This title may sound provocative, and it is. But let me explain why I think this statement is true. It is because we do not understand the nature of biblical worship that we fail to understand the nature of missions. When I say missions, I include under this broad category: home evangelism, cross-cultural and foreign missions, and any ministry which has to do with the proclamation of the good news of Christ. Christians need to first understand biblical worship if they want to be “missionaries” in any sense. So if our understanding of missions hinges on our understanding of worship, we need to first start by looking at what worship is.
2. Definition of worship
Proskuneo: “Worship, fall down, fall down and worship, kneel, bow down low, fall at another’s feet” This was a physical act in OT worship. It was also done in situations of victory when captives were presented to their conqueror. They would prostrate themselves on the ground as a sign of complete surrender. The physical act, however, was merely symbolic of a deeper reality. The worshiper was not only showing respect or acknowledging the worthiness of the one worshiped. He or she was implying the complete authority and superiority of the one worshiped. He was in essence saying that the god or conqueror had complete say over his life and death. He had complete rule over the person’s body, goods, activities and priorities.
Now let us apply this kind of physical worship to the spiritual realm. Wofgang Simson, from whom I derived the title of this post, put it well. “As the pouring out of the Spirit replaces the temple-centered worship rituals and patterns in the OT, Christians are now called to worship God ‘in spirit and in truth.’ What we are in danger to overlook is that true NT worship has to do much more with Spirit-filled obedience ( Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will. From Romans 12:1-2) than with music and only the singing of worship songs. Our worship must center around the unquestioning readiness to lay aside life, limb, possessions, family, house, friendships, evangelical respectability, everything, to see the knowledge of the glory of the Lord covering the earth as the waters cover the sea. It may be quite appropriate to even recover some of the NT forms of worship, to lay ourselves down flat on the floor in expressing speechless adoration or praising God (Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him Mt 28:9 . Rev 4:10 The twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
11 "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.) signaling to God that we are even ready to lay down our very lives for him in obedience to his calling, all of this while not forgetting to sing our songs….Worship, in short, is not so much what we do, but how we do it, not so much what we say or sing, but how we are a living sacrifice.”
3. What happens when we fail to understand worship as a complete surrender of all of our life to God?
We become task-driven Christians. We start thinking that doing what we think God wants is more important than being what God wants us to be. Some of us start feeling guilty for not being as involved in ministry as we think we ought. Others of us start putting the guilt trip on any one we consider is not doing enough in the church and elevate our activism to the status of godliness. We focus on the outside when God focuses on the inside. Doing nothing may be the exact place in which God wants you to be in order to make you who He wants you to be. Obviously, I am not promoting laziness or a laisser-faire attitude because some of us would understand it as endorsing their lack of vision or zeal. The point is that God uses imperfect but surrendered people. The problem with our churches’ lack of vision for missions today is not lack of knowledge of needs out there, nor is it because we haven’t been hammered over the head enough by well-intentioned missionaries who keep giving us statistics and urging us to “go”. The problem is not that we don’t see the necessity of missions or that there aren’t enough programs out there for us to get involved in. So what is the problem? It lies within our own hearts. We ourselves are not surrendered and transformed by the presence of Christ and therefore we have nothing to offer those who are in darkness. We cannot go and proclaim God’s grace to other sinners because we haven’t understood it for ourselves. We still think that the power of God lies in what we do for him, not what He has done for us. That is no different from any other form of religiosity.
4. Worship must precede mission. A case in point: Saul.
Saul was a great doer for God. He was full of zeal, full of energy, full of ideas of how to serve God best. But his zeal was misguided because he failed to understand true worship. In trying to please God in his own strength, he was in reality destroying God’s work and kingdom. He was talented, bright, well-read, had the best Hebrew education, was probably fluent in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. By the world’s standards he was the man for the job. But he was only a hindrance to God and his work until God himself forced him to bow down and worship Christ. On the road to Damascus, Saul was physically blinded so that he could spiritually see. God knocked him off his horse and flattened him on the ground into a position of prostrated worship and complete surrender. For three days he was out of commission. Meanwhile, God commissioned Ananias, one of the disciples, to go pray for the restoration of his sight. Of course, Ananias had his doubts, but God answered him: Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name (Acts 9: 15-16).
