Where will we go?
Worship Arts Coordinator (QLD)
This year, I’m making a New Year’s revolution.
Recently, I read an article suggesting careful examination of the past year could be more helpful than making promises about the next.1 Posts, tweets, and even sermons challenge us to reevaluate before “returning to normal.” Let’s face it: there is precious little “normal” at present, and “new normal” seems to be a moveable feast which transforms as quickly as it is glimpsed.
For Christians, one “normal” continually discussed is the whole area of worship. Looking back, what have I learned about worship in this turbulent year? Are there unshakable worship principles that apply despite pandemic, isolation, technology, and the thousand challenges bombarding us? What does this mean for God’s people as worshippers, and for me personally?
Is it time to worship? Undoubtedly.
Is it time to worship differently? Perhaps.
I think it is time to worship as Jesus recommended.
In John 4: 4-42, there is a fascinating account of Jesus’ meeting with a Samaritan woman. Their conversation is remarkable in many ways. For me, it contains powerful lessons about the nature of worship, the vital elements of true worship, and the impact of personal revolution.
Firstly, like the Samaritan, I find I’ve begun with the wrong question: where will we go? How many similar conversations have we experienced recently? If this dialogue occurred lately, we might ask, “Some say go back to church! Some say stay home! Some say gather online! Which is the right way, Jesus?”
Jesus swiftly clarifies such factors as relatively unimportant. He invites a change of focus from externals to worship’s intrinsic meaning and purpose, as He also reminded the Pharisees on various occasions.2 One application of this is that no physical pre-requisites for worship means physical limitations need not stop us worshipping. This is especially good news when so many customary worship practices are currently disrupted. Whether we gather in person, via technology or hybrids thereof, in groups large or small, any opportunity where God’s people meet allows us to glorify God together. Matthew 18:20 reminds us, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Worship is both a corporate and individual practice, or as expressed by Sam & Sara Hargreaves, both gathered and scattered worship.3 As Scripture makes plain in Romans 12:1, our very lives are acts of worship. Hebrews 13:15-16 and Colossians 3:16-17 also describe this fusion of expressed and lived praise.
But if the location and context of my worship are not particularly important, what aspects are? How can I be sure my worship is true worship?
Jesus illuminated this for the Samaritan (and us) by answering the unasked questions of greater importance - who and how? He defines true worship as worshipping the Father in spirit and in truth. This establishes the only worship non-negotiables: it must be rightly directed to God, rightly engaged by God’s Spirit, and rightly formed by God’s Word.
These non-negotiable elements apply to all individual and corporate worship practice, and all parts of our lives – for all worship begins, continues, and ends with God:
“One of the greatest discoveries of my Christian pilgrimage has come with the realization that the primary importance in worship is not what I do, but what God is doing. In worship, God is present, speaking to me, and acting upon me.”4
This doesn’t dismiss our worship practices as unimportant (the next article in this series will further explore the richness of Worship Acts). In fact, keeping our focus God-centric enables us to better utilize them by asking who and how before presuming what, where, when. Let’s consider how each non-negotiable can help us rightly focus and reflect on our worship practice.
It might seem obvious that true worship is directed to God, yet worship drift can be alarmingly easy. Are our practices becoming a means to an end other than proclaiming God’s greatness?
Worship’s focus must be lasered on God and God’s narrative – it’s in His reflection we make sense of our experiences, share our stories, and serve others.
Is our worship genuinely preoccupied with God, filled with reverence and wonder? Or has it become familiar, comfortable, unthinking, unamazed? This is what Jesus was referring to as the Samaritans worshipping without understanding - while they worshipped Yahweh, they viewed Him in effect as a local deity, inherited with the territory, like other nations of the time.5 Jesus’ challenge to us, as to His listener, was to shun lip service, actively pursuing relationship with God – for through Jesus we are privileged to know Almighty God personally.
Helpful refocusing questions might be: Who (or what) is holding my attention in this moment of worship? On whom (or what) does this shine the spotlight? Who is God to me?
Secondly, God initiates worship connection by the Holy Spirit, and He actively seeks our engagement with Him through the Spirit. This authentic engagement does not rely on us doing the “correct” things to connect spiritually, but on recognizing God is already present and inviting us to participate. “True worship is the intersection of God’s Spirit with our spirit,” 6 therefore physical, habitual, and practical elements employed for worship must continually be surrendered to the Spirit’s direction. Worship practices, including leading worship, help us experience and hear from God, but the Holy Spirit must always be in the driving seat.7 Good questions for right engagement might be:
How is God already speaking to me?
