What You Trust is What You Worship

Baal_thunderbolt_Louvre_AO15775ReDiscovered Word 13

(Judges 1-2)

What brings you peace? What makes you feel secure?

Is it your home or your health or your family or your job? What would you say is the focus of your life and the center of your thoughts?

Because what you trust is what you worship. 

When we read that the Israelites worshipped idols, we think, “That’s not me. I don’t bow to a statue of stone or a block of wood.” Such idolatry is so foreign to most of us that we can’t relate.

We forget, though, that the root of idolatry was an attitude of mistrust toward God. The Israelites worshipped idols because they believed that the gods of the Canaanites would give them what the God of the Universe would not. They worshipped Baal because they hoped he would make it rain, not because they particularly liked statues of bulls. They worshiped Asherah because they hoped she would give them victory in war and success in love.

Understand this: The Israelites returned to their false gods because of what the gods could give them. The God who led them out of Egypt was powerful, but He was also uncontrollable. To worship Yahweh meant giving up control.

The gods of Canaan were impotent, but at least you could tell them what to do. So they traded the one true God for the illusion of stability. They preferred gods who could be manipulated. Pray the right way, recite the right incantations, perform the correct rituals, and the Canaanite deities would do what you asked.

God would take care of them, but only on His terms. Not on their own.

So ask yourself again: Where do you look for security and peace? Because what you trust is also what you worship. 

You can seek to manipulate your life so that the outcome is exactly what you want. You can pray to the gods of hard work, political activism, sexual pleasure, financial security, or worldly prestige. There are thousands of little idols you can set up in your heart. You can perform the right chants and rituals and hold onto the illusion of control.

You aren’t in control, though. The God who made heaven and earth will tolerate no pretenders to His throne. The Israelites learned that painful lesson over and over and over again. They worshipped idols, they self-destructed, they called out to God, He saved them, and then they did it all again. Time and time again.

You and I do the same. We just have a harder time admitting it. We worship God with our lips, yet in our hearts we trust our idols. He offers more than we need or deserve, but we prefer the illusion of control. And like Israel, we suffer because of our failure to trust.

The good news is that He saves us from ourselves. Just as He did for Israel, He offers us another chance. The death and resurrection of Jesus provides a permanent solution to our sin and idolatry.

And today He opens His arms and offers another chance at redemption, another day to trust Him, to purge the idols from our hearts and accept Him as our King. Through the power of His Spirit, from a foundation of grace, He calls us to worship and trust the only God who saves.

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We Stand and Stare at Our Hands

“For the joy of the Lord makes us sleep!”

OK, those aren’t actually the words to the song. It seems that way, though, when we sing about raising our hands or bowing down to God while we stand motionless, staring into space. Why are we so hesitant to worship God with our bodies? Many of us fear coming across as Charismatic or crazy in church, but we have no such inhibitions later in the day when the Cowboys game comes on (or earlier in the weekend when we’re watching the Aggies).

I’m a naturally reserved person, at least when it comes to physical expressions of emotion. And I, like many of my readers, grew up in a church environment that generally frowned on hand-raising (for fear that it might be distracting to others).

As I read the Scripture, though, I’m struck by the fact that worship is a “whole-person” exercise. We worship with our minds, bodies, and spirits, because God owns every part of us. David danced before the Lord, even though his wife thought he was crazy (2 Samuel 6:14-23). She may have been right, David may have been crazy, but it apparently was a lunatic God was looking for. (Yes, I just paraphrased Billy Joel in a post about worship). God valued David’s worship, even when others found it offensive.

Read the Psalms and you’ll find that worship involves lifting hands (Psalm 63:4), clapping hands (Psalm 47:1), dancing (Psalm 150:4), bowing down (Psalm 95:6) and shouting (Psalm 81:1). For us dispensationalists, it’s not just the Old Testament that encourages whole-self worship. Paul tells Timothy that men everywhere should pray while “lifting holy hands” (1 Timothy 2:8). Paul says he “bows his knee” before God (Eph 3:14). I don’t think that’s metaphorical.

I know we need to be sensitive to others in the corporate worship context. If your church is very reserved, you won’t change anything for the better by dramatically running to the front and rolling on the floor. Part of worshiping together is being concerned with how the people around you are feeling. Some of you probably need to dial it down a few notches and use your mind as well as your body.