Why was Paul chosen? To be an instrument of God, a cross-cultural missionary to the Gentiles as well as a home missionary to the Jews. But notice that God himself had to make Saul into Paul by making him a worshiper of Christ. God couldn’t use Saul. But now he could use Paul. Also notice that God forced Saul to rest, blind, for 3 days and do nothing for some more days (the text is purposely imprecise at this point)! It was more important for him to let God make him into who He wanted him to be than to start doing right away. However, as soon as God had deemed it long enough, Luke, the author of Acts, tells us that he “immediately preached Christ in the synagogues.” Paul’s fruitful mission could now begin as the inevitable result of his worship of the living God.
4. Worship is about us decreasing and God increasing. An example: Jonah
One might argue that the main point of the book of Jonah is to show how God saves 120 000 Ninevites, foreigners to the Covenant and part of a wicked nation. Of course this is true but the salvation of the Ninevites is, one might also argue, but a by-product of God’s work in the life of Jonah the prophet.
First, notice how the first 2 chapters of the book of Jonah are an account of Jonah’s literal physical downward descent:
1:3 - He went down to Joppa
1:3 -He went down into the boat
1:5 –Jonah had gone down onto the lowest parts of the ship to sleep
2:1- Jonah is (down) in the belly of Sheol.
Second, notice Jonah’s spiritual descent:
1:3 – Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord
1:3 – To go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord
1:9 – I am a Hebrew, and fear the Lord the God of heaven …(he is lying)
1:10- the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord because he had told them
Jonah was incapable of being a witness to the pagan sailors. He had nothing to offer them but his disobedience. His words about fearing the Lord God of heaven must have rung so hollow in their ears! The fear of the Lord is an OT expression which I would say is equivalent to NT worship in the broad sense of the word, meaning a full surrender to God and his plans for us. It is a desire to place oneself under his orders and rule. It is living in harmony with our creator. The irony of it all is that the sailors are reacting as any God-fearing Jew, while Jonah is reacting as a godless pagan. Then they cried to the LORD, "O LORD, please do not let us die for taking this man's life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased." Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him.
Just like Saul, Jonah was in the darkness for 3 days. He had a 3 day time-out to think, pray and pray some more. He certainly couldn’t do anything for God! God had to bring him to the lowest point both physically and spiritually to make him bow the knee to His Lordship, to make him a God-fearer and worshiper. God wanted Jonah to be something, more than he wanted him to do something. As a result, the vows the Pagan sailors took to the Lord in 1:16 are finally matched with Jonah’s vow in 2:9 at the end of his prayer for mercy and salvation. It took a lot to get through Jonah’s thick skull and heart of stone. The sailors got it before he did! It took Jonah’s descent and decrease for God to increase in his life.
5. God uses us even though our worship is not perfect.
Why? Because He is the one at work in missions, not us! He chooses the means. The sailors’ conversion story is a marvelous example of how God used one sinful person to save the lost. Was Jonah even trying to witness? No, on the contrary, he was hiding out. Wouldn’t you think that a pastor-evangelist type would be out there, roughing it out with the sailors, telling them of the sovereignty of God over creation and comforting them in their fear? Wouldn’t he be the one to suggest praying to the “God of heaven who made the sea and dry land to save them from the storm? In one sense, God didn’t even need Jonah. But he used his weakness to reveal Himself to sinners in need of mercy.
The second half of the book of Jonah is about his ascent. God has humbled him enough that, by the second call to go to Nineveh, he actually responds with obedience. He has surrendered to God’s will and prophetic calling on his life. All he has to do is go into Nineveh (a 3 day walk! Notice that it took as long as Jonah’s inactivity in the belly of the fish!) and say one sentence… "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned."
Wouldn’t preachers love it if their hearers responded the way the Ninevites did after one sentence! Wouldn’t you love it if that is all you needed to say to your neighbors for them to repent of their sin and trust in God? This is proof that our words are not the key factor. God uses our obedience (and even disobedience as in Jonah’s case) to get us where he wants us so his plan can be fulfilled.
