Sunday, March 14, 2010

Worship

“The worship service was so good this morning.”
“That worship leader is so anointed.”
“That is my favorite worship song.”
We are all guilty of making such statements. They are well meaning and are an attempt to honor Christ, and in our hearts many times they do. But a closer look reveals an insidious detour from Christ and into an experience that is compromised by music, worship leaders, and the ambiance of the event itself. Nowhere in those three statements is Jesus even mentioned, and although it is very possible that we did indeed acknowledge Him at some point, those statements still reveal a tendency to be affected by the structure at the expense of Christ Himself.
Very few of us actually worship Jesus. We may praise Him and we may lift up His name, but very few believers enter in to worship. Even the word “worship” has been diluted by the western church so as to accommodate our busy and hectic lifestyles and still claim to worship. Worship today is seen in terms of music, outward demonstrations, and a designated portion of the gathering. Some modern preachers now teach that we can worship Christ while doing other things such as driving, mowing the lawn, and even taking out the garbage.
But such teachings only diminish Christ Himself, and reduce worship to a modest exercise of praising God with some or even most of our attention directed on Him. They say we can worship God in the grocery line, while making dinner, and even while taking a shower. Perhaps we can and should praise God and give Him thanks in those situations, but worship is not an appendage to our everyday activities. You cannot multi-task worship. Worship requires preparation; worship requires sacrifice; worship requires brokenness; worship requires repentance; and worship requires the entire heart and mind.
Worship must change us. If we are to claim we have entered into the very secret place of Christ, and if we contend we have met with the Risen Christ in the mystery of His throne room, and if that assertion is indeed true, then its veracity will be verified by how we have been affected by it. In fact, a “worship service” may not prove to be so “wonderful” if indeed we have met the Living and Awesome God in spirit and in truth. The deepest and most authentic worship may profoundly break us and remove our spiritual fa├žade in such a way as to render us undone…gloriously undone. It may prove to be some of the most excruciating spiritual experiences we ever have.
That is a far cry from lightly discussing some wonderful worship service over a post service meal at Denny’s. And the subject of the conversation will not be the worship leader or some worship song or even the worship service itself. In fact, if we actually enter into the worship of the Risen and Glorified Lion of Judah, there may be many times we cannot effectively share with anyone the magnitude of that experience. True worship will take you to a spiritual place that you thought you desired, and yet when you arrive you are taken aback and overwhelmed. To come before the Lord Christ is not just some uplifting and encouraging experience. Worship will bring into focus the reality of who Jesus is and the unvarnished reality of who you should be.
Worship brings forth all sorts of strange and wonderful emotions and understandings. You can feel completely grateful while feeling ashamed as well. You may feel exhilaration that elicits weeping and tears. You may experience a personal diminishing and smallness while still feeling a strength not known to this world. Worship can break you down and remove the mask you have worn. Worship can convict and inspire; it can bring low and yet uplift; and worship can strip away another layer of pretense and self caricature and in the pain of that process you are set free. And most importantly of all, worship reveals the Exalted Lamb of God in a clearer and more pronounced and revealed mystery. By His grace God has revealed Himself to you personally and pulled back the veil a little further.
We have shortchanged God with our culture and religious practices. We hurry to church without spending time with Christ and beseeching Him to change us at the gathering, and then we hurry away to dine sumptuously and prepare for fellowship, football, and the afternoon nap. And we have the audacity to claim we met with the Risen Christ in worship. That is not worship; that is repeating a shallow religious oblation that severely lacks the fruits of a disciple and the integrity of such a claim of worship. The western Christian construct continues to insure that, should Jesus tarry, future generations will sink deeper into a tepid, bland, and even embarrassing form of following Jesus.
We must return to worshiping the Living Savior of the Universe. But take heed, the road back to that kind of sacrifice is not paved and not well lit. It is surely lonely and filled with all sorts of temptations to quit as well as temptations of self righteousness and judgment. Prepare to be exalted by being brought low. Prepare for an inner conflict between the flesh and the Spirit. The flesh will present a continuous deception of all sorts of creative evils which are rooted in the wisdom of man, the weakness of the flesh, and the condemnation of others. Your flesh will help you share any experiences God has allowed to you with the express and clandestine motive of exalting yourself.
But if you are willing to suffer, and if you are willing to be mute when you feel like speaking, then you will find the joy and exhilaration of a painful and self denying journey that leads to rivers of revelation of Him. Nothing that is born of God is easy, and the road less travelled is the road hidden in His glory. The accolades of men are stumbling blocks, and when you share some things they will lose what God had intended them to be for you. This idea of worshiping God is not some subject you share over dinner or lunch with a friend. In fact, it may turn out that when you enter into this journey God might just test you. God may not allow you to speak about the particulars of your journey at until someone actually senses a real and substantive change in you and your spirit and inquires of you first.
Only then may He exhort you to humbly share what He has been doing in and through you. And the Spirit will place a watch by your mouth lest you stray into a well meaning exaltation of yourself and your experience and not the exaltation of the Risen Christ Himself. To be more open than is comfortable, I have had fits and starts, and I admit that I am not nearly where I should be on the journey I just outlined. But remember, this is not about, and never will be about, you or me. This must always be about Him and Him alone.

And knowing that, when we truly have just come from worshiping the Master,
we will not be interested in the service or the music or the pastor;
we will have been with Jesus, and the overflow of our hearts and lips will be about Him.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes, Rick, thank you! Let Jesus' glory reign! "He must increase but I must decrease."
Kim K.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Brother, for this needed challenge.

Art Katz said that true worship, like all true things of God, must come down to us from above. If He seeks worshippers who worship in Spirit and in Truth, those only come to us from above; we can never generate or self-initiate true acceptable worship. It is a priestly preparing and waiting.

Singing songs together is a public witness to the world, but rarely is it WORSHIP. We are commanded to praise and thank and bless His Name, and so songs may be a good start, as Psalm 100 instructs how to approach Him.

But sadly, what is called "worship" in the churches is too often a fleshly exercise to delight ourselves.

As usual, you have written another piece that causes us to "take our spiritual temperature." You are a real pastor, Rick.

Matt said...

thank you for this admonition and encouragement.