Saturday, August 30, 2008

What is true worship?

(We're having an interesting discussion on the Free Believers Network forum and the discussion has turned to the topic of worship. I posted some comments on the forum and also decided to post another blog with some additional thoughts on worship.)

Worship, like everything else, has been hijacked by the institution and turned into a program. It's been robbed of its life. Instead of something that was meant to be relational, it's become a performance which is repeated week after week after week, year after year after year. The program is set up and planned so as to produce the desired emotional response. The songs chosen, the lighting, the tempo, the drum beat and so on are all planned to produce this response. Now, I'm not saying that every emotional response is of a fleshly nature but I believe the vast majority of it is.

What we call worship today doesn't, in my opinion, normally produce or encourage a relationship with Father. Instead, it produces a spiritual addiction which is why when we leave the system, we struggle with wanting to go back because of the music. The focus is not on loving Father or the people but instead the goal is to produce another high like we experienced the last time we were in a worship service. I'm not pointing fingers at anyone because I've been there myself and was highly addicted thinking I was worshipping God by singing and dancing wildly.

Now, I'm not saying corporate singing services are wrong. I'm not saying it's wrong to sit in a room with a bunch of Christians and sing songs about God or to God. This can be a very enjoyable time. What I'm saying is don't confuse this with worship.

To read more about this type of addiction, check out Darin Hufford's excellent blogs, Spiritual Porn Addiction and Going for the Worship.

A couple of years ago, I did a word search on the word "worship" and discovered that NONE of the meanings had anything to do with music or singing. ALL of the meanings are relational. In other words, worship has to do with our lifestyle - how we relate to God and how we relate to people. The first time the word is used in the Bible is in reference to Abraham taking Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him. No mention is made of a band or choir waiting for them at the top. Abraham merely told his servant that he and Isaac were going up to the mountain to worship God and they would return. (Genesis 22:5)

Ann, in response to the discussion on the FBN forum, shared about worshipping God by loving her family. I believe that's the heart of true worship. It's easy to fake worship when it's about music and singing. Anyone can sing a song with eyes closed looking upward with arms raised. We can even put a smile on our faces so others watching us think we're enthralled with the presence of God. It's not so easy to look the part when hubby or the children don't cooperate with my wonderful plans. However, I'm finding that as I grow in true worship, love becomes more of an automatic response.

I used to listen exclusively to what is called Christian worship music. Now, I don't much listen to music of any kind. If I do, however, it'll likely be easy listening unless Joel posts another of his Twisted Sister videos which of course I have to listen to. (I'm sorry, Joel, I just couldn't resist.) Anyway, back to topic. I don't normally listen to "Christian" music any more because I really don't need to in order to worship.

I've found that worship is meant to be spontaneous. It's not something that I can plan ahead and it doesn't fit into a set time frame. I believe it's something that's meant to be experienced in the every day circumstances of our lives. Hearing the birds singing praises to God reminds me of my Father who takes care of me. Seeing the beauty and grandeur of the mountains reminds me of his greatness. Chasing my grandchildren around the house reminds me of his love. Movies that I watch often remind me that Father is gracious to me.

Darin Hufford states that "Every part of the Christian walk has been romanticized and glamorized to the point where we have no concept of what God really wants to offer us." This is definitely true for worship. Worship is meant to be natural and not orchestrated. It should spring naturally from a heart that is filled with Father's love as a byproduct of that love. It's not something we conjure up to get an emotional response.

Darin also stated that "It is almost impossible for a Christian who has been raised on a steady diet of spiritual pornography to settle down and be content with the everyday life of REAL spirituality." That's why it's often necessary to separate from whatever encourages this type of addiction. Like any other addiction, this detox time may be difficult and the desire to run back may be strong. However, if we'll persist through the struggle in the end we'll begin to experience worship which is really done in spirit and in truth. (John 4:23-24)

To read my other posts on worship, follow these links:

Does God need our praise?

Worship - Darin Hufford

Worshipping out in the wild

More About Worship


lydia joy said...

