It’s the late sixties, and a mother takes her young daughter to a new church in a new city they’ve recently moved to for Sunday morning worship. But, even though it’s the same denomination the mother has grown up in and—to date—raised her daughter in, this church is different. “Strange” actually, according to the mother. Why does she label it “strange”? Because nowhere in decibel range is the sound of an organ vibrating the walls or a stole-clad choir harmonizing a two-hundred-year-old hymn. Instead, there’s a longhaired guy playing (gasp!) a guitar, playing an unfamiliar song! The service has a more relaxed feel than a high church service. The mother endures the service but beelines out the door and goes straight home afterward. No stopping to meet anyone else, or chatting with the pastor. No enjoying coffee, punch, and cookies in the fellowship hall. And that’s it. They never attend that church, or any other church, on a regular basis again.
Was this mom right in her assessment of guitar playing being “strange” (and, consequently, just too weird to accept) in a Sunday worship service? Or was she attending church with her own set of prejudices and overarching comforts and “likes” at the forefront of her worship? Her ingrained perceptions and idea of “church”? Her comfort pre-eminent in her decision-making.
The above recount is true. I was that young girl, and the woman is my mother. Forty-something years later, it’s still the same: congregants arguing about how service should “look”, what songs should be sung, what instruments should be used during worship, what order the service needs to be, who needs to do what, and who’s in charge.
If you missed last week’s post, I recommend that you head back there to read that one before reading this post, because we’re expounding on what was covered last week. We’re talking about worship and whom it’s meant to be for. Hopefully you’ve had an opportunity to do some of the exercises I suggested at the end of last week’s post, and also had an opportunity to listen to Dr. Steve Ingino’s message on worship (and have a good laugh!).
But if not, we can still move ahead with some realities to ponder and carry with us this week, and into our worship.
Who—and what—is worship all about, anyway?
I think maybe my mother forgot the point of worship. Or maybe, like so many church attenders, she never really knew what the point was. Is it social time, to gather with friends and catch up on the week’s activities? Is it weekly entertainment, or a pastor-driven encouragement “group” session?
When you get right down to it, worship is a culmination of your (and other people’s) response to God’s word—its revelation, the miracle and joy of the Gospel, of the person of Jesus Christ, and the mercy and grace of God. And that means: “the word of God is the fuel for the worship of God.” When we know the word of God—the rich history, the stories, the losses and victories, the drama, the transforming truths—we have a deeper worship bag to reach into for resources.
And the great news about that is that listening to the word of God, or reading it, is an act of worship itself! So when you’re curled up in your favorite chair, perusing God’s word, digging into the stories and truths, you’re learning more about Him and growing closer to Him. Like Mary in the New Testament, you’re sitting at His feet to learn. You’re worshipping Him by listening to Him. You’re choosing the best, and that pleases Him!
In the 12th chapter of the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul pleads with the believers to offer their bodies as willing sacrifices to God. When you worship, you really are offering yourself to Him as a sacrifice. You’re thanking Him for accepting you as a sacrifice, and for offering Himself so that you could be praising Him like you are. You’re thanking Him for the gifts and talents with which He has endowed you, and for the means to express them. You’re thanking Him for the hope that resides in your heart.
While it’s always nice to feel charged up, replenished, and filled by the music or the message, it’s really not what we get out of worship but what God gets out of it that matters. Do we honor Him with what we say, the words we sing, the attitudes of hearts that we bring—and offer—to Him? Worship is about Him being the center of your life, and letting Him know that He is.
What kind of music should be sung?
This question—and response—has caused raucous fights and church splitting. It is a perfect example of the sarcastic joke: “When Satan fell from heaven, he ended up falling into the choir loft.” Do you prefer modern choruses with repetitive verses, old-time gospel songs, upbeat beats, or slow, tear-jerking dirges that make you feel more holy and serious?
Before you look down your nose at one method and mentally (and verbally) exalt another, let’s do a little reality check.
When the Apostle Paul refers to singing psalms and hymns, he’s referring to those used and written in the Old Testament. Songs, poems, and praises used in Judaism for thousands of years. Songs written by David and other Psalmists. Songs written and sung by Moses and Miriam.
A quick flip in your Bible to the last Psalm (150) gives us an overview of praising the Lord. It tells us to:
Praise God in both the organizational building and in earth–inside and outside;
Praise God for His mighty acts;
Praise Him for His excellent greatness (for who He is);
Praise Him with:
loud cymbals (see that loud part!?)
clashing cymbals (more loud)
Sounds like the combination of an orchestra and a brass band! Lots of noise, to be sure. And dancing!! Oh, my, how could we ever do dancing in worship!? (For years many denominations didn’t allow their members to dance, let alone consider doing it in their churches.)
To be sure, as Dr. Ingino says, “Christianity is a singing faith,” as is the Jewish faith it’s built upon. (Attend worship in a Jewish synagogue to hear the cantor sing Scripture. It’ll give you goose bumps!)
