There’s a lot of discussion around the topic of worship. The lion’s share of this discussion centers around the ministry of music. We hear it all the time, “The worship was great today,” “Let’s just spend the whole service in worship today,” “People come for the great worship, and then stay for the preaching.” In almost every practical way we create a separation between “worship” (the singing of songs) and the rest of Christian life. We’ll say that we know worship is more than just singing, but the majority of what is said and of how worship is presented declares that we really believe otherwise. This could be the greatest and perhaps most dangerous hypocrisy in Christendom. Mistaking worship for singing relegates an encounter with God to little more than an emotional experience.
Millions of Christians will leave their churches and worship gatherings week after week measuring the depth of their Christian walk with God by the emotional impact of the music rather than by their desire to follow Christ in obedience, especially in the really hard stuff, like forgiving your abuser, loving your accuser, or serving the one who neglected you all your life. Worship music is a powerful medium for making much of Jesus. We should sing, and sing with all that we have — whether that means at the top of our lungs while we dance and clap, or in little more than a whisper as we kneel and sing under the sobs of a broken heart and contrite spirit. Singing songs, however, cannot be the extent of worship, or of our idea of worship.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 that true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth; that these are the kinds of worshipers the Father seeks. What will He find when He looks upon you? Will He find a singer, or a worshiper? We sing all kinds of songs: “Yahweh, Yahweh, we love to shout your name oh Lord,” but we’re louder over our favorite sports team than we are about our Lord. We follow that team through blogs, radio talk shows, message boards, the newspaper, and yet struggle to find time to read the Bible and pray. We sing that “There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain, break every chain, break every chain,” and then we go and put more stuff on the credit card and fuel our affinity for debt (borrowing other people’s money to buy things we can’t afford on our own and probably don’t really even need). We are content to sing about the freedom Jesus brings and at the same time live our life under the yolk of slavery to our debtors. Whether it’s singing about laying down our lives for Jesus when we won’t even lay down that habit, addiction, relationship, or compromise, or singing about how we want to follow Him when we won’t even bring Him up to our neighbors, we need to be sure that our singing echoes our worship, not make up the whole of it.
Worshiping in spirit and truth means that we have a living connection with the Living God, and that His Word abides in our lives. When Jesus spoke those words, he had been talking about how salvation is from the Jews, and they worship what they know, where the Samaritans worship what they don’t know, yet God would gather from among them all those who worship with their whole selves (in spirit and in truth). The woman responded, and through her the whole village responded and came to Jesus. Back among the Jews, Jesus rebuked them for wanting signs (think “emotional experiences”) and not believing in Him because he bears the character and nature of God and does the work of God. Though the Jews had the truth (law and prophets) they still wanted the sign, the wonder, the experience, and Jesus rebuked them. Like the Jews, we look for the experience rather than believing and coming to Jesus. If it weren’t true, we wouldn’t need a building and a band to “have worship.” Jesus commanded to love the Lord with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength, but it seems that we are content to give him just the heart (emotion) and we’ll keep the mind, strength, and therefore the soul here where we can keep them safe. That’s not worship, that’s sentiment.
We were made to worship, and we will all worship something, even if that is something like an experience. Pink Floyd had a great song called One Slip off the album Momentary Lapse of Reason which had a line that asked, “Was it love, or was it the idea of being in love?” You know the feeling, was it real, or was it just the notion that roused my emotion? Is it worship, or is it the idea of worshiping that stirs us? We are made to worship and the heart of worship is surrender. Surrender is the giving over of ourselves, wholly and completely, to the winning side. We don’t get to determine what we keep and what we give. When we surrender, the Victor gets it all. The Bible says it this way, “Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice.” This means that worship is offered through our jobs, school, attitudes, ideas, our thoughts, words, and relationships; we worship through our hobbies, our ministries (formal or informal), by how we spend our time, use our talent, and spend our money; we worship by our worldview, how we vote, the counsel we give, how we parent, and how we play. Our lives are worship, and the singing can only be a declaration of what we already know to be true through obedience. Through worship, true worship, we draw closer to God, we come into unity with Him, and we come to love Him more and more. Even in the silence, when God seems distant and quiet, we praise Him and honor Him as we walk in faithfulness, proving our love and devotion. That is worship. In fact, the silence proves to opposite of what we seem to think: Our feelings have very little to do with true worship. Worship isn’t about us. It’s not about our preferences. It’s about what God deserves. Around the throne in Revelation 4 the song that’s sung constantly is three lines,
“Holy holy holy
is the Lord God Almighty
Who was and is and is to come.”
The elders present bow before the throne and lay their crowns (authority) at the feet of God. It’s not about them, what they like or what “speaks to them.” It’s about God, about what is true, and about what He is worthy of. “Worship Wars” need to stop. Period. That’s about us. True worship is about God and he transcends form and style and all that stupid human stuff. This me-centered stuff divides. True worship unites.
True worship opens the doors of authentic fellowship, vibrant discipleship, fruitful ministry, and a powerful witness that can transform the world! Without that wholehearted surrender, without wholehearted faithfulness and obedience, we can never grow together in our common faith, lead one another to Jesus, serve one another in the love of Christ, or truly impact the world around us because we won’t actually be walking with God. We’ll be doing our own thing and hoping God comes along and blesses it.
There are areas of your life you haven’t truly surrendered. You know what they are. As you read this, you know the strongholds that keep you from true and wholehearted worship (that knowing is called conviction). Take time to pray right now. Let’s confess those strongholds together, and ask God to raze it and lead us out. Then, this next Sunday–as we sing songs of praise–let’s celebrate and declare the goodness of the God who set us free!