On the other hand, many of us refrain from worshiping God with our bodies. We say we’re simply contemplative people who like to just think about the songs. We don’t worship God with our bodies because we’re too intellectual, as if smart people are incapable of love. For those of you who are married, ask yourself how that line of thinking would go over with your spouse. “I’m not really the hugging or kissing type. I’d rather just think about how great you are.” You might legitimately be less physically affectionate than somebody else, but love always involves the body as well as the mind and the spirit. That’s true in romance, and it’s true in worship. 

Part of worshiping corporately is finding that sweet spot where we can worship God with our whole selves, while taking into consideration the needs of others.

So here’s a challenge for those of you who are more reserved: Next time you sing a song about raising your hands or bowing down to God, do what you’re singing about. You don’t have to go crazy. You can raise your hands just a little at first and keep them by your hips. If you feel adventurous, bring them to chest level. I dare you.

One day we will worship God with our bodies, minds and spirits. We’ll bow down to Him (Phil 2:10-11). We’ll wave palm branches and shout praises in a loud voice (Rev 7:9-10). Might as well start worshiping Him now with everything we have, body, mind, and spirit.

 

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What Your Worship Leader Wants You to Know

I was a church worship leader for ten years. During that time, I led the music at several different churches and organizations. I loved the job. When we’re worshipping, we’re simply telling God how great He is and thanking Him for all he’s done. It was a privilege to help Christ’s people do that well.

I often noticed, though, that people didn’t show up on Sunday morning prepared for worship. It’s hard to blame them. Sometimes I wasn’t prepared either. Sunday morning is often a blur, a frantic rush to get out of bed, get dressed, dress the kids, argue with your spouse, speed to church, look for a parking spot, and hurriedly plop down in the pew. Add to that our modern over-emphasis on public speaking and you have a perfect recipe for the neglect (and perhaps even abuse) of corporate singing.

So how can you make the most of the corporate singing time at your church? How can you turn your mind and heart toward the worship of God during those few critical moments?

Here are a few things your worship leader would say if your pastor would ever let him preach a sermon:

1.   Prepare. On Saturday night or Sunday morning, spend a few minutes before God preparing your heart and mind to worship. It will be busy and crazy while you’re getting ready to go on Sunday. So prepare ahead time. Pray that God will give you an attitude of internal peace and worship in the midst of external pandemonium.

2.  Arrive on time. This might sound a bit harsh, but if you can get to church ten minutes late, you can get there on time. Plan for the unexpected — the parking might be full, the room might be crowded, you might hit traffic. My guess is that you plan like that on school days or work days. You can do it for church days as well. That will leave you time to sit down and quiet your mind and your heart before the songs begin.

4.  Don’t consider it the “warm-up” for the sermon. Singing does prepare you to hear from God’s Word. But it’s much more than a prelude. It’s a chance for you and your fellow Christians to sincerely focus on God. To actively participate in the service. To say to God what you hopefully feel about Him all week. So take it seriously. Don’t chat at the back of the room, spend the first three songs filling up your coffee, or look at your watch in eager anticipation of the sermon.

3. Sing. Seriously. Open your mouth and sing the songs. You don’t have to sing louder than everybody in the room. And there are appropriate times to be quiet and reflect on the lyrics. But if you never sing, you’re probably not getting the point of corporate worship. It’s not a concert designed for the worship leader to show you his skills. The idea is that we’re all worshipping God together…by singing (Psalm 47:6-7).

4. Reflect. Think about what you’re singing. In some cases the lyrics are excellent descriptions of God’s character and work in history. In some cases not so much. Either way, you’ll learn a great deal by paying attention to what you’re singing. And just like prayer, worship requires that we know what we’re saying to God.

5. Remember it’s not about your preferences.  A wise older man who faithfully attended our young-ish church would tell me occasionally that our music wasn’t really his speed. “But it’s not about what I like,” he would say. “It’s about connecting these students to Jesus. I can tolerate the noise if it helps them to understand the Gospel.” Amen. One of the beautiful things about corporate worship: it can remove us from thinking about ourselves and help us to focus on God and others. If we allow for it.

6. Finally, remember that it’s corporate worship. That means you aren’t supposed to completely tune out everybody else in the room. It’s really not just about you and God. You and God are there, but there are other people there as well. Be conscious of those who are singing around you. What can you do to help them worship more effectively? How can you take joy in hearing them sing to the Lord? How do the lyrics point to a common and shared faith rather than merely an individual faith? If worship were simply private, we’d just stay at home and crank up Spotify. It’s intended to draw us closer to Jesus as a group and as individuals.

What ideas or concerns do you have about corporate worship? Do you agree/disagree with my suggestions here? 

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