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Posts Tagged ‘Engaging ourselves in worship’

Not long ago, the church where our son Jeremy is pastor completed a major renovation of their sanctuary. As you can imagine, not every change was celebrated by every person. We all know: you can’t please all the people all the time—even at church.

 

 

One recent Sunday a long-time member named Mike* was asked to pray during the Sunday worship service. Only he didn’t pray; he addressed the congregation instead.

“Most of you know I didn’t approve the remodeling of our church,” he began. “I liked it just the way it was. In fact, the beauty of the sanctuary was one of the reasons my family and I made this church our home in the first place.”

Jeremy’s heart sank.  How much damage would this reproach cause among a congregation that was rejuvenating and growing?

Mike paused and took a deep breath. Every eye was focused on him; not one program rustled.

“BUT!” he said in a louder voice. “This isn’t about me; this is about God. This is not my building; it’s God’s. And I can’t speak for you, but I’m going to worship in this church no matter the changes in structure or decor.”

Mike paused again, and then announced, “Now let us pray.”

Mike gets it: Worship is not about us.  It’s about God.

 

 

In our consumer culture, however, we’ve unconsciously fallen into viewing worship with a consumer attitude:

  • “I need a church where I feel comfortable.”
  • “I need worship to lift my spirit, especially after a hard week.”
  • “I need sermons that will give me guidance and strength, especially with all the issues I face right now.”

And when these expectations aren’t met, we feel cheated somehow.

But the word worship has nothing to do with our needs. It means worth-ship.

Worship is something we do to express our awe, love and respect for God—not something we receive.

 

 

When I make worship about me—my preferences and my desires, I’m putting myself in the place of God.

Ouch.

So how might I focus my attention to truly worship God and not drift into Me-Mode? Several possibilities offer a place to begin.

  1. Empty myself of me.

With Jesus as my role model, I can pray to empty myself of my own desires (Philippians 2:7):

Father in heaven, during worship today may: 1) my eyes be fixed on you with undistracted focus (Psalm 141:8), 2) my meditation be pure and pleasing in your sight (Psalm 19:14), and 3) my heart be humble, tender, and responsive to your Spirit (James 4:10).

 

 

  1. Determine to be an enthusiastic participant.

We’re not meant to be an audience as we sit or stand in church. We’re meant to be performers of praise and instruments being tuned for obedience. Our audience is God—an audience of One**.

 

  1. Seek after God, not an emotional experience.

Sure, there are times when worship lifts me into spiritual euphoria. But it would be a mistake to expect such moments every week.

However! I can enter worship with the expectation of blessing my Heavenly Father with gratitude, praise, and adoration. And I can expect to experience joy in his presence (Psalm 16:11).

 

 

In addition to joy in worship, God also promises other benefits including his goodness (Psalm 31:19), rest and refuge (Psalm 91:1-2), strength (Psalm 138:2-3), and peace (Isaiah 26:3).

Isn’t that just like our Heavenly Father? We seek to bless him with our worship, and he blesses us many times over with what we really need.

___________________________

 

*Name changed.

** Big Daddy Weave composed a meaningful song by that title (2002). You can access it here.

 

Art & photo credits: Nancy Ruegg with http://www.canva.com (2); http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg with http://www.canva.com (2).

 

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Most Sunday mornings, I have no trouble engaging in worship. Between the lyrics of the songs, scripture-readings, and the leader’s comments, I’m quickly transported into God’s presence and worshiping with gladness (Psalm 100:2). Sometimes my heart soars to the very gates of heaven and the joy overflows as tears.

But not always. There are other times when my heart seems numb, for no apparent reason. Why is that, and should I be concerned?

Perhaps. If I’ve allowed unconfessed sin to fester, then my connection to God will be negatively impacted.

But what if I have addressed my shortcomings with God, and still feel disconnected? What then?

I need to remember the following:

  • Worship is sometimes an act of the will. “Put your hope in God,” the psalmist said, “for I will yet praise him” (Psalm 42:5). Worship wasn’t meant to be reserved only for moments of elation; it’s a choice. Job is a perfect example. After he was stripped of everything—cattle, flocks, servants, even his children—Job worshiped (Job 1:20). That astounds me.

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  • God isn’t as concerned about our feelings during worship as he is about our sincerity (John 4:24). We can earnestly worship even if spiritual bliss eludes us.
  • God hasn’t promised we’ll always feel his presence. Sometimes he intentionally hides his face (Isaiah 45:15). It’s part of our maturation process that he occasionally allows a bit of distance between him and us.

I remember the first day of kindergarten. My mother dropped me off in front of the school, and told me to go inside to the classroom we had visited.

I would have much preferred if she had walked with me and made sure all was well before leaving me to fend for myself. What if I couldn’t find the right classroom, or the teacher wasn’t there?

But allowing me this bit of separation was part of my maturing process. I needed to learn I could trust Mom’s instructions—even when she wasn’t in sight. (Lest you think my parents were negligent, kindergarten was just inside the school door, to the left!)

In review:

  1. Sometimes worship is an act of the will.
  2. Sincerity is more important than feelings.
  3. Sometimes God distances himself a bit to grow our trust.

But would we be wrong to do what we can to forge a stronger connection to God, and, as a result, engage our emotions more fully?

I don’t think so.

David offers several examples in the psalms, when he expressed his honest feelings of abandonment, depression, dejection and more. He did not end his honest proclamations on a negative note, but concluded with expressions of praise and assurance, which surely impacted his emotions. (See Psalm 77:1-15 for one example).*

 

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We can foster a stronger connection to God, and augment our worship with:

  • Gratitude – Even on our way to church, we can thank him for creation and his many blessings. Gratitude turns our gaze toward heaven.
  • Meditative Prayer – Before the service begins, praise God for his attributes, demonstrated day by day the previous week. Meditation ushers us into the presence of God.
  • Focus – Stay attentive to the words of the music, the scripture, the prayer. Fight against wandering thoughts. “If worship is mindless, it is meaningless” (Rick Warren).
  • Visualization – Imagine God on his throne, radiant with light, majestic and glorious, raised up in the sanctuary. See our resplendent God who is highly worthy of our full attention!

 

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As our spirits become engaged in these ways, the emotions of awestruck wonder, unspeakable joy, and overwhelming love will undoubtedly follow!

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

What do you do that helps to connect you with God during worship? Share with us in the Comment section below!

*(No doubt these psalms were not written during Sabbath worship. Surely David worshiped God every day, to his benefit and for God’s pleasure. But that’s a topic for another post!)

(Art & photo credits:  www.ohbejoyfulchurch.org; http://www.bibleencyclopedia.com; http://www.banah.org; http://www.godthetruth.ws.)

 

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