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A Waste of Time

Theologian and teacher Marva Dawn talks about authentic worship in the church and in our lives.

Known for her fresh, insightful, and often lively perspective, Marva Dawn asks the church probing questions about its purpose and mission. As a noted scholar, author, and teacher, she doesn't simply accept the this-is-the-way-we've-always-done-it mentality. Instead, she challenges others to think comprehensively about current practices of worship and spiritual formation, guiding them to an even deeper understanding of God and their faith.

Some of Marva's most celebrated books on worship, such as Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down and A Royal Waste of Time, are those that address touchy worship questions in a probing and yet always edifying manner. Here's what Marva shared with Kyria about worship as a way of life.

When we hear worship, we often equate it with music. But is it more than that?

Absolutely. Worship is everything directed toward God, which can include music, but also liturgies, Communion, the words we hear from Scripture and our pastor, and our tithes as offering. Worship encompasses all the ways we relate to God, and we relate to God every second of the day.

Small exercises can be a rhythm of praise. For example, when I was first married, we had no cupboards, so I put our groceries in crates. I had a box of Cream of Wheat on the top shelf, which fell and spilled. So I prayed, As I clean this up, God, let this be an offering to you. I threw all the Cream of Wheat out on the ground, and birds came to eat it. I got a lovely chorus of praise because I was in a mood to receive that praise.

Why do so many Christians have a feeble definition of worship?

Because they have a less robust understanding of who we are as Christians. They see worship as just something that's added to their identity. Some of us, however, believe that our faith, our worship, is our basic existence. It's at the root of our lives.

So true worship should inform how we live.

Right. But you can't form a practice until you have an attitude that nurtures that practice.

What does that mean for us as the church?

Worship means we're the church all the time. I never say I "go to church" because we are the church. We are worshipers, a congregation, and a community all week long.

Worship needs to be rooted in the church. I need corporate worship because my understanding of God is too small. My praise doesn't resound enough. My laments, my cries aren't deep enough. I need other people to lament with me. I need to hear the Scriptures as other people read and interpret them. I need the insights of the other people who are gathered in the body. I need a whole body of praise.

How does meeting God in worship move us to impact the world?

Worship makes us more generous because we constantly see God's generosity when we meet him in worship. Worshiping God, to really know him in all his fullness, is magnificent. This understanding allows us to be church for the world, emphasis on the be, because we don't just do church for the world, we be it as worship forms us. I don't want to just do mission projects that raise money for poor people. I want to be a generous person, and thus worship God.

Your emphasis on being rather than doing changes our concept about the "effectiveness" of worship, the focus on what it should accomplish.

When people try to do something and it doesn't work, they say, "That was a royal waste of time." True worship is a waste of time because it's not utilitarian, but churches try to make worship utilitarian. It ought to encourage people to go to Bible study or to do this or that. But whenever we expect worship to produce something on our terms, we've lost the freedom, the total abandonment in God's presence. If we give up our ulterior agendas, we can go in the presence of God ready to receive what God wants to happen.

How can we best encounter the joy of God in worship?

Even joy can be somber, because joy is more than an emotion. Happy is an emotion, but scriptural joy is the reality of a truth. We rejoice whether we feel like it or not, because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and our sins are forgiven. So even if we're mourning the loss of something, such as the death of a person or a grievous thing like the earthquake in Haiti, we still know the joy of the Lord.

Worship is always filled with that joy because it's primarily the celebration of the Resurrection. We know that all things will end well: No matter what's happening in the world we know God will bring it to right. That's why we worship.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Authenticity; Awe; Praise; Relationship with God; Worship
Today's Christian Woman, August , 2010
Posted August 2, 2010

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