O come O come Emmanuel.
This song begs a simple question. What do you mean when you sing these words? For some, they are asking God to hurry the end times. To allow Jesus to return to earth as prophesied. Others believe that our God is supernatural and that He can intervene today. They believe that prayer works and when you ask God to do something, He is able and actually WILL do things. A third group will sing the words and not give them much thought. To them its a pretty song, or perhaps they think they are singing on behalf of someone that lived during the days of Jesus.
When I sing these words, my soul leaps. It’s as though I was lying dormant, choosing one boring, meaningless task after the next. And then I chose this one… to call on my Savior. And the response within me is, “YES!. Finally! This is exciting. You have called on the power of the living God. Oh, how I can’t wait to see what is going to happen next. Do you realize He can do ANYTHING!”
I have to confess that there are times where I have “worshiped” and never thought to ask Jesus to be a part of it. I just did what i wanted my way. Or I just followed others in their plans. These words are a request. We are asking the Lord to be a part of what we are doing. We can worship a God who is far off in heaven. Or, we can invite Him to join us and worship a present God in the moment.
This may make some people uncomfortable. They worship a God that they believed healed sick and rose from the dead, but don’t believe He can do the same today. They find Him bound by scriptures and willfully helpless to answer our call. They pray prayers asking God to heal the sick but don’t actually believe He has the power to do so. They believe they were baptized by the Holy Spirit, but don’t believe that He lives within them. And while I don’t want to tell anyone that they are wrong in how they worship…. I can’t help but ask the questions… mostly, why?
Why sing to a God that won’t answer? Why pray to a God who doesn’t listen? Why worship a God that lies dormant? Why quote scripture that promises answers to prayer when faith and belief in that promise are lacking?
When my friend said, “come here”. It wasn’t a philosophical quandary. It was a request. When we ask Jesus to come visit with us… why doesn’t it mean exactly what we sing? Can’t it?
Our eternal goal is to be with God. If you believe in the Bible, you know we are partly connected to Him already. Made in His image (gen 1:27). Filled with the Holy Spirit (acts 2:38). And, sanctified to be with Him. Asking Him to join us in worship… I would claim that is where worship starts. The birthday party begins with the lights off and all of the guests hidden. The actual celebration happens when the guest of honor walks through the door and we all yell “Surprise!”. What an odd party to have if the person wasn’t even there yet. Why should worship be different? And do note that it is a celebration. Come, o Come, Lord. We want to honor you. We want to worship you. We have so much to be glad for. Honor us with your presence so we can say thank you.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee
I love this part because its straight forward and yet its not often we consider the flow of worship. From our soul directly to God. This speaks to me as I have a history of including middle men in the process that were never intended to be there. My prayers are tailored to those present. My singing is hushed for fear those around might hear how God forgot to bless me with any semblance of vocal talent. My contribution is folded and concealed.
Its not about the habits, some may actually have merit. Its about the awareness. Its about the presence of our hearts and minds. Are we thinking about the pitch, the tempo, the crying baby, the order of worship… Soul to God cuts out all of this and gets right down to business. This verse reminds us that we need spiritual binders. This is what horses wear so that things that happen around them, in their peripheral vision, don’t distract them from their responsibilities. It physically blocks line of sight so they stay focused on what is directly in front of them.
God Should be directly in front of us. And we should be singing TO Him. Not about Him, we have already welcomed Him, invited Him to our worship. If we sincerely meant that, wouldn’t it be horrible to invite God to a time and place where we are concerned about what others think? Where we hold back our emotions and give God a half hearted, location awareness offering. Don’t read into this disorderly worship. God can be praised by the masses in orderly worship. It’s our hearts that give us away when our minds are in other places during this time.
Soul to God. I’m a visual person, so to me it looks like this: Soul —> God. We don’t have to ignore our fellow Christians during worship. We don’t have to exclude them. Worship was designed, I believe, to build up both God and Church. We don’t worship because we want to be built up, but it happens during the process when we worship to build up God. Our praise for Him tends to have a healing effect. (but this is a whole other issue). The power of this line of text is simple. Your worship is your offering to God. How much do you want to give? Do you remember what happened to Ananias and Sapphira? They kept a portion for themselves. Just as they were expected to give all they had financially, we are expected to give all that we have in worship. Some of us have become very good at tithing 10% effort, or 10% volume, or 10% listening.
Engaged directly with God you can give a true offering of self.
Fall on your knees. (O Holy Night)
Have you ever tried to fall on purpose? Most of us spend a great deal of effort to stay… up. Falling, in most cases, would be painful, embarrassing, and possibly costly. If I were to kneel right now, I would first look for a pillow. At my age, kneeling gets painful after a short time. I would also slowly lower myself to the ground, grabbing surrounding structures for support. You would definitely hear a grunt or two as I made my way down. Why? because the last thing I want to do is fall. And of course, I would need help to get back up.
