Don’t You Know

A while back I posted about building a spiritual fire in worship ministry, followed by a post on bringing the heat. I used the “fire triangle” as an analogy. To have a fire, you need fuel, heat, and oxygen. Remove any one of the three, and you no longer have a fire. The fuel for worship ministry is technical excellence, the foundation on which we build everything else. The heat is the excellence of heart, the passion and the energy we bring into our ministry.

My worship pastor pointed out that even with both technical and heart excellence, we still require the action of the Holy Spirit in order for worship to be meaningful and effective.

“Apart from Me you can do nothing” – Jesus.

The movement of God is absolutely a necessary part of the “fire triangle” of our worship. And every worshiper I know is well aware of that fact.

What I also note is, so many act like we have to beg God to show up and then hope for the best.

We often use terms like “leading people into His presence” or “taking the congregation somewhere we’ve already been” in terms of going somewhere else to get to God. We speak of inviting or welcoming God’s presence into the sanctuary or place of worship. We ask God to come join us.

We forget:  God is in us.

The big change in the New Testament gospel message isn’t simply that our sins are forgiven. Don’t get me wrong, that’s huge and I’m grateful. But that was a means to an end. Our sins separated us from God (see Isaiah 59:2). The cross does away with them. Our salvation by grace through faith in Christ unites us with God – puts His presence right inside of us, which was the promise all along. Emmanuel, God with us.

Everywhere we go, God is there. Not just in the sense of “omnipresence” like God is invisibly but spiritually everywhere and there’s no place we could go where He cannot (Psalm 139 speaks to this).

No, God is alive and active inside of His people. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit; God is working in us, Christ in us – the hope of glory.

So the question isn’t “Will God show up today?” or “Did we welcome His presence properly?”

The question is, “Did I set my mind on Him? Did I recognize His already-present activity in our midst? Did I come here with my agenda and idea about how things would go, or did I set all that aside with the recognition of His presence among His people?”

One of my pastors spoke of invoking the presence of God on a daily basis – not that we have power to command God to show up, but we have the ability to remember and remind ourselves that God is already here.

He would ask, using 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Don’t you know?” And the question is valid, because so often our words reflect that we’re not appreciating this spiritual reality.

Oxygen is all around us. Sure, there are ways to smother a fire, just as we can quench the Spirit. And there are special moments where God moves in a powerful and unexpected way, breathing on our embers and causing a flame of revival or a deep response to spring up from the smallest fire.

But if we’re committed to living for God, we’re going to be experiencing His presence as routinely as we breathe in and breathe out. He becomes a part of our lives.

<blockquote>”19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NASB</blockquote>

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Note to Self

Dear Self,

Maybe you didn’t notice, but you stopped expecting God to show up. You got used to the idea that when you play on the worship team, everything’s going to go according to the neat minute-by-minute plan, and you’ll have a whole hour in between services to drive home, pick up the wife and kids, and get back to church before the 2nd service worship set starts. There was, for a while, that nagging doubt that asked, “Yeah, but what if… Maybe today’s the day that something different happens.” But nothing unexpected happened that day. Or the next week. Or the next.

So you thought this week was just another week with three songs in the first service, five songs in the second service, maybe some measures of “free” worship in the middle. You thought the pastor would close the sermon, and there would be a song for the ministry time slash altar call, and then everything would be done.

Maybe it was a warning sign when last week’s pre-service practice turned into half an hour of pre-service worship. Maybe it was another warning sign when the worship leader said on Thursday that we needed to get the congregation to break out of that programmed “X number of songs and that’s it” mindset. Maybe you had an idea something was different when pre-service practice today turned into about an hour of worship and prayer. But by then it was too late.

So, now you know. Sometimes the congregation will hear what God is saying through the sermon, and they’re going to want to respond. Sometimes, the whole church is going to be up on their feet crying out surrender and desperation to God. Sometimes, they’re going to want to keep singing when you’re thinking, “Ok, things can die down now and we can end this song.”

