This is part of the series How Worship Contributes to Resiliency.
Shaping Character over Time
Worship shapes lives over a life-time. There are, to be sure, individual worship activities that are prominent in my memory, moments in which God strengthened me or pointed me in a new direction. God’s most important work, however, is not found in particular meaningful moments. Rather, over a life-time of worship God has shaped my character like a stone in a mountain stream. Each of the stones in the stream was carved from the mountain by the forces of nature. Over centuries of erosion, the relentless force of the waters have worn down the rough edges, smoothed the surfaces and reshaped the originally jagged rocks into egg-shaped ovals. The process is imperceptibly slow.
Character is essential to resiliency for the same reason that the “core” muscles of the abdomen are essential to overall physical fitness. Character is the foundation of how I respond to every situation in life. For example, I can teach a married couple how to work through their communication differences but I can’t teach them to want to do so. The stick-to-it never-give-up attitude necessary for resiliency is a part of one’s character.
When I speak to Soldiers about character, I sometime ask them to picture in their mind who they are in their very best moments. Who is it they picture themselves to be when they are thinking about their idealized self? And then I ask them to take one step toward becoming that person. Every time that I attend worship, that’s what I am doing.
Worship draws me forward toward the image of humanity that I see in Jesus. As my mind and heart mature in Christ, my vision of the Christian life grows even deeper and broader. All of God’s actions in worship – through story, symbol, sacrament, liturgy, community, and all the rest – contribute to my transformation and the renewing of my mind.
It shouldn’t be surprising that worship is transformative. Even secular academics have begun to see the importance of social rituals and cultural liturgies in creating shared worldviews and shaping individual lives.
Paul notes the connection between worship and personal transformation in Romans 12.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)
The religious word for this process is “sanctification” and it is more God’s work than it is my own. Here again, God uses an ordinary human process for his extraordinary purposes.
Of course worship isn’t the only thing that shapes character. One’s environment, experiences and actions also shape one’s character – for better or for worse. And sometimes, it’s definitely for worse. It’s not true that whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. Worship, however, does make me stronger as it strengthens the core of my being.