As I think about worship and what it would look like if it were perfect, if it were exactly what it were supposed to be, my mind is drawn in two different directions. I see Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, living in perfect communion with God. Speaking God’s words and caring for His creation. They had no need for singing His praises, because their lives were His praises. They may have sung to Him out of joy, he may have even sung to them, but the basis of their worship was their lives, it was their lives that magnified the greatness of God. After gazing upon this picture my mind is then drawn to the opposite end of the Bible and of reality, to heaven as described in Revelation. If the Garden of Eden seems entirely physical, where God is actually pictured as walking with Adam and Eve and coming to search for them (a very physical idea), then heaven is the exact opposite, where there are spiritual beings constantly singing the praises of God who is spirit. There are saints there, but almost no reference to anything physical, there is no eating or walking or sleeping, there is just singing and gazing upon God in his glory. This is how God is worshipped, how He is magnified, in heaven.
These are two different pictures of worship, two different ways that people explain and describe worship, and I’ve heard people who are on both extremes.
One side looks to the verse “God is spirit and so His worshippers must worship in spirit and truth” and say, “See, worship is about worshipping in a spiritual way. It’s not about the body, it’s not about the mind, it’s about the heart and the spirit. We worship with our spirit, even as the worship in heaven occurs, and we worship in truth, meaning that we lay our hearts bare before God.” This worship tends to look very charismatic, with movements of the Spirit, because these people are very intentional in their connection with the Spirit and seeking His voice and direction. I see these things as good, we are to worship in spirit and with our hearts, we are to wait upon the Lord, we should see movements of the Spirit as God moves through us to communicate His words to the elect. But in opposition to this we have people who would stand around the verse “…in view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” They would say, “See, worship is about how you live in this physical world and about your mind. We are truly worshipping when we are suffering for Christ, when we are serving in His name, and when our minds are being renewed by truth.” For these individuals, the purpose of singing together is because song makes truth more memorable. The “real stuff” is the preaching and what happens outside of the church, after Sunday morning. I also see these things as good, we are to worship with our minds and our bodies, living our lives for God.
May we not see Scripture as opposed to itself, but rather, looking into the paradoxes and dichotomies that we are presented with, let us be transformed by the renewing of our minds and come to a fuller grasp of who God is and what His purposes are in the world and in our lives.