The Trap of Authentic Worship

What would it look like if your preferred form of worship was taken away?

I’m a musician, a singer, and a worship leader. It’s easy for me to pigeon-hole “worship” into how I express my worship rather than actually worshipping. I have some friends who are musicians. God has clearly given them their talent and has worked in them and has directed their hearts to share their talents with the Body. I know some of them struggle the way I do. We love to worship. And for us, music is one of the most natural expressions.

I can tell, however, when we’ve gotten trapped into one form of worship. Whether it’s a musician on a worship team or a member of the congregation, we start saying things like, “I feel closest to God when I’m singing that song.” I’m not denying that something transcendent happens when we abandon ourselves in song to God, both privately or corporately. But what if you lost your voice or your ability to sing? Would you be exempt for worshipping? If singing or playing an instrument is the only way I know how to express worship, then what about those without the ability? Are they not able to worship?

As a worship leader, it’s tough to look out into a sea of faces and see such vast expressions. “How can two people in the same room, sharing the same experience have such distinctly different responses,” I think to myself? I see some sitting. And a few seats over, some are standing. Some quiet. Some singing so loudly I can hear them over the music coming from the stage. Some clapping. Some with their hands in their pockets. Unless you’re a worship leader at a Hillsong, Jesus Culture, or Chris Tomlin event, you know what I’m talking about. We seem to have some form of dissociative disorder. I get that we respond differently at different times of our lives. My fear is that we tend to get comfortable with one form and resist the opportunities to respond with other forms and expressions.

We were all created for the express purpose of worshipping God. No one is exempt. But we often justify our resistance by saying things like, “I don’t worship that way,” or “I’m a quiet person. For me to shout or jump around would be inauthentic.” But I would argue that for you to resist anything but an unfiltered response to the very one who created you is what’s inauthentic. For you not to shout or jump or sing (or whatever form it takes) isn’t really about authenticity, is it? It’s about pride.

I’ve come from a very wide circle of Evangelical Christian traditions. Some of these traditions champion lifting the hands, dancing and other physical acts as the outside indicator that a person is fully involved with worshipping God. But what if you don’t have hands or your legs don’t function the way most others do? Are you exempt? What about singing loudly? How does the mute person fit into that mold? How does God expect them to worship without a voice? I could detail other physical restrictions, but I think you get it.

The point is this… our God is diverse. And in our creation he established a variety of ways to respond to him in worship. Ways that allow everything that has breath to express worship. But when we get locked into one form or another and resist expressions that vary from “our way” we’re actually squelching a response to God that says, “I am Yours. I have no other response but total abandonment.”

Are you open to responding to God in ways that aren’t comfortable to you?

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Heaven

There’s this song by Brett Dennen that I’ve loved for some time now. I think I heard it on my way to work one Sunday afternoon. It’s one of those songs that sneaks up on you after some time. Don’t get me wrong. Initially, I really liked it. It isn’t that it had to grow on me. Just that I’ve been stewing in its meaning and personal application for awhile now and I was finally able to put into words some of what this song reveals about my faith and how it’s practice affects the general perception of what we currently call Christianity.

I don’t believe everything I say.

I’m not trying to deceive but rather I’m trying to find an answer I can believe in. Often, it’s a way to invite others into the conversation. And frequently, where truth works itself out in community, perceptions can be challenged and tested and the fringes can be shaved down leaving the integrity of the woven fabrics of belief intact. This is kinda how it works with the music I listen to also. I don’t believe or agree with every lyric of a particular song, but I can’t ignore the truth mixed in because of the points on which I disagree.

Truth can be found by eyes of discernment even when masked by the trappings of modernism.

We have so distorted the hope of heaven that most people don’t really want to go there when they die. Most people believe heaven to be a very boring place – flying around in a sheet, playing a little harp doesn’t sound exciting to me either. We define horrific or challenging events as “hell on earth” but we don’t seem to ever use “heaven on earth” to describe anything. Maybe because we believe the good of this life is better than the best heaven has to offer. Maybe because we don’t know how good heaven really is.

Maybe because we hope that heaven is nothing like what we’ve been told.

Either way, we need a better insight into what Jesus and the ancients thought was so remarkable about heaven.

Many people hold that heaven is simply a state of mind or being. Many believe that it’s a mystical (almost mythical) location above and beyond the realms of this planet. But what hope does any of this offer those who are willing to give everything to model the life of Jesus, even to death?

Clouds?

Harps?

No, thank you.

Tasteless,

senseless,

meaningless afterlife?

This is not the imagery that Jesus uses. This is not the hope the Hebrews have for the reconciliation of God to Man at the end of all things…

…is it?

There are two stories that are strikingly similar though they were written thousands of years apart. One opens the Story and the other concludes it.

In the first part of the story, there is a tree in the middle of a small, remote village.

This tree gives life to everything it touches.

At the end of the story, the village has grown into a major city but that old tree is still there, just as strong and just as alive as it ever was,

passing down life to everything that lives and healing to every nation.

There’s a tree in the middle of the Story also. This tree, however is stained with death and decay.

This tree bears the fading Seed of the hope of freedom.

The Seed, buried in the ground and then made alive again to produce in humanity the fruit of the redemption of all things. The book of Hebrews in the Bible tells us that we get a glimpse of the light of heaven, a taste of its delicacies when we participate in the Work of God on the earth. Early in the book of Ephesians we hear that the goal of Christ’s sacrifice all along was to bring heaven and earth closer together, no longer divided by the gulf of our indiscretions. The love and presence of God and the unending provision He supplies no longer limited, rationed or withheld.

The enslaved,

given freedom.

The hungry,

fed.

The missing,

located and rescued.

We are responsible for translating this freedom to those around us. To avoid and prevent hoarding the news of our rescue.

Our ancestors were evicted from the village in the beginning because of this attitude. And yet somehow, by the end of the Book, the gates to the city are wide open and her citizens move about in the freedom originally initiated by our Creator.

This is heaven.

Freedom.

No longer bound by rules we cannot keep. This new freedom is ruled by love and respect. Love of self and neighbor, providing for the widow, the orphan and the immigrant,

faithful to the love and action of God.

We have it within each of us to unite heaven and earth because Christ in us has already done the Work.

If heaven has no room for those without a bed it is tyranny.
If it offers no hope for the hopeless it is a lie.
If it refuses the dignity of life it is a prison camp.

Heaven extends beyond era, class and human existence. It has always been with us and will be ours when we’re gone.

It is found in the work of reconciliation both here in our hands and beyond our reach.