Did you know that if you were to go to church every Sunday this year and worship for 20 minutes, you will have spent a little over 17 hours singing to the God of all the Universe? Yet, if we are completely honest, would we say that these 17 (give or take a few hours) really change us as Christ-followers? Do we sing with conviction or are we just watching the PowerPoint slides flash across the screen as the lyrics to familiar words appear – leaving us to only sing along half-heartily? If you are maximizing your hours spent with God<!–more–> in corporate worship, you know the inexplicable power of worship! But, if you agree that worship often has become more routine than all consuming… you are not alone.
While I recognize that I might be opening a big can of worms, I have a tremendous passion for writing on the topic because I find worship to be a crucial part of how God made us and how we better learn who He is. Therefore, my hope is that this article can help add value to the important conversation of worship and that together we can begin to understand what <strong>needs</strong> to take place during this intentional time of praise instead of focusing on what we <strong>want</strong> to take place.
Naturally, we all have our opinions on worship, so much so that many churches have to divide service times to accommodate different styles of worship. We all are drawn to diverse styles of praise and as a result we fall into a trap unknowingly. You see, as we consider worship, we spend all our time on our wants rather than our needs. Think about it this way: have you ever left a church service and said, “wow, worship was really good today.” What merited this response? Was worship good because it moved you closer to experiencing God’s holiness or was it merely a group of skilled musicians who energized the group? If we focus on what we like, what we want, and what our musical preferences are, we never get to the heart of what we really need. Ironically, the enemy is totally okay with this because we never get to the root of what worship can do as an active part of our lives.
Before we dive into how we can begin to shift this thinking, we must ask ourselves a very important question “is worship really even about us?” If we truly ponder this and conclude that “no, worship is not about us,” than the discussion about what we want verses what we need is irrelevant. However, I will argue to say that while worship is not about us and our desires, we are invited to participate in it and should not be leaving our time of worship the same way we came in. If you really stop and think about the honor of being invited into worship, it is humbling that we are such an important factor in this heavenly and precious equation. The Scriptures tell us that the angels sing holy, holy, holy on uninterrupted loop. Likewise, Scripture tells us that if we don’t cry out to God that the rocks will take our place. Therefore, it is safe to say that worship should be about how we engage with our Creator and how He changes us within this process. We were made for worship and because this is a part of our design, we must discover what we need to be accomplishing during these sacred times. So, let us not be led down the slippery path of what we think we want and instead look at what we really need. I want to focus on what we urgently need to take place during worship in the form of three statements.
<h2>We need to ENCOUNTER God’s presence every time we go before God in the act of worship.</h2>
If we are not encountering God, we are just making noise. The whole point of clapping, lifting hands, playing instruments, dancing, singing and being creative is to encounter who God is. The best example of this that I can think of is found in Acts 16, where Paul and Silas find themselves in a jail cell for spreading the Good News. Yet, as they started praising God, something happens. Now, there was not a skillful band playing, there was not a rehearsed formula, and there was not an excited group of participants, but… true worship took place. Two men that, for better or worse, chose to change their atmosphere with praise, communicated to the Great Yahweh and that night everyone around them encountered God’s presence as the jail bars swung open! We need to be experiencing this kind of encounter when we enter into God’s presence, wouldn’t you agree?
<h2>We need TRANSFORMATION to take place in our lives every time we worship and seek God’s face.</h2>
When we encounter God, transformation naturally occurs. When we communicate with God by worshiping Him, we see spiritual and physical change happen because bringing God our best does not return us void. Does this always happen instantly? No, not always, but as we strive to seek God consistently, we become changed from the inside-out. The best example from the Bible that I can think of is Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. Moses was in the desert, not on a gateway retreat. He was tired and was running on empty. Yet, he chose to wait upon the Lord. He spent forty days and forty nights on a mountain and Scripture tells us that he was with the Lord during this fasting period. Moses and God were in communication and I imagine Moses singing and praying without fail – how cool is that? We also learn that when Moses came down after being with God (on his way back to talk to the Israelites) his face was radiant. There was spiritual and physical proof that Moses went up the mountain and came down the mountain, a different man. This is what worship produces in us, transformation that others can’t help but notice.
<h2>We need to bring a SACRIFICE of praise every time we partake in worshiping our God.</h2>
A sacrifice of praise sounds difficult and it is. Sacrifice means something must be given up, something must die, and something must be presented as an offering. Hebrews reminds us,
<blockquote>“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” (Hebrews 13:15)</blockquote>
I love this verse because it means that we have to come prepared, both within our hearts and from our lips with <em><strong>something</strong></em>. What is this something? God’s holy name. This is what shuts down the enemy! We can’t just show up, unaware of the power that occurs when we praise God’s name. Likewise, we must be ready to die to ourselves, in order to come clothed in new skin – God’s righteousness sacrificed to make us whole. Think of it this way, when we someday worship God face to face, don’t you think we will be captivated with His awe-struck glory? Why then, does worship across America on Sunday mornings look, for the most part, apathetic? Don’t we have that same responsibility to enter into God’s presence, with wonder, while on earth? Indeed, we have to offer something of ourselves during worship. When I think about the Old Testament, sacrifices (through the form of blood shed) were a huge part of worship. Why? Atonement needed to take place. While innocent animals lost their lives, the person offering the animal also lost potential income. Therefore, we need to understand and see that multiple sacrifices were being made. Yet, when Jesus came and paid it all for us through His blood, we were fully free – including no longer having to participate in this atoning act of sacrifice. However, we still have to bring something to the table. We don’t come to the table out of guilt, but as honored guests, full of grace, bringing our very best because God has never given us any less than that and can you believe that He sings over us too?
Therefore, as we come to an end, through encountering Christ, we must understand that we can truly begin to be transformed by Him. How amazing is that? This transformation occurs when we offer a sacrifice of praise in worship. I feel like I have only begun to scratch the surface of this important topic, but I think it is important to note that the enemy cares and makes a significant effort for us to not be able to worship God. One of the ways the enemy does this is by getting us distracted by things that don’t matter – like the topic of what we want during worship. This has to change. We have to get serious about worshiping our Maker. One way for this to change is for us to be aware of a huge trap: focusing on what we want instead of what we need. We need to encounter God. We need His power to transform our lives. And we need to bring Him our best- a sacrifice of praise each and every time that we worship Him in our hearts and on our lips. If this becomes a compass of what we value most, I believe that our worship will radically change – not only us, but for future generations to come.