Tag Archives: worship

Emotional Sacrifice Offered, Not Taken

I have become a firm believer that the worship portion of the church service should come after the message portion of the service. The common philosophy has always been that worship is to prepare one’s heart to receive the message that has been laid upon the pastor’s heart, to make one more receptive, more open to the working of the Holy Spirit. And there is some truth to that.

But I think that perhaps worship is best offered when it is a _response_ to the Word of God, and may best serve both the individual and the congregation when it takes place _after_ the message has been delivered. Worship is an act of emotional and spiritual sacrifice. It is the giving of oneself toward the object of worship.

I have participated in a lot of worship services over the years, and the ones that always bothered me most were those where the worship leader seemed to almost force worship out of his congregants. Rather than requesting that we join him in worshipping God, he was more directive and forceful (though there worship leader who is not passionate in his ministry will not be effective in it). There was not always time enough to prepare one’s heart before we were ‘forced’ into worship, the music starting, the singing begun, my heart not yet ready.

Many times there was also nothing to stimulate my heart to worship. We were seated, the lights were dimmed, the music playing, and our hearts and minds were still on the tasks of the hour previous. The feeling of forced worship would leave me feeling a bit rankled and obstinate, and so when the preaching began, it was an effort of will to listen and allow the Holy Spirit to work in me. Fortunately, by the time the message was over, often I found that I had, indeed, softened but then I would find myself wishing to worship collectively in response, such was the power of the message on my heart. But since that part of the service had occurred before the message, there was no opportunity to worship with my brethren and rejoice in the truth revealed, and I would again be left with a feeling of disappointment.

Naturally, the very nature of large gatherings means that no service is going to perfectly minister to every person every time. Often the traditional service format ministers adequately to the majority. Yet, I feel as though a single song before the preaching should prove adequate for opening the door to worship, with the main body of collective worship being reserved for afterward, after the seed of God’s Word has been planted in our hearts and has begun its work of growing, shaping, and changing. This allows the congregation to respond to the message according to the impact it has had on them, to celebrate, repent, or weep as led by the Spirit.

Perhaps church services have become far to rigid and structured (though structure in any gathering is necessary to some degree or another). I love the services where the format is a little more loose and free, where there is no hurry to get to the end, where the Holy Spirit is free to move and touch lives and lead the worship leaders to change the service mid-stride, if necessary. Those are the services that are most richly rewarding and which draw me closest to my God and my fellow believers.

Dance As Unto the Lord

Something I love about our church is that they periodically incorporate dance into the worship services. Sometimes it is just one person on stage, sometimes a group, sometimes just an adult, sometimes children. I love seeing it because it shows that, in all things, we can bring glory to God. It is especially refreshing because Christians and churches tend to get so reactionary to the very mention of dance that they miss out on another tool, another resource that can actually add to the worship atmosphere. I admit, I was little taken aback and surprised when I first saw it, but I enjoyed it greatly and still enjoy it when it is added. I do not think that there will be no dancing in heaven. The Psalmist even makes mention of dancing to the Lord. So, it is so lovely to see dancing incorporated into the worship service.

The ‘Sanctity’ of Worship

How often do you really think about what it is that God sees when you worship? I think especially of worship songs, where (it seems to me) it is so easy to simply get caught up in the moment, in the emotion of the music. I reflect back those chapel services and wonder if
sometimes there weren’t some of us who were trying to outdo everyone else with the purity and passion of our worship. There were worship times when it all felt so rehearsed, so… scripted. It kept me constantly aware of my own intentions, of my own heart, constantly analyzing and checking to make sure that my heart was true, that what I was singing and feeling was genuine adoration for this God of mine. I fear that, at times, I failed, and yet I can’t help but think that God accepted what I gave Him nonetheless.

I continue to be wary of my own intent in worship, to the point now where I often will not even sing if I feel I can’t be honest, if I can’t sing (or say) the words and really mean them. I still
wonder if the worship in our churches isn’t a little bit false, but there is really nothing I can do if it is — nothing except keep my heart and my motives pure and in so doing cause others to take notice of Christ in me. I think that is the beginning of fellowship – showing Christ in such a way as to cause others to be even more sensitive to Him.

Forced Worship

[Why is it that I always come up with my best thoughts when I’m driving down the road, listening to jazz, away from any venue where I could possibly actually record my thoughts as they come to me? I really ought to find my mini-recorder and keep it in the Explorer with me….]

I recently just finished up a CD series of Donald Carson, who spoke this past winter at Cedarville University during the annual Staley Lectureship Series. He spoke on the emergent church movement and integration of postmodernism into that movement. Something that he said really stuck out to me — postmodernism holds as one of its primary foundations the establishment of personal experience to determine truth. This method of finding ‘truth’ has crept into the church and influenced it in ways that I, personally, find somewhat alarming.

Something that has stuck in my craw for a few years now has finally been revealed to me, based upon this ‘revelation’. The worship times at Cedarville (during my five-year tenure there), especially the student-led times, often had a feeling of wrongness to them. A good friend of mine described it like this: “It was like they were ‘forcing’ us to worship, like they were saying, ‘Worship, dang it!'” This was in response to the call to worship, where the congregation was called to think on God, to think on all He has done for us, and to worship him with your heart, essentially with your feelings, your emotions. On the surface, this all sounded very good, but something still stuck out as being wrong about it. In reflection now, I see that this call to worship focused almost exclusively on the experience of God, little on the knowledge of Him and on His revealed truth through His Word. And the songs we sang, the worship choruses, were fantastic for building up emotion and describing the experience of God in our lives, but they also left me feeling theologically destitute, frequently neglecting words of Scripture, words of absolute truth to put all my experiences as a Christian, as a follower of Jehovah, into perspective in light of the Almighty One of Heaven, instead paving over them with poetic niceties. (Don’t get me wrong; I believe there is a place for this sort of worship, just not to exclusivity.) This is the wrongness that I perceived there, this almost single-minded focus on the experience, to the near-exclusion of the absolute and powerfully revealed truth of the Bible.

