The title is a mouth-full, I know. But several days ago the Lord began to deal with me about some foundational principles of worship, and these three words were the best descriptions I could think of. If we can understand these three components, it will revolutionize our worship.
As someone who has been raised in the Pentecostal church I can speak with authority: so much of the time our worship services are dull, lifeless, and mechanical. We go through the motions. Oh yes, we may clap and run and shout and dance in the aisles for a little while. And heaven knows that our PA systems take those “Sing with a loud voice” verses in Psalms literally. But if we are honest with ourselves—our worship services aren’t “hitting on all cylinders.” I want to change that. Our worship—my worship—needs new life breathed into it. The Almighty deserves better; and these three components will make our worship better.
Good worship is worship that engages the mind. Psalm 150:2 tells us that we are supposed to “praise him according to his excellent greatness.” The phrase “according to” implies a logical relationship between our praise and his greatness—they should match. If God is great, his praise should be great. If God is eternal, his praise should be unceasing. This requires us to think about the nature of God, and worship him in a way that is fitting.
When Jesus was talking with the woman at Samaria, he told her that the Father was looking for “true worshipers” (Jhn4:23). During this conversation he said, “we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews” (4:22). In order to truly worship, we have to know what we worship: we must have a logical understanding of who we are worshipping. In a different conversation, Jesus said that the first of all commandments is to “love the Lord thy God…with all thy mind” (Mk12:29).
I’ve noticed something about worship services lately: people aren’t thinking while they worship. The glazed-over eyes, the expressionless look of boredom, the mechanical clapping—it’s all too plain. And this is one of the reasons that our worship services are not as dynamic as they should be. I have a couple of suggestions for how to fix this.
Firstly, those of us in the congregation need to involve themselves in intentional, active meditation/contemplation about who God is, what he has done for us, and what the words of the song we are singing actually mean. When we sing, On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, what do those words mean? Think about it—really think about it. You were a sinner, and God’s Son brutally suffered and payed for your forgiveness in unspeakable agony; if you can actively meditate on that without getting choked up, you need to repent.
Secondly, worship leaders need to ditch any song that a) is so complex or soloist-centered that it cannot be sang by the congregation, or b) is highly repetitive. Point a should be self-explanatory. We come to church to worship God, not to watch you worship God. As for point b, studies seem to suggest that ultra-repetitive worship music actually turns off the cognitive side of the brain. If we want people to think while they worship, there must be a steady progression of change instead of simple repetition. It’s the difference between a five-verse hymn and a modern worship song with a verse, a chorus, and a bridge.
If the platform and the pew will both put some thought into how we worship, we will go a long way to worshiping God better.
Good worship is also worship that engages the emotions. Jesus told the woman at the well, “We know what we worship.” But he also said that true worshipers “must worship him in spirit and in truth” (Jhn4:24). Our emotions must be involved when we worship God. Jesus said that the first of all commandments is to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart…and with all thy mind” (Mk12:30).
This may not be true for everyone, but I have noticed something about myself. When I begin to think about everything God has done for me, I feel thankful. When I begin to think about how perfect God is, I begin to feel awe. For me, the key to feeling things about God is to think things about God. It’s only when I begin to forget what God has done for me that my worship becomes stale. Maybe that is why Psalms says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”
When we sing, Thank God for the blood that washes white as snow, the greater portion of the time we don’t feel an emotion of thankfulness—even though we are saying thank you. I’ll confess that I often struggle to show outward displays of emotion; but it is incumbent on us to do so. The Psalms are filled with emotion: tears, moaning, complaining, anger, remorse, laughter, clapping, dancing, and shouting, all feature prominently. I’m not saying I have any good suggestions here, but we MUST find away to engage our hearts in our worship. Otherwise it isn’t a worship service; it’s lip-service.
But good worship is not just rational or emotional; it is also volitional. The emotional aspect of our worship is necessary; but I want to pick on it for a little while. The problem with PURELY emotional worship is that it is always focused on the here-and-now. We say, “I am happy; I am sad; I am angry.” Emotion is always “present tense,” if you will.
But the volitional aspect of our worship is not focused on the immediate. It is a decision, a determination, a level of “grit.” Worship does not just involve the mind and the heart; it also involves the will. That is why David said, “I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Ps34:1). “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps118:24). True worship is also “future tense;” it is a determination to worship God in spite of what is happening right now.
Most of the time we do not worship God the way that he deserves simply because we do not “feel like it.” We come to church after a week of hard work; we’re trying to figure out how to pay our bills; we might be in the middle of a disagreement with the person worshiping beside us. It is in these times that we must exercise our will; we must worship God anyway. We will ourselves to worship; we exercise our will, our ability to choose.
We say, “I will bless the Lord at all times.” When David sang those words, he was standing in front of the Philistine king Achish—who just happened to have a bounty on David’s head. I’m certain David felt scared, not worshipful. And yet he made a decision to worship in spite of his present circumstances. If we want to be more than victims of our circumstances—up one minute and down the next—then we have to learn how to exercise our will. We WILL worship.
[[ Just to prevent any confusion, when I talk about exercising the will, I don’t mean the kind of “will worship” that is mentioned in Colossians. I’m not talking about transcendental meditation, or the power of positive thinking, or making something happen by wishing it to be. All of those things are unscriptural. We can’t “will” our way into a better life through some spiritual power in the mind. But what we should do is exercise our will, make a choice, to worship God at all times. ]]
Our God is worthy of worship. And if we want to worship him properly, then we have to use every aspect of ourselves to do it. We must worship him rationally, emotionally, and volitionally.
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.