Worship on Empty
Years ago, I read a definition of worship that to this day rings with clear and magnificent terms.(1) The definition comes from the famed archbishop William Temple: "Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose—all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable." The more I have thought of that definition, the more I am convinced that if worship is practiced with integrity in the community of God's people, potentially, worship may be the most powerful evangel for this culture of ours. When people come to church, it is generally "beaten down" by the world of deceit, distraction, and demand. There is an extraction of emotional and spiritual energy that brings them on "empty" into the community. Yet that community's task is to so prepare during the week that it is collectively the instrument of replenishment and fresh energy of soul. Even being in the presence of fellow believers in worship is meant to be a restorer of spiritual hope. We so underestimate the power of a people in one mind and with one commitment. Even a prayer can so touch a hungry heart that it can rescue a sliding foot in a treacherous time. A few years ago, two or three of my colleagues and I were in a country dominated for decades by Marxism. Before we began our meetings, we were invited to a dinner hosted by some common friends, all of whom were skeptics and, for all practical purposes, atheists. The evening was full of questions, posed principally by a notable theoretical physicist in the country. There were also others who represented different elements of power within that society. As the night wore on, we got the feeling that the questions had gone on long enough and that we were possibly going in circles. At that point, I asked if we could have a word of prayer with them, for them, and for the country before we bade them good-bye. There was a silence of consternation, an obvious hesitancy, and then one said, "Of course." We did just that—we prayed. In this large dining room of historic import to them, with all the memories of secular power plastered within those walls, the prayer brought a sobering silence that we were all in the presence of someone greater than us. When we finished, every eye was moist and nothing was said. They hugged us and thanked us, with emotion written all over their faces. The next day when we met them, one of them said to me, "We did not go back to our rooms last night till it was early morning. In fact, I stayed in my hotel lobby most of the night talking further. Then I went back to my room and gave my life to Jesus Christ." I firmly believe that it was the prayer that gave them a hint of the taste of what worship is all about. Their hearts had never experienced it. Over the years I have discovered that praying with people can sometimes do more for them than preaching to them. Prayer draws the heart away from one's own dependence to leaning on the sovereign God. The burden is often lifted instantly. Prayer is only one aspect of worship, but one that is greatly neglected in the face of people who would be shocked to hear what prayer sounds like when the one praying knows the heart of God. To a person in need, pat answers don't change the mind; prayer does. Ravi Zacharias is founder and president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. (1) Adapted from Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend (Thomas Nelson, 2007), ed. by Ravi Zacharias.