Articles written by PurposeCity about Worship

Applause

Remember The Applause

When was the last time you truly applauded something? Maybe you cheered loudly as you sported your team’s color for the Super Bowl or perhaps you’ve recently seen an amazing concert where you screamed as you heard your favorite song. Regardless of when, where, or for whom you ‘applauded,’ there is something exciting about giving praise. As Christians, we are called to make loud applause for our King. We know this and we have been programmed to think that our applause happens most consistently during weekly worship services. Yet the reality is, an applause is short lived and we are called to live out a standing ovation in all things, at all times, when it comes to proclaiming Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Applause has become a rather secular word in many ways within our culture. Lady Gaga was not shy when she sang ‘the applause, applause, applause’ entertaining fans throughout the nation. Yet, as I was contemplating the idea of applause, I realized that it is merely a way to give proper attention by honoring a certain thing at a very specific time. Whether it is a sporting event, a musical show, or an election, applause is a form of human involvement that esteems something. However, by the same token, applause doesn’t last forever. Applause is specifically designed to eventually die out. One of the best Biblical examples I can think of is the celebration of Palm Sunday. Jesus came into town on a donkey and was heroically honored through the act of people throwing down palm branches and applauding His entrance:

They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12:13)

Yet, we can read on and see that the beautiful response He received eventually became silenced and met by a new crowd with a very different opinion proclaiming “crucify Him” instead of “Hosanna.”

So how do we keep our applause resounding?

How do we, as Christians, allow people to see our excitement about our faith? Indeed, we have something worth focusing our attention on completely and fully through our loud praises. How can we allow others to participate in the greatest celebration we and they will ever know? I have created a way in which I remember to applaud Jesus in my everyday life through a helpful acronym entitled CLAP:

C – Correcting
L – Long
A – Adore
P – Point

C-L-A-P encompasses some of the important elements to living a life in standing ovation, a life in unending applause for who Jesus is and what He has done.

The first step is held within the C, which stands for C-orrecting.

The truth is that we all have to correct some areas in our life for our applause to ring out authentic to others around us… and we can’t correct without first surrendering. If we truly want to be transformed into the likeness of God, we must be willing to surrender and correct the areas in our life which are currently not bringing the rightful praise to our God.

Next we must L-ong for His presence.

It is pointless to applaud someone or something you have no desire for.We can’t long after something without having a desire first.We must learn how to long after Christ and His heart. In fact, praying or singing, “Break my heart for what breaks yours” is one of the most humbling and dangerous prayers. As we long for God in all areas of our lives, we desire to see His heart for things clearly – this gives Him a lasting applause.

The next part of C-L-A-P is to A-dore.

Adore is a beautiful word and I love the very sound of it because to adore something is to be completely overwhelmed by its entirety. I adore my puppy. She can do no wrong. Even when she is wrong, I see her wagging her blonde tail and sticking out her little pink tongue and all is forgiven. We must adore Christ. We must applaud Him by constantly recognizing that He is a good God and that He loves us. It is very hard to adore something that you do not love. We must recognize God first loved and adored us. If you struggle with adoration, perhaps you need to fall in love all over again with your Savior.

Finally, we must P-oint.

We must release our hands metaphorically from making noise and point to something bigger than ourselves. Pointing requires focus just like a bow and an arrow needs a target. We must make sure that our actions are pointing towards a Kingdom mindset. It is very hard to focus on something that does not consume and capture your mind.

To truly applaud God as center of our lives we must re-learn how to C-L-A-P. We must be willing to correct through surrendering the areas in our lives that are doing Him a disservice as His ambassadors. We must long to be with Him. The more time we spend desiring Him, the more He hears the praise, glory and honor He is due. We must also adore Him. We can adore Him through all areas of our lives, while we serve others and while we serve His personal purpose for us. Lastly, we must point to Him. It isn’t enough to just correct our shortcomings and then long after and adore Him; we must point others to Him. Our applause is muted if we are unable to share it. The joy of cheering is best done in a crowd. We should want others to applaud Jesus just as much as we enjoy devoting our attention to showering Him with lavish praise.

