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GOD, Not Program!
by Nick Ittzes

Seated a few rows ahead of my wife and me was a teenage girl with a terrible skin condition. She and her friends filled a pew at one of Kathryn Kuhlman's miracle services years ago. We couldn't see her, but Kathryn Kuhlman called her out and described her condition; her skin looked like an alligator's!

Our imaginations can't do justice to the emotional agonies she must have been suffering! However, as she rose to answer Miss Kuhlman's invitation, something wonderful began to happen. She and her friends began to weep, to shout, to tremble. By the time she reached Miss Kuhlman on stage, her skin condition had totally cleared up!

Oh, how those girls worshiped! For their friend had been healed by the Great Physician. Suddenly He was more than real: He had become deeply involved in their lives and healed their shared pain! Breathless with awe and giddy with joy, the whole troop ran to the altar to receive Him as their Lord, Savior and Friend!

Herein I see the heart of worshiping in truth and Spirit: to touch the living God and be touched by Him! God calls His Church together so He may model for us the love and caring He commands us to give one another. He wants to interact with us. He wants to touch us. To enfold us in His majesty and grace. To elicit, more than to command, our worship.

God does not always manifest Himself by dramatic miracles. But whatever way He shows Himself, heaven comes down and glory touches our soul! Seeking God in real interaction is, therefore, central to worship.

But I see a deadly trend surfacing. It is the age-old tendency to substitute show for heart, formulas for faith, and form for power. In some places a program of worship is subtly replacing the pursuit of God's manifest presence!

It's partly a matter of attitude. It's a shift toward viewing the service as a collection of activities such as singing, preaching, scripture lessons, prayer, the offering, and so on. The "program" mentality is basically satisfied if these are done with reasonable care within a specified time frame.

Rather than memorializing an absent God, true worship interacts with the living Savior. When worship is reduced to a program there is little attention paid to God's purposes for the service. But when people pursue God's manifest presence, their chief preparation consists of finding out what He desires to do. The usual elements of worship may all be present, but only as a means to and end.

When worship has become a program it often lapses into boring routine. Or if there are changes, they smack of contrived innovation in a futile attempt to mimic the creativity of the Spirit. The changes are unnatural and do not make Jesus seem any closer.

Nor does insisting on spontaneity solve the problem. Some of the most powerful services I have attended have been carefully pre-planned, while others, seeking to be spontaneous, were mere exhibitions of free-flowing flesh. The issue is listening to the Spirit and doing in the service what He wants. He may reveal some of that prior to the service, and some of it while the service is in progress.

When people touch God, there is a freshness to the services. The variations from one time to the next fulfill God's aim for each service. They seem natural and take away hindrances to worship. They reflect God's desire to bless His people. When people touch God, not only believers think He is present; but unbeliever may also see Him and fall on their faces in awe (I Corinthians 14:25).

One almost certain clue that program has replaced God's presence in worship is the loss of fervency. A deeply committed Christian leader came to me for advice about his worship problem. He said, "I rarely enjoy worshiping God nowadays. I see very little evidence of His presence. What's wrong?"

For a moment I was tempted to give him some generic advice: "Christians should not go by feelings. Worship God anyway. He is worthy of it."

While that would have been a biblically based answer, it would also have been too easy. It would have been too superficial to meet the heart cry of this earnest person. It would have failed honestly to address the difficutly of worshiping an "absent God."

Indeed, I believe God would have been disappointed with such an answer. We should not canonize the status quo with such a word. It would have been a smug, Laodicean retort, implying that we had plumbed the depths and ascended the heights of all there is to learn about worship. But it would have missed God's purpose. Jesus did not die so we could conduct religious exercises in memory of His great sacrifice. He suffered, died and rose again so He could bring us into unhindered fellowship with the Father, the Spirit, and Himself. That's why Scripture can command us to "come boldly to the throne of grace" and to "draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith" (Hebrews 4:16, 10:22). And that's what we must do during worship.

To answer that man's earnest question with a cliche would reduce our experience of God to that experienced by nominal Christians. Though they don't really know Him, they do live in God's sovereign presence. Yet sadly, they worship God from afar.

But for His Church, God has a better promise:

"The person who has My commands and keeps them is the one who [really] loves Me, and whoever [really] loves Me will be loved by My Father. And I [too] will love him and will show (reveal, manifest) Myself to him - I will let Myself be clearly seen by him and make Myself real to him" (John 14:21, Amplified).

God's challenge to us as worshipers and especially as pastors and worship leaders is clear. Let's rid ourselves of the "program mentality" in worship, and seek God Himself. He is here, and He is real! Let's take advantage of the teachers God is releasing in His Church, raised up to show us scriptural principles of worship. Let's get His prophetic insight to clear away the obstacles to His manifest presence. Heaven can come down! Glory can still touch our generation's soul!

Nick Ittzes is President of Training Resources, Inc., an organization whose mission is to help people achieve their destiny in God. Nick is a writer and speaker, and conducts leadership training seminars internationally.

Reprinted with permission from The Psalmist Magazine, June/July, 1988.

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