As you are wholly aware, we are living through what has been termed “unprecedented times.” So much of how we live our lives has been upended and dramatic changes and shifts have occurred. One of the things in our lives that has shifted maybe more dramatically than others is in the area of worship. 

Its true, church attendance is down, way down! Between 1940 and 2020 the rate of decline has been steep. 73% of U.S. adults claimed to be a member of a church, synagogue or mosque in 1940, by 2020 only 47% claimed membership in any organized religion. In 2021 only 22% of Americans claimed to attend worship once a week, while 31% said they never attend worship. 

The decline in worship was exasperated by the 2 year long pandemic where many churches were not worshiping in person. Of course, many churches also began to explore the use of technology to reach their constituents and offered online worship. It may have been a rocky start, but churches found a much larger audience willing to view their online worship than attend in person. This has been true for Preston Hollow as well. We have even found we have been able to reach a wider and broader mix of people through the use of online worship and social media. 

Have I bored you to death yet? I’m trying to get to my point. It seems to me there isn’t necessarily a lack of desire for worship, but maybe a lack of desire to engage in worship that feels stilted or boring. We’ve learned to mix in video, music, and a shortened time frame for our online worship. It has been a steep learning curve, I assure you. 

So I’ve asked myself the question, “why do we worship?” What is really the purpose of worship and why would anyone engage in, or spend time in, worship? 

I used to believe we came to worship to be moved in some way; emotionally or spiritually. I think maybe the term some use is to be fed. I’m not sure that’s the reason we should worship at all. If we happen to be moved or fed, all the better, but the primary reason we worship has to do with an internal drive. We worship because we are wired that way. Deep within us, God crafted a desire for us to seek out who created us and who sustains us, for us to express gratitude and love. That’s in us my friends. True enough, there are a great many persons who never reach that deep place within to tap into that longing and need. I would say, those persons will live out their lives in ways that keep them searching and longing for something they can never seem to attain. If you ask them, they can’t put their finger on it, but they just know something is missing. 

In Luke 17: 11-19 we find Jesus traveling to Jerusalem, and he encounters something that may help us in our quest to discover why we worship.“

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.

12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy[a] met him. They stood at a distance

13 and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’

14 When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.

16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?

18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’

19 Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’” 

What I see here is the one who returned to praise God for his blessing knew instinctively his being was blessed and he needed to express gratitude and love for the one who healed him. 1 out of 10, 10% of those who had been touched by God’s healing power felt a deep stirring within to give thanks and praise. Why? I would say his heart was open toward God. In his heart he had been blessed and felt the need to express his praise. 

An open heart is one that not only receives a blessing, but also blesses. This is the crux of true worship in my opinion. We worship because we feel blessed by God. Blessings come in many different forms, but all of life is a blessing and we should praise God for all we have been given. 

Are we a grateful people? Do we feel led to praise God for all we’ve been given? If we are grateful and feel a need to praise and worship God, how do we do so? In person, online, by ourselves, with others? 

Life has changed in many ways, but the need to worship has remained. Not all see it or understand it. Not all will engage in worship.For me, I have a great need to worship with others. Its in that mixing and mingling with those drawn to give God praise and thanksgiving, I feel myself more in tune with the Spirit of God. We have just returned to in person worship the past two weeks. The attendance has been low, but I have to say the Spirit of God has been moving in that place of worship. The energy of God’s presence has filled me in ways I cannot even articulate. 

One of the things we do on our social media is ask for prayer requests. This week I was informed we have had a large outpouring of prayer requests from a variety of persons for a variety of things. As requests come in they are forwarded to me. I return a prayer specifically written and prayed for the person. They come in generally at night. One person this week returned to give thanks for the blessings that have come their way. 

I need to be that one who returns to praise God. I know where my blessings come from, and they are certainly not my doing. I know God is present and working and I want my heart to be open to not only receive, but also to give. I hope you will consider joining us as you are able, to praise God and give God all the glory for all God has done, is doing, and will yet do in the future. 

Your fellow traveler on the Way,

Pastor Tom

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