I encourage you to remember the “applause, applause, applause” as Lady Gaga so aptly said. Remember it when you give short lived applause to temporary things. Remember it when you participate in it with others and I pray that you remember to live it out through the use of a C-L-A-P-ping when it comes to your faith. I can only think of one reason to give a standing ovation for eternity with saints and angels surrounding God’s throne and I want all of us to get better at practicing it while on earth, all the while, helping others applaud with permanent tribute.

 

Depression

Christianity and Depression – Part Four: Living as an Introvert

I’m an introvert.  It’s no secret, and, to those who have spent thirty seconds around me, it’s no surprise.  I can’t say that my introversion informs my depression any more than I could say another’s extroversion informs their excitement.  While your personality and your mental health are mutually exclusive to a certain degree, I have found, in my years of participation in Christian community, that, just as we have a long way to go making room for our depressed brothers and sisters, so too do we have a long way to go in making the Church a kind of place where introverts can connect.

Over the last few years, as my involvement in Christian leadership has expanded, I began to notice a disturbing trend: a trend that boiled down to the formula “church = party.” I lost track of the number of conversations I had with other pastors and well-intentioned church folk on how to make the church more enthusiastic, sociable and X-treme. Quietly I wondered where amid the cacophony I was supposed to fit in.  As an introvert who deals with clinical depression, often the last thing I would choose to be a part of involves such things, and in my reading of Christian history I believe we as the present iteration of the historical Church may even be approaching error wanting to make Christianity more about the party than what it really is:

We are simply to be the community of followers of Jesus Christ who exist for His worship and the expansion of His kingdom.

Therein lies part of the confusion.  Isn’t the idea of Christian worship supposed to elicit exuberance?  Oughtn’t we be endlessly and overly excited by our relationship with Jesus such that we overflow with outward praise?  After all, Paul writing in Philippians 4:4 tells us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say Rejoice!”  How much clearer could our biblical mandate to party for Jesus be?  I guess introverts like me, and even those dealing with mental health issues, ought to buck up and get with the program.  But notice how Paul follows up that very verse: Philippians 4:5 says “Let your gentle spirit be known to all.  The Lord is near.” How could that be?  How could Paul tell this congregation to rejoice always but then to let their gentleness be that which makes them known?

Could there be room for both the excitement and the seriousness of faith in God through Jesus?  Of course.

I spent the majority of my ministry career, prior to my current appointment, as a contemporary worship leader, leading the party each week, feigning excitement when it didn’t come naturally – it was exhausting.  Over the last year and a half serving on the staff of a liturgical church, we worship through recitation of the Creeds, rote prayers, weekly sacramental communion, kneeling, hymn singing, and I feel refreshed each week that we do.  I argue that we need both of those expressions of worship, and the many more that exist within orthodoxy (charismatic, traditional, blended, etc.), not only because the types of worshiper varies dramatically, but also because the God we worship is infinitely larger than any one form of worship could hope to express.  God is both endlessly exuberant and endlessly somber; infinitely elated and infinitely sorrowful (Isaiah 53:3); immanent and transcendent, and our worship ought to try to at least approximate His vastness, though we could never come close.

I challenge you to consider how much room you make for the seriousness or excitement of Christianity. It is not a bad thing to be an introvert, just as it is not a bad thing to be an extrovert. Weigh your conversations about how exciting things are against your conversations about how deep, meaningful, even silent they could be.  And if you are like me and wary of engaging in Christian community because the specter of a personal element can be off-putting, know that the part of you which is introverted is indeed a part that reflects the image of God, and it is one that the church sorely needs.

 

How to Lead Worship

How to Lead Worship

As someone who has lead corporate worship in the Church for the past ten years, I’ve come to understand and appreciate the importance that music plays in people’s lives. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow famously wrote, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” So it should come as no surprise that the songs we sing on Sunday morning can, and should, have a profound impact on the gathered Church.

