I am a wordsmith by birth and by calling. As a child, I was a talker. My grandmother once remarked, as I burst through the door at a family reunion and unashamedly introduced myself, that I would one day become a preacher. Now as a pastor and a writer, words are my essential building blocks in the construction of concepts, ideas, stories, illustrations, and the unfolding of deep biblical truths that must be communicated.
But there are moments when I don’t have words, or for that matter need words. This happens most frequently for me during worship. Often I am speechless when I consider the wonder of God and his grace. No matter how skillful I might be in using descriptive adjectives or action verbs—I find no adequate words to describe his glory. In his presence I stand speechless—dumb and mute—unable to speak or convey the depth of my love for my God.
It is in those intimate moments of frustrated inability that my spirit must find some form of release that requires no words. Tears fill my eyes, chills clamor up my spine, my hands lift with palms upraised, or my feet begin to dance. Inability gives way to capabilities that are often hidden and closely guarded—yet available if I choose to release and use them.
My all-time favorite picture of worship and the one I often retreat into and emulate in my dreams is found in Luke 7:36-50. It is the story of the woman who anointed Jesus feet with her tears and the precious ointment of an alabaster vial. There is a great deal going on in that story, but in my visits all I can see is “go-for-broke” worship, yet not one word is spoken.
There is emotion. This is a once broken woman who has been restored through the grace of Jesus Christ. She has received worth and value through his ministry and now has a future. She cannot hold back the tears, though it seems they pour out in silence from a heart overflowing with joy. She does not hold back the emotions, yet without words she worships. True worship is filled with genuine emotions.
There is boldness. Once she realizes her tears are falling on her Lord’s feet, she steps out of the shadows from against the wall and quietly kneels while unpinning her long hair and using it to wipe his feet. She is exposed now—she has stepped from the safety of the crowd and courageously released the love of her heart without regard for what other might think or say. She is unashamed in her devotion and confident in her pursuit. True worship is always bold in its expression and sometime brash in the eyes of those who witness it.
There is surrender. This woman prostrated herself on the floor and gave the intimate gift of a kiss to the feet of her Savior. Not just once—but over and over and over. Her gratitude poured out like an uncontainable stream driven out of its banks by an unstoppable rain storm. Her position and her actions are the immutable signs of submission. True worship is characterized by total surrender.
And ultimately there is a cost. Sincere worship always carries an expensive price tag. It is never cheap—or if it is it ceases to be worship and becomes an empty religious ritual. This woman shattered her nest egg. She cashed in her retirement account—her only means of financial security—when she broke the seal on her alabaster jar of perfume and dumped the precious contents on Jesus’ feet. Her most precious possession was poured out as an offering of worship and thanksgiving—a sacrifice of faith. True worship always comes with a cost most are unwilling to pay.
This is what wordless worship looks like, yet its voice speak loud and clear!