Interesting post Aida!
I very much appreciate the clarifying of what worship means. I too believe it's something that's meant to experienced in the everyday. Noticing the sky, the clouds is one of my favorite's, I just marvel at God's handiwork. The birds singing, the breeze, nature just captures me in a way in never has before. I mean I always loved nature, but now since pure grace and an understanding of my identity in Christ has come, the beauty of nature has taken on a whole new dimension!! So has my relating with my family, I can't stand how much I just adore my kids, it's ridiculous, I just grow more in love with them every day. It is very cool!
As far as music goes, I have to say I still listen to Christian music and find myself worshipping God to it, partly because the words have a greater depth than they ever have had before, and I find I can genuinely express them before God as a way to praise Him! However, I think all music can be worshipful or bring God glory and delight -perhaps lyrics may not, but I think it blesses God to hear our creativity, that's just my perspective though!
And as far as corporate "worship" - I think there are those out there that are genuine in their act of worship offering praises with song and dance, remember David! It is one way, not the only way we can worship God. I'm not chucking it out any time soon. However, I have seen folks who live for worship times on Sunday, without realizing their whole life can be an act of worship - in that sense I think the church could stand to do some teaching on the subject, or perhaps if more Christians got a hold of grace and who they are, it would happen naturally. They would naturally begin to see things all different! Am I making sense?
I love corporate worship when people are truly letting themselves praise and adore God - I am not gonna give that up any time soon, but I certainly don't look at it as an addiction for me, in fact I barely ever get the chance to worship like that any more. I suppose it's all how you look at it. And there are those that may turn it into something not healthy. But, I have to say this, I am grateful for churches full of radical praisers, I think it has it's benefit. For me, when I was in my years of living in the world, and partying, I loved dancing and singing at clubs and concerts, it was a wonderful to express myself and I still feel that way! It's not all emotional, and sometimes I think it's okay to be emotional in our praise! God gave us those emotions, he made us that way! Anyway, I think it's a great opportunity for people (unchurched, unsaved) to see that not all Christians are uptight and religious - we should be joyful and elaborate in our response to God at times! Look at Miriam and the Israelites!
I realize I am rambling on and on, this post just somehow triggered an inspired response from me!
Thanks for letting me carry on, and for sharing this post with ya!!!
Much lavish grace to you!

Free Spirit said...

Good, Aida. I have to agree. This sings my heart!

I often had these thoughts during the "worship" time at whatever church I attended, thinking to myself, "this is ridiculous", but continuing all the same, because it was the accepted norm. Yuck!

Usually, my next thought would be, " I wonder what Jesus would think if He walked right in this room, right now (during the "worship")?" Somehow, I felt He would NOT be pleased. Well... mostly, because I wasn't.

Free Spirit said...

BTW, I'm never sure if things I say come out the way I mean for them to, but I'm all for singing and dancing to Papa, when one is inspired by the Spirit to do so, but not necessarily just because you're in a church service that says "now's the time", and directs all the other elements to build up to, or lead to, a contrived time of coming before Father.

Maybe, I've just been in the wrong kind of churches, but it often made me feel like it was time to perform, for Him, and often my heart and mind were not in it, but I wouldn't dare to give off that attitude of apathy for fear of being viewed as a poor christian. So much of it became a game. And, I'd be willing to bet, many others found themselves in the same position.

But, what I'm not saying, (nor do I think you are), is that corporate talking to God in song (or even dance) is always wrong, or always a hoax, or even a christian gimic, but that He is not impressed/blessed when it's contrived and fake to the individuals involved, like we've perhaps been led to believe He is.

I'm blabbing on, but I do get the point that all that isn't really "worship" anyway. As for me now, I'm just learning how to worship thru my daily ho-hum-drum, and in that, you can bet there's singing and dancing going on; and in those moments, I'm actually glad no one else is watching... ok, except my kids, who either think I'm crazy, or join me in my celebration.

lydia joy said...

