This is the first post in a series of blogs regarding worship. Seeing as worship is such a major communicator of the presence of God, and that every church I’m aware of practices this important element, I will be talking about it in my next few posts.
I want to note that in the next few posts I will address more practical tips in engaging a room full of worshippers, but today I want to focus on our heart posture.
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT FOR DISCIPLING YOUR FAMILY
Worship is what every human being is created for. In life, we are always worshipping. Worship is what we spend our utmost time, energy, thoughts, and affections on. We either worship God, or something we make into our own God every day on what we choose to exalt as most important in our lives.
I am going to focus specifically, though, on the act of worship in song, because of the great power this act carries, and my personal experience with it.
THE NEXT GENERATION
Our children are always watching us. My little girls love putting on my clothes and shoes and want to do everything I do, whether I’m checking the mail, reading a book, or brushing my hair.
I have a worship set at our local house of Prayer that my girls attend, where I lead. Many times while I’m playing, i look over at them in the room, and wonder what they are thinking, and what they see in their minds eye as I sing.
I wonder what kind of worshippers they will become.
And, I realized that answer depends a lot on what is going on on that stage, and what kind of things are going out from it.
3 of my favorite verses regarding worship are:
For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.
All of these verses have made an impact on my life in some way. Before I dive into them, let me give you some history from my life on how I got involved into loving and serving in worship:
I grew up in a very broken home. My dad was an undiagnosed schizophrenic, physically abusive, divorced, and my mother had numerous health issues, all while trying to raise 5 rebellious children on her own. We were very poor, the first 3 of my siblings left home or ran away before they were 18, and neither my sister and I (who were left) were handling any of it well. I worked ever since I was old enough to do it legally, and paid for anything I needed in high school myself. Including rent, which my mother couldn’t meet at times.
I remember one of the first churches my mother and I attended. I felt so out-of-place being the only girl of color in a very conservative, dominantly white church. The church was constantly giving my mom money, and everyone knew we were the “broken” family.
I would sit in the very back, or the empty balcony many times during the worship services just so I couldn’t be seen. We sang hymns from a book, mixed with contemporary songs printed on our bulletin. There were so many times I remember feeling my heart burning as I sat and sang those songs. It felt like God was taking my heart and squeezing all the hurt out of it like a sponge. I was experiencing the power of God coming down in corporate worship and it was touching me powerfully.
I also remember the worship director, Pastor Bruce. He let me sing my first solo in 5th grade during a Christmas concert. I remember my short lines:
“You have fashioned us all, with Your marvelous hand; I know I’m part of Your wonderful plan. ”
He seemed so happy to be doing what he was with the children, and I never saw him treat me or my mom different because we were a struggling family. He just showed love.
In junior high, things were a bit different, though. I was mercilessly teased by girls in my choir class because I didn’t have nice clothes, and I sang loud in class. They didn’t understand that singing worship music was all I knew up until that point, and the encounters I had had with God had caused me to want to belt out praise at the top of my voice. I was quickly written off and labeled as an “ugly freak, ” and it made me loathe coming to school.
But my music teacher, Mr. Fredrickson saw something else in me. He told me about the chamber choir and when I auditioned, got in and had the opportunity to travel and do concerts for our school. He told me two things:
1.) Don’t slouch when you walk; but stand up tall and carry yourself well.
2.) Don’t ever smoke, because you have a voice, and you’re going places with it.
We must not look at people in our churches and make our judgements about them based on their appearance, or even their mistakes. God has not written these people off, and neither should we. We make a terrible mistake for breezing past the kid known as “troublemaker” or “burdensome ” without investing our encouragement into them. They may be the ones that need our love most of all. Even though I still had major issues to deal with, I have never forgotten the love and effort these people poured into me, and the way they could channel my passion into music.
SINGING IT THROUGH
I remember one time after my mother had let my brother, who was heavily addicted to drugs, alcohol, and crime back into our small apartment to live with us. It was a very hard time for us. I was tired of constantly re hiding my wallet because my brother would often steal from us, and the dark men that he would invite into our living room at all hours of the day or night.