Sometimes you’re going to have to dash out the door half an hour later than you planned, while the crowd is still worshiping, because you didn’t expect anything to happen and you got caught unprepared.

That time of corporate, unplanned response to God — that was what you’ve been asking for, wasn’t it?

So, why weren’t you expecting an answer?

From here on out, try to remember that God doesn’t always pay attention to your church’s service schedule in Planning Center.

Also, good job today. The experience was awesome, because the congregational response was awesome, because the worship team did an awesome job both playing with excellence and following the flow of the Spirit, and you were part of that.

So, now you know it can happen. Even if it doesn’t next time, expect that it could.

That’s called faith. God likes it, and sooner or later, He rewards it. Be looking.

With love,

Self

Within Us

One of the phrases I heard so often on worship teams and at churches was “We have to get into the presence of God.”

The impression I got was that God’s presence was a difficult place to attain, a challenging state to achieve, where all the music goes right and everyone is caught up in worship. That experience was the goal, and apparently it was rare, but we were going to try for it anyway.

For the “W” entry in the A to Z challenge, I want to talk about the term within.

This understanding of worship that I mention above seems to follow the Holy of Holies model.

If we look into the Old Testament and the laws about the setup and rituals of the Tabernacle of God, we find that there were three main sections to the place of worship. The Outer Court was the largest, where most people could go. It was where the average Israelites brought their sacrifices.

Then there was the Holy Place, the sort-of makeshift Temple in the middle of the Outer Court. That housed a number of key elements, and there was a much more strict set of rules about who could enter, when they could enter, and what duties they would perform.

Inside the Holy Place was the Holy of Holies or Most Holy Place – the spot where God’s presence dwelt. Only the high priest could enter, and that only once a year. It was a significant duty that could result in death if the rituals were not performed properly.

We sometimes treat worship like this, as though there are levels we have to reach, areas we have to go through, to progress from the start of the Sunday service as far as we can get toward the presence of God. Some Sundays, we feel like we almost made it. Some Sundays, everything comes apart. And some few Sundays, we feel like we really did it; we really entered into God’s presence through our worship.

Older songs convey this understanding… the chorus “Take Me In” uses the picture of the Tabernacle to describe the desire to draw near to God.

Take me past the outer courts, into the Holy Place
Past the brazen altar, Lord I want to see Your face
Pass me by the crowds of people, the priests who sing Your praise
I hunger and thirst for Your righteousness, and it’s only found one place:
Take me in to the Holy of Holies, take me in by the blood of the Lamb
Take me in to the Holy of Holies, take the coal, touch my lips, here I am

Nothing against the heart of the song, but I don’t believe that’s how worship works for us as New Testament believers.

“The Kingdom of God is in your midst” (also translated as “the Kingdom of God is within you.”  – Jesus, in Luke 17:21

A while back, a movie called Stigmata came out using religious symbolism and a thriller plot to call attention to a “Gospel” not included in the traditional Bible. The Gospel of Thomas, in the movie, contained a powerful truth the church would rather keep secret: the idea that the kingdom of God isn’t a church building or religious institution, but that the kingdom is actually within you and me.

I was dumbfounded by this movie’s attempt to convey this as a “new” truth that the Church would fear. It’s quite biblical (though I’d say the Gospel of Thomas is not, for good reason).

Consider the implications of these verses:

19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.  – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NASB

and

For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,
“I will dwell in them and walk among them;
And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
17 “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.
“And do not touch what is unclean;
And I will welcome you.
18 “And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,”
Says the Lord Almighty. – 2 Corinthians 6:16-18  NASB

and

the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 …which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Colossians 1:26-27  NASB

oh, and also

20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. – Galatians 2:20

So the point is, God in us is really not a new concept. (To be fair, the Old Testament has its share of verses that point to the same truth. The passage from 2 Cor 6:16-18 quotes from Leviticus, Ezekiel, and Isaiah.)

