catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 19 :: 2005.10.21 — 2005.11.03


Enjoying worship?

I grew up in church. As the son of an Australian Anglican priest, church was one of those things that we just did. It was part of life. The weekly order of service had a familiar flow to it, comforting and expected. By the time I was 15, I could recite the service on my own?not only the congregational responses, but the priest?s (my dad?s) words and prayers, with any number of variations! Worship, on the whole, wasn?t highlighted. There wasn?t really a part of the service I could identify as ?the worship.? In fact, worshipping God wasn?t really a concept I was accustomed with. We went to Church. Throughout the week we tried to live the Good Christian Life. That was it.

At about the same age I started playing bass guitar. Eventually I took over as bassist and Musical Director for the Anglican Youth Ministries band. Over time my concept of worship grew. Worship could be the focal point, not just sidelined or an added extra. In fact, music was worship, and it felt great! I still remember one gig, playing in the Cathedral grounds as an alternative worship to the sombre service inside. The presider came out a couple of times, asking us stop playing, or at least quiet down. We were too loud, and sounded too joyful for what was going on inside.

Cut forward to 2001. That naive 15 year old is married, and has spent four expatriate years in the relative comfort of the English Church in The Hague, The Netherlands. Structure, ritual, pipe organs and robes were the order of day. Again, it was familiar and comforting. I played bass in the evening Praise and Worship service, and was at times frustrated with the musical rigidity of it all. Was this the best of both worlds? I don?t know. Worship still seemed not quite right. Somehow it didn?t do for me what it had done previously.

My wife (a professional musician and inspiring worshipper) and I moved from The Hague to Amsterdam, and started attending Crossroads International Church. This was different, and I was cautious. Crossroads was casual and charismatic, but with outstanding teaching and fellowship it proved not only a challenge, but a revelation to me. Again, my concept of worship was changed. Church music could be such high quality. Form wasn?t as is important as I thought it was. Content and heart was what mattered. Worship may not be the be all and end all.

And it was here I think I heard those immortal words for the first time: ?I didn?t get much out of the worship today.?

At first this threw me, and I was confused over the purpose of worship. Is it for the participant, an emotional high to feel closer to God? What are the expectations of worship, how it might happen, and what your response will be? Is one form of more appropriate than another? Does worship depend at all on style, or is screaming vaguely poetic couplets against thrashing guitars and wild drums as valid as a cappella monotone, chant?

Worship is wanting more of God

I think we learn a lot about worship when we consider its goal. Modern day equivalents are often cited, such as worshipping money, or a football team, or a celebrity. The goal is to get more of the thing or person in our own lives, to be totally wrapped up in whatever we want to be wrapped up in. Is this selfish? Can I say that I didn?t get much out of the worship when really it?s all about wanting more of God? I don?t think I can. Ultimately, the worship of God isn?t for my own good, but to be bathed in God, to allow Him to be totally part of my whole being. My emotions don?t really play a part here. Godly worship strives for more of God regardless of how I feel about it.

As part of a music team it?s easy to think that the best worship is perfection. We want every note perfect, every song an emotional, uplifting, presence-of-God act of adoration and reverence. Now I?m certainly no professional bass player. I know my limitations, and the list is long and varied. It?s taken me years to reconcile my worship with my imperfections. Worship doesn?t depend on being note perfect, but on doing my best with the resources I?ve got, and the time I?ve got in which to use them. Really, my worship is dependent on my devotion to God, giving Him everything. It might not be perfect, but it?s all I?ve got to give.

Perhaps this is what is meant by a Sacrifice of Praise, and Heartfelt Praise. Together, they form boundaries of emotions: from worship when I don?t really want to, or don?t really feel like it, to adoration and worship on an emotional high. The Psalms certainly cover all of these. ?Yet, I will Praise Thee!?