I found out he had stolen from me again, and since he was not there to question at the time, I got so mad, I ran out the door, and sat on the front steps of my building. I was angry that he stole from me. I was angry that my mom let him live with us. I felt such stuck, and I did not like my life.
And, then I looked down at the Walkman I had brought outside. I was always listening to music, especially worship, when I found that it made me feel better when I thought about my life.
I put the headphones on, turned on whatever worship tape was in there, and felt this compelling, this urging to sing out loud the words.
For a shy high school girl, I was off my feet and singing, no, belting out this song, and I didn’t care who heard me. For some reason, I knew inside that me singing the truth of who God is would actually change something in my circumstance.
And, I don’t remember if anything changed in my situation, but I know that my outlook did. I could rest in the fact that God knew me, He saw me where I was at, and that I didn’t need to worry if I had Him.
OVER THE YEARS
And, of course, over the years life has given me some pretty big challenges (as all lives have), but since then I have used the practice of what they call “singing your way through” a situation through worship, and I believe it has brought real power to my life, even if the only thing that changed was my outlook on life.
WORSHIP IN SPIRIT AND TRUTH
When we hear that verse when Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman, he tells her that true worshippers will worship in “spirit and in truth. ”
What does that mean? I see this in that statement:
Worship in spirit = focus is on God and His word is the language of the Spirit
Worship in truth = not only singing the truth of who God is, but bringing the truth of your heart into your praise.
When I worship with my focus on God (not just focusing on myself and my needs) I empower that truth I am singing about. Whether it is the fact that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, or that He is acquainted with all my ways, I am inviting that truth, that idea about His Spirit to become bigger and bigger. And other things become dim.
Then I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.
This writer doesn’t see the bigger picture until he comes into God’s house, where he then is met with the truth of who God is, and the impact that has on the world around him.
When I worship in truth, I’m not just going through the motions of singing songs with a dull, bored heart. No, my heart is engaged with the raw reality of what this God, this man has done for me, and I give HIM the truth in my heart, as i sing His truth from His word.
POURING OUT OUR HEARTS
I desire every time I help or lead worship to encounter God as I would in the secret place. I know many must be thinking, “but how do you open up your heart like that in a big, public setting?”
My answer is, lots of practice. First, get acquainted with worshipping God alone in your home, preferably with an instrument you can play. If you know chords by heart, try to play them with your eyes closed. I’ve done this over the years, and it’s helped me immeasurably for times when I am in public, too.
It may seem easier to pour out your heart and thoughts to God in private than in public, but when you link your emotions to what His word says (open up your bible and literally sing what it says), with practice it will be easier. Even if you’re not an emotional person, or you don’t have an intense testimony.
I am grateful to have had a past that pushed me into the desperation I needed to have those encounters with God. They are wells that I can continue to draw from, because they’re deep, to this day.
But, even if you didn’t have that kind of upbringing, just getting to know, really know, the depth of what God did for you by drawing you near to himself by His son’s death, will be enough to melt your heart, every time. No matter where we are in life, God was the first one to reach out to us to restore relationship.
And, when we sing from that truth, instead of only focusing on our reach for him, that truth has a magnifying force to cause our hearts to burn.
As musician misty Edwards sings, “stop trying to get into a room you are already in!”
I don’t sing out loud because I’m trying to get God’s attention or do something for Him, I’m singing out loud because He has done something so amazing for me, and it touches me so much, that the only right response is to sing from the depths of me.
There are many times and places for songs about our love for God, and they are not wrong at all to sing. Every song you sing to Him melts his heart. Every song.
But, when you begin by singing about His love for you, you place your heart to receive even more, which causes your worship to soar right through the clouds. And everyone receives.
Some of our worst times in life bring out the sweetest worship. Like beautiful flowers that get crushed to make a sweet perfume, so the crushing of our once beautiful lives brings forth a sweet fragrance for our king.