Kneeling, is an action. Its a choice. And its also a process. Even the young and healthy will knee methodically. Falling is a response. The body no longer has control any more. If it did, the default reaction is to try and remain up. The mind checks out and the soul takes over. The overwhelming emotion in the correct placement between God and man has a cause/effect relationship. It is not logical. It is not fair. The sacrifices made are not fathomable. But when we place ourselves as we belong at the feet of Jesus and the story of His life and sacrifice hits deep within our soul our body reacts accordingly. We fall. Its overwhelming. Its unbelievable. Its insurmountable. And when we finally align our hearts with God’s good and perfect will we know our true place.
We are the saved. We are the free. We are loved. And we can’t physically stand when the reality of such power harnessing so much love hits us. To fall on your knees is to say, “I give up… everything!”. There is one thing I need, and it is a desperate need. I need Jesus in my life. Everything else is useless.
Falling to your knees is crying’s bigger brother. Most of us don’t choose when we cry. There are a few good actors that can flip that switch, but for the rest of us, its an emotion that comes when prompted by our surroundings. A sad movie, a heartfelt song, a devastating situation. Tears come without our permission based on how we perceive the situation at hand. The phrase, “uncontrollable laughter”, or “uncontrollable crying” has merit. We don’t control those things. They are responses, not thought out actions. Falling to your knees is a response. In the frame work of worship, its the bodies way of saying, the heart, mind, and soul are where they belong right now.
Disclaimer: If you don’t fall to your knees… don’t read anything into that. But imagine the spiritual and emotional state of someone who does. Stand before the real throne of God, and not an empty one. Imagine your reaction to Him. Accept His sacrifice. Accept His love.
Invite God, praise Him directly and genuinely, and then respond to His presence in your life. This is worship to me.
Much longer than I prefer to write, but am hopeful will spark some inner debate with individuals or outer debate within our churches…
I just couldn’t do it. Smoke filled the air. Lights beamed down. Some were solid colors, others were strobe. The room lit up to match the musicians jamming on the stage. Twirling drumsticks, spotlights…It was a rock concert. And for a rock concert, it was good. But I went to worship. And, while I believe some there were worshiping, others were being entertained as part of the mission statement of the event. And I wondered, where did all of this come from? When did worship become a rock concert? And… is that wrong?
I know a lot of worship leaders who share in one sentiment as they plan the worship experience for the church: “They are gonna love this!”. Let’s dissect that phrase for a second, but I promise to stop after the very first word. “They”. Who are we worshiping? Let me ask another way. Who is worship for? Ah, now we get a different set of answers. I’m certain most of you will claim we are worshiping God. But when I ask who is worship for, we get a wider variety of answers. Is it for us? So we can recharge/refuel before going back into the world? Is it for us? So we can hold each other accountable/bear witness/pray for each other? And there is some truth in that worship has a reciprocal way of benefiting us as well… but only as God sees fit to return our holy worship into healing and answered prayers. Let’s investigate just a tad…
“Sing to the Lord” – 1 Chronicles 16:23. Sing to who? Us? Each other? Ourselves? Sorry, it says to sing TO the Lord. The music, the songs, the lyrics, it’s for Him. I’m as guilty as anyone. I want certain songs, I want certain styles, I want specific times, places, and arrangements. At times, I think each one of us has forgotten the ultimate purpose of worship. It’s not intended for us. There is an episode of The Office (U.S) version in which the boss Michael Scott wants to throw a birthday party to celebrate one of the employees. He is so excited and can’t wait to enjoy his favorite dessert, mint chocolate chip ice cream, even after the birthday girl tries to explain she is allergic. He is too consumed in the details to understand how useless his celebration will be when it’s all done to his liking and not in honor of the birthday girl.
Sound familiar? I like this song. The preacher doesn’t like to let out late. The Adam’s family is offended by this topic, etc. That would be but a tiny portion in a plethora of examples of us celebrating God on our terms.
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” – John 4:23
This verse interests me. It assumes there are false worshipers. People who are worshiping, but not correctly. It also says that we will worship, who? The Father. Also, on a side note… The Father is seeking worshipers. He wants people to worship Him. He doesn’t just like it when it happens… he is seeking it out. Can we worship around laser beams, espressos, and the most recent pop songs? Perhaps. But there is a true worshiper that seeks to worship God in the way He is seeking to be worshiped. And it’s all about God.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12.
And while I think I could quote another 60+ scriptures quite easily, I’ll stop here. This one cuts to the meat of the matter pretty quickly.
Worship is a sacrifice. It is giving up what we want and what we enjoy and giving to God what He wants and what He enjoys. Yet building after building, town after town, worship leaders just can’t help themselves. I truly believe they mean well. But they structure the worship service into 2 things that are both completely wrong. 1. The church members and what they like. And 2. Getting the unbeliever into the building. (Think of the movie, Sister Act 2 where they stop with the boring old singing and start with new instruments and lively songs and all of the sudden the community comes in off the streets to enjoy the concert). Is that a problem? YES! People are using flair, panache, and other techniques to lure in people. That isn’t the type of fish God wants. Our bait is the love of Jesus. Our “lure” is the cross. When we start trying “tricks” or “gimmicks” we stop worshiping God and we start off on our own agenda. It boils down to conformity.
