Isaiah 6 is known by biblical scholars as a theophany – an appearance of God.
Isaiah, in the presence of God, is confronted with not only who God is, but with who he is in relation to God.
The scene defines for us what being in God’s presence might entail and it may be an example to us of what worship should be in our own lives.
Our biggest problem in realizing the kind of life-changing worship that Isaiah experienced is that we are essentially self-centered and self-absorbed.
Some of us may be more self-centered than others, and most of us may be less self-centered than the celebrity-driven world in which we live, but the reality is that all of us are to some degree self-centered.
This may present the strongest obstacle to the life-changing experience of God in worship.
Isaiah 6 reveals at least four elements of what worship is:
1. Worship is wonderment.
As Isaiah enters the presence of God, he is awestruck by God’s majesty and holiness. He cannot look upon God, for in God he finds wonder beyond his comprehension.
2. Worship is transformative.
In his experience of God’s presence, Isaiah sees who he really is – a sinner. Yet, in his confession of his sinfulness, Isaiah is transformed into the person God desires him to be, a person who experiences the forgiveness of God.
3. Worship is renewing.
Through God’s forgiveness, Isaiah is a renewed person, who lives for the purpose and will of God. He calls out to God, “Here I am, send me” (Isaiah 6:8), declaring to God the newness that he has found in the presence of God.
4. Worship is decentering.
Isaiah’s life finds a new center. Through worship, he is decentered from his self and centered on God’s will and purpose for his life.
But how do we experience this kind of worship?
If worship is the primary practice to which we are called, if worship is what can change and transform our lives, and if worship is what puts us in the presence of God, then how are we to experience this kind of worship?
Athletes prepare for games. Entertainers prepare for the big show. Hosts prepare for their guests.
Why don’t Christians spend more time preparing for worship on Sunday? Is it because we rely on others – the pastor, worship leader, musicians – to do the preparing for us?
Worship, if it is to be transformative, renewing and decentering requires our preparation.
This involves personal times of worship during the week – prayer, Bible reading, reflection and so on. It involves asking God to prepare us for corporate worship and to prepare us to receive and respond to God’s word.
If we are not experiencing life-changing worship, perhaps we are not preparing for corporate worship through our personal worship.
We live in a culture bathed in the “entertain me” mentality. We pay good money to go to movies, concerts and other forms of entertainment.
We have hundreds of cable channels to choose from and Netflix. We are perhaps the most entertained culture in history.
Yet, this often spills over into our worship as we come to be entertained. If worship is boring to us, we complain. If we are not being entertained by worship, we complain.
But worship is not about entertainment. Worship is not about meeting my entertainment needs.
Worship is about participation with the saints in the eternal praise and experience of God.
Do we come expecting God to change us? Do we come expecting to hear from God? Do we come with prepared hearts and minds, wanting, desiring and longing to hear from God, to experience God’s presence and to be changed?
Or do we come with our own agendas, distracted by our own lives and set on maintaining our status quo existence? We need to come prepared to participate and expect God to speak to us.
It took great imagination on Isaiah’s part to experience what he experienced. Can we imagine that God can change our lives? Can we see God working in our lives by shaping us into the image of Christ? This is faith, and faith involves imagination.
A level of skepticism and asking questions is healthy to faith. But perhaps we have become so entrenched in modernity’s skepticism that we cannot image an experience of the presence of God. Imagination can bring us to this experience.
Worship should be an experience of God that transforms us. When we come together to worship as the body of Christ, we participate in one of the most miraculous events ever to occur here on this earth. We get to experience the presence of the living God among us.
When this practice becomes consistent in our lives, God is able to move us from simply doing worship as a part of our lives, to worship becoming our way of life.
Drew Smith, an ordained Baptist minister, is director of international programs at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. He is the author of “Reframing a Relevant Faith.” A longer version of this column first appeared on his blog, Wilderness Preacher, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @WildernesPreach.