That’s why, as a Worship Pastor, I take the task of planning a worship service very seriously. While worship is about so much more than music, there’s no avoiding the fact that music has a vital role to play in our worship. God Himself commands us to sing His praises all throughout Scripture (Psalm 96:1-3, Psalm 47:6-7, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16), and we ought to do so to the best of our ability (Psalm 33:3).

I need to be careful, however, to always ensure the spotlight is on God, not me. After all he’s the one we gather together to glorify, not the worship band. So, I can focus on choosing songs that will allow me to show off my voice, or I can focus on choosing songs that the congregation can easily learn and sing along to. I can focus on choosing the latest and greatest songs that may lack theological content, or I can focus on choosing songs that proclaim the character of God and the work Jesus accomplished on the cross. I can get caught up in my own little world while leading worship, concerning myself more with my own worship time rather than the congregation’s ability to worship, or I can focus on helping people encounter God through the songs that we sing. While it seems obvious where our focus should be, how many times have you sat through a church service where the opposite was true?

With that in mind, I’d like to share with you the outline I use when planning a worship service that helps me keep God as the focus above all else. If you’re a worship leader, my hope is that while reading this “how to lead worship” you’ll prayerfully take these thoughts to heart:

1. Live a Life of Worship

Does your life throughout the week reflect the image you project on Sunday morning? As a worship leader, the greatest impact you’ll have on the lives of your congregation is the example you set with your lifestyle. It doesn’t matter how great a musician you are, or how well planned and executed your worship set was on Sunday morning if your life outside of church isn’t a reflection of the One that you lead people to worship every week. That doesn’t mean we need to be perfect. Far from it. But we can’t lead people in true worship if we don’t experience it in our own daily lives.

2. Is God the Center?

When we sing, the purpose should be to bring glory to God. Whether we sing songs about His holiness, His love, His righteousness, or the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ, our songs should always be firmly focused on God. But so many modern worship songs today focus on us, rather than God. Other songs, while having a great melody that’s easy to learn and which may elicit an emotional response, offer little theological content. Do songs like this bring glory to God, or glory to us? Our focus must always be on singing songs that bring glory and praise to God alone.

3. Traditional vs. Contemporary

There was a time when I refused to lead my congregation in the singing of hymns. Because I grew up in a traditional Baptist church that sang only hymns and choruses (with as much liveliness as you’d find in a morgue) I associated hymns with that negative concept of church. I doubt I’m alone in experience. But because of that kind of experience, I believe many of us pit traditional hymns against contemporary worship songs as if they’re adversaries, when in reality the opposite is true. I now have a deep appreciation for hymns because of the rich theological content they contain, and I love how their more complex lyrics can so nicely complement the simpler lyrics of many modern worship songs. So I don’t advocate singing only traditional hymns or only contemporary worship songs in your worship service. Instead, the ideal scenario is a healthy combination of the two.

4. Balancing Complexity and Simplicity

Poet William Cowper once wrote that “variety is the spice of life,” and I believe that’s true of the music in our worship services. If we sang only hymns we may gain a strong theological foundation for our worship, but we might lack modern worship music’s ability to emotionally stir our affections toward God. But if we sang only modern worship songs, we might make worship more about the way we feel than about who God is. So it’s not a matter of focusing on how complex hymns can be, or how simple modern worship songs can be, but rather it’s a matter of balancing the two together. Personally, I incorporate at least one hymn into every worship service, and often it’s more than that. The real goal should be to ensure that your worship service has a nice mixture of more complex, theologically rich songs (hymns or otherwise) and simpler worship songs that enables everyone to worship God with both their hearts and their minds.

