Mindful Worship or Mindless Worship?
Welcome. I’m Ricky Spears and I’m your host here at Mindful Worship. Up to this point, I’ve only posted Mindful Worship meditations on this site and through the podcast. This is the first of what I expect will be many more articles related to the concept of mindful worship. I’ll be publishing the text of these articles on the site so you can read them online, and I’ll also be recording myself reading them so those of you who only subscribe to the podcast feed in iTunes or some other podcast downloading program will be able to access the articles as well. So read it online, listen to it online, or listen to it on your MP3 player–whatever works best for you!
What is mindful worship?
In a nutshell, mindful worship is worship in which the worshipper is fully engaged mentally with his or her act or acts of worship. It is the opposite of mindless worship. Unfortunately, for many of us, much of our worship is mindless: we go through the actions of worship, but our mind is engaged in some other activity. No one wants to admit that they are guilty of mindless worship, so before we take a look at what is mindfulness, or even mindlessness, we should probably ask…
What is worship?
When you hear the word worship, you probably have a specific activity that instantly comes to mind. For many people, that mental image is standing in church singing hymns and spiritual songs. For others, the mental image of worship may be listening to a sermon. For others it may be giving their tithes and offering. For some it may be dancing, reciting Christian poetry, playing music, sharing the gospel with others, teaching, or even reading the Bible.
Worship is an active word and it is always expressed in doing some kind of activity. Worship is something you do! But worship is much more than just the activity itself. You can sing and not worship. You can listen to a sermon and not worship. You can give an offering, dance, read Christian poetry, play music, share the gospel, teach, and even read the Bible and not worship.
Worship is much more than any activity we do. Jesus told the woman at the well, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
The word Jesus uses for worship in these verses is the Greek word proskuneo. The first half of this word comes from a root word that denotes local proximity or movement toward a particular place. The second half of the word means to kiss. Jesus is talking to a woman who has been married five times and is currently with a man to whom she is not married. Surely this woman understood what it meant to kiss. She understood what it meant to kiss and be kissed in spirit and truth, and what it meant to kiss and be kissed without spirit and truth.
There were likely times when she and her husband kissed passionately. Solomon begins his song of love with the words, “May he kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine.” Solomon is referring to a kiss where the man and woman are both fully engaged with each other not only physically, but also spiritually, and mentally as well.
It’s also likely there were times when they kissed dispassionately. They may have developed the habit of mindlessly giving each other a little peck on the lips as one of them rushed out of the house to work. Or maybe at times they even kissed in a way that seemed physically passionate, but the mind of one of them was on some other concern, or maybe even some other person. One can kiss mindlessly. We can also worship mindlessly, so…
What is mindless worship?
We worship mindlessly when we engage our bodies in some outward act of service or adoration to God, but our mind is focused on something else.
An excellent example of this is when we sing a congregational song or hymn at church. We may have memorized the words to the song, or we may read them as we sing. While our mouth is singing words of praise, our mind is often thinking about what we’ll be eating for lunch, something we want to tell someone else, something we are dissatisfied about, something someone else is doing that is distracting, or any number of other cares and concerns.
But mindless worship isn’t limited only to singing it applies to the offering as well. What are we thinking about when write out the check, put our gift in the envelope, and place it in the offering plate? Are we thinking about the wonderful blessings of God and how we are thankful for his provision, or are we just mindlessly going through the actions as though we are paying our electric bill. Or maybe rather than thinking cheerful thoughts of adoration toward God, we’re resenting giving the gift.
Even while reading God’s word, we can read it as though it were nothing more than a boring newspaper article. Our eyes see the words, but our minds don’t engage with the text in a way that reflects our adoration to God, nor in a way that challenges and changes us. How many times have you read or heard John 3:16 without deeply thinking about how much God loves you, about how much God loves the world, about how God gives, about how Jesus is God’s only son, about your own belief in him, about the world perishing without him, and about how wonderful it is to have everlasting life with him?
Worship is an expression of love–it is adoration by action. Worship without love is merely religious ceremony. So, we should strive to worship mindfully, so…
What is mindful worship?
Mark records that,
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
from Mark 12:28-31 NIV
We know that love is more than just an emotion. Love is a decision to act honorably toward another without conditions. Love without action isn’t love, but just a shallow emotion. In this passage, Jesus tells us in what manner, or attitude, we should love God: with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength.
True worship in spirit and in truth is when our entire body, mind, and soul are fully engaged with God–our body is performing the action and in our heart and mind we are focused on adoring Him through that particular action.
When we sing, let us be conscious of every word we sing. When we serve others, let us see ourselves as serving Jesus. When we give, let it be with cheerful appreciation of how much God has already given us. When we dance before him, consciously think about how every move honors, glorifies, and exalts Christ.
The Bible actually has quite a bit to say about our minds as we worship. James tells us, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” We can not focus on the things of self and the world while focusing on the things of God at the same time.
When Jesus rebuked Peter for saying that Jesus should not be killed at the hands of the religious leaders, Jesus mentioned what was in Peter’s mind, “Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Our minds should be filled with the things of God when we worship, rather than the things of men.
Paul encouraged the church at Corinth to be mindful when they prayed, “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.”
Worshipping God mindfully is a new challenge for many of us. Like you, I often struggle with keeping my mind focused on the things of God in worship.
Why is mindful worship a challenge?
The world today discourages deep thinking and quiet contemplation. Marketing and entertainment through modern media has trained us to be mindless. It has trained us to accept whatever message is thrown at us without thinking. As we watch TV the images constantly change to keep our eyes focused on the screen. We often work, play, shop, and drive with music playing so we don’t have to think. We constantly bombard our senses with stimulation instead of freeing our minds to think about the things of God in worship. Through this, we’ve greatly lost the ability to focus for even short periods of time on our own.
God wants us to cultivate mindfulness, and especially mindfulness in our worship. Paul told the church at Rome, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
How can mindfulworship.com help?
Each week here at mindfulworship.com, I publish a new Mindful Worship Meditation. In these meditations, we usually begin with a short time of stilling the body and quieting the mind. Then I walk you through a slow contemplative exercise centered on a particular passage, or perhaps several passages, in the scriptures.
Through these guided meditations you will learn to focus on God and his Word. You will have time to mindfully praise God, to mindfully study and apply his word, to mindfully become aware of sin in your life, to mindfully repent, to mindfully listen for the still small voice the Holy Spirit and his guidance, to be mindfully changed in his image, and to mindfully worship him.
Listening and following along with the Christian guided meditations here, and mindfully contemplating the articles like this one will help you to develop mindful worship in your own life.
There are a number of free resources at mindfulworship.com. Many of the weekly Mindful Worship Meditations are available free for anyone to listen to online. I publish a new one each week and the first one each month is always free. The other Mindful Worship Meditations are available to Premium Members. Premium Members are those people who support this ministry by purchasing a Premium Members Subscription for only $10 for three months access–that’s less than $1 per meditation. If you attended a contemplative worship service, you would likely put at least a dollar in the offering plate each week, so why not consider becoming a Premium Member today? As a Premium Member, you will have access to all new Mindful Worship Meditations as well as the full archive of Mindful Worship Meditations.
Many of you said you have told me you would like to purchase selected Mindful Worship Meditations on CD either for yourself, or to share with others. You will notice that each one now includes a button where you can order any meditation for only $10 and receive a CD in the mail in just a few days.
Finally, some of you subscribe to the RSS feed in your RSS aggregator, or the podcast feed in iTunes or some other podcast downloading program. Many of you don’t use either one. For you, there is now an option to subscribe via email. This is free and you will receive an email notification whenever new content is published on mindfulworship.com.