You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith–Book Review

,,According to author James Smith, What do you want? is the most important question of Christian discipleship. Most, or at least many of us have the intellectual knowledge — we know what we should want as followers of Christ — the problem is that in our heart, what we really want is something else. That’s because we are all influenced unconsciously by what Smith calls “secular liturgies” or habits. We like to believe that “we are what we think” when in reality “we are what we desire.”

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

This means that in addition to studying the Bible, we need to “do” Christianity by establishing traditions and disciplines that help virtuous behavior sink into our bones and become our default position. The liturgy of the church helps with that. Rituals such as baptism, Holy Communion, repeating the creeds, confession, even the simple act of gathering together, reorients and focuses us on the kingdom of God where our true citizenship belongs. Family “liturgies” such as praying together, observing the seasons of the church year, even eating meals together ground us in our faith.

On the other hand, too often secular “liturgies” are allowed to influence our religious life. If worship is modeled after a concert and stop at Starbucks, and Youth Group is reduced to a “game night” we’ve missed the mark.

As Christians we need to place ourselves in God’s story. In the final chapter, Smith says:

“The body of Christ should be a testimony to the kingdom that is coming, bearing witness to how the world will be … Our work and our practices should be foretastes of that coming new city and thus should include protest and critique. Our engagement with God’s world is not about running the show or winning a culture war. We are called to be witnesses, not necessarily winners.”

We are called to be different, and we need to develop the habits and rituals that will make that a reality in our daily lives.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. Thought provoking and challenging. I recommend this one!

For more about Christian worship see these posts:

The Ways We Worship

First Things First — Who (or what) Do You Worship?

Worship Essentials – Book Review

The Laity and Liturgy

The word “liturgy” means “work of the people.”  In a liturgical church, the Pastor may lead the worship service, but it is truly a work of everyone there; that is, the laity.

In his book, Prayer, Richard Foster classifies the liturgy as sacramental prayer.  Although some may protest that it encourages people to pray by rote and without emotional involvement, Foster says this kind of prayer can be freeing for the following reasons:

  1. It helps us to pray when we are feeling spent or inarticulate. There are many times when I don’t really feel like praying, but going to church on Sunday reinforces the habit of prayer and gets me back on track.
  2. It unites us with the “communion of saints” and reminds us that we’re part of something much bigger than we are as individuals, or even as our local congregation. When I visit a different Lutheran church on vacation and settle into a familiar liturgy, I feel instantly at home.
  3. It squashes the need to be entertaining. Anybody can do the liturgy.  You don’t have to have a way with words, or an outgoing personality.  Children quickly pick it up!  As an introvert, it helps me stop worrying about, “what am I going to say next?”  For me, it keeps the focus to remain on God, not the pray-er.
  4. The formality of the liturgy reminds us that God is awesome and should be approached with respect. He is the creator and we are His creatures.  Worship, in my mind, should be different from day-to-day life.
  5. Here’s my favorite: the liturgy keeps us from thinking we can practice religion privately.  It’s the work of the community, the people of God.  Foster describes it this way:

“It is so very human of us to allow our petty concerns to be the whole burden of our prayer.  Now it is not wrong to pray over our own pressing needs, but that must never be the end of our prayer work.  Through the liturgy we are constantly being brought back to the life of the whole community; we are constantly being confronted with sound doctrine;  we are constantly being forced to hear the whimper of the poor and see the tumult of nations.”

So next time you think about skipping your weekly worship service, think again.  You’re needed.  You don’t have to be the Pastor, or the reader, or in the choir. You’re not “the audience.”  It’s part of your work as a Christian lay person to support the community in worship.  Be there.

This is the Feast #2

For those who are unfamiliar with this canticle which I mentioned in my last post, I thought I would post the music with lyrics.

Why We Sing

This article was originally published in The Lutheran Ambassador

Lutherans are known as “the singing church” and Martin Luther has been called “the father of congregational singing.” But why do we sing? Is it simply our tradition? Is it an appropriate way to express our emotions of gratitude and love toward God? Is it a biblically sanctioned part of worship (Psalm 66:1-2)? Does it help bind us together as a community? The answer is yes to all these questions about communal Christian singing in the Church. However, there is another excellent reason Lutherans sing: hymn singing is an important part of our Christian education.

