Worship is more than going through the motions of ritual or ceremony. To be true worship, there must be humility, faith, conscious focused attention and action with real intent.
I have been pondering about worship since reading an article which presented the idea that yoga is pagan worship, and Christians should avoid it. I practice yoga. It benefits me physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. Rather than take offence at a perceived allegation, I instead tried to better understand what true worship involves.
What is Worship?
Worship is about showing love, reverence, and devotion to Him whom we acknowledge as God. It often includes specific religious traditions, rituals and ceremonies.
There is nothing magic about certain rituals, ceremonies, hymns or words themselves. These things can facilitate worship, but worship is really something that occurs within a person. It is entirely possible to go through the motions of worship – those rituals and ceremonies – without any true worship. We won’t be effected or changed just by being present. Sacred hymns, like any other music can be just “background noise” or they can touch our spirits deeply. Whether worship happens through participating in any religious activity depends on us.
There are three essential elements, which I feel must all be present for true worship: faith, conscious focused attention and action with real intent.
Conscious Focused Attention
I start with this intentionally because yoga is generally a practice of focused attention. For this reason I find it good practice for worship. We humans are so easily distracted and tend to have our attention on a number of things at once. If I can learn to focus for an hour on my breath, my body or a certain thought or idea, that practice should help me be able to keep my focus on God for an hour of a worship service or even a few minutes of prayer.
It is possible to use a yoga class to worship Krishna or other false gods. It is just as easy for one to use that time to worship one’s own self or physical body. If my “intention” and focus during a yoga practice session is a gospel principle or Christlike characteristic, how is this pagan worship?
The key is what our focused attention is on – the object of our love, reverence and devotion. The purpose of religious rituals and practices is to help focus our attention. They are often symbolic, allowing us to make connections to spiritual things. It requires conscious attention and thought more than just repetition to gain insight from symbols.
At Christmas time, when I hear non-religious people join in singing Christmas carols, I have to wonder what they are thinking. Are they worshiping without realizing it? Or is it meaningless if their focus is on the lights, festivities, family or friends, rather than on whose birth we are singing about?
Worship of Other Gods
I think we should be more concerned about the attention we give to other things in our lives which could potentially turn toward worship of “other gods.” These could be individuals whom we idolize (the root of that word being idol). The love and pursuit of material things or activities can lead to the worship of such things. Appreciation and reverence for science and nature can lead to worship of creations more than the Creator. We can be caught up in organizations or follow ideologies that are merely the philosophies of men.
We can make ourselves our own god when our pride convinces us that our intellectual understanding is greater than prophetic counsel. Prideful pursuit of power and influence can even lead to setting oneself up as a god to others. The scriptures call this priestcraft. (see Alma 1)
Action with Real Intent
Worship is not a passive process. Simply being present where others are worshiping, does not necessarily mean that we are worshiping ourselves. It requires some effort on our part to participate with thought, focus and intent. The real act of agency involved is exercising faith in God.
Worship is an act of faith and agency intended to bring us closer to God. It is possible though, to participate in worship services or ceremonies with other intentions. Our intent may be to please someone else. We may desier to be seen or heard by others and judged to be “righteous”(see Alma 31-33). One may even attend worship services with a critical intent, seeking actually to tear down faith. It would be well to ask yourself about your intentions for worship or other activities.
Worship in Humility and Faith
True worship must be worship of The True God. The objective is to draw closer to Him. His commandment that we have “no other gods before me” (Genesis 20:3) is for our benefit. Worship is accompanied by humble and reverent recognition of our relationship to Deity. Pride has no place in worship. It is reflected in worship of material things – the “vain things of the world” (See Alma 1:16). Pride can lead to worship of self, rather than God.
Without a belief or faith in God, religious rituals are as meaningless as chanting sounds or words in yoga that one doesn’t understand. Worship is intended to increase our faith in God. Done without faith, or at least a “desire to believe” (see Alma 32:27), it is not only meaningless, but might actually become mockery of that which is sacred.
A Few Cautions
There can be some effect of repeated participation in an activity, even without faith, focus or intent. The repeated patterns become familiar. The hope with churches is that this familiarity will keep people coming and therefore provide opportunities for true worship and spiritual experiences, thus increasing faith.
There may also be some danger in participating in secular, “pagan” or rites of other religions repeatedly. We may start to feel connected to that community and influenced by ideas. Problems could also arise because of perceived associations. Others seeing our participation might assume that we are “believers”. This is really only an issue if one’s concern is more about the judgement of people than a genuine relationship with God.
So maybe rather than being concerned about being caught unawares in false worship, we should put more conscious effort in intentional, focused, faith filled worship of the True and Living God.