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Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

In the model of church I read in the New Testament, particularly 1 Corinthians, when the believers gather, a few bring something – not by design of man, but by movement of God: a word, a prophecy (directing the people to a truth they need to hear), an edification, a testimony, a song.  In the New Testament, I believe there were no worship leaders preparing several songs for their congregation to sing.  Our churches today put the pressure on these men to open the door to worship, to lay out the path and charge ahead, teaching us to follow.  At my church there is a stage, and those on it perform – whether performing a duty or a concert, they are not “one of us.”

If a church meeting was participatory, those who brought songs to sing would have reasons.  The song would express not necessarily what we should feel or believe, but what we do believe, or do want to feel.  If a song was less relevant to me, I could sing it because I knew it was relevant to my brother or sister.  The singing would draw us together, and edify each other.

You run into practical problems.  How do people know the lyrics?  What about the tune?  Do we have a pianist?  If it’s a new song, how do we learn?  These aren’t really problems.  For centuries there have been folk songs, these melodies and lyrics rarely written, seldom studied, and almost universally known.  If you don’t know it the first time, maybe you will learn after a few times.  We carry on this custom in the practice of Christmas caroling.  No instrument.  A leader or not.

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In other ways our church is struggling.  I know the lives of at least half our congregation, and how they struggle to follow God.  Their lives are hard, and many of them have blocked God into Sunday mornings rather than reconciling their pain with His sovereignty.  We hear reports of continued failure in devotional lives and evangelism.  And we have so many factions of people who don’t get along and don’t want to.  There is dissention from the congregation about the leadership.  Members suffer illness, poverty, depression – or distraction, materialism, and pleasure-lust.

We have no joy.

Some weeks I am attentive to God’s work in my life, and the joy wants to explode at the least chink of opportunity.  Outside of church – the channeled expression of prepared songlists and sermon series – I do: spin around, jump up and down, clap my hands, lift up my voice.  Inside children are hushed.  Conversation is silenced.  Movement is confined to the row of seats where there is not even enough room to bow, let alone to dance.  What if we did?  What if one day those of us who know joy simply couldn’t contain it?  Imagine laughter, tears, hugs, jumping, swaying, bowing, leaping.  Most of us don’t even know joy like that anywhere.

We have lost joy.  We can barely even imagine it.

Perhaps the church is weak because “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” Or we do not preach the gospel to the world because that would be, “Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.”  Are we striving against each other because we do not “rejoice with those who rejoice”?

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Worship has always been hard for me – at church.  I can think of maybe three times when during the singing at church I have been sincere and undistracted.  So many more times I’ve prayed through the service, offering to God my struggle and my discontent.  Pushing beyond that, I’m willing to consider that there is more going on here than my attitude, and that the atmosphere that stifles me at church might have a remedy.  When I talk to friends who go to my church, those who have experienced worship somewhere else during their lives, they agree that worship is hard there.  So this isn’t just me.

Teachers read us John 4 and say that true worship can be anywhere.  The people around you shouldn’t matter.  Neither should the color of the walls or the style of the music.  If your heart is right, they insist, you can worship.

Maybe the statement is true if your definition of worship is broad, something like: acknowledging that God is real and good and that He saved you – or even: doing what God’s will for you is this moment.  I have a few objections to the assertion made by teachers if the definition is more traditional.

  • The point of congregational worship is that you are with other people – and not just with them, but aware of them and united with them.  If they are not participating, that should bother you.  Maybe we need to stop the worship service and address what’s going on.
  • If you are standing in a room with someone whom you know is sad, and you care about that person, it is reasonable to let that sadness affect you.  On the other hand, if a friend is belting out joy to the Lord, that should affect you as wall.
  • The setting matters because it can be an ‘argument setting itself against the knowledge of God’.  I would have a hard time worshipping God in a Buddhist temple, idols all around.
  • Worship styles are not as subjective as people make them out to be.  Music has meaning.  Different genres express different emotions.  Trumpeting might be good for a battle cry or victory celebration, but less appropriate for repentance.  “Music” that gives its audience headaches or heart palpitations is not going to be conducive to worship.
  • What is being sung also matters.  Theologically false lyrics do not honor God. Some songs are theologically neutral.  Twinkle, twinkle little star is a nice song with nothing improper.  It just isn’t much about God, which worship is supposed to be.  In the same line, a song all about how we feel and what we will do for God is not really worship either, unless it is connecting this as a response to God’s work and worthiness.

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After many adventures on his missionary journey, Paul met with a group of believers at Troas, where they met the first day of the week to break bread and hear Paul teach – until midnight and on to the break of day!  (Acts. 20:7)  Some scholars have used this verse to defend meeting weekly on Sunday.  Given the day-by-day accounts from Luke’s travel journal here, I believe that the day which Paul had available between boat rides to talk to them was the first day of the week, so Luke told us.  Is there significance to this?  There is enough to warrant its inclusion in the Bible.

But interpret it with other Scripture: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days…” (Colossians 2:16) “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship… But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him.” (John 4:20, 23)

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