The new year for our family has been one marked by struggle. Our lives have been flipped completely upside down and every day we have to dig deep mentally and tell ourselves that everything will be ok. The root of this pain and struggle is something that you may be familiar with as it is sweeping through households around this country for various months throughout the year. The name of this phenomenon: Whole 30. The basic premise of Whole 30 is that you can’t eat anything that you want to eat because the things that you want to eat are allegedly bad for you. I am clearly skeptical to the idea.

Growing up, I would come to the table of gathered worship with an appetite for the things that I wanted to consume and didn’t care about what would be best for my health or the health of anyone else. I wanted to eat the things that, for a moment, would satisfy me. The problem with this type of diet is that it doesn’t sustain. Though I would feel the momentary high of eating something that appealed to my taste buds, I would quickly feel lethargic and depleted.

I felt like I was thriving in my spiritual walk every time I would leave a worship gathering in which the lights were cool, the music was good and the preacher could make me laugh. This was the lens I was looking at the worship gathering through. These are not bad things in and of themselves. The problem was my consumerist heart that was more focused on having my own preferences met rather than focusing on what actually matters.

John 4:23 is a passage that the Lord used to open my eyes to my sin and convict me.

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”

When analyzing my definition of true worship next to Jesus’ definition of true worship, I realized that mine was way off base. To worship God in spirit and in truth is to understand who God is from His Word and for worship to flow out of that understanding. My lack of understanding the true gospel as told in the scriptures resulted in my lack of true worship.

Another way to think about worshiping in spirit and in truth is by using the terms doxology and theology. Theology is the study of God and Doxology is an expression of praise to God. One of these things should never stand up by itself. Shai Linne has a quote that I have found extremely helpful, “Theology without doxology is dead, cold orthodoxy and doxology without theology is idolatry.” If our time spent learning Gods Word is not compelling our hearts to praise, our hearts are not responding properly to our study. On the other hand, if all we want to do is praise God without wanting to spend time learning in His Word, we have made an idol out of our praise. If we truly understand who God is from His Word, our response will be one of praise and thankfulness.

As a young believer I lived for the doxology, but it wasn’t grounded in a true understanding of who God was or what he had done for me through Christ. I had, as Tim Keller would say, turned good things into god things, resulting in idolatry. It’s like I was seeking sustenance through a Taco Bell number 9 with a soft taco and a Dr. Pepper with no ice for every meal. My diet was made up of experience and emotion. While experience and emotion are a necessary part of our worship, they should flow out of an understanding of who God is from His Word.

I challenge you to not come to the table of gathered worship as a consumer that is seeking the things that appeal only to you, but rather to gather with the mindset of something bigger than yourself. One of the most beautiful things about a worship gathering is that people with different cultural backgrounds, jobs, ethnicities, political views and preferences can gather as one unified body around the gospel of Jesus Christ. May the driving force of our worship not be found in preferences but rather a right and true understanding of who God is.

Matt Powell serves as our Associate Worship Minister. He and his wife, Courtney, have been married since 2014 and recently had a baby girl named Adelaide. They moved to Birmingham in October of 2016 from Louisville, KY where he earned a degree in Worship and Pastoral Studies from Boyce College.