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Gratitude is the Stem Cell of Worship

David Rohrer

On several occasions I’ve heard our sound crew refer to our worship services as “shows.” I always cringe when I hear this. Yet in their defense, I’ve come to appreciate their perspective and have had to reluctantly admit that what we do in the Sanctuary on Sundays is often better depicted in the word show than in the word service. If we’re honest about our expectations, I think we have to confess that most of us come to worship expecting to consume a commodity rather than to give our lives in an act of service.

The result of expecting to be served by worship rather than serving through worship is a wound that does damage to the Body of Christ. It’s something that sets us up for the crippling effects of disappointment on one hand and pride on the other.

After a worship service that hasn’t met our expectations we walk away disheartened, critiquing its content and trying to find reasons for what went wrong. But after a worship service that has met our needs we walk away congratulating the leaders of the service or reveling in the great feelings we have as a result of it. In neither of these responses do I see much awareness of our relationship with the living God. Instead it is more akin to a taste test where we analyze the quality of a product we have consumed.

Gratitude is the stem cell of all worship. Our worship is not born of the beauty of our expressions of praise in music and art. Our worship does not grow out of the eloquence of a sermon or the ambiance of the room in which we gather. While all of these things may add to or detract from our experience of worship, none of them are ultimately the reason for our worship.

The reason for and energy behind our worship of God is gratitude to God. Everything we do in worship--music, art, sermon, prayer, ambiance--is in service to this offering of thanksgiving. The elements of worship are the vehicles we use to express what is beyond words. They are the manifestations of the un-nameable blessings God has bestowed upon us. They give witness to the contents of the overflowing cup of gratitude we carry with us into the Sanctuary every week.

A worship service is not primarily about what we receive from God, but what we give to God. What fuels our worship is not an emptiness that we come seeking to have filled, but a fullness that cannot contain itself and must be expressed.

Dare I say it? O what the heck ... If the above is true, then what is of most importance to the success or failure of a worship service is the state of the heart of the worshiper. If we come into worship expecting mainly to be served, then most likely all we’ll leave with is an awareness of whether or not that goal has been fulfilled. But that and $2.70 will buy you a triple tall Americano at Starbucks. And I think there is more than this to be gained by the act of worship.

What is to be gained is the awareness that we are the beneficiaries of a blessing that is far beyond what we can ask for or even imagine. And in our act of worship we are both reminded of and invited to give thanks for this amazing grace. What we walk out of worship with is the same thing that was true when we walked in. A worship service can’t give us any more of God or take any part of God away from us. But what it can do is give us an opportunity to say thanks and find in that act of gratitude a reaffirmation of the life-giving truth that in God “we live and move and have our being.”

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