How does this practice help us hear
and respond to the Spirit?
Who is setting our worship direction?
Thirdly, our worship must be formed by God’s truth – consistent with God’s character revealed in the Bible and in the person of Jesus. It is not enough to merely experience and enjoy worship practices – they are a crucible where God forms and re-forms us.
Our gatherings and interactions should also demonstrate integrity. Does our worship embody the fruit of the Spirit and similar Biblical teaching? Are we kind, patient, inclusive, generous, polite? Is our worship without pretense? In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus made it plain that honesty and humility before God pleases Him more than fancy words; in John 13:34-35, He instructed His disciples that their key identifier must be love. Sadly, these hallmarks have been glaringly absent from many public interactions among Christians, to the extent of potentially contributing to church
Good questions to explore truthful worship might be:
How is God revealed here?
How does this help us
understand God’s Word?
How will this help me become
more like Christ?
Finally, how does this instruct me personally, as a worship leader and worshipper? My revelation from this Scripture was a revolution – a turn-around: it’s time to leave behind my water-pot and reconnect with the true source of Living Water.
For the Samaritan, leaving her waterpot and running back to her community represented a total personal revolution of heart and mind. Where once she avoided interaction, coming to the well in midday heat, she now sought to share the message that was transforming her.
As worship leaders, we cannot lead others where we have not been. How do we personally practice true worship so that we can better help God’s people worship in the year ahead? I believe we need to set aside vessels of self-reliance and self-provision. We need not fear our limited capacity when we draw constantly from the unlimited Source.
In 2021, we may need to leave waterpot routines that have become meaningless, allowing the Living Water to flow more spontaneously. Or perhaps, leave behind waterpots of inconsistency and allow the Living Water to fuel helpful habits. What about the waterpot of people pleasing? That’s a good one to discard.
No doubt, at some point the Samaritan needed more physical water; but having encountered Living Water, she was no longer afraid to turn up with her waterpot, engaging with whoever she met at the well. The waterpot became simply a vessel fit for purpose, not a symbol of her isolation and shame.
Maybe this is not unlike our love/hate relationship with masks, or church online. There may well be use for these in 2021, but let them be simply vessels, not symbols of isolation and fear. We can worship anyway, whether our village well is virtual or actual – and more than ever, we need to seize every opportunity to embrace true worship.
“People come to a time of worship saying in the quiet of their hearts what the psalmist said in Psalm 42:2, “When can I go and meet with God?”
The worship leader responds, “How about here? How about now?” and leads us to that place of meeting.”9
Why not here? Why not now? Why not any and everywhere?
It’s time to worship our God in Spirit and in truth.
1 End Your Year Intentionally with These 10 Questions’, Daisy U, https://nosidebar.com/intentionally/
2 Matthew 12:1-14; Mark 7:1-13; Luke 14:1-14
3 Whole Life Worship, Sam & Sara Hargreaves, Intervarsity Press, 20-21.
4 Worship is A Verb, Robert Webber, Hendrickson Publishers, 66.
5 Commentary, Matthew Henry, https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/matthew-henry/john.4.4-John.4.26
6 Worship Like Jesus, Constance M. Cherry, Abingdon Press, 74.
7 1 Corinthians 14:1-33; John 14:26; Acts 2:1-4
8 ‘New Exodus? 4 Reasons So Many People (Including Christians) Have Suddenly Left The Church’,
Carey Nieuwhof, https://careynieuwhof.com
9 How to Lead Worship Without Being a Rock Star, Dan Wilt, Wild Pear/Worship Training.com, 17.
Written by Britteny Ling
Territorial Just Brass Consultant
A great friend of mine often talks about the music in Sunday services. “The music isn’t worship,” he says matter-of-factly. My initial reaction is that I feel paralyzed by the notion that what I do maybe isn’t worship. As a musician, how do I take this? If the music isn’t worship, what is? What does the Bible say worship is?
I am not the first to write about this subject. I find it a remarkable thing to truly understand the word worship; where it appears in the Bible, and how knowing this information has transformed my own attitude in all aspects of service.
I pose a question: Where do we get the modern idea of worship? When you read the word, what comes to mind? Hold on to that thought for a second. The Hebrew word for worship is shachah and depending on the context, it is translated into English as worship or bow down. Here are a couple examples from scripture:
He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship [shachah] and then we will come back to you.”
Then Abraham rose and bowed down [shachah] before the people of the land, the Hittites.
The problem lies in that our own language prevents us from seeing the two definitions as one and the same. The English translations have made a separation between worship of a person and worship of God. However, this isn’t quite right because the meaning of the original word has not changed. As it turns out, my friend was correct. The music itself isn’t worship. My spiritual posture is everything.
