By now I suppose that we've all heard of "virtual reality". That's a term born of the computer revolution that refers to simulated experiences that give you feeling you are actually experiencing reality even though what’s going on is really only happening in your mind and in the computer. There are virtual reality games of all sorts. You can play virtual golf on very realistic models of the finest courses in the world. You can virtually drive cars, fly planes and land them in realistic models of actual airports. You can wander around through buildings and even explore the Titanic. While you are playing these games you sometimes feel as if you are really there.
Virtual reality allows us to safely get involved in activities that would be very dangerous if we were actually doing them. If you crash your car or airplane it’s no problem. You just reset the game and try it again. In virtual reality you can get the thrill without having to pay the price.
Over the past several years we have increasingly become a visually oriented, entertainment-seeking, spectator culture. All of this has affected our entire lives including our approach to worship. I believe what many people experience might be called “virtual worship.” It looks like worship. It feels like worship. But it’s possible to come into the sanctuary, watch what goes on up front, listen to the singing, hear the sermon, and leave without actually worshipping.
True worship is not something you watch. True worship is something you do. In true worship God is the focal point, not the worshipper. Today it is important to design worship around what speaks and appeals to the worshipers. But I’ve not heard anyone talk about designing worship around what speaks and appeals to God. It seems to me that we may have lost sight of the fact that worship is primarily about us doing something for God, not God doing something for us.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that we should design worship experiences that are relevant and meaningful to the worshipper. But we must never lose sight of the fact that worship is about God, not about us. I heard someone say recently that the only one who ever has the right to say, “I didn’t get anything out of that service,” is God.
Jesus said, “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.” ( John 4:23-24 NIV)
Because we must worship God in spirit, it is something we must do personally. Even in corporate worship services, our worship must be a personal thing, between our God and us.
Because we must worship
God in truth, it cannot be a “virtual” experience. True worship always involves commitment. Paul wrote, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your
bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual
act of worship.” (Rom. 12:1-2 NIV)
I guess there really is a risk in virtual worship. The risk is that we may think we are actually worshipping when in fact, we are only watching others worship. Virtual experiences are good in some areas of life, but when it comes to our worship let’s be sure that we’re really there.