This is my 3rd post about worship and worship leading. In the 1st one (“Worshippers and their Leaders”) I shared some thoughts about how we might take a serious look at the way we “do worship” in the church, especially if we want to make “worshipping disciples” along the way. In the 2nd offering I talked about the phrase “Good Worship,” and how much it irritates me to hear it! I proposed that we might replace it with something like, “Good worshippers,” which seems to me to be much more in line with God’s concern. In this one I want to talk about what my charismatic friends will most likely have on their minds when they think of “good worship.” In fact, recently I had a conversation on this topic with a couple of my friends (charismatics both), a distillation of which I’d like to share with you.
The discussion about “Good Worship” began with between Tom and me, and then our friend Norm entered the fray midway.
TOM: For me, the question is, “What difference does it (he) make?” If it’s “good worship” then it should make a difference in me, in the way I live. I think it’s “good worship” when God shows up and changes the worshippers! When I’m worshipping him, I usually get some sort of clearer idea of what God is like and a challenge to be more like what he’s like. Sometimes when I’m praising him, it seems like he shows me something – another piece of him that needed revealing or another piece of me that needs renovation. It’s during worship that I’m most susceptible to conviction about how I’m living and the assurance that he loves me enough to keep working on me.
ME: So, in your thinking, when you’re worshipping God, something is supposed to happen to you. You’re looking for transformation of some kind. Do you think most Christians have this expectation or purpose for their times of worship?
TOM: Well, I certainly can’t speak for anyone else’s experience; I’m not called or qualified for it. But if you’re asking for my opinion, I’d have to say that “most Christians” (at least the ones I’m around) don’t have that expectation. My impression about a lot of Christian worshippers is that they’re just singing songs that they like and they have very little expectation personal interaction with God or even less of an aspiration for personal change. That could describe me a lot of times, so I’m not wanting to judge. It just seems like it to me like a lot of people are going through the motions and don’t even know that they can have intimate fellowship with God or have any idea on how to access his power for personal change.
ME: You mentioned God “showing up” during worship. What do you mean by that?
TOM: When I worship God it’s because he’s worthy, not so I can get stuff from him, but I do have a hope to experience his presence.
ME: OK, but what do you mean by “God’s presence”? I thought he was “omnipresent” – everywhere all the time? And isn’t it kind of subjective – feeling God’s presence? (Speaking of “feeling,” I had my own feeling about this, but I was wondering what Tom thought about it.)
TOM: Yeah, he’s everywhere always in the general sense of being “present,” but I’m talking about something different than that. I don’t know what to call it… umm, maybe his “Special” or his “Personal Presence.” Isn’t this what Moses was begging for in Exodus 33, “If your presence doesn’t go with us, we’re not going…”? Maybe it’s got something to do with what one of the gospel writers was talking about when he said, “And the power of the Lord was present to heal.” My assumption is that this power is sometimes present and sometimes it’s not present. Anyway, when I’m worshipping, sometimes it seems like God “shows up” in a more personal way. I guess he likes it when we praise him and he sort of emerges, or maybe it’s that he releases a piece of himself in some way. I don’t know how it works, but I like it when it happens!
ME: I agree with you, there’s nothing I love more than feeling like God is in the house! One of my friends described a moment when he felt the Lord so close that he was almost afraid to raise his hands lest he poke him in the eye! But again, this is pretty subjective. How do you know it’s God and not adrenaline or the emotional atmosphere created by soft music and a captivating speaker?
TOM: Yeah, I’ve been to church meetings and Christian conferences that reminded me more of Amway rallies than anything else! It seems to me that some worship leaders and preachers feel like it’s their job to provide an emotional “high” (he actually used another word that I wasn’t comfortable repeating in this context, but I didn’t fault him for his crudeness) for everyone, and that the audience isn’t satisfied if he doesn’t deliver! You mentioned adrenaline, and I wonder sometimes if we can tell the difference between adrenaline and anointing! I’m not sure that I always know the difference between the feeling I get when singing my favorite worship song and singing the national anthem at a baseball game!
ME: Do you think the more mature or experienced follower of Jesus has an advantage here? Theoretically, wouldn’t he or she over the years have developed sort of a “God gauge,” and have a greater capacity to discern if he’s “around” (I mean in that special-personal way) or not?
TOM: Sure, “theoretically,” as you say, but so many of our contemporaries (he’s talking about Baby Boomers of which I am a proud member) have, rather than 30 years experience in Jesus, they have 1 year experience 30 times! For all the time they’ve believed in him, they haven’t hardly matured in their faith.
(At this point we went on a lengthy tangent on how many of our fellow followers of Jesus have been locked in perpetual spiritual infancy. With that out of our system we came back to the topic at hand.)
