I once met with a man—let’s call him Adam—who described himself as a, “recovering charismatic.” His mother fanatically—maybe frenetically—flitted from one worship experience to another; she visited Toronto, Florida, Bethel Church in California, and anywhere she heard “something” was happening.
When she wasn’t traveling to Christian conferences, worship music blared throughout the house, or her iPod (filled with worship songs) was glued to her ears. She needed the euphoric “oomph” of worship music to provide motivation for the tiniest of tasks.
However, she remained anxious, self-concerned, and perhaps narcissistic. She’d say, “I just want to go where God is working,” but it seemed she really wanted escape, a place where her problems could be anesthetized.
Adam added, “A friend of mine became a crack addict. Frankly I didn’t see much difference between him and my mom. They got their highs in different ways, and their lives remained a mess.”
“I wonder,” he said, “if modern worship is just a cocaine rush.”
Adam’s comment about his mother got me thinking. I was a worship leader for years. I admit I often tried to stir up experiences. I loved to hear someone say, “Wow, that worship was great; I really felt the Lord’s presence.”
Since talking with Adam, I began to wonder about worship euphoria. Then I read this in Mere Christianity,
It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do.… If you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them artificially, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned old man for the rest of your life (C. S. Lewis).
It’s ironic; when our worship goal is emotional euphoria, we get less personal experience. The more we try for worship thrills, the less we get. So what are we to do?
What is wrong with the world?
The problem with the world is self-centeredness; from Hitler-like dictators grabbing for power to three year-old boys making a mountain of matchbox cars (to keep them from his visiting friend). We are all thinking of ourselves. Too much.
It is the cause of all wars, divorce, betrayal, theft, and every miserable part of human history.
Worship rush-seeking is simply another instance of this intense concentration on the self. We fail to recognize its self-centered nature because it’s disguised as “worship.”
It’s hard to stop it. Someone once told me to be less self-conscious. It made me more self-conscious. I became self-conscious about being self-conscious. Alas.
Our intense concentration on ourselves is our biggest problem, but we can’t stop it by ourselves.
What are we to do?
Real Christian worship is the solution for self-centeredness. It is fixing our mind on the Ultimate Other. It is a heart-gaze on God. It is contemplating the majesty and glory and goodness of God. It is consciously staring at the attributes of God, his unimaginable love, his unstoppable power, his ultimate justice, his attention to the sparrow’s needs, and his care for every human being.
Worship is attributing ultimate value to the Ultimate Being who is ultimately beyond us; and yet who is beside us as we sit in our desk chair and in us as we wash the dishes.
Real worship involves an intense focus—a furious thinking or meditation—on the beauty of God. It is looking, gazing, meditating, and reflecting on the majesty of God.
And worship changes us
In The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee is facing horrible evil, his hope is nearly spent, and he is about to give up. One evening he sees a star.
The beauty [of the star] smote his heart … and hope returned to him. For like a shaft clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end, the shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach. His song in the tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he had been thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him, and he fell into a deep untroubled sleep.
When Sam Gamgee gazes on a star and perceives it’s meaning of “light and high beauty forever,” his own fate—and even his masters’s—cease to trouble him. He is changed.
Likewise, when we let our heart gaze on the Ultimate Star, when we let its beauty and light penetrate our soul, then we’ll be changed forever. Anxiety, grasping for euphoria, selfish ambition, and even self-consciousness will cease. We’ll worship and adore the Creator not the creation.
I’m in favor of experiencing God. I hope I do more. I hope you do too. But the experience is a result of worship (at least sometimes) not the purpose.
Lewis said, “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
What do you think?
- Do you see how worship-euphoria may actually be self-centered?
- What is the essence of worship?