5. Avoid Mindless Worship

Mindless worship creeps into our worship services more than we realize. If we sing the same songs often enough, eventually we stop thinking about what we’re singing, and the words can lose all meaning to us. That’s one reason why I like to introduce a new song at least once or twice a month. A fresh song can often give us a fresh perspective. It’s also the reason I don’t force songs on my congregation if they clearly don’t connect with them after a couple attempts. It doesn’t matter how much I love a song, if it’s not connecting with the congregation then there’s no value in singing it. But we can’t always do new songs, so it’s important to help the congregation connect, or re-connect, with the old faithful songs. That might mean incorporating a personal story with the song, reading Scripture that ties in to the message of the song, or simply reading some of the song’s lyrics before to let the meaning sink in. Whatever method you choose, remember that the end goal is to help people encounter God.

6. The Twenty-Year Rule

A few years ago I read a book by Bob Kauflin titled, “Worship Matters.” It’s a must-read book for every worship leader. But if there was one teaching from the book that stuck with me above all else, it was Kauflin’s concept of the Twenty-Year Rule, which he describes as follows:

“If someone was born in our church and grew up singing our songs over the course of twenty years, how well would they know God? Would these songs give them a biblical and comprehensive view of God, or would they be exposed only to certain aspects of his nature and works? Would they learn that God is holy, wise, omnipotent, and sovereign? Would they know God as Creator and Sustainer? Would they understand the glory and centrality of the Gospel? Or would they think worship is about music, and not much more?”

The Twenty-Year Rule is at the forefront of my mind when picking songs for Sunday morning. While every song I pick isn’t going to be a complex breakdown of the character of God, as we’ve already discussed, I do want to make certain that the songs we sing paint a picture of who God is. That might mean I focus on His holiness one week, His love the next week, etc., but in the end I want to ensure my congregation is getting a comprehensive view of who God is.

7. Tell the Story

In the end, it all comes down to telling a story. Years ago, when leading worship was still very new to me, I picked songs without much rhyme or reason. All I did was follow the standard worship service model: start with a few fast songs and work your way towards ending with a few slower songs. I’d make sure a lot of these songs were done in the same key as well, because naturally that meant they fit together better.

I’ve learned a lot since then. I’m still very concerned with songs fitting together, but in a much different way. I realize now that the songs I choose need to tell a story. A big factor in being able to do that effectively is working with your pastor to know the sermon topic and Scripture he’s going to be teaching on each week. Armed with that information, you’ll be able to more effectively select songs around a particular theme that will complement and enhance the message being preached. If the theme is about the holiness of God, then tell that story with your song choices. If the theme is about Jesus as our Savior, then tell the story of our trespasses with sin and the Amazing Grace that God offers us. People connect with stories. And if your songs tell a story, then your congregation will experience a greater connection with God through singing them.

Remember that in the end your primary role as a worship leader is to be a teacher. If you’re telling a story, it’s for the purpose of teaching people the meaning of that story. Through the songs that you sing, you’re teaching people who God is and what He has done. And that’s a great story to tell.

 

Grace and Mercy

The Ten Lepers: Grace, Mercy, and Thanksgiving

Have you ever given someone a gift and received no letter or word of gratitude in return? While I don’t believe in keeping score, I can indeed remember a few instances where I was a little taken back by the lack of thankfulness for a gift that I had given someone. In fact, if you are anything like me, you might have even wondered, did they get the gift and if they did, did they not like it? The reality is,” thank you” is so easy to say, yet often not expressed nearly enough.

There is a fascinating story in the Bible that leaves me with more questions than answers each time that I read it. This rather short passage is packed with so much value and so many lessons to be learned. I am referring to the story where in Luke where Jesus healed the ten lepers,

As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us! ”When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:12-19)

There is truly a lot of information to unpack in these eight verses. But first, I would like to preface my initial question. Imagine with me, for a moment, that instead of giving a gift out of the goodness of your heart, the person who was celebrating the occasion actually asked you for something specific. For instance, a friend says, “I would love some nice china for my wedding.” Let’s pretend that you honored the couples’ wish and bought them that expensive china they had asked for. In fact, it wasn’t really necessarily your intention, you might have just as well gone with a different kitchen item, but the direct ask made you change your course of action. Now, would your level of frustration rise when weeks turned into months and no mention of a “thank you” had been uttered?