And the most frequently mentioned instrument for praise use in the Bible is the lyre, which is a stringed instrument that sounds like a guitar! Uh, oh. Psalms are to be sung with the plucking sound of a stringed instrument. Isn’t that some kind of heresy??? Yet, as Steve Ingino points out, “We get so hung up on what instrument is used that we miss true worship.”
Many would read this instrument (and action) list and find it irreverent, or blasphemous. They’d argue vehemently against the guitars, the dancing, the tambourines. One of the liveliest worship services I’ve ever witnessed was at Glide Memorial Methodist Church in San Francisco. The small band was composed of professional musicians who knew how to toot trumpets, slide trombones, and swing saxes. The keyboardist was rocking his keyboard stand, and the guy signing the worship songs practically put on his own show of exuberant worship! While I wouldn’t support this church’s theology, these people knew how to praise, and they didn’t hold back!
And then there was another praise and worship event I witnessed. I remember vividly back to a day on my Midwest college campus, either late spring or early summer, when the weather was perfect and the mood relaxed. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was trudging solitarily across the Memorial Mall, on my way somewhere. As I passed the library, a group of young men and women caught my attention. They were seated in a large circle on the grass, enjoying lively conversation. Then they stood in unison and joined hands as one of them lifted a tambourine to play. As the instrumentalist expertly rattled and tapped the tambourine, the circle moved clockwise and then retraced their steps in a beautifully orchestrated rhythm and choreography. They swayed and, with hands clasped, lifted their arms high in unison. They drew together in a tight bunch and then enlarged their circle again.
I was mesmerized. If I closed my eyes and imagined, they could have been Miriam, Moses, and the Israelites extolling God’s miraculous parting of the Red Sea. They were clearly Jewish, (some of their clothing revealed their faith), and lavish and happy in their praises of the Almighty. And I was envious. Oh, how my heart and body longed to worship with them, to at least know how to worship like them.
And now I do know. And the more I know about the Lord, the more songs I sing, with gusto. The more reasons I have to sing! Sunday worship seems like a little taste of heaven to me—the gathering together of other believers at the throne of God. All of us bringing our individual joys and concerns before Him, our individual praises—raised as one collective voice! My kids always roll their eyes at me when I do it, (and when I required them to suffer me when they were young and go along, too), but I nearly always attend worship whenever I am traveling or vacationing. I love to see how the other churches worship in their communities; I love that little taste of heaven I’m fed when I gather with other Christians and feel the shared faith and hope that permeates our hearts, that draws us together before the Lord. That makes us one, together, in His body. I LOVE feeling as though I belong and am at home, even though I might be a thousand miles removed from my “home” town. I imagine what it will be like when we gather en masse in Heaven to worship before Him. I wonder how many of them I’ll run into in Heaven. Just the thought of it makes me sing! And I smile at the vision of David dancing before the Lord, banging on his tambourine, (just as he did before the Ark of the Covenant), leading a mighty choir of angels and the rest of us in vocal tribute to God.
There is just one final point to consider, whether it is following a time of worship, your daily devotion time, a time of fellowship with friends, or following a Sunday morning worship service. Instead of asking, “Was it a good worship service today?” ask, “Was I a good worshipper today? Did I honor God with my heart, my songs, and my prayers? Was I pleasing to Him? Did He delight in my worship of Him?”
I hope your heart can answer a jubilant “Yes!”
Take-away points (nice reminders when you’re preparing for—and in—worship):
1. Worship is for God. It’s all about Him.
2. Knowing God’s word fuels your worship of Him! If that’s true, then logic tells us that if we want to have deeper worship experiences then we need to spend more time in God’s word. Make time for that precious word and watch your worship expand and deepen!
3. Thank God for all of the ways He’s given us to worship Him. Ask Him to open your heart to styles and approaches that are pleasing to Him, not preferential to you. Can you really imagine yourself angrily crossing your arms across your chest, scowling and pouting because drums, tambourines, and a lyre were being played during a praise time in Heaven!? Just because you prefer a robed choir? Conjures up a silly, embarrassing picture, doesn’t it?
Who is worship about, and for, anyway?
“Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God.
It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness,
Nourishment of mind by His truth,
Purifying of imagination by His beauty,
Opening of the heart to His love,
And submission of will to his purpose.
And all this gathered up in adoration is the greatest of human expressions of which we are capable.”
And I would add, enabled by our faith in Him from His grace to us by His Spirit of truth because of His love for us seen in His Son Jesus Christ.
William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1942-1944
The second Monday in September we’ll be returning to our study of peace!
Until next Monday, may your week be full of blessings that you receive and give, your heart be full of joy and thankfulness, and your days be filled with laughter. Build a little heaven in your life right now, and watch your heavenly garden grow!
And may your heart overflow with worship!
When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth. ~ A. W. Tozer
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