Not only are we to sacrifice as our way of life to conform to God, the same verse explicitly prohibits conforming to the world. Yet again, oh how many times the phrase has been uttered; “We can’t reach the lost if we don’t make worship fun and/or exciting”. Translation: How can we conform to the lost to reach them? Here is the true sad part. Jesus reached the lost by being completely different from them. He was Godly, and no one had ever seen that before. They followed a man of God. If we would stop trying to act like the world, in the name of God, we might actually be able to offer people something they can’t get anywhere else.
This isn’t meant to be condemnational. I know that many church leaders mean well and have tremendous hearts. But what I hope some will take away from this is that God didn’t use a metaphor when He expected us to remain apart from the world. Not separate! But apart. Different. Holy. With the Spirit in us. Loving the sinner and still condemning the sin. Honoring the FULL word of God. Exemplifying the Savior.
I see it in almost every church I walk into. A capella worship is no different. You can over-amp the choir and lose the message just as easily as a rock band. You can decide that the Lord’s supper is time consuming and only do it once a month or twice a year. But allow me a little jab here, because let’s be honest, it’s deserving… we always have time for the collection plate, don’t we? Keep your reasoning… you can’t explain to a non-believer why we do communion so quick, or so little, and yet there is always time to ask for money. What’s worse, if we believe we should be molding and ‘updating’ worship around the “times”, why don’t we use paypal, billpay, drop checks in a drop box, etc. The one and remaining constant in most of our churches is how we ask for money, rather than the living God. (and while you may want to refute that, try telling the unbeliever that witnesses it first hand and doesn’t understand all of the rationales that we have created over the years).
Whether its intentional or not, I can tell you why we bump communion from many of our churches. It’s because, deep down, we aren’t there to “truly worship”. Like the “true worshipers” John spoke of. When men and women get together to discuss the how’s and why’s of church and decisions are made based on what people like or who will be offended, or any other structure, there is a grand danger of NOT coming to a conclusion that will be a true sacrificial worship to God.
I would like to encourage us to drop the microphones, the laser lights, the fog machines, the drum kits, the fancy bulletins, the projectors, and even move the podiums off the stage. Let God fill the stage. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God, what is God’s (Mark 12). Is the church not God’s? Worship is God’s. What is pleasing to Him? He wants humility. He wants the broken. He wants us to know our place and to serve Him. He wants us to remember the life and blood of His son. He wants praise for Him. Our God is a jealous God (Exodus 34) and He wants our worship for Him and Him alone.
What has caused me to write this, isn’t that we have various worship styles that I don’t like. Rock concerts isn’t the topic or the issue. What has caused me to write this is that I don’t believe very many churches go through the exercise to make sure their offering to God is complete. As quoted above in Romans, God doesn’t want our money as an offering, He wants us to give of ourselves. We are the offering, a living offering which requires our whole being.. And that doesn’t start by demanding worship styles, caving to secular structure, or worrying about what society thinks. More and more churches are choosing the easy path (the wide one) and deciding that it’s better to blend in than stand apart.
People followed Jesus because they never saw anything like Him before. He was a man of God. That is what we need to bring people into our churches. They need to see Jesus. We need to be Jesus. He offered himself up as a sacrifice and refused to adopt the traditions of the people. He worshiped God as God demanded. Rather than contemplating the legality of the drums or the societal objection to the pitch pipe, open up the heart to God and give to Him your all. And equally, exercise the arms of the church. The arms of the church have 2 purposes. 1. To lovingly accept and embrace all who are willing to come to Jesus. And 2, to firmly hold back and refuse any who would falsely preach against God’s undeniable word. (acts 13).
One thing we tend to forget in the church, is that we are still at war. The enemy is deceitful and full of trickery. And while his fate may be determined, ours has not yet. We can choose to seal our fate now in the decisions we make. But the choice to follow Christ is not one balanced around some entertainment with friends. It is a sacrifice and God expects much from us. It is not our job to make the gospel palpable for non-believers either. It is our job to share the love of Jesus with them. They will make the decision for themselves if they want to make such a sacrifice or not to follow Him.
This is not a treaty to promote throwing out the baby with the bath water. We have some sound and reasonable acts of worship that should not be torn down. What this is meant to be, is an exercise that challenges us all to drop the man made worship outline on the floor and start from the ground up, asking, are we doing this for God or ourselves? Is our outreach based on entertainment or the milk that a new believer needs? Will I get what I want, or will I give to God what He wants? Do I look like non-believers? Have I shown them Jesus? Have I let go of my pride and truly sacrificed to show them what our Savior is like? Am I doing this for God? Do they understand they have to make sacrifices too? Do they know they HAVE to leave the their lives of sin and conform to the Lord? Is your message constant and consistent with God’s never changing law?
Scary question time. Does my church look any different than the rest of the world? Non believers have seen people sing, pray, dance, etc. Many have sat through sermons before. In short, they have seen it all. Everything but Jesus, that is. Does your church look different than anything else they have seen before? Is your church the body of Christ serving God? Will the fruit of your work yield more soldiers for God who yearn to sacrifice for Him, or when the harvest comes, will they just want one more song?