Maybe you thought the children were just having fun singing all those Sunday School songs. They are having fun, but they are also learning about important people in the Bible (Father Abraham), the essentials of the faith (Jesus Loves Me), the proper response to God’s love (Praise Him, Praise Him, All You Little Children) and what it means to be part of the church (We Are the Church).

Setting words to music is an aid to memorization. Young people often learn the books of the Bible (in order no less) by singing a song. Adults who participate in a Lutheran liturgy discover they’ve memorized many Psalms and other portions of scripture by taking part in the worship service. Well chosen hymns also serve to reinforce the theme of the sermon and the readings of the day. And in times of crisis in our lives the comforting words of hymns bring the reminder of God’s eternal concern for His people to our minds and hearts.

Good hymns teach. They help us understand the different church seasons (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel). They prepare us for communion (Let Us Break Bread Together). They tell us about the attributes of God (A Mighty Fortress). They convict us of our sin (Amazing Grace). They explain theological concepts (The Church’s One Foundation) and give lessons in how to serve (Hark the Voice of Jesus Calling) and be more generous (We Give Thee But Thine Own). Some hymns are almost a sermon in themselves (Salvation Unto Us Has Come)!

Church music can touch our hearts and sink into our souls in a way that is hard to explain or understand. Church music can lift us up into the very realm of God’s presence. No wonder Luther called it “a fair and glorious gift of God.”


It’s Me

“Standing in the Need” is an African American spiritual, and, like many folk songs, its origin is unknown. Both text and tune became well known after their publication in The Book of American Negro Spirituals (1925), compiled by James Weldon Johnson and his brother,]. Rosamond Johnson.

Using hyperbole, or exaggerating to make a point, the text brings a very specific message: “I need prayer!” Obviously all the other persons mentioned in the text need prayer as well-yet the text stresses the individual’s need for prayer. Such an understanding of this text permits its use in corporate worship-in which we all realize that each of us needs prayer just as much as all of us need prayer. The text emphasizes personal responsibility within a larger context of community.

Liturgical Use:
As a call to prayer, this song should be part of a time of sung and spoken and silent prayers-for forgiveness, of course, but also for healing, for gratitude, for more fervent faith, and so on.

This song came to mind when I was reading Praying for Strangers.  One of the lessons the author learned is that everybody needs prayer.

It’s me, it’s me, O Lord,
standing in the need of prayer.
It’s me, it’s me, O Lord,
standing in the need of prayer.

1 Not my mother or my father, but it’s me, O Lord,
standing in the need of prayer;
not my mother or my father, but it’s me, O Lord,
standing in the need of prayer. [Refrain]

2 Not my brother or my sister, but it’s me, O Lord,
standing in the need of prayer;
not my brother or my sister, but it’s me, O Lord,
standing in the need of prayer. [Refrain]

3 Not the stranger or the neighbour, but it’s me, O Lord,
standing in the need of prayer;
not the stranger or my neighbour, but it’s me, O Lord,
standing in the need of prayer. [Refrain]

Liturgy as Prayer

“The liturgy of the Word is prayer.  You pray the scriptures with, and for, the people assembled and the words go out to them, touching them in ways that only God can imagine.”

Kathleen Norris

The congregation I belong to, St. Paul’s Free Lutheran, is liturgical.  I wouldn’t want it any other way.  Liturgy, in Greek, means “work of the people.”  It’s something we participate in together, the body of Christ in this place.  If prayer is communicating with God, the liturgy is also prayer.  In the familiar words, many of them directly from the Scripture we confess to God, we sing His praises,  and thank Him.  We intercede for others.  We offer our gifts for His use.

God speaks to us as well through the reading and sermons.  He offers us forgiveness and the gift of His body and blood to strengthen us.  He sends us out with renewed minds and spirits to do His work in the world.  Here’s a quote by Thomas Merton which reminds me of what the liturgy does:

“….(prayer) is  the needle by which we draw the thread of charity through out neighbor’s soul and our own soul and sew ourselves together in one Christ.”

Through the liturgy God weaves us into a community.  It doesn’t matter if we are old or young, rich or poor, black or brown or white, educated or ignorant, for this brief time we become one in Christ and it changes us.  It changes us because when we pray together, we become God’s kingdom on earth.

How does your worship experience change you?  Please send us your comments.