It’s those times when our hearts are failing us, and we don’t know how we’re going to go on, when we get out that guitar, or sit down and hit those keys, that really show the honesty of our worship. Our love is tested in times of trial, not to prove that we are weak and don’t really love God, but that, in fact, we DO love Him. Even though our love is weak, it is really real, and even in the stinging moments of our pain we reach for the hands of our loving Father, and find grace in our time of need. Nothing smells better to Jesus.
LEADING FROM INTIMACY
And it’s from these honest, raw places where the worship leader is developed, and finds the presence of God in new ways. And it’s from there we can take others hands and lead them there, too. It’s very hard to take someone somewhere you’ve never been before. When we get used to finding intimacy in our personal times of worship, we then have the keys to lead others there.
Worship leader Jason Upton says he doesn’t like singing other people’s songs, because he says it’s like going to battle in Saul’s armor.
Now, I don’t mind singing other folks songs, but I am almost always adding in my own choruses to help personalize what I’m singing. There is a need for both connecting to God one on one, as well as connecting the room to God that should be met, and discerning both those is key for anyone facilitating worship. But it is much, MUCH more difficult to connect the room if you are not connecting with God.
Sometimes just singing the songs on your song list is fine. There is nothing wrong with that, and God is not more pleased whether you do, or whether you make a whole new, spontaneous anthem for him.
But, many times, I’ve found it is helpful to pause before I begin worshipping, and just play notes. But, I’m not just playing the notes. I’m talking to the Lord in my heart, discerning in my spirit what is going on in the room, and really, what He wants sung from the platform. Many times I have laboriously and cleverly put together a great song list, only to find that I felt the Lord wanting to go in a completely different direction, and play something else.
Waiting on the Lord before you start is like asking Jesus for song requests before hand. I’ve actually been in meetings where I’ve taken those. It can be a bit hard on our patience level, but it is so much better to follow the promptings.
I want to highlight here, as well, that worship is not all about our feelings, but worship does play a vital role in unlocking them, so that His Spirit of wisdom and revelation may drop into our spirit in the deepest way.
There have been times where I don’t listen to His voice, and the song just falls “flat.” I may be singing about a great truth, (and again, there’s nothing at all wrong with just singing biblical truth), but you will know when you’ve left the flow of His leading during worship. I’ve done it enough to know the feeling. The song just doesn’t seem to fit. People in the room stop connecting. You feel as though the ceiling were made of steel, and it becomes harder to hear God speak.
You got off course? No worries, it is not the end of the world. Every thing you sing still has value to God.
What I do is slow down, stop singing, and just play again, until I hear Him tell me where to go from here. And, if I still don’t hear anything then, I move on. Don’t worry. You will eventually find that river, because you are created to connect with God, and He wants that more than you do.
At the end of the day, I don’t think whether someone else cried or not equates a successful worship time. Success for me is always rooted in my identity as His loved child, and it is there that I draw how successful I am in worship.
I want to leave my time knowing that I unleashed my heart and my affections on him, and when I do that, I am satisfied every time.
That’s what I think makes the difference between an okay set and a great time of worship. Where is your honest heart? I am much more prone to connect with my Creator if I am clearly seeing the one leading on the stage connecting their heart to God. There’s something very contagious about that exchange that carries a real presence of God into the room.
So, maybe you don’t have any life problems to lead you to that desperation. What has God done in your life lately? What have you seen him do in your family? If you look hard enough, you will find a personal testimony that will catapult you into a thankful heart of praise. That is connecting your heart with God’s.
And it’s addicting. I’m convinced that this is the way to attracting the presence of God, and it’s the only way I want to worship. To bring your honest heart as an offering every time opportunity is given. Hold nothing back from Him, because He has held nothing back from you.
RAISING UP WORSHIPPERS
And when you do that, you will begin to see worshippers around you arise in freedom and power, because you’ve operated in it.
They will start to present their bodies, their thoughts, and their minds to Christ as a living sacrifice because that’s what they know through your worship sets. It’s their spiritual act of worship. (Romans 12:1)
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.