With Bobby coming on as our new worship minister I have been thinking about worship; Celebration’s worship in particular. I’m asking the question that if Celebration was to start over what would we do different? The same? In answering that question I reflected on some worship fundamentals in the Bible. At Celebration the scriptures are the final authority in church life and in all of life.
What are the Biblical fundamentals of corporate worship? Bob Russell, in his book, When God Builds a Church, does an excellent job of explaining these fundamentals. He writes:
First, we gather for worship to glorify God. Too often we treat worship like a going to a play, a movie, or a concert. Did you like the song he sang? Why didn’t we have Shake-n-Howdy? I thought that sermon was a 7 out of 10. We see those on stage striving to be excellent before God. Sometimes we can interpret that it’s a performance, but that is not the purpose of worship. The scriptures command, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.” (Psalm 29:2) In worship the leader is the prompter, the church are the performers, and God is the audience. Too many times we think we are the audience and we wait for God to perform. We get it backwards.
We can also focus on each other too much. At church we can focus catching up with each other instead of catching up with God. At church we can spend our time making appointments, telling jokes, or just hanging out and God becomes an afterthought to our agendas. Unfortunately, God gets crowded at church real quick. We get this backwards too. Great worship doesn’t come from great friendships, it comes from glorifying God. Great worship is not the result of great friendships, it creates great friendships.
The Psalmist wrote, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.” (Psalm 95:6-7)
Worship is more than singing songs, performing some rituals, hanging out with friends, and enduring a sermon. We come to experience the presence of God, to acknowledge his authority in our lives, and to worship Him as our creator. Tim Kelly said, “Worship is taking our affection off our idols and putting it on God.” What we do in on Sunday morning should be a reflection of what we do the other 167 hours each week.
God despises worshippers if worshippers have hearts that are not right with him. Take note of God, “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream!” (Amos 5:21-24)
If we come to church expecting it to form to our expectations then you’ve missed the point. Worship is not designed to please you. It’s designed to please God. If we come to church and it’s more important to us to hang out with our friends at church than glorifying God then we’ve missed the point. You can hang out with friends anywhere. Worship’s focus isn’t on us nor our friendships. Worship is about God, period. God leaves the church that exalts itself over him. Sure, it’s a lot more fun to worship God with our friends (and we should worship with friends), but God is the focus, not us.
Secondly, Biblical worship creates a sense of awe. Many people say they cannot wait to see God face to face, like they are getting ready to see one of their grandparents with a big hug. In the Bible, when people are in the presence of God their reaction was not a lovely hug, but of fear. There was a deep sense of awe and respect and even genuine dread. God is so holy and so powerful! When we are in the presence of God our appropriate response is one of wonderment and awe. When Isaiah was brought before God he cried, “Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips,… my eyes have seen the King, the Lord almighty,” (Isaiah 6:1-5)
The presence of God is awesome! He is so much holier and powerful than we are. Each Sunday we should be in awe of him.
Thirdly, Biblical worship creates a sense of joy. Being in the presence of God doesn’t rule out happiness. Worship is characterized by an overwhelming sense of joy in the hearts of God’s people. Not only was the acts church in a sense of awe as they worshiped but they glorified God “with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” (Acts 2:46-47).
Their hearts were glad because the God of the universe had visited them in the person of Jesus Christ. They were not worshipping a force that would annihilate them on a whim, but a faithful, personal God of grace who loved them and died for them through Jesus Christ. God cared enough for them that he died for them! They had an eternal purpose for living. They could shout with the Psalmist:
“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are hist;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.” (Psalm 100)
After this short Bible study on worship I have some questions of reflection for how we worship on Sunday morning.
1.) Does our corporate worship glorify God? Is he the focus for the entire hour and twenty minutes?
2.) Are we more concerned about seeing our friends than being in the presence of God?
3.) Are we more concerned about coffee than meat of the word?
4.) Does shake-n-howdy create a sense of awe of God in our worship service, or is it half-time, a break from God?
5.) If someone watched you worship on Sunday morning, would they describe you as person filled with joy? If we video-taped you and you watched yourself, would you describe yourself as a person worshipping with delight?
6.) When was the last time in worship you reacted like Isaiah did, “Woe is me! I am ruined!”
7.) Do we really understand that Bobby is just the prompter and we are the worshippers performing to our heavenly Father?
8.) When you come to church, get ready to come, are you more excited to worship God or to see your friends?
9.) What would God say about your / our worship on Sunday morning? What grade would he give us?
Worship isn’t really about the leader’s performance to us. It’s about our performance to God. It’s the leader’s job to do his job with excellence, and to continually improve, so that he can prompt us before God. Bobby isn’t the main act. We are. I’m not the main act. God’s word is.
I’m seeking to ask some hard hitting questions about our worship because Jesus said that if we truly worship him in spirit and in truth all men will be attracted to him. When we Biblically worship we naturally attract others to Jesus. I want us to get better at worship. I want to be better at worship. I desire this because I want to honor my heavenly Father who loved me so much and I want to attract more people to Him.