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Rediscovering Worship

Worship.  We have so many ways to define this word, but mostly we categorize it as singing songs to or about God, usually in the context of some kind of religious service.  Yes, we consider many other things “acts of worship,” such as prayer, giving, and service, but mostly when we say “worship,” we mean music, and that’s what we’re going to explore here.  How can we become better worshipers, worship leaders, and presence-of-God experiencers through song?

I don’t consider myself to be an expert on worship, nor do I believe we can really measure someone’s ability to worship or not worship.  But in my experiences worshiping with artists, musicians, congregations, houses of prayer, and privately, I have come to discover some important truths that will help shape your personal worship and the worship you lead with others. 

But before we begin, there are a couple of questions we need to answer.  First, what is worship really?  And second, what should it mean to us and to God in the course of our daily lives?

Worship, coming from the old English word “worthscipe” means “to ascribe worth to.”  In essence, it means that we perform some action that declares or responds to the worth or value of the being or object we worship.

With that in mind, we can see that we worship all sorts of things, all of the time.  When we give our time to something, we declare it worthy.  When we buy a gift for a loved one, we are showing them that they have value to us.  When we take time to listen to someone, or to watch a TV show or movie, or when we read a book, we are declaring them to be worthy of our attention and worthy of the opportunity to shape us and change us.

And to an extent, these types of worship are ok.  God created us for unity with others, and loving each other means valuing each other, means being vulnerable with each other, means making sacrifices for each other.  Even this can be worship to the God who created us all, just like when someone does something above and beyond for my wife or son, it brings me great joy and blessing.

But what about worshiping the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Emmanuel, God?

A Response

First, we must realize that our worship is a response to something God has already done.  “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  Think of it like this…

You’re hiking the foothills of a beautiful snow-capped mountain.  As you come over the crest of a hill, you find yourself gazing upon a crystal clear lake, the white peaked mountains in the background, reflecting a sensational sunrise full of deep reds and oranges and yellows dancing across the water.  Two deer walk by and pause for a drink.  A bald eagle calls out overhead.  Your mouth drops, and all you can say is “wow!”

That is worship… that awe-inspiring moment of “wow!”  It’s ascribing worth to the beauty of creation.  And all you want to do from that moment, once you’ve taken it in for yourself, is snap a picture and share it with everyone you know, inviting them into the experience with you.

This is exactly how it should be with God.  And perhaps it’s why the psalmist exhorts us to “enter His gates with thanksgiving, His courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4).  We come in already worshiping, because God has been so good to us.  He is that experience that we just have to share; the love that we just can’t stop talking about; our source of joy and all that is good.  He’s just that worthy.

But this kind of worship doesn’t come from reading words on a screen or singing along with your favorite song on the radio.  It doesn’t exclude those things either, but it is rather a position of the heart.  It can come at any moment, in any group of people, with music or without, on key and with harmony or completely the opposite.  It is that moment when you experience God, or you reflect on His movement in your life, and all you can say is “wow!”

This is described in Revelation when the heavenly beings around the throne cry out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” (Revelation 4:8)  And this is what I believe is the start to true, genuine and transformational worship.  It’s not a song that reminds us of God’s goodness (though this might lead us into true worship), but a song that is birthed out of God’s goodness.

A Declaration

When we find ourselves in this kind of responsive worship, especially in a group setting, there is something contagious about it that causes us to want to share the experience with others.  God is just too good to keep to ourselves.

Like the mountaintop experience that you post immediately to facebook, so all your friends can see, God’s love and goodness compels us to share Him with everyone we know.  And so our worship becomes a declaration.

You know how it is when you fall in love for the first time.  All you can talk about is your lover, sometimes to the point that friends and family start avoiding you because they don’t want to hear about it anymore.  But if they could just experience what you experience!

Or look at the latest superstar and how the media can’t stop talking about them; how our tweets and posts and hairstyles reflect the “greatness” of our earthly heroes; how we talk about them with our friends, watch their movies, listen to their music, and repeat all the rumors about their private lives.

If that’s not worship, I’m not sure what is.  And so it should be with God.  How better can we ascribe worth to God than to get everyone in the world to do it with us.

A Conversation

It’s true, by its definition worship only has to go one way.  But, if God is really about relationship with His people, don’t you think He wants to be involved in the process?  And if worship is really to be transformational for us, do we not need to receive as much as we give (if not more)?

Worship is communion with God; fellowship; quality time; a conversation; a duet; a dance.  But how often do we actually take time to listen and receive in our worship?  Or do we spend the whole time talking, bringing our praise, our requests, and our declarations, but never stopping to experience His love, hear His words, or accept His loving gaze?

We may enter His gates with thanksgiving, but we enter them to get to the Holy of Holies – that place where we encounter God face-to-face; where He speaks to us; where He heals us; where He gives us direction and courage and strength.  And thus, our worship is incomplete if we don’t open ourselves to receive and to be transformed (to change).

And after He speaks?  We respond again.  Sometimes in the Holy of Holies, we just listen.  Other times we stay there and ask questions.  But always, we should leave there the same way we came in – in praise and thanksgiving; taking His words and His love out to the world in continued worship through declaration and service.

It Brings Us Together

In John 17:21, Jesus prays that we would be one, both with the Triune God and with each other.  In one of His final and most emotional prayers, our unity becomes His focus.  And why?  Because, God is love.  And love = unity.

So when we worship, responsively, declaratively, and conversationally, we come one – one with God and one with our fellow worshipers.  It’s a beautiful thing.

But why involve others?  Can’t we just have God all to ourselves and enjoy our private intimacy?  It certainly seems safer that way.

Well think of it this way.  You can experience one mountain lake, from one side, from one perspective at a time.  But when you trade your pictures with people from the other side of the lake, you begin to notice the beauty of the valleys; the trickling waterfalls that fill the lake from mountain springs; the look on your own face as you experience this awe-inspiring moment. 

God is far too great for you to experience all at once, or even in all the combined experiences of your lifetime.  You need others to help you see a new perspective – to understand the full character of God in multiple times and circumstances and to see an accurate view of yourself in relationship to Him.

And that’s why we have pre-written songs, with leaders and words in a book or on a screen in front of us.  So we can all sing together of the great love that sets us free.  So we realize that God is over us all together.  So we can tear down the walls of pride and professionalism that stand between us.

Worship is one of God’s answers to that prayer that we would become one.  It’s that time spent together that draws us deeper into relationship with God, and the common focus and working of the Holy Spirit that brings us together with each other.

It’s Completely Natural

This section is titled “Rediscovering Worship” for a reason.  You see, it’s not something we have to be taught.  It’s not something we have to figure out.  No, we are all born with the ability to worship.  It’s as natural as saying “wow!” when we see the deer drinking from the mountain lake.

But we have learned over time to hide our response; to be protective; to act professional; to not scare the guests.  We’ve learned to fake it when we don’t feel very worshipful.  We’ve learned to disguise it from non-believers.  And so, when we talk of learning how to worship, it’s not a discovery, but a REdiscovery that we need.  It’s an UNlearning of what we have witnessed about worship or about the world or about God or about ourselves that will finally allow us the freedom to worship like we were born to worship.

So as we continue this exploration or worship, let’s unlearn some things together, and let’s come back to the joy of responding and ascribing worth to our first love.

Continue to First Love ->
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