In reading chapter 4, you may even ask: “Has Jonah learned anything at all?” He is angry because Pagans are believing in the living God. He is angry because God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness.” This is ironic because he was sure glad when God rescued him from the deep or gave him a plant to shield him from the sun…Sounds like an older brother jealous of his siblings when he has to share Mommy or Daddy with them. The key thing to remember is that in missions, God is just as much in the business of saving our souls as he is in saving the souls of the lost we are trying to reach! We are in process. God is not done with us. He will tumble us off our high horses just like he did with Saul and take away our protective shields just like he did to Jonah. And in the middle of that process, he will use us, warts and all, even though our worship is not perfect because it is His Name that is at stake, not ours.
6. When we truly worship, missions will inevitably follow. Example: The woman at the well
The account of the woman at the well in John 4 IS about worship. I have heard sermons and been in classes in which the speaker has attempted to show that the woman’s response to Jesus in talking about places of worship was a tactic to distract Jesus from really dealing with her sin. I think not. The woman has just perceived that Jesus is a prophet, and maybe more, and she wants to know the Truth. She knows that worship is at the core of any religious system and the nature of worship is a reflection on the nature of the god worshiped. So she wants to know: do the Jews have the truth or do we? Is the God of the Jews the true God or is the God of the Samaritans the true God? Jesus’ answer is astounding. Neither! Both types of worship are works of the flesh. God wants his servants to worship him in Spirit and in Truth. One of the fundamental revelations of Jesus in the book of John is that Jesus himself is the temple. There is now NO other way to worship the true God. One must worship a person and the place is irrelevant. Any religion that insists on rituals, a holy place, certain traditions is man-made and not of the Spirit. What Jesus is telling the woman is that she is such a worshiper. She has come to understand who He is and has timidly confessed that she knows that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.
In her own simple way, she goes back to her village. She cannot help herself from sharing what Jesus has done. He has revealed her sin to her and made her into a worshiper in Spirit and in Truth. She can leave her old water pot (v.28) for she has been given the running/living water of the Spirit. She has found the answers to her questions. Her thirst and search for the truth ended with Jesus himself. Notice her evangelistic method. It is the overflow of her new-found identity. All she does is ask one question: “Could this be the Christ?” All she does is she throws salt into the villagers’ mouths and gives them the same thirst she once had. This thirst drove the Samaritan men to go find out for themselves who Jesus was. As a result, many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I ever did."
I think missions has become programs, activities, methods and pressure because we have forgotten the simple fact that God is the one in control of the outcome. We open our mouths, make people thirsty and God will accomplish in them what He desires. That is also why we can accept “failure” in missions. If we have been faithful in proclaiming and nothing happens, it is because God has not yet seen fit to harvest what we have sown.
7. Practical implications
Here are some questions to help you evaluate your understanding of worship and missions:
a. Do I cringe in guilt when I hear the word “missions” or “great commission”?
b. Do I think of ten ways I could or should be involved and then feel bad because I haven’t done anything?
c. Do I prefer to just give money to missions because it’s easier than considering missions myself?
d. All of life is worship. All of life is missions. How do you react to this statement?
e. My life is a reflection of what I believe about God.
Let me encourage you to surrender your life to God in worship. Worship, meaning that all of your life is prostrate before your maker. Your family, friends, children, money, home, work, leisure, sex life, eating habits, intellect, health…everything. It all belongs to God anyway. When you willingly do this, through the power of the Spirit, he will use you in missions. Your life will be a pleasing aroma to God for in doing this you will be a living sacrifice to God. Let others, especially unbelievers enter into your life. As they see you live your life before their eyes, they will see God. Remember that how you live your life tell them what you believe about God. Give people salt that makes them thirsty for the water of eternal life, ask questions that will peek their curiosity and they will do the searching on their own. Be it at work, in your neighborhood, at your child’s preschool, at the park with your kids. God has placed you right where you need to be for now. Don’t feel guilty about it! And remember, missions will happen when true worship takes place.