DISCLAIMER: I am not claiming any kind of fresh revelation. This is foundational Christianity. It is not a new thought, and I am sure many believers have grasped it already. My bold title is referencing the whole of Western Christianity, not your individual assembly. So read it with an understanding that I am calling the entire body of Jesus into something, not your home Church. However, if it applies to your Church, please pay attention.
Cue the lights. A sudden darkness descends on the room. A light shroud of mist sweeps across the stage, covering the feet of the well-dressed men and women who crowd the stage, swaying back and forth, preparing to set an atmosphere for the body of Jesus. The worship leader nods and a slow pounding on the drum sets the pace for what's to come. The keyboard rings with the soft change of chords and the guitar seamlessly takes the lead. You watch to see who will lift their microphone to their mouth, and once it happens, you close your eyes and let the first notes of worship wash over you.
I have sung on over a dozen worship teams. I've even led my fair share. Worship is something I am passionate about. Something that is demonstrated by the fact that I never shut up. Seriously, never. Ask my wife, it drives her insane at times. Whether I am sitting alone with the Lord, or watching TV with my family, it is more than likely that I will burst into spontaneous worship. I love to worship, but it is important to understand that music, in itself, is not worship.
Sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and he is to be feared above all gods.
1 Chronicles 16:23-25 (esv - emphasis mine)
Over the years, I have had countless people come up to me after various services and give me the honorary "well done" or "that was anointed" that comes with singing worship music, and often they ask me a question amidst the expected praise . It is almost always the same question, though the wording does change. They ask me, "How did your worship get so deep?" Well, here is the answer: I have seen Him.
It is important to note that the Chronicler, when commissioning us to declare God's glory, did not anticipate that we would do so for the sake of our declaring. No, he went on to say, "For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be feared above all gods." His intention was that it would be God's actual worthiness that inspired our worship.
In my experience, for far too many of us, worship is something that happens because worship is expected. We sing because it is one of the cherished practices of the faith, not because we treasure God. And although the music may stir us to zeal, I daresay a worship that does not come from the actual loving of God is not pleasing to Him.
Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand.
Worship that does not delight in God is not worship. Which brings me to three things I want to leave you with:
1. Obligatory Worship Does Not Satisfy God
As Christians, we are intimately familiar with the fact that our relationship with God, though built on the foundation of Israel's, is deeper. Where they had distance, we have intimacy. Where they lived under law, we live under grace. Where they waited on the outside, listening in for God's voice, we boldly enter and dine with Him. Though they are the foundation of our relationship with God, what we have is far more intimate. And yet for a large portion of the Western Church, our worship is the exact same. Don't get me wrong, we aren't sitting around sheep pens with a lyre and a slingshot. Our music is louder, our instruments more progressed, and our music easier to follow, but our worship itself is often rooted in our determination to do what is expected of us rather than flowing from an actual desire to see God satisfied. Just as there’s was. Even worse, many of us treat worship as a way to bless ourselves amidst a busy week. But friends, our days of obligatory service are long gone. By the blood of Jesus, we have been called to the table and invited to actually know Him. To actually love Him. And He is satisfied by nothing less. (See Matthew 7 for reference. Service, alone, will never satisfy God).
2. Worship Is Delight
When I first began singing on worship teams, my leaders were always correcting me because of my habit of closing my eyes and ignoring everyone in the room while I worship. They told me that it is important to engage with the congregation and to lead them into an atmosphere of worship. And I tried, but weekend after weekend, I found myself with eyes closed, hands extended, lost in my worship of God. Finally, I had to just tell them the truth. That worship is not about an atmosphere, it is about seeing God for all that He is, and aweing in Him. And if I am in awe, I can't promise to see you. That is worship. It is the act of seeing God and losing yourself in the awe of Him. It is seeing His glory and His love and His beauty and falling on your face to weep and shout and sing and cry in light of what you have seen. It is being overwhelmed in awe and wonder. At the presence of God, David danced in the streets. Moses hid on a mountain and refused to come down. Isaiah cried out in awe. Over and over, we see worship in its raw form, and yet we continue to miss the mark. If we want to be a people who worship Him the way He deserves, we have to look at Him and we have to awe in Him. Worship is what happens naturally when you delight in God.
3. I Love Because He Loved Me First
For many of us, the reason we do not awe in God is because we have never truly realized that He awes in us. But sit and think about your story. About what and who you were before He came for you. About every reason He had to abandon humanity. About the fact that when He came for us, He did not do so in anger or pity... but in love. Think about the fact that He continued to love us through unfaithfulness, disobedience, iniquity, even when our distance had become so great that we had forgotten He even existed. He remained. He cherished us. And the moment He had an opportunity, He welcomed us home. Think about that, let is marinate in your mind and in your spirit, and see what it does to the way you worship. “For God so loved the world that HE gave His only son” should always become “for the Church so loved Him back that they gave their all in worship”.
Worship is more than a song. It is the outcry of a soul that has seen God.