“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” – Psalm 95:6
God wants us to worship … HIM.
He talked about it countless times in scripture.
Type the word “worship” in the search box at BibleGateway.com, and you’ll get 250 hits. A quick scan of those results reveals verses on worship from Genesis (Abraham and Isaac) to the last chapter of Revelation (John and “the angel”).
In Exodus, God told Pharoah several times, “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” Because Pharoah wasn’t listening to God’s messenger Moses, God had to step in and show Pharoah that He meant business. (Remember the 10 plagues? Not pretty.) God finally got His point across, and the people went. (How long it took them to reach the Promised Land is another story.)
The Israelites worshipped. And they complained. He blessed them. And they complained.
Just like the Israelites, we don’t always get it right. Yet God blesses. This side of heaven, our worship will never be perfect, just as no other aspect of our lives will be perfect.
Yet God blesses.
Even though our worship isn’t perfect, God still wants it, and when we do it, we grow closer to Him. (That’s His real purpose, after all.)
But what does it mean to worship?
I’m no theologian, but I know that worship should be about God and not us.
I’ve been particularly convicted lately about how I worship on Sunday mornings, during the “worship” part of the service.
Bruce and I moved to Batesville in May, and we visited two churches back and forth for a few weeks before settling on Fellowship Bible Church of Batesville.
Doctrinally, the churches are the same. The music styles are the same. The people are the same.
But we couldn’t help comparing – both by contrasting the music at the two churches and by comparing those two to the music at our church in North Little Rock, Fellowship North.
By the world’s standards, the music at Fellowship North is superior. We got used to professional-sounding instrumentals, vocals and performances. The music at the other Batesville church is more like that of FN. Not that the music at our new church is bad; it just isn’t as “full” – robust, maybe? We do “enjoy” it.
I was talking to our new pastor today about this topic. I haven’t been able to explain the difference in “music quality” among these three churches except to theorize: Maybe it’s because of stronger voices (and more voices) on FN’s worship team. Maybe it’s that FN has more instruments. Maybe it’s the acoustics (FN meets in a “church building,” while Fellowship Batesville meets in a converted movie theater and the other church meets in a former retail or warehouse space – I forget which). Today I thought of another thing: The worship leaders at FN tend to be a little more “dynamic,” more emotional, more showy – although showy is not quite the right or fair word. Demonstrative, maybe?
One day a few months ago, our three worship leaders at FN used part of the service to explain where they were coming from. Each one of them – Josh, Dena and Russell – expressed a desire to use their talents to glorify God and lead the congregation to worship Him, as opposed to having themselves or the “team” be at the center of the spotlight.
Yet I tend to worship the voices, the huge talent – not the God that created them. When I catch myself doing that, I remind myself that He is the source of their talents and that they wouldn’t be there if not for His gracious gifts.
But I still find myself doing it. I am emotionally connected to music. I love all kinds, from country to opera. In a “worship service” – which should be any service where Christ followers gather – it’s hard not to focus on the music when the music is lovely and moving and full of godly sounding words.
Here’s what Rick Warren says in The Purpose Driven Life:
“Today many equate being emotionally moved by music as being moved by the Spirit, but these are not the same. Real worship happens when your spirit responds to God, not to some musical tone. In fact, some sentimental, introspective songs hinder worship because they take the spotlight off God and focus on our feelings. Your biggest distraction in worship is yourself – your interests and your worries over what others think about you.”
Which brings up another point: “What others think about you.”
I didn’t grow up in a church of raising-your-hands-in-worship. It’s hard – even after attending a church for 16 years (FN) where no one looks at you funny if you do – to convince yourself that God won’t think it’s odd at all if you lift your hands to worship Him. The Bible tells of many methods used to worship the Creator – dancing, singing, praying, playing instruments, giving offerings …
At Fellowship North, a church where I felt more at home than at any church before it, I witnessed the raising of hands in worship almost every Sunday. The upraised hands were few on some Sundays, but they were present. Some occasions led to more hand-raising than others, but the point is it was normal.
On any given Sunday, I might have a conversation with myself (and sometimes with God) that included one or more of these phrases:
“God, I want to raise my hands.” (“Just do it.”)
“People would see me.” (“So?”)
“It would feel funny.” (“Only the first couple of times.”)
“People would think I’m weird.” (“Isn’t my opinion the only one that really matters?”)
“I want to raise my hands in worship, but it just isn’t me. I wasn’t raised that way.” (“I’m raising you different now.”)
“Someday I’ll do it.” (“I can wait.”)
God is so patient with His kids.
A few days ago I discovered that my new pastor had a blog when he was in seminary. He hasn’t posted since 2007, but, as I told him, truth doesn’t really have a time limit (I’m very profound sometimes). His words from 2004 spoke to me six years later. Click here to read what John Mark wrote about Sunday morning worship (scroll to Nov. 25, then back up to Nov. 29).
I read those posts just a few days ago, and this morning my “worship” was a little more God centered than Me centered.
One manifestation of that: I raised my right hand … maybe halfway (I had my eyes closed, so I couldn’t tell for sure).
Did I feel self-conscious? Yes, a little bit, I have to admit. But mostly not. I mostly cared what God thought of me, not what others might be thinking. Fellowship Batesville is smaller, so I don’t think there are as many hand-raisers as FN has.
Maybe we can change that. I’m not saying that every member of every church has to be a hand-raiser. But for someone who thought she wasn’t a hand-raiser to be becoming a hand-raiser, it’s something I’ll want to ruminate about. How many people in our churches don’t lift their hands to God, not because they’re not-hand-raisers but because they’re afraid someone will think they’re weird? Or fanatical? Or – horrors – charismatic?
When we care more about what God thinks about us than what other people think about us, we’re inching closer to Kingdom thinking.
Anybody want to high-five me on that?