ME: So, do you think we have any specific evidence of his presence? Can we point to anything in particular that helps us know that it’s God and not just our feelings of euphoria that comes from singing songs we like with people we like? Because it seems to me that there should be something more reliable as a gauge than pleasant emotions as to whether or not God “showed up.”
TOM: Yeah, to me, at least one of those “gauges” is if he’s doing something in me. Even though I try to put my focus on him when worshipping, I’m conscious of whether or not he’s speaking to me in some way. It may come in the form of conviction, conformation or comfort. But when I worship I pretty much expect him to change me in some way. In our church last week we sang that old Vineyard song, “Change My Heart Oh God.” If my worship is a conduit for life-change it’s my first clue that “good worship” might be happening.
When my dad came home from a trip, all us kids would run out to his car to greet him. He was a great dad and we loved him will all our hearts. When he pulled up in the driveway we’d all race to see who could jump in his arms first. After we all took our turn at hugs, we were conditioned to wait quietly in expectation of the gifts he bought for us while he was away, and which were always hidden in his briefcase. If we weren’t patient, we’d end up having to wait even longer. Though the tension seemed unbearable, his adoring fans would always be rewarded for the wait!
So, here’s how I see it. God reveals stuff to us – you know – salvation, forgiveness, his love and grace – stuff like that. He gives us a revelation of his glory in hopes that we’ll reflect it back to him in praise. He’s been good to us in the past, we’ve read about him in the Bible, and now we run into his wide-stretched arms to lavish our affections on him. (I wish I could say that our enthusiasm for our dad was entirely unselfish and not at all utilitarian, that we loved him for him rather than for his gifts. But for the purpose of my metaphor, let’s assume the best.) As God-praisers, our attention and passion should be for his presence more than for his “presents”! Be that as it may…
ME: Wait, I like that. As we used to say, “That’ll preach!” So, if we’re talking about “good worship,” it’s got to include a revelation of God to us and a response to that revelation from us.
TOM: That’s how I see it. God gives us a revelation, we respond with praise, and then he counters with the gift of transformation.
(A little earlier another friend of ours, Norm, entered the conversation. He’d been listening patiently, and waiting for an entry point. This was it.)
NORM: So, you’re saying that those gifts are an evidence of his presence; are you talking about the “gifts of the Spirit” listed in Corinthians (prophecy, tongues, discerning of spirits, etc)?
TOM: Close, but no cigar for you! We’re talking about “good worship” and yeah, those gifts of the Holy Spirit are part of it, but I think the primary thing that should happen when we worship God is transformation. I don’t know about you guys, but I think this is his greatest gift to us. So, I’m saying that we start with a revelation of God, which is revolutionizing the way we live, and we’re so captivated by it (by him) that it’s like we have to reflect it back to him in worship. God loves our praises so much that he responds by increasing our revelation of him, which brings even more change in us. Bottom-line, I’m saying that if we are “good worshippers” we should be getting better, not just getting blessed.
ME: I think I detect a little provocation in your voice when you say that last part about getting better and not just blessed.
TOM: Yeah, I guess that’s true. I do tend to be a little miffed about how self-centered our spirituality is, and how some preachers encourage us to be even more so. The result is that we want our relationship with God to work for us instead of in us. We expect that if we do certain things it’s as if God owes us something. A lot of people don’t want to be challenged to change, they just want God to meet all their needs and bunch of their wants. OK, you got me started. The bottom-line is, when we worship it’s not about feeling good, but about submitting to God and letting him do whatever he wants with us. How it morphed into something other than that is a mystery to me.
ME: All right, I’m gonna get you off your soap box and ask Norm what he thinks. You brought up the subject of the “gifts of the Holy Spirit.” Where do they fit into our discussion about “good worship”?
NORM: I agree with you guys so far, but for me worship has been “good” (he made the four-finger quotation marks gesture) if we’ve gotten so engaged with God that he dropped some of his gifts on us. I think worship is best when we get something supernatural from God to give to one another. That’s what the gifts of the Spirit are to me. They’re not just what God gives us, but what he gives us to give to one another. We’re God’s HPS (Heavenly Parcel Service), his delivery persons. To my mind, if someone gets healed when we pray, it’s not so much that we had the gift of healing, but we just delivered the gift! He was the gift’s recipient. However we view these miraculous gifts, I find that they’re most accessible when we’re worshipping.
ME: What about people who don’t believe that these gifts are for today?
NORM: That’s too bad, and it’s their loss. There’s just no logical or scriptural case to be made for the termination of the gifts. Billy Graham said that heaven is full of gifts that people never bothered to ask for. But to my mind, it’s just as sad when people who do believe in the gifts never use them. I mean, a lot of charismatic churches these days have become sort of “politically correct.” They’ve fallen into the attractional trap and are just content to sing a few songs, watch a skit, and hear a 20-minute talk on whatever! They got their “spiritual tingles” for the week and they’re good to go. And by the way, since you let Tom preach from his soapbox it’s only fair that I had equal time!
