Psalm 95:1-7 Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! 2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 3 For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. 5 The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. 6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! 7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
Before diving straight into another book of the Bible, there was a subject I wanted to share on first. Music has always played a major role in my life. As a teenager I drew much of my identity from music and being a musician. Even as I came to identify myself more as a writer later in life, music was always a major part of everything I did. I’ve rarely ever written a single word without music playing in the background (right now I’m listening to a Christian dubstep mix on youtube).
My love of music extends to church. I have to be honest, if a church has a lame band or no band at all, I doubt I’d want to go to that church. I love being taught the word by great teachers, but my biggest connection in church has always been to the music. Great praise and worship sessions draw me right into the presence of the Lord. The closeness I feel to God in those moments is impossible to describe in words. It’s a feeling I cherish, and something that defines me.
Despite my love of praise and worship music, I haven’t always had much of an understanding about what it means to praise and worship God through this music. I’ll just be completely honest here. For a long time, I found the way people praise and worship to be awkward. People who can’t sing very well are singing at the top of their lungs, people are lifting their hands and closing their eyes, people are swaying, some people are dancing, some people are on their knees. If you’re not “in it” yourself, it can be a bit of an odd situation.
One thing that made it difficult for me this year as I returned to the church is my past. As a teenager, I was deeply involved in my youth group. I played bass guitar in the youth praise and worship band. As such, we were looked to as examples for the other teens. So on Sunday mornings when we were in the big church, I would always raise my hands during the slow songs. But I wasn’t doing it to worship the Lord, I didn’t even really understand what it meant. I was doing it to be seen by the other members of the church.
I tell you that story so you can understand my situation this year. Returning to the church, I had a real issue with raising my hands. Any time I’d get the inclination to do it, I’d remember my teenaged self, raising his hands for all the wrong reasons. I let that fear inhibit my praise and worship of God, as I vowed to never ever again falsely lift my hands to the Lord.
As much as I love the music at my current church, it took me over a month to really get fully drawn into the praise and worship there. I struggled so bad to get past what I looked like and what I sounded like. I also struggled with the memories of those old motivations, of the wrong reasons I used to raise my hands. Finally, I figured it out. The praise and worship part of the service isn’t about other people. I’m not singing for them, and I’m sure not swaying in place or raising my hands for them. Praise and worship is an intimate time between me and God, where I can tell Him how I feel about Him, where I can offer Him my thanks and my heart. But even that realization didn’t fully solve my problem. What it finally took was shutting my eyes. Once I removed the view of anything else, I was left with one thing. The music. If the whole church was staring at me, I had no clue. It was now just between me and God. And I’ll tell you, a lot changed for me when I started to fully give myself over to praising and worshiping Him. This beautiful music that I’d admired and enjoyed took on a new meaning, and God’s presence swept all over me in a new and deeper way.
I don’t know how many people struggle with this same issue, maybe it’s just me. But I wanted to share, because I wanted anyone out there who’s gone through this or is going through this to know that you’re not alone. It’s not weird. I think it’s actually pretty natural for a certain type of person to struggle a little with getting comfortable during worship. I’ll say this. Never ever stop fighting through it, because when your ability to praise and worship Him deepens, then your relationship with Him deepens. I’ve been overcome by the presence of God a handful of times in my life, and every time it was when I was praising and worshiping Him during the music portion of church. I treasure those experiences. I had one just recently at church. As soon as the music started I just felt the presence of the Lord so strong all around me.
Before I close this out, I want to talk about how little we should care about our looks while praising and worshiping our beautiful God. Let’s just engage in some real talk. People do some strange looking stuff while praising and worshiping. It’s a fact, get over it. It’s not about how you look, or what someone may think of how you look, it’s about where your heart’s at, it’s about who you’re singing to and what you’re telling Him. I have a thing I do sometimes during praise and worship when I feel the presence of God surrounding me. I sort of clutch my hands to my stomach and stand as still as possible, because the stiller I am the more I can almost feel God’s arms wrapped around me, just holding me tight. Here’s the issue I have with this. When someone looks at me and I’m doing my weird “God’s embracing me” thing, I’m sure it could look like I’m standing there like a zombie, completely unengaged. Nothing could be further from the truth, but someone twenty rows away doesn’t know that. All they know is that one guy isn’t raising his hands, he isn’t swaying, and he isn’t even singing. I’ve struggled with that a little bit, but at the end of the day I have to stay true to what feels authentic and natural to me. And in those moments when I feel God just embracing me, I just need to get still in His embrace and let his presence wash over me. Most times I’m moving, I’m singing, and I’m raising hands, but I also have my odd little quirks. My hope is that if someone is ever watching me, they’ll see that I am engaged in worshiping my God, and if they catch me in an odd moment, it won’t in any way lessen their engagement in worship.
As much as I want to be a perfect example of how to worship, I think it’s important not to get caught up in the look of what we’re doing. There is nothing in this world like praising and worshiping our God. If you’re like I used to be and you get caught up in the look of it, I just want to encourage you to push past that with all of your might. The experience of true worship, the overwhelming way in which God can come rushing into a room filled with worshipers, it’s probably my favorite thing in the entire world. It is magic. And I know there are people out there who get uncomfortable when I relate religion to magic, but I’m sorry, I just don’t know a better word for it. When I’m deep into true worship, the air gets a little thicker, a warmness pours from the top of my head down to my feet, I tingle in my arms and in my chest. My God comes sweeping into the room. The living God, present with His people as they lift their voices and their hearts to Him. If that’s not magic, then I don’t know what is. And if that’s not worth looking a little silly for, then I don’t know what is.
CLOSING AND PRAYER
For prayers today, let’s stay with the subject of worshiping the Lord. Pray for a deeper worship experience, and if you’ve struggled with distractions or issues over how you look or sound while worshiping, let’s just pray for God to help us move past that stuff. Pray to enter into the true meaning of worship, for it to be between you and God and nobody else.
I love you guys very much. The blog is off tomorrow but we’ll be back on Thursday with a mystery subject. I hope the week is treating everyone well so far. The way I look at it, tomorrow’s church, and then a few days later it’s the weekend, and then a few days later it’s church again, so we’re in good shape! Never forget that God loves you. Walk in that truth this week.