"AS GOD INTENDED" (AWESTRUCK)
It was like something out of a war movie- thousands of voices screaming and hollering. Drums pounded in rhythm to the march of countless feet. Trumpets blared, boisterously announcing the army’s arrival. Onlookers watched as a sea of matching uniforms passed by, blending in to create a number too great to count. From around the corner, a mass of wood and steel crept its way down the road; a mighty contraption drawing the gaze of every awe-inspired bystander. Suddenly, a giant shadow crept overhead, blotting out the sun with its girth. Beneath it, foot soldiers tugged on heavy ropes, revealing the titanous form of a cat…
Covering ourselves with a large, fluffy blanket, my sister and I made it to the couch just in time to see the "Garfield the Cat" balloon pass by in the Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was always a tradition to watch in awe as the floats, bands and broadway songs entertained us each Thanksgiving morning. It was early, but the heavenly aroma of turkey and pie already permeated our nostrils and we knew that soon enough, we would sit in awe yet again at a table adorned with stuffing, mashed potatoes, biscuits, cranberry sauce and yes, that oh-so majestic steaming bird with bacon in all the right places.
Thanksgiving is here and my mind (like so many others) is drawn to memory. I smile at thoughts of the past and the simplicity of being a child on this holiday, but adulthood reminds me that Thanksgiving can be quite a production. We remind ourselves to be thankful, but it can be a difficult mindset to maintain when it’s overshadowed by grocery lists, head-counts and table settings. Can you look back and remember the “awe” you once felt as a child? The awesomeness of witnessing your first parade float or smelling that first waft of turkey? "Awe," my friends, is at the heart of worship, and there is no better time than NOW to tune in.
What if we worshipped God the way He intended us to? Friends, our lives (and more importantly, our relationship with Him) would have to change. It’s an unavoidable product of this wonderful investment. We honor God when we do things His way. It demonstrates our desire to step out of “self” and live in His light. True worship is centered on understanding our place in the Father’s plans and not His place in our lives. Knowing who He is (in our heart of hearts), and more importantly, understanding the magnitude of His presence can bring incomparable joy and an unshakeable confidence.
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 100
What truths does the Psalmist reveal about worship? Well, joy, gratitude and passion, just to name a few. We witness an author who fully understood God’s power and position. We can do the same. The gates to the Father’s banquet are open wide with our thanksgiving. A heart filled with gladness is naturally moved to passionate worship. Do you strive for this? Some do; while too many of us only “think” we do. I don’t doubt that you’ve been thankful this year. I’m sure we can all recollect something; an instance or blessing that provoked us to recognize God. This week alone, my social media has been flooded with posts declaring “what I’m thankful for.” I think it’s wonderful and demonstrating gratitude can certainly impact our demeanor. But, (as silly as it may sound), don’t forget to actually BE thankful! Gratitude is cultivated in the heart, so don’t confine it to a holiday, media post, or “30 day thankfulness challenge.” Root your life in gratefulness to God and your heart will overflow with worship.
“May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord. By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises.” 2 Peter 1: 2-4
Our praise alone will never be enough to encompass God’s true greatness, so how can we possibly meet His standards? We can aim our lives at the greatest commandment; to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. When our purposes align with His glory we can’t help but encounter His benefits, even in the face of trials and suffering. The world will attempt to take little bites out of the passionate Christian by turning a desire for worship into an obligation. We can go on the offensive and combat this by adjusting our attitude; giving our utmost to the Father, embracing the love of the Savior and tuning into the presence of the Holy Spirit. Friends… new believers… seasoned church “veterans,” WAKE UP! I implore you! We all need a reality check. Stoke the embers of “awe” in your hearts again. Take a fresh stand on the Firm Foundation, the Solid Rock and the Cornerstone. What’s the condition of your worship? Is it a pleasing aroma to the throne? A sweet sound in the Father’s ear? Or, is it just another part of an otherwise self-centered existence?
As always, a decision must be made. Choose a side. Is your worship an “action” or a “lifestyle?” One will lead to the practices and motions of a disengaged “church-goer,” while the other will lead to the freedom and fire of a passionate Christ-follower. I see it all the time. I have the privilege of leading worship at a wonderful church in New York. I’ve also been blessed enough to lead at various churches, in multiple locations; with various crowds, demographics, belief systems and attitudes. Through my experiences and observations there has been one constant... that some hearts will praise from the purest, unadulterated joy, while others will stand and display an evident apathy. It’s unfortunate, but true. Can it be helped? Yes! Worship is a matter of the heart and we have a responsibility to be concerned with its health. Sure, it’s personal (just like your relationship with God) and no one has the right to determine your motives, but keep in mind the simple fact that true worship should carry joy. It's not naive happiness, but instead a product of knowing who God is and why you can praise in all circumstances.
What is God’s "glory?” Just another commonly used “Christian” term? No! Worship, TO God’s glory is the acknowledgement of His greatness and splendor; coming before Him with awe, submission and obedience. Yes, some hearts are more outward and expressive than others and the worship “attitude” of a congregation should never be measured by any amount of claps, "praise hands" or loud “AMENS.” But, it also doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to express words of awe and adoration if you can’t get behind them. True worship is a heart in agreement. We need not concern ourselves with the opinions of the outside world, but we should consider how our joy is expressed. Worship, God’s way, looks like every being in His creation crying out to His holiness, astounded by the potency of His love and the enormity of His power.
