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  • Writer's pictureBob Brown, Pastor

Worship: From Play to Participation

Matthew 15:8-9a …These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain they worship me,…

Perhaps it only happens in a pastor’s family, but when my kids were younger, they used to play church. When I was in college they would preach up a storm … and then burst out laughing. It was frightening because even though they were only three and four years old, my son sounded just like me. It was even more amazing because at that age he had hardly ever heard me preach.

Long before they started school, my kids knew how to pray, how to preach, how to sing, and even how to take up the offering. It’s amazing how easy it is to learn the religious rituals. It’s like learning to ride a bicycle. Once you learn, you never forget. In fact, it’s hard for us to remember how scary it was the first time we came to church.

But things are different now. Most of us know how to pray long prayers that begin “Dear Heavenly Father” and end “in Jesus’ name, Amen.” We know the books of the Bible. We know how to clap, smile, say Amen, cry tears of joy, and hug another person. We know how to give a testimony, how to pray out loud, how to stand or kneel or sit quietly. We know how to hold the bread and the cup until everyone has been served, to hold our breath while being baptized, how to dedicate our children, how to write a check twice a month to the church. 

Names like Dobson, Swindoll, MacArthur, Jeremiah, and Stanley are familiar to us. We know the words to “How Great Thou Art,” “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “Give Me Oil In My Lamp,” “He is Lord,” “Majesty,” and, that all-time favorite, “Kum Ba Yah.” Most of us sit in the same seat week after week, month after month, year after year. 

It’s amazing how easy it is to learn all those things. All you have to do is come to church for two or three Sundays and you’ve got the routine down cold. That’s what makes playing church so much fun. Anyone can do it.

And that’s what we’ve done, isn’t it? We’ve learned to play. But as it is with most games, after a while it gets old, boring. When it does we’re ready to move on to something new, different, or more exciting. 

But the problem is, playing church can get boring. You learn the routine; you do the same thing every Sunday. After a while, it’s not very exciting anymore, so you drift off to find more stimulating pursuits. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? 

“When man is bored with God, even heaven does not have a better alternative.

Ravi Zacharias said it this way, “When man is bored with God, even heaven does not have a better alternative.” If God bores you, then nothing else will satisfy.

If worship is boring it is because we are bored with God! This is our root problem. The eternal solution is to get a new view of God.

Someone has truly said that we, Worship at our work, Work at our play, and Play at our worship.

No wonder we are unhappy! No wonder we are unfulfilled! No wonder life seems empty!

There is one cure and one cure only: Discover the reality of worship! If the power of worship ever becomes a reality in your life, you will never play church again.

We must rediscover what biblical worship is, the awesome reality of meeting the living God when we come together on Sunday morning (or any day).

In order for us to meet God on Sunday morning, worship must become a way of life. As long as we partition worship into a carefully planned 75-minute slot between 11:00 and 12:15, we’ll end up simply playing church most of the time.

Worship means “to give honor to someone or something.” When we worship God in the biblical sense we give Him the honor and praise which is rightly His!

The heart of biblical worship, then, is a shift in focus from you and your concerns to God and His concerns.

Would you like a suggestion that could revolutionize your worship time? Before you begin, take a moment to say five simple words: “Lord, speak to me today.” That’s a prayer God delights to answer. As the saying goes, “God always speaks loud enough for a willing ear to hear.

It all comes down to this: If you ever get a glimpse of what Jesus has done for you, you’ll never play church again.

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