“Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let Your glory be over all the earth.” (Psalm 57:11, NIV)
David wrote these words while hiding in a cave from King Saul, who was trying to find and kill him. Even when being pursued by an enemy who most certainly would’ve murdered him, David took refuge in the worship of God! It’s easy to praise God when things are going well, but how often do we exalt Him when things are not going well? When life is hard, God is our refuge, and worship is our solace.
For that to be true of us, we must be enamored by God. When was the last time I experienced the awesome glory of God? Do I seek His glory? Moses said to the Lord, “Show me Your glory,” and God answered his prayer. We sing songs about God’s glory filling all the earth, but are those songs really the anthem of our hearts? Do we look for God, seeking to be transformed by encountering His glory? Do we hunger for His name to be exalted above the heavens and His glory to fill the earth?
Or have we grown so familiar with phrases from songs and words like “glory” that they’ve lost their sparkle? Are we so busy with our own lives, our own jobs, our own pursuits, and our own glory that we forget we live not for ourselves, but for the Glorious One who alone deserves to be worshiped? When we put things in perspective and live outside of ourselves for the glory of God, we will find that worship becomes our refuge from the storms of life, and God’s Spirit sustains us as we commune with Him.
There’s a song by Chris Tomlin that has a line in it that makes my heart leap every time I hear it. The song is All to Us, and the line is “Let the glory of Your name be the passion of the church.” Amen! That is my prayer for this week.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1a, NIV)
Hanging on the cross, dying, Jesus quoted the opening line of Psalm 22. This was no coincidence! Going back to read Psalm 22 is like reading a description of Jesus’s crucifixion, written before crucifixion had even been invented, and written hundreds of years before Jesus walked this earth. The Psalm mentions such details as Jesus being scorned and mocked (vv. 6-7), even foretelling what the religious leaders of the day would say as Jesus hung on the cross (v. 8)! It describes how His hands and feet would be pierced (v. 16), and how they would cast lots for his garment (v. 18).
I can’t begin to imagine the suffering Jesus experienced as He hung on the cross. As I read Psalm 22, lyrics from an older worship song come to mind: I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross. Jesus suffered for me, and as Psalm 22 promises, His suffering was not in vain. The Psalm goes on to say:
“For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly…” (Psalm 22:24–25, NIV)
My prayer for us this week is that we will remember the suffering of the Afflicted One, our Savior, and lift His praise in our lives each day. Thank You, God, for saving me.
“Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2, NIV).
Psalm 8 declares the majesty of the Lord’s name throughout all the earth. God has done marvelous things in Creation. Look at a sunset, gaze at a starry night, and tell me you aren’t moved by the glory of God! Not only that but when we see the immensity of God’s Universe and consider the vast power that is His, we realize our humble estate. What a great honor and privilege that the Creator would be mindful of us! He is worthy of our worship.
When I read verse 2, I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’s words in Matthew 18:3. “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Kids are so amazed by simple things we take for granted. They find wonder in little things we don’t even notice anymore. My son, Elliot, is fascinated by bugs. He loves to go outside and dig for worms and catch ladybugs. Watching them flit around in a jar brings him so much delight. When was the last time I was delighted by the things God has made for us to enjoy, even the simple things?
We get so busy with work and family obligations, so burdened by the cares and anxieties of life, that we sometimes forget that the praise of God is our stronghold in a chaotic world. The Lord is our Rock who doesn’t move among the shifting sands of society. Worship is the bedrock of our lives, and when we have the attitude of a child–amazed and delighted and filled with wonder by the beauty and majesty of our God–then we will find our footing sure and our hearts light.
My prayer for us this week is that we will be delighted by God and respond with praise.
One of my goals this Advent is to spend more time praying through God’s Word. And, I thought perhaps you’d like to join me in that this Christmas season! Below are a Scripture and prayer. Read the passage, pray the prayer, and then write or speak your own prayer from this Scripture. Send me your prayer this week (email@example.com) and I’ll pray it, too! We can pray through Scripture together. 🙂
Psalm 63:1-5 (NIV)
1 You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.
2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory. 3 Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you. 4 I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands. 5 I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
Oh, God, may it be true of me that You are my God. You are the source and the foundation of my life. My hope and trust are in You alone. Without You I am nothing; I have nothing apart from You. There is no satisfaction in life unless You are there. You are my joy and my strength. You are my light and my salvation. You are the One who really matters. I have seen Your glory and experienced the supernatural presence and power of Your Holy Spirit. Your majesty commands my praise and Your love has captivated my heart. I will praise You as long as I live and will exalt Your holy name. To worship in Your presence is the highest purpose and the greatest experience in life. Fill me with Your Spirit, I ask in Your name. Amen.
