We learn some important life lessons around the dinner table. How to be polite, to be patient, to thank the chef, how to have a conversation, and how to slow down and savor are just some of the many lessons my parents tried to teach me, but by far the most important was how to try new foods.

One of my mother’s favorite expressions was “this is not a restaurant.” Unlike a restaurant, at family meals we did not get to make any special orders. We got to enjoy what the cook prepared. That doesn’t mean we never got to eat our favorite foods; on the contrary, we would often rotate meals based on the preference of each member of the family. In this way each of us learned to joyfully affirm the preferences of our family members.

When I think about worship, I am reminded of my family dinner table. In Christ and as members of this local church we are brothers and sisters, and when we come to worship we gather around the Lord’s Table with saints near and far, old and young, here on earth and present with Christ. As I pull up my chair to that heavenly table, I can hear God saying in my mother’s voice: “this is not a restaurant!”

We don’t show up, plunk down our tithe like the entrance fee to a buffet and then expect to choose whatever we like from an overwhelming display of worship styles and practices. We are not entitled to “have it your way” in worship or in life, despite what the fast food industry would have us believe.

Worship is not fast food, and God has better things to give us than what our limited senses desire.

Imagine eating the same meal, day in and day out, morning, noon, and evening. In one of the books I read to my daughters, the young protagonist insists upon eating jam and bread at every meal because “I always know what I’m getting.” Then she sees a classmate pull out his lunch box and unpack a tantalizing feast of many different foods, and she realizes that while a limited palate is predictable and safe, it can be boring and doesn’t allow one to experience all that life has to offer.

Worship is that way.

God works through worship to speak into our lives and into the world, and he desires to unpack for us a feast that is nourishing and faith-forming. Let’s not limit ourselves to our favorite worship foods. As you prepare for worship, challenge yourself with the following questions and come listening for God to speak nourishing words to your soul.

Do I approach worship expecting to try something new, or do I groan and complain when worship doesn’t contain my favorite element, or when one of the items on the menu is disagreeable to me?

Am I excited to experience what God and my spiritual family members are excited to share with me?

Do I come to worship expecting a buffet, or family dinner?