Free Spirit
I appreciated what you said in the last comment, God is not blessed when it's contrived and fake to the individuals involved!
Aida for some reason this post has provoked my thinking greatly, and I went back and read all your posts on worship, and all of Joel and Bino's comments, and even went to Vine's Expository to get the meaning of worship and praise!
I must say I agree that churches have created such formality, and programs and I am honestly dreaming of a church or group fellowship that flows with the Spirit in spontaneity. Anyway, I still truly enjoy singing with other believers, and often can just let myself go and be in a position to enjoy God and bask in a sense in Him. (not because he needs me too, but because I want to praise Him in that particular way) If I don't feel like it though, I don't express myself at all in worship, I just sit still or whatever. I think the thing about corporate "worship" is though, that some come together to sing praises to God from their hearts, so how do you orchestrate that? We all can't possibly agree on how it should look, but I can't throw it out completely. There will be some who come to church to sing and praise in sincerity of heart wanting to sing lavishly, and some who won't feel up to it and that's okay. People should be free to be however they need to be with no pressure or guilt. I think it can be tricky in these church settings because some folks will obviously feel weird if they aren't able to express themselves like everyone else, and that should not be so. So I guess I see where you are all coming from in the sense that these settings can be complicated and confusing when the whole point of worship is being missed anyway. But that said, I have recently been to worship meetings where people are free to express themselves and encouraged to just be however during the singing time, and I really appreciate that. Some people would stand in the back and talk or pray for each other and some would dance and sing or whatever. The music was just a bonus in my opinion.
I sure wish I could sit in on the first church in the NT, that would be awesome to see what it was like!
Anyway, I recently came out of a performance driven church culture, where they trained the band how to worship, how to make an appearance. It was unfortunate! Many people would come to the church just for the "worship" - so I see what you all mean - it really is sad that they miss the whole point of being in a constant state of worship and having a personal intimate relationship with their father. I remember one worship leader was told he couldn't jump up and down, but he couldn't help it, he just wanted to and it really quenched him so he stopped leading worship. The thing is when people want to express themselves in a passionate way, they shouldn't feel wrong doing it!
I hope you don't mind me going on like this, I am processing all this out loud - because you are making me think. One thing I heard alot in the comments on all of these posts was about an emotional response. I struggle with this because on the one hand I can see how emotions can get carried away. But on the other hand I think emotions are a wonderful thing! So, for me if I understand who I am in my spirit, my soul(where my emotions live) can be turned toward or in tune with my spirit and therefore my emotions can be a good thing. Does that make sense? And since none of us can know where someone is at in this regard, we can't possibly know if their emotional response to something is a good thing or bad thing, we can only know our own. That said, I just have a hard time hearing that emotional responses in church settings during the singing and time when a band plays are not good. I wouldn't want to come to that conclusion. I think it would be better to clarify the difference b/t good and bad emotional responses.
I mean don't we have an emotional response in our hearts when we praise Him because of the beauty of nature, and an awesome sunset? Don't we have an emotional response in our hearts when we are worshipping him by loving our family, serving our family? So if musicians express different styles and so on, is it really wrong to have an emotional response? These are just some of the things that came up in me from reading all these posts and comments.
I do appreciate each person's perspective and thoughts and the fact that we are all searching for truth and genuine relationship with our Father. So please know I respect and value you and that this is just my response to all that you shared, an outloud processing shared with you all! I hope that's okay!!!

Bino M. said...

'Worship': a never ending discussion topic!
One thing (a little off topic, but related) I like throw in there. The people who emphasize any form of Worship, points it as a way of 'loving God'. We all desire to love God. I agree. But here is something I think about loving God:

The depth of our love towards God is directly equivalent to our understanding of the depth of His love.

In other words, the more we understand His love for us, the more we are able to love Him back.

One other point I like to make:

Yes, God is love; but love is not God. By that, what I mean to say is this:

One of the thing I kind of disagree with Darin is that, his opinion that when we love others, we are loving God. There is some truth in it, but I do not agree fully. Here is why:

We love God BECAUSE He loved us FIRST. And as we grow in understanding the depth, breadth and height of God's love for us, we will naturally love others. In other words, loving others is a RESULT of receiving love from God; not a sign of loving God. The reason I am saying is, there are even atheists who love people; but we know for sure that they don't love God.

So, to me, 'worship', 'loving God', 'loving others' are all the RESULT of UNDERSTANDING and APPROPRIATING His love for us.

Bible says, while we were yet sinners, He loved us.

