A few weeks ago, my church’s music team played a bunch of old-timey bluegrass worship tunes, rather than the usual Chris Tomlin–Matt Maher fare, and the congregation was very much engaged with the music that day.
They sang along, they clapped to the beat (mostly), and they snickered at the somewhat unusual (and by that, I mean ‘corny’) approaches we took to some familiar hymns. But did their engagement fit into the category of worship, or was it merely about fun? Or nostalgia?
In the call to worship that day, by all the power vested in me as a volunteer music leader, I let my congregation off the hook, saying ‘We’re gathered together in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day, singing songs that give God praises, and we’re enjoying it. How could that not be worship?’
And I stand by that assertion.
Worship is certainly the ecstatic, goosebumply, lump-in-your-throat sensation you get when your soul is fully engaged in songs about God, and you’re moved to raise your hands as an outward sign of your desire to give Him all the glory.
But as I said in Part 1 of this series, I don’t think that’s all it is.
I don’t think the worshiping stops when the music team finishes its work. I think it starts before the music does, and continues through the whole church service – prayers, preaching, creed recitation, Communion participation, dismissal and announcements – is all worship.
And that’s not all.
But does this mean we’re ‘off the hook’ when it comes to pursuing the ecstatic, goosebumply, lump-in-your-throat kind of worship?
I think it does – from an obligation perspective. Here’s what I mean:
I think we’re not required to try to reach a euphoric state when we’re singing hymns and worship songs; I think our presence, and our active, willful participation in these activities, is enough for God.
I’d even go a step further, and suggest that if we’re cynical about the whole capital-W worship experience, but we show up anyway, in an ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief‘ sort of way, God can even (or maybe especially) work with that.
On that note, take a quick look at Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
If I read this right, even our belief is a gift from God. As I said in the Contradictions series last summer, perhaps we only need to have faith that we have faith.
Therefore, I don’t think we’re under any obligation to pursue the kind of worship that a charismatic Christian bully might describe as the only authentic kind of worship.
I do think there’s an invitation to dig a little deeper, though. And that this invitation is worth accepting.
The ecstatic, goosebumply ‘level’ (for lack of a proper term) of worship is available. I can say that with certainty, because I experience it pretty regularly.
For me, it happens most often when I raise my hands all the way up from my sides to my guitar and stand behind a microphone.
Worship is most profound for me when I’m leading worship. Not because of my abilities (or lack thereof) as a worship leader. Rather, it’s partially because I’m facing the congregation and their worship is contagious – and that is why I so rarely give myself a Sunday off from the music team.
I would define this chill in your spine, lump-in-your-throat sensation as a moment of heightened awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit – and that’s as powerful and affirming a feeling as it sounds.
So I highly encourage everyone reading this post to strive for it – in whatever ways you feel called (not comfortable, called) to try, wherever you are in your walk with God.
But if that awe-filled, breath-quickening experience turns out to be elusive for you, try not to be discouraged. As the Apostle Paul states so beautifully in 1 Corinthians 12, we’re not all given the same spiritual gifts, but that doesn’t mean we’re not equally gifted.
If there’s anything to that ‘heightened awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit’ stuff, maybe the ecstatic, goosebumply, lump-in-your-throat sensation is elusive for you because your spiritual gift is a constantly heightened awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
And if that’s the case, many a charismatic Christian bully probably secretly envies you.
Peace be with you.
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