Jesus was a busy man and Scripture reminds us that he was going to yet another village while performing miracles on his way to the heart of Jerusalem. I imagine Jesus was preparing for His day by sharing stories with his disciples when all of a sudden a man starts to yell out (if this was translated it would be more of a cry of agony) for pity. Notice the man didn’t ask for healing, he asked for pity. Does this strike anyone else as a little bizarre? Clearly, there was an immediate need to address. Here’s what is important to understand about leprosy in order to get the full impact of the story. Leprosy was a permanent and external condition of shame because it was seen all over someone’s skin. Lepers could not hide their illness from the community, so they were shunned and forced to live apart because many people would have been afraid that they could catch this awful disease. Though leprosy was not fatal, studies show that it could affect a person’s voice and vision, as well as the skin, nose, toes, and fingers. Additionally, the leper’s physical condition would continue to deteriorate during his or her lifetime. Because lepers could not participate in worship, most people believed that the disease was due to sins that individual had committed. Why? The Jewish people couldn’t imagine a worse torment than not being able to worship God – for it was the most holy act. In short, leprosy was considered a type of sin. It was considered by the Jews to be a direct judgment of God. Some examples in the scriptures include Miriam (Numbers 12), Gehazi (2 Kings 5:20-27), and Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:19-21). Can you imagine waking up one morning with an irritated itch that rapidly multiplied throughout your entire body? Next thing you know, you are forever shamed with the title of ‘leper’ and are an outcast, removed from all of your family and friends. You are in tremendous emotional and physical pain, while being told that God is angry at you. Your situation is completely hopeless. In fact, you must call out “unclean, unclean,” every time you walk on opposite sides of the pathway. As you do this as a warning to others, you watch all the people stare and scurry.

The leper who cried out to Jesus wanted pity because he probably felt that this was the best case scenario for him – remember the disease was incurable. However, Jesus knew exactly what was needed: faith. This is why Jesus tells the men to go to the priest. In this time, this would have been forbidden because unholy beings could not enter or be next to what was considered holy. The man who yelled in agony could have argued back, “how can I go where I am not permitted?” Yet, we don’t see evidence of this. Instead we see obedience and a heart of surrender as the entire pack of misfits takes just a few steps in the direction Jesus commanded. As they are obeying, they physically watch their dead and diseased skin heal before their very eyes. This immediate miracle radically transforms the broken ten men into new, whole beings.

This story is a phenomenal account of God’s grace. Jesus, the ultimate Father of love, gives no condescending sermon or speech; he simply tests their faith and responds with the mercy they requested. I wish what happened next was what we would have expected – all ten men fall at the feet of Jesus. However, there is only one man who returns. Only 1/10th responded with a “thank you.” As for the other nine, it is the ultimate slap in the face. Surely these men were excited, but where were they in such a hurry to get to? Wasn’t every bit of grace they would have ever needed in the exact spot where Jesus healed them? The story tells us that it was the Samaritan, the foreigner and the least likely to return, who actually did. Samaritans were enemies of the Jews, and this man was previously not a worshipper of the one true God. Ironically, he was the one who responded in the most naturally unnatural way. You see, in this circumstance, it is a natural response to worship and thank God for all He has done even if you grew up knowing very little about worship. In short, encountering God produces a desire to worship. However, there were nine others and I am just as amazed as Jesus when He asked where the others had gone? The story concludes with the one who came back made well. Is anyone else as little confused, weren’t they all healed?

We will never know the story of the other nine. We will never know how their lives changed or what they said about their healing. We will never know if they lived in regret for never returning with thanks. We will never know so much of what occurred before and after this small passage. Yet, we can be left impacted by what we do know. We know that God honors the cries of our hearts when we respond in faith. In this instance, He responded immediately with healing, but this is not always the case. However, obedience is not optional regardless of the circumstance. Jesus always asks for our hearts before He can get to the physical or emotional need. Yet, even with our hearts turned towards Him and a miracle granted, not everyone worships. In this truth lies the greatest tragedy because we were made to worship. We must remember that our thanks are not nearly as costly as what God has done for us. We must, in all things, give praise to the rightful owner.