Free Spirit said...

Lydia Joy,
Since this seems to be a conversation between you and me, I'll give my thoughts after reading your last input.

I think at the heart of this, we, who have been so trained by religion, to respond exactly as has been intentioned by others (leaders), that we are just really tired of all the hype that isn't of God. And, I believe, that the sad truth is that much of what is done in the name of religion ( or church services), is indeed based in hype. The problem is that there is actual truth mixed in with it, and actual true emotional responses. We are emotional creatures, and I believe that's how Papa made us "in His Image". So, no, I don't think that feeling emotions for Papa or others is bad or wrong. It's just that churches can/do often capitalize on this knowing that there is a VERY sincere longing in the hearts of Papa-lovers to see/know/feel Him, and so they try to maneuver all things within a service to get the people to respond, (which, in my opinion, can cause people to develop a very unhealthy reliance on a service to "get them there" -where? I don't know; maybe just in His presence??). And I wonder, can this type of activity by churches be considered as manipulation (which the bible seems to equate with witchcraft), or control?

Another thing that comes to mind is that, although I experience a lot of emotion in my life, especially as a woman :) , I don't want to let my spiritual life be ruled by my those emotions. I think Papa can use them, at His discretion, to speak to me in my heart, and He does, frequently, but I find that the majority of the time, for me, is in spontaneous alone moments with him, when my ears are particularly tuned to listen. I now see the difference between my allowing church service elements to "move me", and just my responding independently to Father, as He talks to me on a daily basis. But, it is true that I am deeply moved by music, and for that I'm not ashamed.

The problem lies in that many are using (or conditioned to use) that once-a-week church service as their one shot (a week, or per visit) at connecting with Father. I used to do that. So, my emotions would overflow at church, when the conditions were ripe. I would try to make up for all the time I had tuned Him out during the week, instead of listening to, and flowing with, Him. I would let my stuffed emotions, that are "not allowed" in other environments, to gush out, when "in His presence" at church.

So, I guess, for me, everything changed when I decided to engage in vibrant, healthy, daily relationship with Him, instead of saving it for church on Sundays. My life was very compartmentalized, as is that of MANY others, who rely on their religion.

So, maybe it's all about how one uses "church" in their life, and can be greatly affected by the churches particular attempts to create what realistically is not theirs to create... but Papa uses WHATEVER means He can to speak to His own, so if that's the only way someone will hear Him, then so be it.

I haven't "arrived" on this issue; or even at all. But these were the thoughts that flooded my mind as I read your comment, and where I am, personally, in my understanding of the relationship Papa hopes to cultivate with His kids. For me, I just found a better way, than what I was/wasn't doing.

Like Aida said well: "worship, like everything else, has been hijacked by the institution, and turned into a program. It's been robbed of its life."

Perhaps, not every "church" has it wrong, but I would say that at least the majority do, in their misguided focus and intent. And you are right, too, when you explain that ONLY Papa knows and can judge the heart of anyone. But, we can know that real "worship" is what happens in our daily life, as we respond to Papa's extravagant love!

And, Aida, feel free to chime in here!

Free Spirit said...

Sorry, Bino, you must've been writing while I was. Didn't realize you had chimed in. Welcome. So, now it's a conversation between 3 of us! :)

lydia joy said...

I must have missed all the other discussions about worship, I think this is perhaps my first one, since I've come to grace!!

"The depth of our love towards God is directly equivalent to our understanding of the depth of His love." - Amen! Good points and thoughts!

Free Spirit, Thanks for what you shared it was so helpful, concise, and further provoking my thoughts.
I haven't arrived on this issue either, and I have a ton more thoughts flying around in my head about all of this, but I don't want to take over Aida's blog, heehee. Perhaps I may post my own post one day.......I guess what is tricky is honestly how do we function in these issues corporately as local churches. I am still trying to understand what a local church should look like.........not to mention all the specific issues such as "worship".
Aida, thanks for graciously hosting my array of thoughts, much grace to you!!

Aida said...

Wow! I didn’t expect this post to generate so many comments but this is great. Free Spirit has done such a good job in sharing what I was trying to say that I almost feel as though I don’t have anything further to add.

