Exploring Worship, Prayer, And The Cult of Self-Expression

Liturgy As A Way To Battle Pride

I was having a conversation with Jim on our back porch a few years ago. The subjects of church and worship came up. We discovered that we were not on the same page. He preferred a free, “spontaneous,” “do what the Spirit tells you to do” service. I preferred a liturgical, “don’t draw attention to yourself,” traditional service. He could not understand why anyone would give up their personal freedom and submit to a liturgy not of their own making.  At the time I could think of only one reason – to learn to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus. A liturgical service demands me to battle my pride which constantly urges me to express myself. 

Self-expression is the current calling card of many evangelical Christians. They go to church and pray in order to express themselves. Unknowingly they’ve bought into the perspective of Charles Wright and The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band – “Express Yourself.”

Express yourself
Express yourself

You don’t never need help from nobody else
All you got to do now

Express yourself

Whatever you do
Do it good
Whatever you do, do, do, Lord, Lord
Do it good, oh yeah

It’s not what you look like
When you’re doin’ what you’re doin’
It’s what you’re doin’ when you’re doin’
What you look like you’re doin’

Express yourself
Express yourself

They’re doin’ it on the moon, yeah, in the jungle too
Everybody on the floor, now
Jumpin’ like a kangaroo
So let the horns do the thing they do, yo

Some people have everything
And other people don’t
But everything don’t mean a thing
If it ain’t the thing you want

Express yourself
Express yourself

Oh, do it, oh, do it

Do it to it
Go on and do it
Yo, do it, give

Express yourself
Express yourself

Do it
Oh Lord
Do it
Yeah

Express yourself
Express yourself
Express yourself
Express yourself

Express yourself
Express yourself
Express yourself

Oh Lord, hey, hey, hey
Lord

Express yourself
Express yourself
Express, ahh, express
Express yourself

Express yourself
Express yourself

Do it at home. Do it at church. Do it when praying. Do it when driving. Do it at work. Do it all the time! 

Be creative. Use your imagination. Get in touch with your emotions. Reinvent the service every week. 

Clap. Sway. Lift your hands. Cry. Dance. Laugh. Be spontaneous. Perform. Jump up and down. Pump your fist. Lay flat on the floor. 

Or Relax. Drink your coffee. Have conversations. Remain passive. Think for yourself. Critique people. Be cool. Act spiritual. Look studious. Stand out. 

Above all, don’t let anyone set limits on you. 

Real and good liturgy squashes it all. It humbles you. It forces you to submit. It teaches you to be quiet and listen. It engages you and invites you to engage it. It frees you to focus on the Triune God. It gives room for the healing of your soul. It unites you with Jesus Christ. It allows the Spirit to transform you on the inside. It causes you to struggle with your passions. And all of this is good! 

Self-expression is nothing compared to self-transformation. Which is more important to you? 

I never did persuade Jim. But my own need to battle my passions – especially my pride that wants to express itself – has helped guide me to experience liturgy as the major shaping tool of my heart.

How about  you? Are you drawn to a liturgical life where you do battle with your passions? Share you thoughts below. 

Dr. K 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

2 thoughts on “Exploring Worship, Prayer, And The Cult of Self-Expression

  1. In all my years examining the myriad of approaches to worship, I have never ever heard it put this way. This is spot on.

    I recently had a conversation with a pastor who is new to his Presbyterian Church. As we spoke he told me how frustrated he was with what he called “the worship wars within his Church. Those who wanted the traditional Hymns, and those who want something more contemporary. He told me “God doesn’t care”. I asked him “are you sure?” He told me that he was sure. I responded “Pastor, I’m sure if you gave a sermon on this subject this Sunday, the responses would overwhelmingly agree with your position. And this is precisely why so many people have now decided to do something different on Sunday that does not involve going to a local assembly. Because they really do agree with you that God doesn’t care”.

    The culture has decimated the Church.Not that there aren’t wonderful Christians involved. Most of the time, far better examples of Christ than I. But we are becoming what we set out to change.

    • Thanks, Bruce, for your comments and good story. “Becoming what we set out to change.” Profound! In changing the good, tried and true traditions we become restless and empty. Now we have to be “always reforming” as an end in itself. I, like you, have found great peace and fullness in established traditions of the Church. The solid foundation and structure provide stability when most churches are flopping around loosely in the inconsistent wind of innovation. Thank you for helping me on this journey to fullness. We journey together! Thanks be to God for all things. Keith

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