This is the first sermon in a series called Christmas Songs, where we study the original music of Christmas. The first Christmas songs were composed a couple thousand years ago and written in Scripture. These songs from the Bible will help us make this Christmas season a time of worship, with family, friends, food, and shopping filling their appropriate roles under the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sermon delivered at LakeView Church on Dec 3, 2017.
And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’ ”
~ Luke 4:8
“The church service is the most important, momentous and majestic thing which can possibly take place on earth…”
~ Karl Barth
There is no higher calling, no greater pursuit in life than worship. Yet, according to a recent study by the Barna Group, the average “active” church member attends church 1.7 times a month… that’s not even half the time! And those are the “active” members! There are some legitimately good reasons for a person to occasionally miss church, but the reality is many Christians simply fail to make worship a priority–we’re just too busy to be bothered with going to church (thankfully, Jesus wasn’t too busy to be bothered with going to the cross!). So, as a little incentive at the start of a new year, here are six reasons why it’s important to worship together, in church, as the church.
1. It’s important to worship together because we’re commanded to.
Many times the Scriptures call us to come together to worship the Lord. Consider Psalm 95, which begins, “Come, let us sing for joy…” Everything in the entire Psalm is written in the plural. In fact, it’s impossible to practice Psalm 95 by yourself, because Psalm 95 calls God’s people to gather together and worship Him. So, we have a simple choice. Either we will choose to be obedient to God’s Word, and make worshiping together a priority; or we will choose to be disobedient to God’s Word and skip church. Which way will you choose?
2. It’s important to worship together because it drives our beliefs down deep into our souls.
I’ve had many conversations with people who tell me they don’t think Christianity has any real impact in their lives. They don’t sense God’s presence with them ever, and they don’t have any connection to the power of God in their daily lives. I wonder if this might be because their beliefs are little more than ideas in their heads? See, beliefs don’t really change your life until they drop from your head to your heart. It’s not enough to simply think things, you need to hold those beliefs in the depths of your soul. And, corporate worship is designed to engage your entire being–heart, soul, mind, and strength. When we sing our beliefs, pray our beliefs, study our beliefs, discuss our beliefs, and interact with other Christians who share our beliefs, those beliefs become more than just ideas in our heads. They become life-transforming truths driven deeply into our souls and expressed daily in how we live.
3. It’s important to worship together because you can’t truly know God as He is by yourself.
I’ve talked with many, many people who say, “I don’t have to go to church to know God.” The fact is, they’re wrong. God is not just your God or my God–He is our God. Through my study, and my experience, and my relationship with God, I have a different knowledge of Him than you do. And you have experienced God in ways I haven’t. If I want to truly know God as He is, I need to be with other Christians and learn from their stories, their worship, and their experiences. When I hear sermons from other pastors, I learn more about God than I would just by studying those verses by myself. When I hear other Christians pray, I see what God means to them and how He’s worked in their lives, and I get a bigger picture of God than I ever would have just praying by myself. On my own, I have one tiny perspective on God–a drop in the ocean. If I truly desire to know more of God, I must be together with other Christians in worship.
“You will never know God as He is unless you are in a worshiping community.”
~ Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City
4. It’s important to worship together because it’s where life together begins.
There’s no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian. The Christian faith is personal, but it is neverprivate. We do not have a private faith! Everywhere the gospel went, it formed Christian congregations, churches, where Christians would gather. The Christian life is a life together, and that life together begins with worship.
“The whole common life of the Christian fellowship oscillates between Word and Sacrament, it begins and ends in worship.”
