Several Things That Stand In The Way
As a child, I was attracted to Pentecostalism because of the vitality and participation of the people of God in their praise expression. My first exposure to such was in a congregation of German Pentecostals in Melville, Saskatchewan. It left an indelible impression on my young soul.
Much water has passed under the bridge since that time. I have pondered a disturbing trend in the last 30 years of ministry. It is the non-participation of most attendees in the corporate worship experience. Scanning an average congregation of believers during specified worship segments in a service, it appears that many see this as a time to be endured rather than enjoyed.
I think of the things that present roadblocks to me, preventing me from actively worshipping when I am assembled with other believers. Here are some thoughts from my logbook.
I fail to understand that worship is the destination and that praise is the vehicle that gets me there. Entering into praise, which the Bible calls a ‘sacrifice, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks,’ requires a deliberate and determined choice on my part. That is what the Psalmist dictates the terms to his own soul, “I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” David commanded his soul to bless the Lord because he needed to be aware of God’s presence with him in the multitude of challenges he faced. He had learned that praising God, regardless of personal feelings, opened new vistas of the understanding of God’s love and grace. One will not experience the intimacy of worship without choosing to engage in praise. It is the pathway God has chosen into His presence. And it is a deliberate, disciplined choice.
I have the false belief that someone else can worship on my behalf. The increase in excellence in Christian music, its immediate availability, and the trend towards well-rehearsed ‘worship teams’ has created a ‘do it for me’ attitude. I become a consumer of worship performance instead of a contributor to the corporate worship experience. In many cases, the period that we designate ‘worship’ in our services has assumed a concert flavour, with a few doing it for the whole. When that happens, I become a judge of the worship rather than an integral part of it.
I become discouraged by the rapid turnover of a plethora of worship music. There has never been a time when more creative artists have produced as much music for corporate worship. Most of it is praiseworthy and meaningful. However, much of it is also musically complicated and not easy to learn. Often, before I am able to appreciate a particular song or chorus, the repertoire has changed, and I am asked to again learn something new. When this happens, service after service, I find it easier to listen than to engage. (Note to worship leaders – teach the songs, don’t just sing them.)
I see worship as an event or part of a larger event we call the Church Service. It is an expected, anticipated and fairly predictable part of a ritual I repeat every Sunday. If this is my understanding of worship, it is unlikely I will wholeheartedly participate. So, instead of seeing corporate worship as an isolated event, it is vital to understand that corporate worship is really the public expression of a private lifestyle of worship that carries me through the week and culminates with a symphony of voices raised in praise to God during the corporate gathering. Some time ago, I had a bit of an epiphany. I realized, for the first time, that worship is not an activity I do. Worship is what I am! My life is to be offered as an incense of worship to the Lord. The elders in the Revelation of John perpetually and eternally offer worship to the Almighty, awe-inspiring God of Glory. It is not an activity for them. It is the very essence of their life. It is unlikely that one will enjoy the beauty of corporate worship unless and until they have cultivated a personal lifestyle of private worship.
I have unconfessed sin in my life. David said that if he regarded sin in his life, the Lord would not hear him. Sin blocks the channel for private worship, and it prevents meaningful engagement in public worship. Attempting to present God your offering of praise to God while at the same time holding on to sin that separates you from God makes the worship experience sterile. This is not unlike the behaviour of the Israelites in the Old Testament, who offered disabled, diseased and unclean animals to the Lord. That which was to honour God instead brought insult and offence.
I am proud. Perhaps this is one of the chief problems in our North American mindset. It is called individualism. I react against any instruction I receive. No one can make me; no one will make me do what I do not feel like doing. And that is absolutely true. So, in the corporate worship setting, my voice is mute, my hands remain unlifted, and my attitude is intransigent. I will not be moved. The anointed worship leader may try his/her best to involve me. I shall not be moved. There is a battle raging in every potential worship encounter – God’s desire and my own stubborn will. If my will wins, I lose the joy and intimacy of the experience.
As I intentionally and humbly, with a clear conscience, offer myself to God as a sacrifice of praise, I have exercised my will and surrendered to God. Then He, who created us for intimate fellowship with Him, reciprocates and fills my life with His presence. As I bring that same sacrifice along with the sacrifices of others into a corporate expression of praise, the Glory of God fills the Temple, and our Church is never the same again.
Let’s once more take the careful time to teach our people the meaning of the sacrifice of praise, the impediments that block entrance into the Presence of God, and the sheer beauty of coming before that presence together as we assemble.
We bring the sacrifice of praise into the House of the Lord. And we offer unto Him, the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and we offer unto Him, the sacrifices of joy.
“Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” Psalm 29:2