ME: OK, check this out. How about if we embellish Tom’s story a little about his dad coming home with gifts. What if he always brought two gifts per child, one to keep and one to give away to someone else? By it, he was trying to teach you guys a spirit of generosity. And in the worship context, we could say that when it’s “good,” God shows up, shares his presence with us, gives us the gift of transformation, and then gives us something to give to someone else – like a prophecy, a healing, or miracle of some kind.
NORM: I like it! I never thought about it this way, but I wonder if God is sort of testing us especially when we’re worshipping. Worship should always be an entirely unselfish act anyway, right? So, he hears our praises, gives us a sweeter revelation of himself, changes something in us, and then asks us to share some of the wealth with one another! Totally makes sense!
TOM: So, if my dad had come home with two gifts for each of us, the challenge for us would’ve been to actually give the second gift away and not hide it somewhere for ourselves! Maybe that’s what most of us do when God gives us something to give away. It sounds like that parable where Jesus talked about a guy who buried his talent instead of investing it. If he gives us something to give to someone else, we should follow through and give it.
ME: Maybe we could boil it down and say that the evidence of “good worship” (or better, “good worshippers”) is God’s presence bringing both transformation and transmission. Both of which are gifts – one comes to us and the other travels through us. In his presence we get changed into his likeness and then challenged to share some of it with others. And if I read 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14 correctly, this could very well sum up the content of those chapters.
And when this transformation and transmission both happen as a result of us being “good worshippers,” everyone involved becomes an even “better worshipper!” When I’m being transformed in his presence (by the renewing of my mind – Romans 12) I tend to want to worship him even more than before. And when someone else gets touched by God when I pray for them or prophesy to them, they are similarly inspired to praise him! God’s praises are thus multiplied.
TOM: So worship sort of grows exponentially when it’s given and not withheld!
ME: Yeah, and what do you guys think about this – that we can only respond to as much of a revelation as we have. (The exception would be when we worship “with the spirit” in tongues. But I’m not going there right now.) Would it be accurate to say that the degree of your revelation will determine the possible degree of your response? I say “possible” because there’s no guarantee that even if your revelation of God is great, you’ll even choose to respond in praise. But it does seem likely.
TOM: This sounds like what we call “glorifying God,” because we’re taking our revelation of his glory and reflecting it back to him. When we do that we don’t make him more glorious than he already is, we simply “see” his glory, enjoy it, and reflect it back to him in praise.
NORM: I think God likes it, not because he’s insecure and needs to be praised, or because he needs to be reminded of what he’s like. He likes sharing himself and especially enjoys it when we receive what he’s shared. But it’s even more than that, because when we come into “contact” with him, stuff happens to us. We improve and our revelation of him increases. Another way to say it is that his presence rubs off on us and our spiritual eyes open wider!
ME: I think it’s in Acts 13 where it says something like, “While they were worshipping the Holy Spirit said to them, ‘Set aside for me Paul and Barnabas for the work I’ve called them to.” I like that it was during their worship that the Spirit interjected his supernatural leading. This makes me think about 1 Corinthians 14 where he describes a person receiving a prophecy, “If one of you sitting there (in the worship gathering) has a revelation…” I like that he used the word, “revelation,” because it goes along with what you guys just said about how we come to worship with a revelation, and when we respond to it with praise, he increases it. And then sometimes he wants us to share it with the group gathered, which will increase everyone’s revelation, which in turn increases everyone’s praise to God! And that reminds me of something Jesus taught – use what you have and God will give you more!
TOM: I hadn’t ever thought of it this way, but worship is not only a response to revelation, but also a preparation for it. There are a bunch of activities (some people call them disciplines) that prepare us for something God wants to give us, you know – prayer, studying the Bible, fasting, etc. But of all of them, to my mind, worship is the easiest and most fun. It’s not like it’s some arduous drudgery to thank God for stuff. Worshipping God is what we were made for, and yet it yields an enormous benefit, that of putting us under the spout where the glory comes out!
NORM: Can I step on to my soapbox again briefly? (As I recall, he didn’t wait for us to give permission, he just went ahead with it.) I’ll just say it this way, I don’t see how the Holy Spirit can find an opportunity to interject anything in some of our overly-scripted services where we’re content to just praise, preach, and pass the plate – all in their proper order and for the their designated duration. How can we expect him to speak to us if we’re so busy maintaining the script, which is scheduled down to the fraction of a second?
ME: Woe, dude, if you ever want to apply for a church staff position, you’d better not let anyone hear you talk that way!
TOM: Yeah man, you almost sound heretical! Doesn’t something bad happen to those who mess with the “order of service” on Sundays? We should lower our voices!
ME: Or maybe we should raise them a little.