How to Worship When You're Not in Church
- Kelly Stanley Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2016 10 Aug
Around the time my husband and I were married (25 years ago), we both felt the pull to attend church. Until then, it had never been part of my regular routine—I’d always preferred sleeping in on Sundays—but I discovered, to my surprise, that I loved going to church. My only complaint? I wished there were some way to carry that feeling with me when I went home. I remember sitting on the end of my bed one morning after we came home, the songs repeating endlessly in my mind, feeling a longing for something more.
I browsed the gospel and hymn cassette tapes in the music section of various department stores and tried to pick out titles that sounded familiar, but I couldn’t find anything similar to the songs we sang. So I randomly picked out some tapes, eagerly plugged them into my car stereo, and felt disappointed when I recognized nothing. The tapes made their way into the garage sale pile, and I was left, once again, wanting something I couldn’t define.
At that time, I did not know that there was a kind of faith that went beyond the walls of a church. I didn’t realize that there was so much more to faith than showing up for an hour on Sundays. Nor did I know that I could have any kind of relationship with God, let alone one that sustained me minute by minute, giving me strength and clarity and guiding my steps. I had no idea that I could live my life in a state of worship. Once I learned that it was possible, it changed my faith for good.
Yet I think there are a lot of people with similar experiences to the ones I described, who haven’t witnessed examples of people living a life of worship but feel a vague hunger for something they can’t explain. No matter how strong your faith is, no matter whether it plays a dominant role in your life or a tiny one, the reality is that we were made to worship God. Sounds simple, right? But the truth is that our concept of worship may be incomplete and limited. When we expand our ideas about worship, we will begin to see God more clearly. We’ll realize He is present all the time, and we’ll discover a sense of fulfillment that is deeper than we imagined it could be.
Romans 12:1 serves as a great guide to how to worship, even when you’re not in church. In this verse, Paul urges us, “in view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
In many churches, we’ve gotten in the habit of referring to the song portion of a service as “worship,” but in reality, true worship isn’t confined to what happens at church, nor is it about the music. In fact, worship is even better when you bring it into your daily life, letting God flow through you and around you as you do your ordinary, everyday tasks. By taking this verse apart, we can discover how to let your whole life reflect a state of worship.
In view of God’s mercy. In order to accept God’s promise that when we believe we belong to Him forevermore (even after death), we must first recognize our need for what He offers. When we see the enormity of our sin, we understand the extent of the sacrifice Jesus made—willingly—on our behalf. When we grasp that there are no limits to God’s mercy, it changes the way we interact with others. We see that what we’ve been given is special, but it’s not exclusively ours.
The same love and forgiveness and acceptance is available to anyone who wants it. Because of this, we are able to act with mercy towards others, and when we do so, we’re glorifying God. We’re acting in a state of worship.
Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice. Worship isn’t just an abstract state of mind. Serving God and bringing glory to God are done through our actions, by living a life that represents the truth of God. It’s about revealing the character of God and showing His love to others.
Ask God to help you behave in ways that exemplify His character and portray His message of acceptance and forgiveness and kindness. When you act as His hand extended towards others in need—by giving, by helping, by listening, by encouraging—you are offering your body as a living sacrifice. It’s not a sacrifice unless you give up something valuable, but this kind of sacrifice brings with it great rewards.
As you build relationships with others, you will find opportunities to share what God is doing in your life. And as you see more of Him, your faith will deepen, and you’ll find yourself worshipping God more and more often.
Holy and pleasing to God. Fill your mind with what is good and pleasing and holy (Philippians 4:8). It doesn’t have to be labeled “Christian” in order to be uplifting and edifying—but you do need to guard your mind and heart against temptations because there is no one else who will do this for you.
For me, what this looks like is listening to contemporary Christian rock more often than any other music—not because the other is inherently bad, but because if I’m going to have song lyrics stuck in my head, I want them to be good. I want to dwell on something inspiring, to meditate on something hopeful, and to wrestle with complex truths. I read all kinds of books, but I’ve learned to shy away from gratuitous violence and demeaning relationships in the fiction I read, because I don’t like the way that makes me feel.
The truth is we can find God in non-religious movies, books, and activities if we set our mind on Him and remember to watch for Him. Each of us has to decide what to feed ourselves to bring out the best in ourselves, and then to turn it around to offer it to God.
This is your true and proper worship. It’s not enough to simply like God; the truest worship is when we go all in. This extravagant love and extreme submission includes wanting whatever God thinks is best for you, in all areas of life.
We have a human tendency to compartmentalize—this box is for church, and that one is for the other parts of life. Make a conscious effort to keep the boxes wide open and allow them to overflow into other areas. Be open about how you see God in your life, but don’t bash someone over the head with your belief. Simply live it, authentically.
Let your life be your worship. Offer it as a gift to the God who has given you so much. That’s the most powerful kind of testimony, and the most beautiful kind of worship—whether you’re in church or not.
Kelly O’Dell Stanley is the author of Praying Upside Down and Designed to Pray. A graphic designer who writes (or is it a writer who designs?), she's also a redhead who’s pretty good at controlling her temper, a believer in doing everything to excess, and a professional wrestler of doubt and faith. She blogs at kellyostanley.com and calls small-town Indiana her home.
Publication date: August 10, 2016