Before leaving the United States to go to France for language study, then on to Africa to serve as a missionary, I had never been in a worship service where more than one language was used. Needless to say, those first days and months in France church were pretty miserable at times. French was “la seule langue” (the only language) spoken. I have to admit my worship experience was tested. Perhaps, to an even greater degree, my theology of worship was under scrutiny.
This pushed me to examine my basic understanding of worship. I know it is an oversimplification, but I reduced my foundational thoughts to three solid criteria for determining whether or not I was truly worshipping God. They are:
- True worship must be focused on God (Exodus 20:3, Luke 4:8).
- True worship must be done in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
- True worship must be orderly (I Corinthians 14:26-40).
As I began to understand French, the fear and frustration dissipated. But long before I reached an understanding of the language, I reached a new plateau in my worship.
Arriving in Africa, my language learning began all over again as I tackled the Lobi language. This was one of the major people groups in our area. My worship among the Lobis began long before I reached a level of being at ease in worshipping in the language.
The language challenge for worship hit a crescendo one day in a service when people from seven language groups, plus English, were present. For one song, we were asked to sing in our own heart language and voices lifted in praise in eight languages.
In that joyous moment, my mind focused on the future found in Revelation 7:9, “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.” In this passage, the worshippers are focused on God, controlled by the Holy Spirit, and praising Him in an orderly manner.
Establishing the three criteria helped me realign, not only my thinking about worship but also my worship experience. It became evident the first two criteria can only be determined by God and me. Only He and I know if I am truly focusing on Him and if I am worshipping in spirit and in truth.
The orderly aspect is fundamentally bound and controlled by our culture. This aspect addresses our means and methods of worship and must also bring honor and glory to God. However, the definition of “orderly” changes from country to country and culture to culture.
Ultimately, worship of the true and living God is the only true worship experience.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
What criteria would you add to the three I proposed?
Could you worship God in a service with more than one language being spoken?
How should missionaries determine what is “orderly” in their new culture?