleship is all about. Am I wrong about that? Honestly, I really would like to know. It seems most of this singing in church is all about us and not about God.
Beginning a sermon series in the Book of Daniel, our pastor referenced “cultural Christians.” Like a “Summer Soldier” or a “Sunshine Patriot” these “cultural Christians” only follow Jesus when it’s easy. When there is pain in the Christian walk, they do not obey God. Our pastor said that it is impossible to be a cultural Christian and experience the real victory or the authentic joy of the Lord. Cultural Christians are about an outward profession of faith, but inwardly they have compromised with the world because they prefer to be at ease. They are not fooling God. They are only fooling themselves, and perhaps, their fellow church goers.
My pastor’s sermon got me thinking how church services are often unwittingly geared toward making cultural Christians comfortable in their compromise. As mentioned above, the worship service focuses on “having an experience with God.” The songs chosen, the lighting, the use of multi-media, the strategically placed encouraging words, are about how God meets our needs, and is all we need, and can heal our pain. The music, the congregation, the environment produce an emotional high that lifts the spirits of these cultural Christians so that they feel they can go on with their lives for another week. Then, after their lives of compromise get them feeling down and burdened during the week, we’ll do therapy all again at the next Sunday’s worship service.
The cycle continues, week after week. No one is experiencing authentic joy or real victory because there really is no true repentance, or true worship. Inauthentic worship leads to inauthentic experiences. But, because emotions are emphasized over the intellect, the authenticity of experiences is judged by how they make us feel. After focusing on ourselves in worship, instead of God, we gather around people at the altar, in group hugs, maybe with some crying, and we feel that God is in it all because of the way we feel. (Anyone who questions these worship therapy sessions are thought of as just judgmental, and quenching the Spirit, because they make people feel bad.)
Some will object. “Shouldn’t we want to have experiences with God?” Or they might say “Isn’t being freed from chains a good thing?” Of course we should want to encounter God. Of course being freed from burdens and chains is a good thing. I know that God does change some people’s lives during Sunday morning services. I am not challenging the good in experiencing God or in freedom from chains. But, I submit that those things are merely by-products of authentic worship, and should not be the focus of our worship. When the priests came to the Temple to worship, they brought a sacrifice. Sacrifice is what our worship services tend to lack. Instead of coming to the altar of the Lord with our sacrifices of praise and service to others, we merely offer our petitions for relief from our problems. Real worship acknowledges God for who he is, not just for what he has done or can do for us.
Discipleship is measured by how we deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus, not by how easy the Christian life is for us.