OK, so now we’re all caught up and I get to actually post about *this* week’s theme! I’ve wanted to write this one for a long time; I hope you find meaning in it!
If you’ve watched Battle Cry and The Word With Friends this week they both touch on better living, but they hit on a topic I have mentioned a ton in the past without ever really diving into. But first we need to establish a common understanding of an idea.
One of the most fundamentally vague ideas in all of human history is the one behind the word “worship.” The Bible uses the word “worship” 108 times and it’s made up of 2 Hebrew words, an Aramaic word, and 7 Greek words.
The Greek words have a range of meanings: “to meditate upon,” “to adore,” “present to the face of,” “to visibly glorify,” “to minister to God,” “to show piety,” and “to observe (as in a religious observation).” The Hebrew words mean “to bow down” and — a word we discussed this morning, ‘atsab — to carve an idol for worship. The Aramaic word means “to fall down.”
Now you can claim that those words give insight into the idea, but they don’t. These are religious terms used to rephrase a religious term and give no real definition to the word. We know worship when we see it and we can spot non-worship, but I have yet to hear a single pastor or scholar who tried to give an actual definition succeed. I’ve read tens of thousands of words about the idea and there are millions more I haven’t read.
The church — and by that I mean each of us — have accepted this vagary and we just blow on past it without ever questioning it. We are sort of comfortable with the idea that during the predesignated worship songs or times we have some kind of feeling and that feeling is what worship is, but that’s not really true. I mean, it is, but it also isn’t.
Enjoy The Silence
I can do no better at defining this word, but I can describe the concept in a way that I hope sparks you to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance on what the actual definition is.
What is common to all of the Biblical words for worship is the idea of bowing down to something. It can be literal bowing down or falling on your face, as in the case of showing reverence for a king, but you can fall down on your face for a king even if you despise him, and that clearly isn’t worship. So worship is something internal.
It has been said that worship is obedience. That’s a nice thought but, again, you can obey with firm disapproval and disgust. It has been said that worship is opening your heart. Equally nice, but even a cold and dead heart can open trying to find something warm and alive. It has been said that worship is the feeling of submitting. But much like obedience, submission can come even in the midst of seething hatred. Worship can’t be about a behavior, though it does often come with behaviors.
People often identify worship by the feeling of it — the rush of endorphins that makes your heart all warm and fuzzy. The problem with that is that much worship occurs in times of pain and sadness or in the midst of forgiveness. Feelings are fickle, and they can often betray what is going on with you. We have all had that moment where we find humor in a moment that’s inappropriate or cry when we were trying to be angry and imposing. Worship can’t be an emotion, though it can be emotional.
So it is internal, but it is not about behavior and it’s not a feeling. What does that leave?
Groove Is In The Heart
There are a few really interesting Greek words that describe the makeup of a person: dianoia, kardia, pnuema, psuche, sarx, soma, and zoe. Let’s burn through quick.
Dianoia is the mind, but more specifically it is the reasoning, logical mind. It is the left brain, though they didn’t know that at the time.
Kardia is the heart, but not the literal heart (though it is where we get the Latin cardia that refers to the actual heart). Rather, it is the seat of personal thoughts and judgement. Specifically, it is the right brain, though (again) they didn’t know that at the time.
Pnuema is the spirit. It is the part of God that lives in you, the part that connects back to Him, and the part that is reborn when you accept salvation.
Psuche is the soul — the thing that makes you, you. It isn’t so much a part of the entity like the spirit or the body, it is, rather, the combination of the pneuma, the kardia, the sarx, and the dianoia. But it is also separate from these things and not dependent upon them. From this word we get psycho- as in psychology, psychopath, etc. Psychologists call this part the “self.”
Sarx is the physical body, the flesh. It describes the living or the dead body; it is just the hunk of flesh itself.
Soma is the whole body; the entity. It is the entirety of all the other words, it is you as a whole, human earth person. We live and die now as a physical soma, but when we die we are given a spiritual soma: the dianoia, kardia, and sarx go away and the pnuema and psuche are joined into a new kind of soma.
Zoe is life, but it isn’t having a heartbeat — it is having vibrance, having presence. Back to The Word With Friends this week, it’s hayak.
So action — physical falling on your face — comes from the sarx. Feelings and emotions come from the kardia. Obedience — logic and reason — comes from the dianoia. Behavior comes from the psuche. So if worship does not describe an action of any of these, but it can be exhibited by any of these where does it originate and what does it describe?
Bitter Sweet Symphony
Well here’s what I want to talk about today! Life-worship versus death-worship. In church we use worship to denote a holy act, a thing aimed at God. But in the most powerful vision the LORD — our Father — ever gave me He showed me that there are two breeds of worship — the worship of life and the worship of death. Both come in a variety of delineations, but He drove home showing me the kinds of death that people worship.
I am going to submit to you that worship occurs when the psuche brings the entire rest of the soma in line with something and bends down, stretches out, opens up for that thing to reach back with a comforting touch.
When we are born the pnuema, the spirit, is, essentially, lifeless. Our focus is wholly on the sarx, on the body. In the times when we fall to sin — not accidental sin, but real, intentional sin — the psyche directs the whole body, the soma, to follow the desire of the body, the sarx. We reach out to the flesh and we await the rewards the flesh offers back. This, pure and simple, is death-worship.
At its highest point the worship of death rewards you with adrenaline and dopamine, powerful hormones that train your brain to keep doing the things that generate them. When you cheat on a mate there’s a rush of adrenaline from the risk and a rush of dopamine from the sex. When you steal a candy bar, same deal. When you win a fight, when you murder a person, when you get high… all of these things generate powerful chemicals in the body to convince your psyche to keep feeding it.
