Worship: Breaking Out of Autopilot

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Have you ever been driving your car somewhere, only to “wake up” and realize that you’ve spent the last 5 minutes in mental autopilot heading in the wrong direction? Your car is heading home, but you fully intended to go to the grocery store. Our subconscious is often a huge blessing, but sometimes, it leaves us heading home without bread for dinner.

If that happens while we drive, where else might it happen? Personally, one of the worst areas it happens is in my spiritual life. So many times we can operate personally, or corporately, on spiritual autopilot. Unfortunately, this can be further perpetuated by our local expressions of church. We walk into a church building and find our seat for 11 am. Depending on our denomination, we have a predetermined order of service, and often we have very little need to respond. We listen to worship songs, we hear prayers and we listen to scripture. Then we sit for a sermon, message, or homily which ranges from 10 to 50 minutes, and we don’t really need to engage with it at all. 

None of these things are wrong, but we can come and go week after week, and head home without having encountered Jesus—the bread of life. We can live a life of worship that is on autopilot. 

Now, I should provide the caveat that our entire lives ought to be in worship to God. However, for the sake of simplicity, when I say worship here, I am speaking of a corporate gathering/expression of worship. 

So, here’s the question: How do we break out of autopilot and engage in a life of worship with God and a community of believers? 

  1. Open your eyes and ears to other expressions of worship
  2. Find, or create, opportunities for worship that expect your deeper participation
  3. Spend time preparing for your current corporate gathering

There are essentials when it comes to corporate worship. No matter where you gather, you will likely find scripture, prayer, singing, and generosity. You will also probably find periodic opportunities for communion (eucharist) and varied forms of baptism. As you engage with these essentials, let’s break the mold and make some serious changes that allow you to experience God among the body of Christ in a deeper way. 

Open your eyes and ears to other expressions of worship

Even though I am a Pentecostal by upbringing, I have received formal theological education in Anglican and Baptist schools. I love to broaden my horizons and see how others experience God. If you are experiencing worship on autopilot, try exploring some other avenues of worship. If you are Anglican, try gathering with Pentecostals to enjoy more expressive worship. Raise your hand, or sing loudly, express your joy to the Lord, and maybe he will meet you in a new way. If you are Pentecostal, head to the Anglican Church to hear the depth of wisdom, love, and worship found in written prayers. Experience a new denomination or expression of the Christian faith—the options are almost endless. If you are looking outside of denominations, why not explore some of the spiritual disciplines with a friend. 

Find, or create, opportunities for worship that expect your deeper participation

Exploring spiritual disciplines with a friend, or a group allows you to expect participation from each other. In a practice known as Lectio Divina, everyone has the opportunity to share—you can be on autopilot when you need to think critically. In confession, we have to remember our sins. In corporate fasting, we will feel our sacrifice as we pray. The list goes on. 

If we are serious about worship, we will be willing to participate in a deeper way. In earthly relationships, we invest time and energy. As we worship God, we need to be investing time and energy as well. As we do this corporately, God can work in and through us as a group.

Spend time preparing for your current corporate gathering

Lastly, if these two options seem too daunting, and you want to start small, try spending some time this week preparing for the worship gathering on Sunday. We expect the worship leader and preacher to prepare, but we don’t stop to think that we should prepare too. By taking time to focus on God, pray for the gathering, and invite God to use you during the gathering, you are pulling yourself out of autopilot and inviting the Holy Spirit to interact with you. You are thinking of others and how you can bless them during the gathering. When you spend time preparing your heart, you can reduce distractions, pull yourself out of autopilot, and engage in worship with the family of God. 

The unfortunate reality is the structure of many of our gatherings encourages autopilot. God never intended for us to have a relationship on autopilot. This means we need to work together to find new ways inside (number 3) and outside (numbers 1 & 2), our current structure to worship. We need to actively break the status quo. 

Which option are you ready to choose? How can you work toward exploring all three?