Think about it for a moment. What are you doing when you bow down with your face to the ground? It’s a vulnerable position. It indicates a few specific things:
You are in control of this situation.
I have no power here.
My life is Yours.
This is what the word shachah tells us; God is in control, and we give ourselves as an offering to Him.
Perhaps you are reading this and thinking, “If music isn’t worship, what’s the point?”
The Bible gives us several perfect examples of acts of worship, and they also appear as worship and praise throughout scripture (in English).
To praise, celebrate, boast, or rave.
Another way to think of this is “crazy, exuberant praise.” I’ve experienced many Salvationist worshippers who do this very well. When there is an abundance of joy through the Holy Spirit, how can we possibly stay quiet about our good God?
Such a simple physical act, yet an obvious one. Again, it is a posture of surrender and reverence. In The Salvation Army, we have a dedicated place for it in our services at the mercy seat. It doesn’t need to be left to an altar call or special moment in the service; we can kneel in worship.
To twist, to leap, to dance, to twirl.
This is not just a casual swaying but rather vigorous movement! I was fortunate to visit South Africa and Zambia a few years ago and if you need a lesson in “makal,” that is where to get it. No one there is afraid or shy about dancing in worship!
Give a sacrifice of praise.
You can find more information about this word at this link:
Hebrews 13:15 commands us, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.”
Think about Paul and Silas (Acts 16:23-25) who praised God and sang hymns after being beaten and imprisoned. In trying times, it takes a personal sacrifice to still praise God; a determined act to bow down even though we don’t understand the suffering.
To play an instrument.
Finally, the timbrellists and all other instrumentalists are mentioned specifically. When we play for God, we are enacting our praise. We must always continue to do so.
To strike, to smite, or clap your hands.
In other words, make noise! Psalm 47:1 says, “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.” I, for one, am positive that clapping on the offbeats is being described here as well.
Praise, song or hymn of praise; to sing a new song.
This is a very interesting word because it also stems from “halal,” which I’ve already mentioned wasn’t typically a quiet act. We are commanded to sing and to write new songs to the Lord, and to do it joyfully, boasting not about ourselves, but of the glory of God.
Cast, show, or point with the hand; lifting up one’s hands.
When you’re in an attitude of worship, whether in prayer or song, we lift our hands in adoration. If you’ve ever felt restricted from raising your hands in worship, take this as your permission to let that fear go!
Soothe, boast, pronounce happy, announce with a loud voice.
This worship act makes me think back to a corps sergeant major I had while growing up.
Their announcements were never boring or half-hearted. This man truly had an attitude of worship as he announced everything from SAGALA camps, to fundraising, weddings, birthdays, and even young people receiving their driver’s licenses. He believed everything could be attributed to God’s glory and the announcements were an opportunity to boast about it and provided a way to get the corps excited about the ministry opportunities that week.
If after reading all of this, you are still wondering about your own worship, remember the word shachah. Bow down. Do it. Bow down, physically. Bow down your heart. Put everything you are at God’s feet. This is what shachah/worship means - to give up oneself. By taking this simple step before performing anything else, you are at the heart of worship. Then, when you enact your worship and praise through zamar, tehillah, barach or anything else, know that God will receive all the glory and honour. And that, my friends, is everything.
I can testify to this fact. It changes us individually as we come before a mighty God, and it changes our world as we intercede. Prayer actually works and makes a difference to situations; I have seen evidence of this in my own life. It is a critical foundation in our Christian faith.
But why are we talking about prayer in a series of articles on worship?
Earlier this year, in the first article of the series, Louise reminded us that “He (Jesus) defines true worship as worshipping the Father in spirit and in truth. This establishes the only worship non-negotiables: it must be rightly directed to God, rightly engaged by God’s Spirit, and rightly formed by God’s Word.” We are not limited by place or time to worship God. In fact, those two things are irrelevant to what is needed to worship.
In the next article, Britteny reminded us that “The Hebrew word for worship is shachah and depending on the context, it is translated into English as worship or bow down… Music itself isn’t worship. My spiritual posture is everything... This is what the word shachah tells us; God is in control, and we give ourselves as an offering to Him.”
Britteny reminded us that worship is not limited to a particular format, but it is much more about the posture of our heart.
If we are not limited by the time, the place, the format, or the shape in which worship can take place, if it is rather about a posture towards God and connecting to Him – then prayer can be a way of worshipping! For prayer is precisely that: connecting and conversing with God.
