Corporate Worship

I talked a little bit the other night about how we have become dependent on our “God-highs,” and this is especially true in some corporate worship services and Christian events.  I think that sometimes we also fail to understand the purpose of worship.  This is something I see in my own life, and in some churches I’ve been to and taken from what I see and hear from fellow believers.

So, tonight, I want to talk about worship.  Specifically corporate worship, that is, the gathering together of believers to make the glory of God known and to rejoice in who He is through our praise, the message brought, and the giving of our finances and all else that our service entails.

Stay with me, and let’s see where God takes us.

First question I’d like to raise is this: What is our attitude towards worship?

Do we come into worship services, both the singing and the message and all else, with an attitude that brings glory to God and that is holy? I have been so guilty in the past, going back to my early teenage years, of not really caring that I came to worship a holy sovereign God.  That didn’t really register with me.  I cared more about getting home in time to watch my favorite NFL team or was thinking about food after church.  I was too busy looking at the cute girl a row ahead of me and not enough at the word of God being preached.

The Lord throughout Scripture says that He is not pleased with our sacrifices, with our religious rituals.  He wants our hearts.  Look at Jeremiah 6:20: “What use to me is frankincense that comes from Sheba, or sweet cane from a distant land?  Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasing to me.”

I believe that if we come to church with the intention of not truly worshiping God, we are doing a disservice to Him.  He is not pleased, and it is sin.  He is the Creator of all things, and He is most certainly worthy of our worship.

I believe that if we come to church with the intention of worshiping anything but God, we are in sin.  When the Israelites were in the wilderness, at Mount Sinai, when Moses went up to meet with the Lord, they built a golden calf to worship.  Moses was of course furious when he saw this, as was the Lord.  While we hopefully don’t set up golden idols in the middle of our sanctuaries, I wonder if we realize that worshiping ANYTHING but God is idol worship.  In our worship, are we praising because we love the way the music sounds?  Are we worshiping the music, are we worshiping the praise band?  Are we worshiping our church itself?  These are tough questions.  I think I’ve done this unintentionally.  This doesn’t mean it’s okay, or that that is an excuse, but I admit I’ve done it.  My worship experience is altered by what I think of the music, or what I think of the praise team or choir, and thus, if they don’t do what I think they should for me, I think less of the service.

This is a fault of mine, and it might be a fault of many.  Is your attitude towards worship one that is only focused on yourself?  Do you feel like you have to get something in order to count it a success?  I don’t believe this is right.  Instead of us focusing on ourselves, and on what we can get, we should focus on what we can give….that is, our praise, our time, our money, and our lives to the glory of God and rejoicing in what He has done.

I believe that if we come to church distracted, and do not plan on asking God to help us focus on Him, we are in danger of idol worship.  You see, whatever holds your focus, your time, and your heart, holds your worship.  Think about it.  If all your focus, time, and heart is being poured into God, your natural response is to worship Him.  If all of your focus, time, and heart is going towards your job, or towards your car, or whatever it is, that’s what’s going to hold your worship.  Not that you’ll bow down and worship your Chevy, but in your heart, that car or that job or that girl or that guy has become more important than God.  And when we are distracted, and all our minds can do is think about other things except God and why we come to church, our response should be to go to God and ask that He will clear our mind and help us focus on Him and worship Him.  He’s done that for me so many times in the past.

Being distracted is inevitable.  Being distracted isn’t the sin….failing to recognize it and seek God’s help is.  There will always be things that could distract us from our relationship with the Lord, whether it be our job, our family, our problems, etc.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of.  And this certainly isn’t to say that God doesn’t give us some answers to our questions/problems in church.  He does, but it will come when we focus on Him and let the Holy Spirit move.  It will come when we truly give it all up to God, and stop worrying about it, and start worshiping Him.

So our attitude towards worship should be one that marvels at who God is, not at anything else.  Our attitude should be glorifying Him, no matter what else happens or is going on in our lives.

The second question I’d like to raise is What is our expectation and focus of worship?

This ties right back in with the “God-high.”  I know from my own personal experience at church camps, and not all of them were this way, but some were, that the focus is often placed on the person and not God.  The focus is placed on the emotion of the moment, and on the songs sung and message brought, and not on the saving power of God.  Yes the gospel is proclaimed, but it is too often proclaimed as though we wrote the story, as though we were able to save, and it is proclaimed as if it is made more or less powerful by the speaking abilities of the man or woman on stage.  This is not true.  Look at Romans 1:16 with me: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  The gospel is not the power of man.  It is the power of God Himself, through which He calls people to a relationship with Himself through Jesus Christ.  He is the one who fuels it, who uses it, and who makes it powerful and effective.  Not us.  So when we proclaim the gospel, may we proclaim it boldly, but boldly because we trust, not in ourselves and what we can do, but in who God is and what He can do.  We should expect that God is sovereign and powerful over the work of spreading the gospel.  We should focus on Him.

God-highs are not always a bad thing.  Sometimes they’re needed, and they can be good, but when we come to expect that same emotion and feeling every day, we are setting ourselves up for a let-down.  When we expect that God is going to make us feel that way every day, or He’s going to do what He did at that camp each and every day, we will be disappointed.  What happens when those feelings aren’t there?  We feel like God has failed, and this is false.  God never fails.  Ever.  So we must lean on Him for everything, and must walk with Him each day, no matter what the circumstances.  Sometimes it’s going to be hard, but we keep going and doing what we know we ought to do and rejoice in the hope found in Christ.

In our worship services, do we come in expecting to see the music minister belt out an amazing solo, or see the worship team do a sweet-sounding medley of our favorite hymns?  Do we expect to see every single person raising their hands, coming to salvation, giving all they have?  Again, I ask, do we expect that we will personally get a lot out of worship?

