When I lost my eyesight, I did a lot of things differently, including worship. That is until I learned a bit more how to live as a blind person.
One time, I was visiting a friend and his youth group when I really stood out in the worship service. Maybe you could say I left an impression. The story got told at our wedding when this friend (the youth pastor) performed the ceremony.
The day went down in infamy, because I had fearless worship. During this painful season in my life, I simply wanted to connect with God as passionately as I could. I had yet to learn mobility and orientation, so I often made mistakes as I aimed forward with all my heart.
In this case, I couldn’t orient myself by sound to the front of the room, so I kept slowly turning and turning until I began facing backwards. With my arms raised and singing (if you could call what I do singing) loud enough for heaven to hear, I gave praise to the Lord.
The image left a comic and indelible mark. But that is okay. It reminds me that too many people are looking at what we are doing as we keep the corner of our eye peeled to see who is watching during worship. We like to have worship safely in the walls of the church building or worship center. Beyond that, we barely want to get out of step or even backwards from what everyone else is doing. Is that how worship was conducted Biblically?
This brings me to my next case study in worship as mission. In this story, I look at Abraham to draw out the understanding of worship and its missiological implications
In Genesis 12, as Abraham follows God’s call to set up a new people, he modeled something that Isaac, and Jacob followed in setting up altars in the places he settled and the places where God spoke to him. The altar became a marker for God’s people to indicate remembrance and thanksgiving from his people. As God’s people developed around the way of God, YHWH gave detailed instructions to the use of the altar by his people. Even still Joshua set up altars in the way Moses instructed. After Joshua led the people to a victory over the city of Ai on their second try, he set up an altar for worship and remembrance in the sight of all Israel and those foreigners sojourning with them (Josh 8:30-35). The altar as a place or center for worship stood erect at all times in plain view of anyone. The altar was hardly invisible much less private as God’s people presented their worship in authentic yet public forums.
Now let us unpack this precedent the father of the faith started through setting up altars to worship God. Abraham entered into a covenant relationship with God when he was called by God to move from his home in Ur to a land he did not know (Gen. 12:1-3). In his senior years (75), Abraham gathered his belongings and took some of his family with him and set out on a new journey with God. He entered a geographic region, the land God would promise to his descendants. On his southward journey, Abraham arrived in Heron moving towards the Negev when God stopped him to declare this land one day will belong to his offspring. I can only imagine the faith Abraham had at this time as he pondered the idea of his offspring. Nonetheless, Abraham pauses at this place when God says he will give the land to his descendants. At this place, Abraham erects an altar before God (Gen 12:7. But this is not the last time that this faithful wanderer still struggling with working out his call, stopped to establish a place of worship.
The altars continued. As he journeys toward the Negev, Abraham builds another altar between Bethel and Ai. Again he set up an altar before God. Without getting into every place and purpose that Abraham built an altar, I again observe the open air nature of these altars. I cannot help but wonder if people like Abimelech who marvel at Abraham’s life with its remarkable blessings flows out of him observing an ongoing worship relationship between Abraham and God (Gen 21:22-23). When we sanitize our worship to allow others a comfortable approach to God, maybe we miss out on allowing them to see the genuine article of a worshipper caught up in real worship with God. I wonder if there is something missing in our worship that someone from ancient times like Abraham can offer us. We don’t merely offer a message or a deed to people but we reflect our God to them in all aspects of our life, including worship.
I bet we’ll have a hard time getting to the fearless place of worship that Abraham exhibited if we can’t stop worrying about how the people around us worship, or how they view our own worship. We must get less inhibited while still not distracting others as we press into worship.
What can Abraham teach us about worship in the 21st Century?