The weakness of this is that each individual interprets the same experience in a slightly different way, thereby gleaning a different version of the ‘truth’ than all the others. Truth suddenly becomes relative to the individual, based upon their own analysis of the experience in question. Multiple psychological studies have shown that people often define reality by their experiences, much more so in today’s world than in any other time in history. Their ideas of what is true and what is not is flavored by the circumstances they encounter each and every day. The trouble is, every single person encounters a different version of the ‘truth’ because of this approach. Of course, a postmodernist would probably now say that this all the more justification for their worldview, that nothing can ever be truly known because every person’s perspective is slightly different, that reality is constantly shifting for everyone because the only basis they have for ‘truth’ is their own experience of the world around them. They would even say that individual interpretation of the Bible as a standard for absolute truth is perpetually flawed and relative to personal experience because everyone is going to interpret the Bible according to the ways in which they perceive and experience the world. And yet, this is a flawed premise, in and of itself, for the Bible can be interpreted according to an unchanging standard and often be applied to a wide variety of circumstances and settings. All this is not to belittle the practicality of experience in determining truth. Paul himself, in many of his epistles to the early church, specifically encouraged the saints to test their faith against their own experiences and knowledge. But he also pointed them to Scripture, pointing out their sins and flaws, pointing them back to the path that leads to Christ. So, while experience is valuable for the testing of our faith and the working of our salvation, it cannot be held up exclusively as the only means for establishing truth because our own interpretations of experiences are frequently flawed and tainted by our finite sensory and cognitive capacities. The one source of truth that I am aware of that never changes (and has never changed over the centuries) is the Holy Scriptures, and while my own experiences help me understand this God that I love a little better and relate to my fellow man, they fall short of the true understanding of Him who I serve. Can I ever hope to know God and His truth fully? No. Not ever, for I am limited in my understanding, and I always, ever will be. But it is not enough to stop me from trying to learn more and understand more, from the only Source of true knowledge, for all the rest of my days. And I expect that I will often be wrong in my understanding. But I can frame my daily experiences within the context of the Word of God, and thereby gain truth and sanity and direction for my life.

Hodge-Podge

Ok, a couple of different thoughts……

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I’m pretty discouraged today at the way my fleshly lusts have pretty much pre-empted my other pursuits. For instance, I now have a PlayStation and a VERY cool video game to go with it (thanks, Hon! ). But the trouble is that this week it has completely consumed my free time, and I’ve gotten very little else done, like my house chores, homework, or even spending time with God. I hate that I’ve become so undisciplined. I don’t think it helps that my bedtime has been chaotic, and most nights I’m lucky to get 6 hours of sleep.

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A quote from a website I stumbled across:

“Anyone who wants to glorify God more fully by moving from theology (The study of the nature of God and religious truth) to doxology (An expression of praise to God…which is the heart of worship)!”

This is a good start, but it’s missing a step. How about: Theology to Doxology to Methodology? i.e. the study of the nature of God to praise and worship of God to practical application in daily life — and actually DOING it! Our generation has this really bad habit of studying and praising and forgetting about the doing. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not condemning what this study group is doing. I am merely suggesting that another step be added to the mix, one that is all too often forgotten…..

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I’m noticing a lot of discouragement and heartache is going around right now. For those of you struggling, I’ll be praying. For those of us not, we need to gather around those who are and offer Christian support. We are needed, and now is the time for us to step up and take our responsibility to show God’s love, compassion, and encouragement.

Christians and Politics

So, some Christians (I don’t really know how many) think it’s better to not get involved in the political arena because we have a more important work, that being to win souls to Christ. Yet, I have to disagree with the notion of non-involvment. It seems to me that part of our responsibility as stewards is to be involved in every arena as much as possible in order to have the greatest influence possible. Granted, our most important work is that of the Kingdom. The eternal state of man’s soul is of utmost importance, and we should be striving in everything we do to see others added to the Family.

We have a great freedom to move about and worship as we wish in this country, something few other countries can claim. Persecution is rampant across the globe, and there is greater insurgency of persecution arising here in the US, as well. And guess where that persecution originates? Politics! Many of the liberals in power have been trying to pass legislation to limit the religious freedom of Christians. The Ten Commandments dispute in Alabama is a prime example of this. And without strong, moral Christians in politics to take a strong stance against these would-be persecutors, our very freedoms might be stripped from us, freedoms that were hard-won at the foundation of this country, freedoms that were bled on by our men who fought and died for a freedom that they so dearly held to and believed in. We Christians (and conservatives) tend to be way too quiet about things, preferring to hope that the other side will see reason, come to their sense, and change their ways. Well, I have news for you, they haven’t, and they won’t. So, we have to stand strong and fight against them in order to hang on to and win back the freedoms that allow us to worship and speak freely about our faith.

I have a deep respect for the men in Congress and in local government who stand strong against their liberal, intolerant peers, as well as for the talk-show hosts who keep us informed of what we are not being told. Support these men who stand up for what is right, and exercise your voice in the voting booth each and every opportunity you have. It is our right as US citizens, as well as our responsibility as Christians.