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer
5. It’s important to worship together because it reminds us what’s really important in life.
Guess what? Your kids’ sports are not really what’s important in life. How much money you make isn’t really the ultimate value of life. Sleeping in doesn’t rank super high on the list of what matters most in this world. What is really important in life is knowing God, hearing His voice and responding to it in worship. We were created to “glorify God and to enjoy Him forever,” as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says. When we make going to church to worship together a priority, we proclaim to ourselves, our kids, our friends, and the world around us that we are not the center of the Universe–God is.
When I was a kid, we were not allowed to play sports that caused us to miss church. If there was a game Sunday afternoon and we could play after church, that was fine. But we didn’t miss church to play ball because how many points you score on the field isn’t really what’s important in life. And let’s be honest, I wasn’t going to be a professional athlete (and neither will your kids). I can’t remember a single Sunday when we woke up, sat around in our PJ’s and asked, “Do you think we should go to church this morning?” Was it Sunday? Were we breathing? Then we were going to worship God. When I was old enough to have a job, my dad told me I wasn’t allowed to work on Sunday mornings and skip church. My high school job wasn’t important enough to take me away from the worship of God!
Parents, when you allow your kids to skip church because of sports, working at McDonald’s, and just being too tired to get up, you are teaching them that God is only worthy of our worship when it’s convenient for us. If you allow your kids to be the center of your family’s Universe, they will grow up thinking the world revolves around them. But, your kids are not awesome… God is awesome. They are not the center of the Universe–God is. Making church a priority reminds us and teaches others around us of what’s really important in life, namely, God.
6. It’s important to worship together because we need to “rest” in Christ.
In the Old Testament, the people of Israel observed the Sabbath Day. Every Saturday, they stopped what they normally did the rest of the week and physically rested. They stopped their work and worshiped God. They acknowledged that God was truly the One who provided for them, cared for them, and worked for them. As Christians, we are not bound by the Sabbath law, like the Israelites were. However, through Jesus Christ’s work on the cross, He offers us a spiritual Sabbath. We don’t celebrate our “Sabbath” on Saturday, but we “rest” in Christ on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the day when Jesus rose again. And, we need that spiritual rest.
An aircraft carrier carries planes across the ocean. Those planes fly out on their mission, but they can’t stay out forever. If they don’t come back to land on the carrier, they will run out of fuel and crash. They need to come back, be refueled, refitted, repaired, and relaunched to accomplish their mission. That’s exactly what worship does for us. You are out there Monday through Saturday, trying to live a godly life in a godless society. If you stay out too long, you’ll run out of fuel and crash. You need to stop, come back and rest in God’s sanctuary, and be refreshed. You need to be reminded of what’s most important in life. You need to be refocused on God’s Word, and you need to be encouraged by other Christians. Then you need to be relaunched back into the world, full of the Spirit and ready to accomplish God’s mission for you.
Going to church on a Sunday morning is important. It’s not just some meaningless activity Christians do, but it’s a vital part of your life as a believer. We need to worship together, and God is worthy of our worship. He gave His one and only Son to die on the cross in our place. He forgives all our sin. He provides for all our needs. The least we can do is give Him a couple hours one day a week!
There have been so many blogs, books, and articles, written about worship style that I could probably read one a day for the rest of my life and still not read them all! Yet, I’m writing one more… go figure! When it comes to corporate worship, I believe that the megachurch craze has hurt the church in America. Megachurches have created unrealistic expectations for both quality and style, and because Christians so often have absolutely zero creativity of their own, many, many, many, many, many smaller churches (in smaller communities) have tried to copycat megachurch music… with varying levels of success failure. In this blog, I want to consider just one question: how do we create engaging worship services?
First, I think we need to understand the primary goal of a worship service is to “ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name” (Psalm 29:2a). The ultimate goal of worship is not to make seekers comfortable, evangelize the lost, reach a new segment of your population, or make people feel sentimental. Not one of those things is bad, in and of itself; but not one of those things is the primary goal of corporate worship. Worship is first and foremost about giving glory to God. Once we understand that, we can move into the waters of seeker sensitive, evangelistic, traditional, contemporary, charismatic, emergent, EPIC, ancient-modern, etc, etc, etc, etc, with a clear head.
