In the early days of computing, when computers were big and expensive and owned by companies and universities, I used to hang around with some of the computer students–people who would be identified as “nerds” at this point. Back then, they were the ones who got to play with the multi-million dollar toys in the computer science department. One of their favourite sayings was “GIGO”–which translates to “Garbage in, Garbage out”.
While they were referring to programming and the results from any given program, GIGO applies in many areas of life, including worship. Worship is intended to be our heartfelt and sincere response to God, a response that recognizes and acknowledges God’s presence and activity and love and grace and all the rest. But worship mostly depends on what the worshipper is willing to put into the worship.
Certainly, the worship leader does have some effect on worship–the development and leading of a worship event helps the worshippers a great deal in the process. But no matter how good the worship leader; no matter how well prepared the service; no matter how good the music; no matter how inspired the sermon, worship depends in the end on the willingness of the worshipper to give themselves to the worship.
When the worshipper gives garbage to the worship, garbage is the result not worship. We bring garbage to the worship when we get hung up on the physical setting–too hot or cold or the seats too soft or hard or the windows too bright or too stained glassy or the worship leaders are dressed too formally or too informally or–well, that particular garbage list is endless.
We also bring garbage to worship when we are seeing our fellow worshippers as anything but brothers and sisters in Christ. When we are at odds with some of them; when we don’t bother to get to know some of them; when we don’t respect them; when their needs and abilities are ignored, we bring garbage to worship because ours is a community faith and we cannot really say that we are worshipping God until we have acknowledged and respected and loved the community that joins together for worship.
We bring garbage to the worship when we come unprepared to receive the presence of God in all elements of the worship. I am not the most musically minded person in the world and so if I choose to shut off during the music, I am bringing garbage to the worship.
We worship when we come together, acknowledging each other and our mutual faith as well as our mutual journeying to become what God knows we can become. Sometimes, that means that we spend time before worship greeting each other and sometimes, it might mean asking for or giving forgiveness.
We worship when we open ourselves to the elements of worship. Each has place and a part in helping us as we seek to offer ourselves to God. Music tends to open our emotions to God, the sermon seeks to open our minds to God, the offering seeks to help us worship in a tangible way, the prayers are there to help us become more aware of God. Worship that is truly offered to God seeks to use each of the elements as a stepping stone on the way to a deep awareness of the God who is already present.
We worship when we offer ourselves to God. If I come to worship happy, I offer my happiness to God. If I come to worship stressed, I offer my stress to God. If I come to worship tired, I offer my tiredness to God. I offer it all to him because he has seen it all, he knows it is there and when I offer it to him, he can work in and through and with and in spite of it.
We worship when we come prepared to surrender to God our desire to get something out of worship. Worship isn’t about what we get–it is about what we give to God. When worship is about what we want to get, it isn’t worship because it isn’t about God.
We worship when we honestly come to God by seeking to see him as he is: present, loving and caring no matter where we are or what is going on. When we begin with attitudes and desires like this, we don’t bring garbage to worship–and we will worship.
May the peace of God be with you.