Lydia, don’t worry. I want you to feel free to share whatever’s on your heart. You’re always so gracious in your sharing and I believe this is the way the body is supposed to function. We learn from one another as we all share our thoughts. We all have just a portion of the truth and we need to share our portion so we can all learn and grow together. All of the comments have been good and everyone has made some really great points.

What I was really trying to say is that what we call worship is really not described as such in the Bible, therefore, it’s wrong to call that worship to the exclusion of everything else. Of course, I don’t think it’s wrong for believers to get together to sing to God or about God but I do think it’s wrong to exclusively call that worship. Religion is all about conformity and everyone is expected to do the same thing.

I think it’s wonderful when people sense the presence of God when they sing. I do too at times but that’s not the primary way I relate to God. People who don’t relate to God through music are made to feel inadequate when they don’t sense his presence during the music time. As a result, there’s always those who will go through the motions when it’s not in their hearts to do. This behavior is encouraged by telling the participants to “praise him when you feel like it and praise him when you don’t.” Instead of encouraging people to be real, they are encouraged to put on an act. Worship is something that is personal between Father and his children yet our uniqueness is squelched because there’s only one way that’s considered to be worshipped.

Lydia, I see your heart in what you’ve shared. Music and dance apparently have always been a form of expression for you so it’s only natural that now it’s become a form of worship for you. That in my opinion is wonderful and the way it should be. You’re flowing in a way that is natural to you.

However, for me, music and dance have never been that important until I started going to a church where the pastor pushed it. We were made to feel inferior if we didn’t “worship” wildly and enthusiastically and I just conformed to that expected behavior. The group I’m with now has a praise team and we’re expected to conform too although it’s quieter and much more subtle and not abusive. It’s only within the last couple of years that I’ve come to understand that I can live a lifestyle of worship even if I never sing another song.

I think emotions are good if they are prompted by the Spirit of God. However, the praise team is trained as to how to prompt those emotions. It’s all planned out at practice and there’s rarely any spontaneity. A few months ago, we had a musician come who was supposed to teach us how to worship. That in my opinion was ridiculous. Worship is something that comes from a heart filled with love. It can't be taught. I also found it insulting that my worship wasn’t considered acceptable, yet his was.

Lydia, I like what you said about the meetings where people are free to just be while the music plays. One of the ways I worship God is by connecting with people. Yet in most groups, when the music starts, everything else stops and the people file to their seats to participate in the program. I remember hearing someone say that he and some others were praying with someone and, when it was time for the service to start, the feeling was that they had to stop praying because it was time to start the meeting.

Worship should in my opinion be natural and in line with the way we’ve been uniquely created and each person should be encouraged to be free to worship in accordance with what’s in his heart and not with what’s in the praise leader’s heart..

Aida said...

Bino, I think worship is really an overflow of the love Father has placed in our hearts. As we come to understand his love and grow in it, worship will just be natural and spontaneous. That’s why I don’t believe it can be taught. It’s unique for each person.

I'm still thinking about what Darin has said and I haven’t decided about it so I've just put it aside for this time.

Aida said...

Bino, I don't think I can get into a prolonged converstion about this because, as I said, I haven't made any decision about it.

However, I do want to make one more comment. Darin can probably tell you better but what I understand he believes is that atheists and other non-believers haven't really rejected God. They've merely rejected the God that religion has painted. Those atheists and non-believers who love would accept the real God if they were introduced to him because the love they see in him would connect with the love that's in them.

Anyway, that's my understanding. Of course, Darin's the only one who knows and can actually explain what he believes.

Aida said...

Bino, I‘ve got to make another comment. Once again, you’ve brought up something that is now churning in me.

Someone who loves knows God because they know love and God is love. Religion, however, has so distorted Him that they don’t know his name. Since the God they’ve heard about doesn’t love, they reject that God. In other words, they’ve never really rejected God because they’ve never been told about him or seen. The situation might almost be similar to natives in the jungle who have never been told about God. They haven’t really rejected him because they’ve never been introduced to him. Anyway, these are some more thoughts that I’m pondering.