All ten lepers were physically healed but only one was made well. Jesus always gives more to the worshipper. The reality is, when we worship we receive the full outpouring of what God is doing in our lives. We can be granted our requests but often times, there is so much more Jesus wants to give. Yet, we leave shorthanded because we forget the simple words of “thank you” which are directly linked to lips of praise. My desire, as I pray it is yours, is to remember the lepers when our lives look hopeless. I chose to aim to remember the nine who forgot the most important thing they would have ever done and the one who knew the value of a true “thank you.” May we always be the foreigner who remembers what God did when we needed His mercy the most.

 

Finding Joy

Finding Joy

It’s amazing to me how joy shows up in unlikely places. You can meet a working woman lavished in designer clothes and fancy luxury cars while living in a mansion for a home and see her unfortunate misery. In the same light, you can see a middle aged man with a family of six having very little to eat and only a small cabin, all the while living with blistered hands from working all day and yet, find an unspeakable joy. Finding joy is not based in money, status, or emotion – it is based on a love that cannot help but overflow.

Mother Teresa once stated, “Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” Still, I wonder as Christians if our joy is contagious. Could your joy capture a person’s heart? Perhaps, you can’t even fathom others seeing joy in you because you can’t be sure that true joy will ever find you again. Friend, it is time you stop waiting and start allowing it to penetrate your soul by the revelation that love is with you.

As I was pondering the most joyful people I knew, I noticed a direct correlation between their ability to receive and give love.  Love produces true joy. I also looked at the most joyous Biblical characters and instantly, David came to mind. David, the Psalmist, was filled with joy. He wrote and sang about it daily. His life was far from glamorous, as he took shelter amidst rocky caves and foreign pastures, but his joy was undeniable. He didn’t wait until the promise of a kingship was fulfilled and he was lavished in royalty, a crown placed upon his head. He lived a life of joy even as he feared for his life. You see, I believe that a life of worship (not just musical worship) produces joy. The reality is, our need to worship comes because of our exposure of Jesus’ love – we have no reason not to live in a constant state of joy because when we understand how deeply we are loved by God Himself.

How tragic it would be to allow one second of Jesus horrific pain on the cross to produce, in us, a moment’s question of His love for us?

Since we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that His love for us is always faithful and unending, should not joy be our ultimate outcome? David understood this even when his circumstances could render everything else miserable; he still decided to have joy. I imagine David’s voice accompanied by the lyre singing,

“My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to You-I whom You have delivered.” (Psalm 71:23)

“For You make me glad by your deeds, Lord, I sing for joy at what Your hands have done. How great are Your works, Lord, how profound your thoughts.” (Psalm 92:4-5).

“Our mouths are filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” (Psalm 126:2-3)

Joy resonated over David not because he was a happy-go-lucky kind of guy, but because he chose to possess joy each and every morning.

If you are looking for the kind of joy that David was known for, start by recognizing God’s love. The longer we walk with Christ, the more we can become physically comfortable to His all-consuming love.

Picture with me for a moment that you were walking the street last week and a car came racing by at lightning speeds. At the very last moment, a person, whom you had never met, pushed you out of the way and used his body as a shield against the car. The next thing you remember is standing, in shock, watching him bleed out on the pavement while you had not a scratch on your body. Would this image ever leave you? Would you not spend the rest of your life with a new perspective? God’s love for us is much greater than this. We cursed him with our disobedience and He decided that His reaction would be forgiveness – taking on our punishment on Himself. This love merits joy. This love can only be met with a heart that displays delight. This love, when fully received, harvests a spirit of gladness. Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice, for His love for you should yield pure joy like a magnet to others, always catching many souls.

 

How To Worship

How to Worship: Becoming a True Worshiper of God

In my two part series titled, “What is True Worship?” I dug into Scripture to explore the meaning of true worship. But how do you actually become a true worshiper of God? Why isn’t there a basic “how to worship” guide for dummies? What kind of people is God seeking to worship Him, like it states in John 4:23?

