Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Gospel Show Vs. Glorious Praise

     Someone told me once that it is possible fall off the road on both sides. It seems that there is balance to everything. For example, humility is a fine line between being boastful and having a low view of one’s self. Likewise, The Bible is full of paradox. A paradox is like a contradiction except that both are true. An example of this is that God is both merciful and just. The two don’t seem to go together very well, and yet both are true. Hebrews tells us that the bible is, “sharper than any double-edged sword” (4:12). There two sides to just about everything. In some ways we need to be careful to walk down the center of the narrow road. In other ways we need to carry the truths from both sides in order to walk forward. 

     I had the opportunity lately to worship in one of those really big churches. You know, the ones with the coffee shops and bookstores and a million people. As I walked in I was excited because I wanted to see the worship band play and the huge digital sound boards at the back of the sanctuary. It was quite a show, and as I sat there I remembered hearing a good friend of mine preach. He talked a little bit about going to the gospel show, and how so often our church services, even our Christianity is about going to the gospel show once a week. It’s not much different than going to a movie theater. You go in you sit down, you are entertained, and you hurry to leave before the traffic gets bad. If this is the extent of our Christianity we are in trouble.

     However, there is good scriptural backing for large flashy displays of worship as is often seen in mega churches (in fact I think the church I went to did an awesome job). As I look at the Psalms and passages such as I Chronicles 16, which describes a worship service after the Ark of the Covenant was brought back to Jerusalem, I see great productions of worship. Psalm 66:2 says, “Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious!” Psalm 33:3 says, “…Play skillfully and shout for joy.” Psalm 150 gets ridiculously loud. The difference between a gospel show and these passages is that here the focus of worship was not lost. (Fun little side note to study: in 1 Chronicles 15, Michal looked out to see the “show” and didn’t like it very much)

     I think the error of having a gospel show is on one side of the road and the error of having un-glorious praise is on the other. We need to be careful that our church services are not entertainment focused, but instead a life-changing meeting with our creator. Likewise, we should let God’s praise be glorious without going to far and loosing the focus of our praise. It is a fine line to walk, but I think it possible to do.

Every part of our worship service should be questioned: How does it glorify God or enhance our worship?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Emotions and Worship

Sometimes after leading worship I don’t feel like I worshiped. I know that feelings have little to do with gauging actual worship. Too often we say, “Worship was good” after an emotional high, and “worship was bad” when it is emotionally dry. I know that true worship happens in spirit and in truth – and so whether we feel good or bad while worshipping is beside the point. However there is something to be said about emotions in worship. We are emotional beings and I think our feelings are not necessary to worship but are also important to worship. So back to my first thought. Not feeling like I’ve worshiped after leading worship sometimes has caused me to ask a couple of questions. First, did I worship? And next, was I being fake or deceptive (not worshiping in truth) as I went through the actions of worship (raising hands, closing eyes, etc.) while I wasn’t feeling it?
To answer the first question, I think I did worship. Leading worship is about bringing people into the presence of God, and creating an atmosphere of worship. Now we know God never leaves us and that he is everywhere, so maybe leading worship is more about bringing people into the realization of the presence of God. I think leading worship then can be a service like holding the door to the presence of God for everyone else to pass through. Meaning that the one holding the door is, in this analogy, the last one through. Sometimes leading worship, we are the last ones through. Now I think that before we lead we need to have that realization of the presence of God, but the reason why I don’t “feel” it is because I am holding the door, I’m doing an act of service and I may be the last one to actually be able to “enter in.” This service is in it self worship. 
Maybe a better picture is of a waiter at a dinner. I like this picture because worship is not about what we get out of it. It is just the opposite. Worship is about what we can give to God. When we think of worship in this way it is funny that we expect to get anything at all out of it, we need to be content just to give. However, the awesome thing is that we do get refreshed when we worship, we just need to remember that this isn’t really the point; it’s a side effect. So back to the picture of the waiter serving a meal. The waiter is the last one to eat. Leading worship is like that, you spend your time giving and serving, and may be the last one to get something out of it, but that is fine because worship is about giving anyway. So in answer to my question: did I worship? Yes, if I came to give adoration and glory to God in my heart and actions then yes I did, no matter what I feel. 
Now on to my next question, sometimes I find myself not feeling this worship, but still going through the actions. Am I being fake? Actions that we do during worship are neat things to think about because; Jesus said in John 4 that worship happens in spirit and in truth, not in raising hands, or on your knees, etc. True worship doesn’t happen in the realm that we see. Actions are either an effect of worship, or an act of obedience. Sometimes in giving worship to God, we are overcome by him and must fall to our knees. Sometimes we are filled with joy and must dance. So then, what about the times I feel nothing? Should I sit on my hands and stare at the floor until I feel like worshiping. Or what if I am leading worship, shall I stand lifeless and explain to the other worshipers that in my effort to be truthful in worship I am going to project with my actions what I am feeling. Wait a minute, what is going on here? If I were to do that, then I would be letting my feelings dictate my worship. We have already made the point that worship is not built on feelings. Therefore I will command myself to worship. I will sing with all I have to glorify the king, whether I feel like it or not. The Psalms are full of commands to worship. Psalm 54:6 says, “…I will praise your name, O LORD, for it is good.” Therefore, I think that as long as my motives for doing the actions are obedience to a command to worship, and not deceptive or for the sake of my reputation, there is nothing wrong with it. In fact it is good. I also think that going through the motions with the intent to bring glory to God, can stimulate our emotions, and then we will be able to worship God and enjoy it too.
I hope that these thoughts on worship are encouraging to those that read them. I have been thinking about these things for some time now, and have come to these conclusions about worship. Whether a worshiper or a lead worshiper, it is definitely not about us. We need to shift our focus off of ourselves and onto God. Meaning that whether we feel like worshiping or not, we still do. Whether that means that we worship in dry service at times, or we command ourselves to bring glory to God through our actions. Either way, as long as our hearts are in a place of adoration, and not on glorifying ourselves, we are worshiping. 
Psalm 34:1 I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always