GET YOUR PRAISE ON!
One of the greatest joys of my life is to worship. It is a time when a lot changes for me, especially inside my head and my heart. I am glad to stop thinking about myself, glad to stop thinking of what bothers me, or about my needs and desires. It is good to think about God, good to think about being forgiven, good to think about God’s love, and good to rejoice. I believe that the Scriptures teach us how to worship while at the same time giving us a great deal of freedom, within the boundaries of what is taught in the Word of God. We are the most in trouble when we stray outside those boundaries, and sometimes our cultures not only take us outside the boundaries of Scripture but then institutionalize a practice that should never have existed in the first place. It is good to constantly reexamine our practices of worship to make sure they are pleasing to God, and not just what we have become used to doing. It is interesting how we can become off target either with tradition or with innovation. All traditions were once innovative, and some may even be within the scope of Scriptural teaching, but then we made them mandatory (even though Scripture does not prescribe them to be done routinely) and made people feel that if this element wasn’t in the worship service we haven’t worshipped and God isn’t pleased. So we ask ourselves if we really are worshipping God, or our traditions? This is how good things can become bad. I don’t see anything wrong with a communion table, but once I had a lady rebuke me for putting my Bible (it said “Holy Bible” right on the cover) down on the communion table (this during a non-communion Sunday). I figure we can have communion even without a communion table, since I don’t really see anything about it in the Bible. Nor do I see anything in Scripture about what side of it I should stand when I serve communion. I don’t see anything wrong with taking the offering, nor with ushers bringing the plates up to the Pastor. I don’t see it necessary for the Pastor to take them up to the altar (whatever and wherever that is) and elevate the plates to God, but if he wants to do it I think that is fine, but I don’t see that anywhere in Scripture. As long as the people of God bring their gifts I don’t really see any Scriptural instruction about how to do it. In some ways I see lifting up money as sending entirely the wrong message. I am not sure where “options” came from for communion. Is it a bow to consumerism or to health or conscience? People lining up to take their choice of wine, juice, common cup, gluten free, etc. Then in certain churches where they give you no choice but that you have to take some of it from a woman (and I don’t find anything wrong from taking the tray from a woman), who proceeds to give a priestly type comment about what she is giving you. I am always a little bothered to be invited to celebrate communion and have my mind taken off Christ and realize someone is trying to make some kind of point. I love the Gospel, I love the invitation to broken sinners to come and receive the bread and wine, but wonder why I too often hear the administration of the supper with no warnings attached when there is more of that in Scripture than there is invitation. The elements reveal and demonstrate the Gospel, and that should be celebrated and done with thanksgiving, but the holiness of it and its consequent danger is often frivolously discarded. I love almost more than anything in worship the Lord’s table served well. Cultures tend to like certain kinds of music, and someone having come to love a certain kind of music can really feel uncomfortable when having to experience worship in another cultural setting. Uncomfortable is probably a fairly common experience when crossing culture, the danger is when the worshipper stops worshipping and becomes judgmental and censorious, condemning what they are not used to hearing or seeing and despising brothers and sisters. Always the question has to be, “is this of God, is this according to His Word?” If it is, then the problem lies with me and not the practice. It doesn’t mean that I necessarily have to force myself to try and like what is uncomfortable, but it does mean I have to humble myself and not cause anyone else to stumble because they know I am not pleased. One of the worst kind of worship services (to me) is one that is insipid and safe. It would be better to have no singing or music at all if is not only bad music but sentimental and syrupy words without connection to Truth. I have heard the phrase “vain repetition” used to condemn (black) Gospel music that stays a long time on one phrase, and heard it used to condemn Reformed hymns that attempt to spell out every theological doctrine (in one hymn) with innumerable stanzas that most everyone has stopped thinking about after becoming brain numb. People think in different ways at different times, so it is usually best not to be too quick to condemn what one isn’t used to hearing. I have heard Pastors condemn clapping, even when used in praise or thanksgiving, while ignoring the Scriptural admonition to “clap your hands all you people.” I have walked into church seeing Scripture used to keep me quiet, “Let all the earth be silent before him,” while ignoring the more relevant worship command to “make a joyful noise all you people.” I understand and sympathize with a cerebral people who frown and grunt when in agreement but fail to say “amen!” when they should, and I can understand and sympathize with people who don’t think about what why they saying “amen!” Such as when the congregation says “amen!” all through the announcements. I sympathize but I don’t necessarily “amen” the practice. I wish people would think more about how Scripture tells us to worship then just do what we have become accustomed to doing. Some of my greatest joys have been in worship, some of my greatest emotional moments. A few times I have worshipped so much that I was exhausted physically, emotionally, and mentally but exhilarated spiritually. I realized that I was not yet ready for heaven, where finally we will have the capacity to give glory to God with everything we’ve got. It will be Sunday everyday, and we’ll never grow tired. Down here there are far too many worship services where I’m tired just as things are beginning, but not from involvement or joy, but rather from boredom and mediocrity. What I am advocating is worship that makes sense to the worshippers, so that enter it with understanding and not confusion. I am advocating “explaining” things to the people. I am advocating for Pastors and Worship Leaders to think about the what and why of the service and how it leads or distracts us from God. Use the candles to burn the vestments, organs, bells, hymn books, overhead projector and the microphones if any of those things are more important than the moment with God. Tell the writer of Responsive Readings to shut up if the mumbling of the congregations is without thought or sincerity. Tell the impulsive and spontaneous prayer warrior to sit down and be quiet if their prayers are simply verbal fireworks and fluff without theological thought or humility of heart. Give us joy in our praise, understanding and meaning in ritual, simplicity and sincerity, and the presence and power of God in our midst. God forgive us for making what we have been made to do repulsive to so many, and often irrelevant to ourselves. God forgive us when we have lost our children because of our own selfish and ignorant opinions and cultural captivity. God forgive us for the wasted time when we could have been carried to greater heights, moments of serenity and ecstasy, moments of awe, moments of heart crushing conviction and repentance, moments of incredible deliverance and the lifting of horrible burdens. “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4) ESV.