Sometime I think that we expect the order of events to be:

Worship => Good Feelings => Presence of God

That is, if through our worship we get good feelings, we deduce that we have sensed the presence of God. If nice feelings don?t come, God hasn?t been present. I think this is the wrong way round. Feelings do come from worship, but they might not be nice ones:

Worship => Presence of God => Right Feelings

I don?t want to discount emotion here at all. God gave us the whole gamut of emotions to experience, and to be used by Him to make us more like Him. Out of worship I?ve experienced not only joy, pleasure and peace, but also awe, sorrow, tears, mourning, shame, pride, boasting and humility, all out of the powerful presence of God. And all focused on God, being totally wrapped up in His presence.

It?s interesting to compares this with James’ theology of salvation and works.

NOT: works→ salvation

BUT: salvation → works

If we were saved by works we would be lost, not only because we can?t do enough to catch up to God, but because we have no way of determining what the right works are. If salvation relied on works, it wouldn?t be enough to just do something; we?d be lost by not doing the right thing. Thankfully, salvation is by grace alone, and out of that salvation the right works grow naturally, and the works are manifold.

So it is with worship. The goal isn?t nice feelings; it?s putting God in His rightful place in my life. Nice feelings might come, but if they don’t that’s OK, because our feelings are not what worship is all about. We are secondary. God must be put in his rightful place. In fact, the feelings that come as we worship tell us what God wants and needs to do in us. As we draw close to God, He draws close to us.

Some of you may recognize this as a variation on The Purpose Drive Life: Worship is not about you?it?s about God. At one level I think that?s right, but worship can certainly be about how God has worked in you, or in your church. Worship can be remembering who we were without God, how far we?ve come with God, and what He?s promised for our future. The focus is on God, but also involves us. Being a God of relationship, worship includes the relationship we have with Him.

So what is it?

Anything that puts God in his rightful place in our lives is worship. So often we’ve (I’ve!) restricted worship to music, or even a particular style of music. But if worship is about God permeating our lives, then it?s more than what we do or how we do it.

Worship can be singing and music. It?s really an easy way to remember His word! But it can?t be confined to a single art form. David danced before the Ark as it entered Jerusalem in worship. He was expressing the joy of having a tangible reality of God right there. When Solomon built the temple, he employed hundreds of artists in worshiping God, and helping the illiterate people to worship Him. One of the greatest Old Testament forms of worship was story telling—remembering God?s work in his people, both from long ago, and in the current day. I wish people would talk more about God?s impact in their lives, simply sharing their story; it?s not just evangelism, it?s worship.

A hindrance here can be our personal stylistic preferences. Me, I’m a jazz/funk man, myself. I love playing and listening to that kind of music. Worshipping in that style is great fun for me. However, I sometimes focus more on the music, and less on God. I get so wrapped up in the bass grooves, the extended chords and the horn calls that I forget about God. Purposefully worshiping in unfamiliar ways can actually be very freeing. It?s frightening, but it allows me to concentrate on God exclusively, and not become distracted.

Likewise, restricting worship to a particular style denies the glory of God. If only hymns are worship we deny God working in music today. If only praise songs are worship, we deny the wealth of our history laid down in so many hymns. If worship doesn?t include story, or dance or any other art form, then what was it created for? If worship doesn?t include work, how can we work as if for the Lord?

Worship is a cycle

Exercise is an amazing thing. I?ve recently started walking for about 30 minutes every day. I never used to think that walking was much exercise. It?s just walking?something I do anyway. But it?s amazing how this little bit of light exercise changes everything. Not only am I losing that spare tire, but I have more energy, I?m sleeping better, and my mental attitude is a whole lot brighter than it used to be.

Worship follows the same route. As I worship, God works in me. He shows in me Himself, and what He wants to do in me. These might not be nice feelings, but they are certainly the right feelings. He reveals in me the actions I need to take, and urges me to follow through. Taking those steps with God moves me forward, and in itself is an act of worship. Remembering what God has revealed to me, even last week or last year, and how I?ve changed, and giving God the glory for it, is all worship. As I worship, there is more to worship about, and it becomes easier to worship all the more. Worship feeds on itself.

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