If the primary goal of a worship service is for the people who are present to ascribe to God the glory due him, then I think the first question we need to ask in planning a service is, who are the people present? If your service is a youth service of primarily teens, the type of music and service flow that will engage them in ascribing glory to God may be vastly different than if you’re doing a service at a local nursing home. Or, if your congregation is mostly blue-collar working class people in a small Midwestern town, you’ll probably find that the type of service they most deeply connect with will be different than a wealthy, professional congregation in a major city like New York. Likewise, there are similar differences in charismatic vs. non-charismatic churches, ethnically-diverse vs. all-white churches, urban vs. suburban vs. rural churches, etc.
So now you’re already beginning to see the problem of copycatting what a mostly-white, highly-educated, upper-class, suburban megachurch does on Sunday morning. Their context may be very different from yours (or mine), and therefore your worship service may need to be different in order to more effectively engage your congregation in ascribing to the Lord the glory due his name.
The second question to ask in order to plan an engaging worship service is, who has God given to the church? God gives people as gifts to a local congregation (see Ephesians 4:11-12). How has God gifted your congregation? I do believe that we are called to develop the gifting within the church, but you have to start somewhere. If God hasn’t given your church any drummers, bass players, or electric guitarists, should you be trying to start a Christian rock band in your worship service? I believe God equips you to carry out his calling. If God is calling your church to start a hip-hop worship service, then God will give you hip-hop artists who want to serve your church in that way. If he hasn’t given your church those artists, then perhaps that’s not the direction he’s calling you to head.
The third question for planning an engaging service is, how can I use the artists God has given us to engage the people who are present in ascribing glory to God? This is really the heart of the issue at hand, and, it requires deep thought, many conversations, trial and error, and… prayer. Lots of prayer. If your church is in a small farm-town in rural Missouri, all white in a town that is 97% white, mostly middle-aged and over because there aren’t a ton of young families in the area; and if God has blessed you with a keyboardist and a couple of guitar players, and a teenager who’s learning to play drum set… then trying to start a hip-hop service, or put together a Christian-radio-pop service, or build an orchestra to play the hymns of Bach probably won’t work well. You’re not going to engage the people who are there, or use the artists God has given you to work with.
As you wrestle with this third question, here’s what I’ve discovered in over 20 years of worship arts ministry.
Quality + Authenticity > Style
I’ve found that it doesn’t really matter that you’re singing the newest song from Crowder’s American Prodigal album… if your band stinks. If God hasn’t given you the musicians to play Christian pop-worship with good quality, then either seek a different expression of worship or wait to pull out the Christian pop until you have developed the teen drummer to keep a steady beat. Here’s a secret: just because Elevation Church is doing it, doesn’t mean your church has to do it! Quality is critical to engaging people in worship. So, stop trying to be Willow Creek, Harvest Bible Chapel, Northpoint, or Elevation Church. Be who YOU are, worship with who God has given you, and strive for excellence. If that means you need to sing older music in order to sing it well, then by all means, sing older music well.
Quality is important. So is authenticity. It doesn’t matter that you’re singing Oceans (again) if your congregation isn’t genuinely worshiping. I’ve been in churches where the band was better than the radio version, but no one was singing! It was a performance, a show. The congregation just didn’t engage. Finding what engages the hearts of your church involves a lot of trial and error. I grew up in a Pentecostal church. Planning 35-40 minutes of “open worship” where people could “enter into the throne room of God” and “soak in the presence of the Spirit” worked great in my Pentecostal church. But, when I took a worship pastor position in a non-charismatic church, I couldn’t figure out why the 35-minute unbroken praise fell flat. It’s because the people in that church hadn’t learned to enter into or express worship in that way. The style, flow, and lyrics that they most authentically worshiped with were different than in the church where I grew up.
Unfortunately, megachurches have (imho) created an unrealistic expectation for what Christian worship services are supposed to be. The seeker-sensitive movement hijacked worship for the glory of God and turned it into a sales-pitch to convince a seeker to buy into this whole Christianity thingy. But, I think there is hope on the horizon for normal (read, not mega-) churches to consider who, where, and when they are; to consider the artists God has given them to work with; and creatively lead a congregation in authentic worship with excellence.
Whatever you plan for your worship services, remember this: God deserves our best; and God deserves our hearts. When you have excellence and authenticity, your worship services will not only ascribe glory to the Lord, but they will be engaging for unbelievers who visit your services. There are few things in this world as effective for evangelism as the sincere worship of God’s people (regardless of the style).