By Jason States, Youth Pastor
You may be asking yourself, “Why is the Youth Pastor writing about worship?” Well, I’d like to write to you as one who loves Jesus first and foremost; not as simply a Youth Pastor. My vocation aside, worship is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart. In almost every scenario in a given body of believers, I have seen worship gatherings unite, divide, inspire, frustrate, direct and misdirect believers. When worship is done well, I’ve witnessed those who love Jesus or desire to find him be propelled forward into a genuine hunger to grow, minister and love. When worship is not done well, God’s people quickly find themselves wandering, squabbling and distracted. It would be wonderful to have an immediate scapegoat when we come to a realization that worship is missing the mark, but unfortunately, worship has to be personal before it can ever be corporate. And if it is in fact personal at its core, then none of us have anyone to blame but ourselves. Genuine worshipers who worship in Spirit and in truth, inside the church and outside the church, alone and together… those are far more infectious than worshipers who fight for preference, comfort and attention.
All of that being said, I’d like to write about this personal connection that we make between us and God when we gather together, sing songs, pray and call on the name of our Lord.
This past Sunday, my wife and I taught a student ministries class on the topic of Spiritual Disciplines. The two practices addressed in this week’s Spiritual Disciplines unit were the disciplines of Celebration and Worship. We gently led the class through the discomfort of trying to both define and discuss practical applications for both. The reason why these two items were paired together isn’t because they are so similar. On the contrary, it is because they are drastically different! When we confuse the two or assume one is sufficient without the other, we rob ourselves of the amazing experience God has in store for us.
Celebration (the “praise” aspect of the term “praise & worship”) in the context of a church gathering, is the way in which we recognize what God has done in and around us. In this way we echo the writers of Psalms who say things like…
“I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.” – Psalm 13:6
“Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.” – Psalm 28:6-7
God is constantly at work all around us. There is no situation in which he is not due praise for the way he orchestrates good things for us designed to guide us to his will and bless us with the many gifts in our lives. This does not of course mean that we always FEEL like celebrating and praising God, because life gets difficult and some challenges seem all-encompassing and completely insurmountable. However, God is at work for our good and has paid the ultimate price of his one and only son just for the POSSIBILITY of a relationship with you and I… PRAISE GOD!
The other practice/discipline that is so consistently confused with the idea of praising God is the practice of worship.
Praise is recognizing God for WHAT HE HAS DONE; worship is recognizing God for WHO HE IS.
One of my most favorite passages in all of Scripture is one that our Lead Pastor referenced in a recent message. It is in the sixth chapter of the book of Isaiah when Isaiah receives his calling from God to become a prophet. I could preach a thousand messages and write a thousand more blogs just on this passage! However, one of the parts of this account that is most vivid and impressing to me is right at the beginning…
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” – Isaiah 6:1-4
Worship is this process by which we actively, knowingly and intentionally place ourselves below God. We see God the way Isaiah saw God – high, exalted, on a throne, his presence filling the place. It should and will overwhelm anyone who truly participates in it. True worship puts God in his rightful place and us in ours as well. True worship is not concerned with ourselves in any way except to lessen and diminish ourselves so that God may increase and reign supreme in our lives. True worship with its focus solely on God will humble the believer and unite all believers who take the same posture. True worship welcomes God to be… GOD! It does not command; it doesn’t petition; nor does it in any way seek to sway God, his will or his attention. True worship lets God be God and us be HIS!
May we as believers praise AND worship our God! May we not squabble over preference, style, comfort or tradition. May we come with grateful hearts to praise and with humble hearts to WORSHIP! And may we join with the angels in shouting “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty”. As our attention shifts away from ourselves and unites us with others, may we shake the very foundations, thresholds and doorposts of this place we temporarily call home; so that God be glorified! WOOT WOOT!