It’s often said that the church needs to teach people how to worship. I interpret this to mean that we need to teach people a way to show worship. Depending on your church tradition, you can show worship by standing, sitting, clapping, eyes opened or closed, dancing, staying still, loud singing, reflective singing, hands and arms raised, folded, clasped, shaking, etc. However, let’s understand that you can’t teach people to worship because we are born worshippers; we will worship something. Our hearts are wired to proclaim that something or that someone has our ultimate affection, and without it we will die. The problem with worship isn’t how we worship, it’s what we worship. Paul says in Romans that we sinful humans “exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…”
Certainly, the Bible does instruct God’s people to clap, sing, play instruments, and make a joyful noise in our worship to God. But this isn’t really teaching how to worship, it’s describing the actions associated with a worshipful heart. When our hearts leap with affection and wonder and awe, we naturally express this with clapping, singing, etc. Ever been to a football game?
So the aim isn’t to teach people how to worship, the aim is to point ourselves and others to a new object of worship, who is Jesus. Paul prays in Ephesians 1 that the eyes of our heart be opened so we can see the beauty of God’s work in Jesus to rescue the rebellious by forgiving sin and imputing righteousness. God’s rescue clears the way for us to receive the ultimate, most satisfying gift – God himself. The way the church points to this good news of Christ is through the songs we sing, the sermons we preach, and the sacraments we observe.
As this good news washes over us again and again, our heart’s affection begins to change. After a while, we begin to see the emptiness of the things we worshipped, we see that rust and moth will eventually have their way with our “idols” which will end up in either a landfill, or a grave. Ultimately, our worship isn’t learned, it’s transformed.