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Beyond Self-Centered Worship

by Geoff Bullock

Have you ever wondered how Paul and Silas could sing praises in a Philippian jail after being stripped, flogged and clamped in the stocks? Or how Jesus could sing a hymn on the eve of His arrest, knowing everything that was about to happen to Him? Or how Paul could describe worship with the spine-tingling phrase, "living sacrifice?" It was because their worship was not based on what they liked. It was based on Who they loved.

There is an explosion of worship in the church today. The buzz word is "contemporary" and the aim is to "enter into God's presence" and enjoy a sense of closeness with Him. The music, the setting, the lyrics must all help create a fulfilling worship "experience." But I am absolutely convinced that it's not the worship that God wants us to enjoy. It's Him.

Christians have often felt that worship has to suit their tastes. Many times churches have been built based on people's preferences in worship style. We want to choose how we will worship. We've made worship self-centered instead of God-centered. We lobby for what we want: "I don't like the songs." "I don't like the volume." It's as if we're worshiping worship instead of worshiping God.

Imagine conducting your relationship with your spouse on the basis of only relating to them in certain circumstances. In marriage, you can't love demanding an answer; you have to love selflessly. You don't say, "As long as I get everything I want out of this relationship I'll commit myself." But that's the attitude we often have toward worship. We say: "You musicians, singers and pastors do your tricks, then we'll be happy."

Worship is not a musical experience. Musicians, singers and worship leaders can no more create a worship experience than an evangelist can create a salvation experience. Both worship and salvation are decisions - decisions that only individuals can make.

When we allow someone else to take responsibility for our decisions, we place human interests in front of God's. If my worship depends on others creating an atmostphere, I am basing my decision to worship upon their actions, not my heart response to God.

Worship is not a result of how good the music is or whether my favorite songs are sung. It is not a consequence of whether I stand or sit, lift my hands or kneel. My worship must be an expression of my relationship with God - in song, in shouts and whispers, sitting, walking, or driving the car. Worship is my response to God. If worship is a decision, then the greatest worship happens when someone who doesn't like a church's music or liturgical style prays, "Not my will but Yours be done, God. I'll worship You in spite of it."

Your gifts aren't the issue.
There's another way in which we worship worship instead of worshiping God. Are people in a church so that the church releases their individual gifts and ministries? This is back to front!

People are actually in a church with their gifts to release the ministry of the church. Let me give a practical example. My hands write songs; they just happen to be attached to the rest of my body and I'm a songwriter. In the same way, I'm a songwriter at Hills Christian Life Centre more because I'm "attached" to a worshiping, song-writing church then because Hills Christian Centre has a songwriter who writes songs. The call is on the church, and my talent as a songwriter helps the church fulfill its call.

There is a second way to understand the church's existence: It exists to fulfill God's call on its life, to live out God's vision. And the people in a church don't so much need to own that vision as to be owned by it. Once that happens, the various facets of its life are given shape according to what God has called the church to be and do.

This has a profound effect on worship. It takes the focus away from what we want and replaces it with what is needed to fulfill the vision. It really doesn't matter whether we like the worship style or not; it's whether the style is consistent with the call and vision. Unless we think this way, we're in danger of creating our own entertainment; and hence, of worshiping worship again.

Worship and the will of God.
In other words, for our worship to be a response to God, an expression of our love and devotion, it must be a reflection of His will in and through our lives. For me to express my love for my wife, I must do more than say "I love you." I must mow the lawn, pick up my socks, wash the car, share her dreams and visions and goals - I must be a partner to her, working to be a team that expresses mutual love to each other selflessly. In this I discover that the best intimacy is the intimacy that forces you to get up in the morning after making love to your wife the night before and go mow the lawn, fix the kitchen door, paint the shed - to do those things that are produced out of love.

It's the same in our relationship with God. I can't sing "I love You, Lord," "I'll worship You," "Be exalted," without being a partner in His will and vision.

What is God's vision, His expectation? Is it that we hold nice, comfortable worship services with three praise songs, two worship songs, one prophecy, one offering, one message, two altar calls and a closing hymn? Is His expectation our comfort, our enjoyment, our tradition?

No. God's vision is that the world will know His Son. The Lord's expectation of us is crystal clear in Matthew 28:19-20: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey e verything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

God has called us into His contemporary world to make disciples. Our worship is central in our decision to meet this commission.

Of course we must sing and dance and praise the Lord. But if while we sing and dance and praise we either ignore God's commission or create a culture that alienates those whom God has called us to reach, are we really worshiping God at all? Or are we, yet again, worshiping the worship instead of Him?

I'm not saying that worship must be directed toward attracting non-believers - far from it. Worship is an individual's adoration of God. Our worship attention must be on intimacy with God led by the Spirit, so we must not make it so relevant that we lose the intimacy. There must be a balance between equipping the saints and reaching the "marketplace."

Sometimes, however, the saints get lost in enjoying the "showers of blessings" that come through their relationship with God. When we go to church to stand under the shower of blessings, our worship involves that experience. But life is more than standing under the shower. Life is also getting dressed and going to work. Our worship should translate into the outcome of our lives. Worship is refocusing. It's re-equipping. It's aligning yourself with the passion of God and realizing that you have to say, "Not my will but Yours be done."

Worship doesn't end with "I exalt You." It goes on to say, "I must go out and take the experience to others." I believe that God is changing the face of Christian worship today because He is trying to align us again with Him and His vision.

We can't worship God truly and remain unchanged. When we worship, we push into God's heart. Older married couples can sometimes sit in a room together for an hour and a half and not speak to each other and yet communicate, because they've grown together and they understand each other's heart. It's like that with God. As we worship Him, we come to understand His heart, and we start to share His passion. Then His vision becomes our vision.

Geoff Bullock served as music pastor at Hills Christian Life Centre, Sydney, Australia.
(c)On Being, February 1995, 2 Denham Street, Hawthorne, Victoria, 3122. Used with permission.
Renewal Journal #6, P.O. Box 629, Strathpine, Brisbane, Australia, pp. 8-11.

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