We Become What We Worship

Our first Breathe worship event takes place tonight, Wednesday September 26, at 7 pm. We invite you to a time of focused and unhurried worship, a time to breathe deeply of the life that is God. Feeling a little low on oxygen lately? Breathe (click here for more). A few years ago I took a week-long spiritual retreat at Saint John’s Abbey in Minnesota. Personal retreat is part of my yearly routine, and Saint John’s is the Benedictine community made famous through the writings of Kathleen Norris. Located on a small university campus, I reveled in the spaces and places I could spend my time, the stunning abbey church not least among them. For that week I purposed that I would contemplate, and somehow experience, true worship. I wanted to talk and pray with the Benedictine brothers, read, and rest. I wanted to re-experience what I knew of God.

I remember a lot of things about that week: the joyously unhurried mornings of prayerful reading, the engaging afternoon conversations, the long quiet evenings (admittedly quite challenging when you string together a week of them). But then, in the altered rhythm of that week, my restful study often turned into prayer, and prayer became the awakened gaze of God himself: worship. As my old professor used to say, the study of God is for the worship of God. Theology gave way to doxology.

Having enough experience of the dynamics of retreat, I should admit that the empty space of a week like that can reveal the heart in ways we aren’t used to. The profound issues of life often appear, and then the question becomes: what will you focus on?

My week at Saint John’s taught me something profound about worship. G.K. Beale said it this way: “we resemble what we revere”, or “we become what we worship”. His book-length treatment of this thought took much of my reading time that week. I learned -- and experienced -- what it means to become what we gaze on. As I struggled to pay attention to the rest and peace that are in God, somehow, despite my often unquiet soul, I found that peace and rest did become mine, and profoundly so. I became what I focused on. There comes a deep refreshment from such moments, a refreshment like no other.

Beale’s distinctive phrases “we resemble what we revere”, and, “we become what we worship”, provides some clarity on what worship is. Simply put, we human persons are in the process of becoming. And so we imitate, we reflect, we copy what is around us, especially whatever it is that draws us, or attracts us.

When our children were young, I remember how much of their play was in fact imitative of the adult world they were seeing and experiencing. They would relate and talk to the menagerie of stuffed animals they had acquired, but in ways that resembled how my wife and I related and talked to them. Thy would play store, as most kids do, and because they were pastor’s kids, they would play church. I remember our two girls baptizing each other in the tub. They were trying on grown-up life in and through their play, imagining how they could participate in that world. When our girls hit their teen years, the object of their imitation shifted from us as their parents to their peer group. But the process of imitation did not stop, and how could it: they were still in the process of becoming.

Among the many meanings of worship is the reality of paying deeper attention to the God we love and serve, and doing so in ways that help us imitate his kind of life. Worship is actually a way of becoming, a way of focused imitation. We might even say that, in some ways, worship has elements of play contained in it. Not that worship is frivolous; and who said play was frivolous? No, worship is like play in that it is free, and spontaneous, where nothing needs to be done, but where in fact a lot of important things actually do happen. In worship, as in play, we are trying on a new life, hoping someday to actually live out what has captured our imagination. Quite amazing really.

This Sunday we begin a new series we are calling Redefine You: Galatians on Grace, Freedom and Identity. It is our intention to push towards a new sense of personal identity based in the grace of God. We call it “grace-based identity”.

And worship is important to discovering a grace-based identity: for how can you know who you are, and what you are meant to be, until you gaze into the face of your Father?

Bob Osborne