When the Bible says that salvation breaks the hold of sin, that is what it’s saying: your spirit is reborn, re-awoken, and you get an entirely different source of satisfaction. Your psyche learns a new trick to get its reward triggers, and the body begins to lose out to the spirit. But there is where things get tricky.
U Can’t Touch This
When the spirit is reborn the body doesn’t die, despite what people who deftly manipulate Scripture would tell you. Your pulse continues, your memory continues, all the things that you have learned continue on, including the ways that you can sate the sarx‘ desire for dopamine. Sin has no power, but you still can sin, because after being saved you are still growing in the spirit, still trying to learn how to eat and drink of the Word. Deriving pleasure from the spiritual isn’t as easy as deriving it from the flesh. It is also easier to bring the dianoia, the left brain, in line with the body than with the spirit.
You can see the truth of death-worship in all kinds of ways. My go-to example: your kid turns 16 and takes the car out for a date one night. At 2am they are not yet home and you get a phone call. What is your first instinct? For almost everyone the immediate thought is “oh, no; something bad has happened.”
How is that death-worship? Because one way to flood the brain with some dopamine is to be proven right. If you set your expectations negatively and you are proven right, you get rewarded. If you are wrong and things are better, you get rewarded. If you set your goals too high and are proven wrong because things go worse you don’t get a reward, you get a burst of cortisol — stress hormone.
We are trained from birth to serve the darkness, to seek the shadow, to expect the worst. When we are reborn we have to learn to seek the light, to be positive, to expect goodness. We have to learn to worship life.
Kiss From A Rose
This is what the apostle Paul was talking about in Philippians when he says to think on the good: he is saying we have to focus on training up the psyche to lean to life-worship rather than death. The trouble is that life-worship is a delicate rose in the midst of a field of death-worship thorns. Jesus described it as a narrow way to life and a wide path to death.
It is easy to push ourselves into Pharisee territory, worshiping death through legalism and nit-picky criticism. It is easy to fall to the death-worship of pride and self-centered vanity. It is easy to relax into the death-worship of laziness, apathy, or anarchy.
Life worship is tough. It is a balancing act. It says that we need to rest, but not too much. That we need to be principled, but not above reaching out to people. That we need to have a giving heart, but be able to receive. It says that we should have confidence, but not arrogance. That we are to have humility, but think ourselves royalty.
The thing about life-worship is that there is never an easy-mode. It is always effort. It always requires you to focus on it. Death-worship has no such requirement. All death-worship requires is that you don’t try to worship life.
But therein lies the rub: life-worship rewards your willing effort, but death-worship only rewards rejecting life. It is an attention whore, a controlling force, a thing that ties you to itself and tells you that you deserve the happiness it offers. That voice is alluring. That story plays very well when you have been trained in it your entire life.
If I’m being honest, I struggle intensely with death-worship. I allow myself to give in to physical desires of self-hatred, anxiety, and depression. I find myself expecting the worst and falling to feeding my physical desires to be lazy and overeat garbage foods. For every tender, pure, powerful moment I align to my spirit and worship God there are a dozen cynical FML moments where I seem as though I don’t even see light in the world.
And this is where a lot of us live: we wander around dead and worshiping death because we either never knew another option or we felt too much pressure to chase life and gave up. This isn’t a popular topic in the church, but it is a brutal truth: more people come alive in Christ and find the path too hard so they fall into something easier, some form of death-worship, than come alive and stick to that chase. Be it backsliding, joining some absurd doctrinal cult, or just wandering away from church and the Bible, people get found and then lose themselves again. A lot. Even pastors.
This is what the local church is supposed to be for: training us to worship life and get into the habit of doing the things of life, and supporting each other in the worship of life. But that is a two-way street. The church suffers because people change churches like they do radio stations. People show up but don’t connect, don’t reach out.
We started doing this thing where the local church is actually the individual church: everyone comes in and has a personal experience separate from everyone else in the room and then they cut out the door and never try to be a part of anything. That, too, is death-worship. It is an admission that interpersonal relationships are awkward and hard and take work, and so aren’t really worth it.
But we have to fight that. We have to. We have to work to reach out to each other, to form the habits of life. We need to open up and offer ourselves. We need to walk the balance of giving and receiving. We need to worship life because that is what reaches other hearts, that is what holds us in life, that is what being the body of Christ is.
Un-Break My Heart
I have said this before, but we have a purpose in the world that has impact on others. The rest of the world needs us to worship life, to walk in our purpose. And we need them to. We are the chorus of saints, and it needs every voice of every saint to reach its harmony. That is our purpose. That is the worship of life.
Father, I am so hurt lately. I am so desperately down on myself for not doing enough and not doing You justice in what I am doing. I hear, constantly, the discord of those missing voices, of the saints not yet joined to the chorus, and every day that slips by I am aware of how little I have done to reach them. I hear the Spirit screaming that I need to take my eyes off the shadow and focus on the light, but I have such a hard time putting that into practice because I walked so long gathering the rewards of death. And I know I am not alone.
I ask, Father, that you enlighten those of us who are still struggling at the altar of death. Show us not just what it is to worship You, but how to get there. Help us keep our eyes on the path ahead, not the struggle behind. In the name of Your mighty Son, Your Word, Your chosen Christ and my brother, my King, my Savior, and my Teacher Jesus I pray. Amen!