The word “worship” has in these modern days become a noun rather than a verb. It is bandied about as a thing. “They have great worship” is a revealing phrase. It places the value upon the kind and style of a particular worship “experience” rather than the object of our worship. And within this western culture man and his creativity are highly exalted even within the church. Even worship is a source of pride which usually centers around the quality of music or the praise team or the lights or the infective personality of the worship leader. But how can a person who has not engaged in worship privately throughout the week automatically thrust into worship when the music begins? The answer is he cannot.
Singing is not worship. Clapping is not worship. Dancing is not worship. Raising your hands is not worship. All those things may accompany true worship, but they are not worship. In order to worship in Spirit and in truth you must know Christ personally and intimately, and you must prepare yourself. The priests who ministered in the tabernacle did not just rise up, grab a bite to eat, and then rush in to perform their duties. No, they had specific things that would prepare, or better yet sanctify, their hearts in order to minister and worship the Lord God.
And yet how many people rise up on Sunday, hurry to make their outward man presentable, and quickly set out for the church building? But they have spent no time at all with Christ to say nothing of seeking Him and preparing their hearts to worship with other believers. And you end up with a room full of unprepared hearts which are manipulated by music and singing and the driving force of the worship leader. That, my brethren, is not worship in the Spirit. That is a “worship experience” in modern ecclesiastical parlance.
The world of experience and the senses and ambiance has slowly but surely replaced true worship of the heart and the spirit. When it takes professional music and lights and volume and a worship leader urging people on then what are we talking about? It may be sincere, but eventually the outward becomes the driving force and then what we have is literally a concert atmosphere. And when the “worship” has been allocated a certain amount of time of which the worship leader is aware, then how can we even suggest our worship is being led of the Spirit? Can true worship be a servant to our schedules? People’s emotions are susceptible to all kinds of manipulation. So when professing believers arrive at the gathering without a portfolio of worship throughout the week, to say nothing of that very morning, can we force them into true worship on the spot without a time of repentance? It is all of the flesh.
To truly worship God requires a sacred time of repentance, humility, and self denial. I am not suggesting it is complex, but I am suggesting it must come from a surrendered heart. Music has been used by God throughout the Scriptures, but when people wander through the week without times of prayer and worship to the Risen Christ then music serves as a replacement for what should have been already overflowing in people’s hearts. But the modern construct of the gathering is not set up to lead people into repentance and true worship. It is constructed to make people feel good and feel like a part of that particular local assembly and in so doing they will give. There. The emperor has no clothes.
Can the Spirit strive in that kind of an atmosphere? How often have I been in a worship service where the congregation seems to be exuberant, and as predicted the worship leader has led the congregation to an emotional zenith, and when the pastor steps forward he is in control of his emotions and shows no real sign he was in the moment and he goes into his greeting mantra? So I am to believe you can be before the throne of the Great God and of our Lord and Savior worshiping Him with your whole heart, and then on cue you turn into the greeter or the announcement giver? There must be something wrong, and there is.
The chronology of the service has been established and almost nothing can interfere with that schedule. That is not a worship time. That is an orchestrated set of events where on section is called “worship”. Just like an applause light that signals the Tonight Show audience when to applaud, so we have made our gatherings a slave to our order of service. And it isn’t just one Sunday. Most evangelical churches exhibit a Sunday after Sunday redundancy which reveals a program oriented format. Church members arrive at the gathering full expecting it to last a set amount of time. And if by chance there is a monthly or quarterly communion service that Sunday morning that everything else is adjusted in order not to go way over the usual allotted time. Can you really believe this honors our Lord?
True worship must have no competition. You cannot multi-task worship. This is a great challenge in these days where we have learned how to think about several things at once. Worship requires a warfare against our flesh and a capturing and recapturing of the mind. Do not think you can enter into worshiping our Lord and you can float downstream. Your flesh and this world and the evil one will do battle in your mind in order to keep you from a surrendered and focused time of worship. Sometimes it takes much time to enter into that sacred place. Sometimes I have left the gathering realizing I really did not worship God with my whole heart. I fault no one but myself.
But true worship not only glorifies our God, but it changes us. There are many things which transpire within us when we worship in spirit and in truth. We are filled with repentance and joy and contrition and gratitude and wonder and brokenness and humility and love and love and more love. And you just don’t turn off worship when someone tells you the time is over. That is why the early church did not operate on a time schedule. And there were believers over there studying the Word, and believers over there worshiping God, and believers over there breaking bread, and believers over there earnestly praying, and the Spirit working among them. It wasn’t an ecclesiastical cattle round up.
If any of this has reached your own heart I exhort you to begin with private worship. Cultivate a worship where you and Jesus fellowship in the Spirit and you are not limiting that time. I realize it is not easy because we are so imprisoned by the dictates of this life, but if you persevere, and if you are diligent, there will be times where you are granted a sacred place of revelation of our Wonderful Savior. And without you attempting to force anything…you will be changed. Remember, worship is not about worship. It is all about Him.