You see, sometimes, we don’t get a lot out of church.  And we must learn to be ok with this.  This can affect our attitude in that we don’t worship God, but ourselves.  It affects our expectations in that we are let down when we don’t get a lot out of church.  Our worship services should be built around bringing God the praise He is due, no matter what happens with the music, no matter if the pastor tells a cool story, and no matter if we get anything out of it or not.  I would say that if we are focused on giving God the glory, and not expecting anything but to see Him praised for the God He is, we will get at least one thing……we will get to experience true worship of the Father.  We will experience God’s presence, and we will get to see Him glorified.

Is that enough for us?  I expect to see God move each time I’m in church, but how that happens is up to Him.  He can choose to move by blessing us with great fellowship, or seeing someone come to Christ.  He may move by blessing our church financially and allowing us to give that to Him.  But because of who God is, He deserves our praise no matter what happens.  He created the world, us, gave us salvation, and blesses us immensely with His love.  He deserves our praise, period.  Because our worship isn’t about us.  It isn’t about seeing an incredible “God-high,” or witnessing a “miracle.”  It isn’t about the praise band or the pastor or the people sitting next to you.  It is about bringing glory to God, and if we expect anything more or less, I’m afraid that we set ourselves up for a miserable Sunday.

Our expectations should not be based on humans, on our abilities, or even on the church, but solely on who God is, and that He deserves all the honor and glory.  I hope that we expect to worship God, and that if nothing else happens, that we get to stand in humble adoration of the Creator of the universe, and that that is enough for us.  I hope that our attitudes are ones that marvel at God’s mercy, grace, and love for us, and in humble repentance of where we have failed.

The last question I’ll raise is this: What is our response to worship?

I’m constantly asked “How was church?”  And I usually respond “It was good.”  Sometimes I’ll talk more about the bible study, or the music or the sermon, but more often than not, it’s “It was good.”  I hate that about myself.  Our answer to “How was church?” should be our same response to “How is God?”  He’s awesome!  Not because our church is extra special, not because our bible study went really well or the sermon was especially good, but it was awesome because we got to fellowship with other believers and worship the God of the universe!  It was awesome because we got to be in His house, in His presence.

Our response shouldn’t be dependent on our emotions, but on the character of God.  I’m not saying that you’re always going to have a blast at church….you won’t.  Some Sundays will be better than others.  But if our response after we get in our car and drive away is based only on how we feel about the service and if we were “fed,” and not on the thought “Wow, I just got to experience God,” then we have a problem.  Even if the service itself wasn’t the best in the world, we still marvel and wonder and are amazed by the incredible character of God.

God doesn’t need our guitars, drums, and three-point sermons to make His name known.  All we have to do to be amazed at God is to look at ourselves and see how much we need Him, and then look at Him, and see how much of Himself we have been given in salvation.  This salvation God has given to us is a gift, one that we do not deserve, and yet He loves us enough to call us to Him, and to show us who He is.  He loves us enough to pick us up out of the dirt, out of the pit of our sin, and in our rebellion, He says “I love you!  Follow me.”  How could a God who created all things possibly need our music and our messages and our abilities to make His name known?  Does He choose to use those things?  Absolutely.  But the point is that when these other things fail, God never does.  And our response should be based on His love for us, not on if the guitarist played the right chords on “Come thou Fount.”

Our response to worship is to be amazed by God, to love God, and to respond to Him as He calls out of His love for us and who He is, no matter if the human part behind worship was fantastic or not.

This focus on emotional, “powerful” worship is leading young Christians down a slippery slope.  It places the focus on the worship, and not the receiver of it.  It places the focus of the message on the messenger, and not on who the message is about.  It is all about God.  It is not about us.  It does a disservice to God and it is a sin to place the emphasis on anyone but Him.  The worship team should seek to make God known, not themselves.  The pastor should seek to humbly bring the word of God, and let himself be used by God, not the other way around.  So many times we depend on everything but God, but because they throw His name around, we think it’s okay, that will pass for a relationship with the Almighty.

Hillsong United, Chris Tomlin, and David Crowder cannot save you.  Lakeside Baptist Church, as much as I love it, and am so proud of it, cannot save you.  The Basement and Matt Pitt cannot save you.  David Platt, Billy Graham, and John Piper cannot save you.  The Montevallo BCM, as great a place as it is to serve and grow, cannot save you.  Your parents cannot save you.  You cannot save you.  All due respect to the above and what God may do through them….but they are not God.  The only way you will be saved is by God alone and through His love.  And He has shown us love through Christ.  He loves you, and if He is calling you into a relationship with Him, respond with an emphatic “YES!”  The emphasis of our worship should not be on us.  While God moves through His people, and in His church He does remarkable things, He alone deserves the honor and glory for what is done.  We rejoice as a church when God chooses to do incredible things through us, when He speaks through us to bring someone to salvation, when He does all He is capable of doing, we rejoice….but He alone deserves to receive the praise.

Instead of walking into a building, excited to see this awesome new worship team, or hear this awesome speaker, may we come in, excited and expecting to see God move and Him glorified.  Instead of tweeting how awesome our church is, or how awesome our speaker is, may we shout with every fiber of our soul and every social media network we are registered to, “God is awesome!”  May we come in with the attitude that He is always worthy, and He alone deserves our praise.  And may we respond joyfully to the love God has so graciously showed us.

Thanks for sticking with me, those who are reading this last line.  May this be used to build you up and encourage you, and may God receive all the glory from all that I do.

God bless,

Neal E

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