I sat in the front row of my church recently and thought: “Finally, we broke through“. We failed to do this for the few weeks previous. One Sunday, we even felt completely submerged in despair, desperation and grim feelings. Though not everyone felt that way, it was a spiritual attack and we were not handling it well.
One primary reason for this is that people have not understood the power of worship. Worship is not a noun. I heard someone say recently to a friend who was discouraged: “We need to get some worship in you guy“. Another friend recently posted about a pastor who said “Let’s get our worship on.” These comments thrust worship into noun-status, relegating worship into a “thing” that we “receive”.
This is so far from accurate, we should cringe when we hear it.
Worship is a verb. It is an activity we perform with three distinct goals (we don’t always employ each goal, but they are all legitimate):
1. To pull away from the rat race of this world and re-connect with God whom we may have neglected or not taken time to connect with
2. To teach our souls that God is the center of the universe and deserving of praise and adoration, and not we ourselves.
3. To deny the soul-sucking beliefs and emotions that are inspired by selfish people and evil designs in this world. When we worship, we focus on God, his power and Truth and pull away from the negative influences of people and unclean spirits.
When we see worship as a noun, we passively receive some benefit from music, fellowship, church service structure or architecture. Though music can sometimes change our mood, it fails to change or address the deeper issues of the mind, emotions, memories and imagination. Only God can work with us on that level.
So, with those concepts in mind, let me go back to the worship service I reference at the top of this article. The week before, I had challenged the church to come together to do warfare against false beliefs and negative emotions by preparing for worship early and by coming together as a group to honor God whole-heartedly. For weeks, we had not done this and therefore, we were buried in the avalanche of life’s troubles and worries. That morning, instead of being buried, we broke through with a cry of relief and joy. Most people who were privileged to be there, and who shared in the experience, say it was one of the most dramatic times they had spent with God in a long while.
I remember experiencing the opposite on many occasions. I have sat in church services where it appeared to me (and I may have been wrong about this) that very few people were attempting to have a living, breathing relationship with God during their offering of worship. They were going through the motions. This brought to mind a dream I had 25 years ago. Let me share the dream then go on to a short teaching.
In the dream, another man and I were walking into a small country church. There were dozens of people there and the pianist was playing a well-known worship hymn. For some reason, no one could see my friend and I. We just observed what was happening among the people. I noticed that everyone’s mouths were moving, but I could only hear musical words coming from a few of them. That’s when I saw a man standing beside my friend and I.
“Would you like to know what you’re seeing” he asked me.
“I don’t understand” I said. “Why can’t I hear most of them?”
He explained. “The ones you can hear mean what they are saying. The rest are just singing a well-known song. You are hearing what God is hearing. He can’t hear those who don’t mean what they’re singing.”
That’s when I woke up in a sweat. Through this dream, I came to realize that there is great truth in John 4:24, 25: “God is spirit; those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in Truth. God is seeking people such as this to worship Him.” God seeks out worshipers. This is not because God is vain, but because He knows that in worship, we connect deeply to him. In our worship, we throw down our self-absorbed ways and acknowledge our creator, bless his goodness, see his beauty and love and receive his power. It is in worship that we fully partner with God so that God is released in us to change us and re-structure all the damaged parts of our minds and hearts.
Let me dwell for a moment on this concept of partnership. Those times I have sat in the service where no one seems to be meaning what they’re singing, where no one is really connecting with God – I often get upset and start praying for them. I have often prayed that God would “break through and pour out His Presence.”
But recently, I realized God cannot just do this unless people are in agreement with it. If few people in a room want the presence of God to be seen, God cannot manifest his presence as He would want. But if enough people in the room (I can’t give you a percentage, but it doesn’t have to be the majority) desire to have God show up and change our lives, then we experience that organic partnership that brings about miracles.
Remember the time Jesus was teaching the crowds and they all realized they were hungry. It would have taken hours – maybe days – for everyone to go home and have a meal. Jesus’ teaching was important, but they were hungry. So he tells the disciples to find something for the crowds to eat.
Matthew and Luke tell us there were 5,000 men at this meeting. It is reasonable to assume there were as many women and children there, so it is also reasonable to say that the crowd numbered somewhere around 15,000. They wanted more of Jesus and he wanted to feed them. There are a lot of deeper truths here, but I don’t have time to graze through them. Feel free to think more about this yourself.
A young boy came forward with his lunch: Five small barley loaves and two small fish. The word “small” is repeated in the Greek language. We are to see his offering as a small thing by human standards. But in offering his meal, he is offering to God a partnership with huge implications. Here is the deeper truth: It is not the size of the thing we are bringing to the partnership that is important: It is the attitude of wanting God to take what is ours and use it to God’s designs that changes our world.
The heart of worship is an attitude of surrender. It is not wise to come into God’s presence and bring nothing. Surrendering attitudes, decisions, relationships, plans, goals, desires, habits, money, sex, power, indifference, fears, loneliness – whatever we give to God freely with a full heart becomes the basis for a miracle.
Try this today. Get alone and put on some spiritual music that causes you to focus on God. Sing along with it if you like. But focus on inviting God to meet with you. Then, when you begin to experience his presence on the inside, surrender anything that wants to take your focus away from worship. Ask God to partner in this thing with you. Ask God how he wants you to act differently. Like the boy who had to give up the meal and then saw 15,000 people fed to overflowing, God will show you what comes next.
Recently, in worship, I surrendered my anger toward a colleague who had treated me poorly (by my estimation). I feel I am right in this situation, but once I surrendered my right to be angry, God showed me a perspective on his heart. My heart was filled with compassion for him, and God showed me how to bless him. Which I was able to do the next week. We have now renewed our friendship because of this. This is the kind of miracle I embrace. It changes our lives.
Worship is a verb, an action we perform so we can partner with the Living God to change this world.