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”

Some might say that God is looking for good people, people of high moral character, or people who live “perfect” lives. If that were the case, we might feel hopeless. But as we read Scripture, are those the kinds of people the Bible says God has called in the past? Not particularly.

Throughout the history of the Bible, God has called people of all kinds to be true worshipers and to be used by Him for great things.

Some were weak, some were strong. Some were young, some were old. Some were humble, some were proud. Some were shepherds, others were kings. One shepherd was even called to be a king. Some maintained steadfast belief in God, some wavered and doubted. But what they all had in common is that they loved God, and they allowed themselves to be used by God.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

Jesus is recorded in the Gospels as saying that the greatest commandment is to love God. But have you ever wondered exactly what that means? Or whether you actually love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind?”

Look at your life outside of Sunday morning. How do you spend your time? What consumes your thoughts and your energy? What are you passionate about? What are you most focused on in life? Your answers to those questions are a great indicator of your love for God. Would you rather pursue money, a career, and material things? Or would you rather pursue God above all else?

It’s also important to understand how God views love. In this Scripture, from the Gospel of Matthew, the Greek word for love that’s being used is agape, which William Barclay beautifully defined in his book New Testament Words:

“Agape has to do with the mind: it is not simply an emotion which rises unbidden in our hearts; it is a principle by which we deliberately live.”

Agape is describing a kind of love where we totally commit ourselves to, and surrender our lives to, God. It means no longer living for ourselves. It means our hearts are totally engaged in worshiping God, as feelings and affections come alive within us as we sing His praises. It means loving God with all our soul by devoting ourselves to Him with the way we live, the choices we make, and the behaviors we adopt. It means deliberately living a life in obedience to God’s Word. It means living a life of true worship.

It’s not a stretch then to say that we express our love for God by living a life of true worship. And just as Barclay noted that agape love has to do with the mind, not simply emotions, the same is true of our worship. Worshiping God with our minds is crucial, because true worship is a response to true knowledge of God through His Word. When we struggle with the meaning of a passage of Scripture, or with a teaching that appears to be contradicted elsewhere in the Bible, God doesn’t want us to simply ignore them – He wants us to stretch our minds and strive to know Him better.

That doesn’t mean that if you’re not a Bible scholar, or if you don’t have a master’s degree in theology, or if you never went to Bible school, that you can’t be a true worshiper of God. There are no prerequisites you need to take before graduating to “true worshiper” status. The twelve disciples had little more than their personal testimonies and the Old Testament Scriptures at their disposal, but that’s all they needed to follow Jesus, spread the Gospel, and change the course of history.

But there’s a reason why Jesus doesn’t stop after saying “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” You also need to love God with all your mind, because how can you love someone that you don’t know?

If you’re married, imagine if someone asked you to describe your wife, and you started to tell them of how she cooks all your meals, does your laundry, and cleans the house. Or imagine if someone asked you to describe your husband, and you told of how he takes out the trash, changes the oil in your car, and mows the lawn. Would that person have an accurate understanding of who your spouse is, and why you love them? Or would they just know about some of the things your spouse does for you?

It’s the same with God. If we only know about the things God has done for us, but we don’t know anything about God’s character, His nature, and the standard by which He asks us to live our lives, we aren’t loving God with our minds – and we can’t love a God we don’t know.

God doesn’t want us to just love the things He’s done for us. He wants us to love Him.

Just like we come to love our spouses by getting to know them better and spending time with them, the same is true of our relationship with God. We get to know God better by spending time with Him in His Word. And through spending that time with Him, natural affections for Him will begin to grow. So if we’re to be true worshipers of God, we not only need to have a foundational knowledge and understanding of who God is, but we need to fuse that knowledge of God with the feelings and affections we have for Him in our hearts. Both are critical to Biblical worship.

The more we understand God through the study of His Word, and the greater our love for Him grows in our hearts, the more genuine our worship of Him will become. Then, we will become true worshipers.