But how do we pray? Yes, prayer is simply a conversation between you and God, but let’s not leave it there. Let’s look at what Jesus had to say about the subject. Luckily for us, the Son of God himself answered this question directly:
“This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’”
Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)
I want to share a few observations about the prayer Jesus gave us.
Firstly, this prayer glorifies Father God. It is not self-promoting but rather invites us to come humbly before God as we give Him all the focus.
Yes, the second half of the prayer features our requests before the Father, but even then, it merely highlights our dependence on God. We rely on God to give us our daily bread, we rely on God to forgive us our sins, we ask God to lead us away from temptation. This prayer glorifies the Father and asks us to rely on and trust Him.
Secondly, Tim Mackie (theologian and co-founder of the BibleProject) observes the structure of The Lord’s Prayer. It is broken down into an introduction and two sections:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
The intro reminds us of who we are praying to. Section 1 addresses the Father, and Section 2 brings out the petitions of the community of disciples. Mackie identifies how Jesus has given us a prayer that is “structured according to Jesus’ highest values”- the Great Command. “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”
Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV)
Mackie states that “Jesus has given us a prayer that reflects those two priorities… where we first orient ourselves to the Father. We express our loyalty and allegiance and love for the Father and His priorities in our world. And then we turn our attention to us.”
What a beautiful structure Jesus has given us to use while praying. It is simple, easy to remember, poetic, and sums up his entire mission.
My next observation is the use of communal language. This may sound obvious, but have you ever paid attention to the fact that The Lord’s Prayer is written with communal language?
“Our Father,” “Give us,” “Forgive us,” “Lead us.” Not once does it say my or me.
For many years when I prayed, “Give us today our daily bread,” I really meant “Give me today my daily bread.” But once you let this fact sink in, it is a real game changer. The Lord’s Prayer is really a prayer of intercession! It is a prayer to pray with and on behalf of others. Yes, it is a beautiful prayer to pray over yourself, but I don’t think it is an accident that Jesus used communal language.
Intercession is an important part of prayer (as we can see from the fact that Jesus included it when he taught us how to pray). It is also an important way to partner with God in His mission on earth. In his book, Red Moon Rising, Pete Greig states that “Christians are called to welcome Christ into every ‘square inch of the whole domain of our human existence.’” This means that whenever we see the tyranny of enemy occupation at work in our own lives, we pray for Christ’s Kingdom to come instead. Whenever we see oppression amongst the poor, in our educational systems, in government or even in the church, we use our free wills to say defiantly, “Not my will but Your will be done.”
He goes on to say, “Our prayers light up landing strips for the invading forces of Heaven.” What a fantastic perspective on intercession! Let’s welcome in and light the way for the forces of Heaven!
So, let’s get practical. How can these revelations be reflected in our prayer life?
1. The NKJV translates verse 9 as “In this manner, therefore, pray.” So, let’s use the structure of The Lord’s Prayer as a guide to pray. (The structure being: Focus on who are praying to, praying for an increase in God’s Kingdom and His will, and then bringing our earthly needs before Him.)
By reminding ourselves of who God is/what He has done and praying for His Kingdom first before praying for our own needs, I suspect our perception of our own needs will change. Instead of rushing into prayer with a list of our complaints, perhaps our earthly requests will have a new perspective in light of our incredible God. (Please hear me, it is important to bring our needs before God. He wants to hear them and ease our burden. But how often do we just pray because we need or want something? I know I am certainly guilty of that.)
2. Praying the words of scripture is a powerful tool. Let’s join with thousands of generations before us in praying the prayer Jesus gave us. If you feel God’s prompting, I challenge you to pray this prayer every day for a month. See what happens, see how it translates in the different contexts of your life, see what God reveals through it.
3. And finally, pray this prayer with others and on behalf of others. It may be with a bible study, a life group or just a group of trusted brothers and sisters in Christ. It may be on behalf of your friends, your community, your church, your city, your country, the world.
I suspect many of you reading this article will be involved in creative groups within your local church. I urge you to make prayer a key priority in your group. You may like to pray this prayer, or pray using this model with your group. However you decide to pray, it is crucial that we are committed to being a people of prayer. Powerful things happen when we press into God together. I also want to encourage you to pray using this model on behalf of your group. Intercede for them. Bring each member and the situations they face before the God of Heaven and earth. Because… prayer really does change everything.
Worship Arts Coordinator NSW/ACT
1.Mackie, T., 2018. The Lord’s Prayer- Gospel of Matthew Part 10. [podcast] Exploring My Strange Bible
2.Greig, P. and Roberts, D., 2003. Red Moon Rising.