“...true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him” John 4: 23
"Spirit and truth." More terms often quoted in songs and sermons. True worship is unhindered, undignified praise. True worship cannot be confined to a place or a practice. It cannot be defined by any form we force it to take. Worshipping in spirit is engaging your WHOLE heart in an outpouring of gratitude to the Father’s faithfulness. We can worship in spirit because of the Spirit dwelling within. Too often, we talk to the Father and cherish the Son without taking the time to call upon the Spirit. Why? Because we’re preoccupied with everything going on around us. “What do others think of me? Is my faith being fed here? Does this service fit my preferences?” We don't call on the Spirit because we know it would burn away all the nonsense with an unquenchable fire. Some of us don't feel ready for the Spirit because we haven't embraced the truth. Truth is worshipping a God we know personally. It’s being properly informed as to who He is and what He’s about. This is the reason a combination of the two make for such a powerful formula.
I am a worship leader, so naturally “music” is central to so much of my adoration. It’s my desire to sing and play songs that both invoke the heart and engage the mind. Why did God choose music as a vessel for His glory? Probably because He knew how much it would stir us. Sure, music is only one form of worship in a countless list of expressions, but it’s a universal language, both relatable and tangible to our hearts in God. Music is powerful, breaking down even the highest and thickest walls and warming even the coldest hearts. Never approach worship under the false assumption that God has a musical preference. Even if He did, we can't foolishly assume that it would line up with our own. We don’t know much about eternity, but we can be sure that someday all the redeemed will join in singing with the angels at the mere sight of God’s holiness. I can’t imagine that the theme song of heaven will be “Amazing Grace,” or “How Great Thou Art,” anymore than it will be “How Great is Our God,” or “Mighty to Save.” One truth is brought to light in the song “Heart of Worship,” by Matt Redman... “I’ll bring You more than a song, for a song in itself, is not what You have required. You search much deeper within, through the way things appear. You’re looking into my heart.”
God will use your time and water the seeds you plant- He will multiply your offerings and bless the gifts you use, but ultimately, He desires your heart. When you stand to sing or sit to hear the word, put your tithe in the offering plate or interact with others in fellowship, is God’s glory at the forefront of your mind? This is a life of worship. If His desires don't drive you, you are sadly worshipping something else. May your life-song sing for the Father.
“Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace; Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above; Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.” -Come Thou Fount- Robert Robinson- 1757
What beauty in these words. What a powerful request. We bequeath God to “tune” our hearts, like the strings on a guitar or the keys on a piano. Apathy is a worshipper "out of tune." When we worship, God comes close. Do you call on His power? In 1 Kings 18, we witness Elijah in contest with the prophets of Baal. After countless pleas and practices, we see that they've gained nothing, No fire for the altar and no response from their god. With a humble heart and a childlike faith, Elijah prayed...
“Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!” 1 Kings 18: 37- 39
What other gods come close to their people? We are so prone to forget, even “prone to wander,” (Come Thou Fount). To the “Christians” who seem so joyless and disconnected, I have to wonder… have you forgotten who God is? Have you lost sight of His greatness? Do we want to worship Him fully and faithfully? It takes intentionality. It breaks my heart to see "uninterested" Christians. Even some "lifelong" believers have never truly praised. It is my prayer that every heart will pursue "true" worship. It is my prayer that every voice is lifted in "true" praise. It is my prayer that every eye is drawn to the wonders of a steadfast God.
“O Lord, I will honor and praise your name, for you are my God. You do such wonderful things! You planned them long ago, and now you have accomplished them.” Isaiah 25: 1
We praise God in reverence- with profound adoration, honor and respect. We worship God because it’s natural for the created to worship their creator. God’s holiness is worthy to be praised and in our moments of disengagement we must remind ourselves of His power. It is a power incomprehensible and one most deserving of fear in faith. At the sight of God’s face men have fallen dead. The angels cover their eyes at the intensity of His glory. This is the God we serve.
“Come, everyone! Clap your hands! Shout to God with joyful praise! For the Lord Most High is awesome. He is the great King of all the earth. He subdues the nations before us, putting our enemies beneath our feet. He chose the Promised Land as our inheritance, the proud possession of Jacob’s descendants, whom he loves. God has ascended with a mighty shout. The Lord has ascended with trumpets blaring. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King over all the earth. Praise him with a psalm. God reigns above the nations, sitting on his holy throne. The rulers of the world have gathered together with the people of the God of Abraham. For all the kings of the earth belong to God. He is highly honored everywhere.” Psalm 47
We praise God in love. We acknowledge and cherish the passion of the Father for His people. He hides His word in our hearts and when we worship “half-hearted,” we spit at the potency of that love. Recall the truths of what His love can do. Your name is “graven on His hands” and “written on His heart,” and your world is held in His fists like a droplet of rain. Love God for how He first loved you. Love Him for ceaselessly pursuing you through sin, shame and shadow.
“Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you! I will praise you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer. You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy. I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night. Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely.” Psalm 63: 3-8
We praise God in freedom… at least He intends for us to. Consider what this would look like in your own life; to truly worship "undignified." It would cause us to remove the masks of our imperfections. It would drive us to lift our voices loudly with joy. It would wipe away all concern for what others may think. We would shout and dance in perfect celebration. Freedom in worship is finding freedom in what God offers; welcoming us into His presence with the fullness of His glory.
“Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!” Psalm 103: 1-5
Too many of us lose our sense of awe. Too many of us “praise and worship” with holes in our heart and it leaks out in all the wrong ways. Indifference is dangerous, my friends. It creates a directionless Christian- not one that the Lord can’t use, but certainly one that He may not want to use. Is your worship an outward expression of the faith you profess? Does what you claim on the inside emanate? It should! True worship is the heart that rings out above the noise of the world. Find awe in the Father today. Find love in His wonderful face. Find gratitude that can transform your worship and your life will never be the same. Happy Thanksgiving!