This has really been a great conversation and I really appreciate all of the comments. You’ve all given me a lot to think about.

Free Spirit said...

Thank you, Aida, for adding your thoughts. I was sure hoping you would, being that this is YOUR blog. :)
Very well put, and I agree that we are each helping each other, which is more what the Body is supposed to do, than just learning from an elite few. It turns out that WE ARE "the elite", and didn't know it. (Of course, I don't mean that sincerely, in that we are better than anyone else, but that no one else (with a theology degree) is necessarily better than the rest either.)

All of these have been good thought-provoking comments, and I'm still processing it all as well.

lydia joy said...

oh bummer I just came back to read any further comments and I realized the lengthy one I posted this morning never took........great sadness, and I am too spent right now to even remember what I said, aah, oh well....Aida, I was grateful to hear your further thoughts on here, perhaps I will respond further later, we shall see........lots to think about from all of this, it's been great, and like Free Spirit said, it's like it should be, iron sharpening iron! Thanks for being a most gracious host!!!

Aida said...

Free Spirit, everyone was making such good comments and I was enjoying the conversation. Life has gotten busier since I went back to work so my response time may be slow at times.

I really love this blogging community. There’s so much wisdom being shared and I always enjoy reading the comments. Also, everyone who comments regularly is very respectful. People don't try to impose their opinions on others.

I’m glad you’ve enjoyed this conversation. I have too. Thanks for sharing.

Aida said...

Lydia, I'm sorry that your comment never got posted. I hope you can put together your thoughts and try to post it again.

When I prepare a lengthy comment, I’ll type it first as a word document and, when I’m finished, I’ll copy and paste it into the comment area of the blog. After I determine that it posted correctly, I delete it. I learned that from experience. It’s frustrating to lose a response that I worked on for a long time so I can sympathize.

I’ve enjoyed reading all of the comments. There really was a lot said that was helpful and I’ll continue to think and process this conversation too.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

lydia joy said...

Thanks for the tip Aida!!

I was just thinking of something today, after watching a Hillsong video on YouTube. Hillsong United in Australia is a massive church with amazing musicians and choirs and all the bells and whistles, and I honestly love them!! As I was watching I sort of remember some of the comments on a few of these posts about how worship leaders know how to change the music to evoke an emotional response from people - I am not sure I have seen this in any underhanded way myself, but I am not so sure I think that is a bad thing. Sometimes, some people need a wake up call or a boost, why not with the music! I have heard many testimonies where God really spoke to people through music. Anyway, what I was really thinking while watching this video, is that we live in a day and age, where those in the world, the unsaved go to concerts and in a sense go wild and practically worship the musicians, but ultimately they respond with exuberance and wouldn't you say a bit of passion?! So as I watched Hillsong, I thought this is amazing ,if the world could see these Christians, in this concert like setting, with amazing music and people really responding (rather than the passive hands at your sides don't move a muscle type singing I grew up with in the baptist church) they might be willing to get involved, not that they should ever come out of a love for just the music, but that they would see loving God and praising him is fun, and not weird, and attractive!!!
I mean why do we go to concerts and football games and go nuts, but many Christians aren't going nuts for the High King of Heaven!! Just some further thoughts on this - Have a wonderful day!!

Aida said...

Lydia, I don’t have a problem with using music to evoke a particular response but I do have a problem with letting people think that response is always worship. I think it’s perfectly okay for the praise team to use their methods as long as they’re honest and let the people know that they’re trying to give them a jump start. I think they also need to let the people know that it’s okay to NOT have that emotion.

I do believe it’s okay for unbelievers to see us enjoying our concerts but I don’t think that will necessarily cause them to want to develop a relationship with God. If we’re excited and happy Sunday morning but dragging and negative by Monday, I think that will cause them to feel just as they do now about the church. They think we’re hypocrites. However, if we experience true worship which is lived out on a daily basis in the everyday circumstances of life, I believe they’ll be drawn by that. I believe music CAN play a part in preparing us for that worship although the music itself is not worship.

I really enjoy the Hillsong music and I have several CD’s of theirs as well as a video. You’re right. Some of their songs are awesome and true praise can take place as we listen to their music.