Long story short, the movie was a silly attempt to make a big deal out of a Gnostic “gospel” by calling attention to a particular line that is already established Christian doctrine.

What does this have to do with worship?

When we realize that God is with us everywhere we go, it changes our understanding of “getting into the presence of God.” He’s not far off, waiting for me to get there, if only I can jump through the right hoops and hit the right notes and somehow bring the congregation with me. He’s here, inside me, inside you if you’re a believer, inside each of us in the church building as we gather together. It’s not about getting us into His presence at all.

It’s about opening our eyes to the fact that He is already there with us, within us.

Here’s an analogy: My heart is full of love for my wife and my children. In a sense, I carry them everywhere I go, because they hold a special place in my affections. It’s not something I have to work up or fake. There’s no complicated ritual about it. My love for them simply is, and it is within me.

I can be distracted, or I can let frustrations steal my focus, or I can allow problems in the relationship to keep me distant. But the love for them is there, and all it takes is for me to stop and think about them.

How much more so with God who lives within us?

What do you think? Do we often try to work our way into God’s presence? Or do we recognize He’s there already, and work to fix our gaze on Him? What does it mean that God is within us?

Me Time

There’s a great blog post going around about the iPhone mom, the one at the park looking at her mobile phone and missing her girl dancing around or climbing the monkey bars, her son doing cartwheels or swinging high in the sky. The point is that those moments may be that stay-at-home mom’s only opportunity to converse with an adult during the course of a busy day. I know my wife and I have talked about the difficulties she faces when she gets almost no interaction with adults until I get home after work, let alone any quiet moments to herself.

There’s a Baby Blues joke about a Valentine’s Day gift the husband presents to the wife, purchased from the hardware store. She looks unimpressed, until he reveals that it is a titanium bathroom deadbolt so that the children cannot interrupt her privacy. Suddenly, it’s the most romantic gift ever.

Sometimes we need a quiet place where we can shut out all the distractions and just be alone.

This is where worship ties in. There’s a parallel here that worshipers would be wise to follow.

The worshiping church body hopefully has a team of worshipers that do all they can to remind the congregation of God’s presence and goodness. That worship team is hopefully made up of passionate individuals – the ‘I’ for the day’s A to Z blog challenge entry.

“There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team.'” Or so goes the prevailing logic. But the truth is, there are several ‘I’s on any team, and those individuals need to be at their best in order for the team to succeed at its best. That involves time spent in the presence of God, not just corporately with the congregation, or even as a worship team. It means that I need to have an active worship life of my own.

Multiple times in the Gospels we see Jesus go off to be alone, early in the morning, late in the evening, spending time in prayer. There’s a reason. We read that Jesus discerned what was in men’s hearts, and did not entrust himself to any man, but solely relied on and followed what He saw from the Father.

Where do we think Jesus got this revelation of what the Father was doing? How did He develop the skill and intimacy with the Father to see where He was meant to go, what He was meant to do, what He was meant to say and to whom?

“Well, Jesus was God in the flesh, so of course He knew what the Father wanted Him to do.”

But Jesus was also fully man, and our example to follow. He was limited in His knowledge while He walked on the earth – how would anyone’s faith surprise Him, and how would anyone’s lack of faith spontaneously frustrate Him? He temporarily gave up that equality with God in order to come as a Man (see Philippians 2).

There are other examples throughout Scripture. Consider Daniel’s habit of private prayer, something he would not give up for any reason even on threat of death. Peter is in prayer, alone, when he has his vision in Acts 10. David had many opportunities to worship in solitude, and we read his songs throughout the book of Psalms. Job had a daily worship routine. Hannah goes to the Tabernacle alone to pray for God’s mercy.

Life is full of distractions, both good and bad. Everything vies for our time and attention.

But worshipers cannot point the way to a place they have not been, an intimacy they have not known or seen.

We often say we need to find time, but the fact is time comes to everyone in exactly the same quantity every day. We must make time, by locking out all other voices and distractions, throwing that titanium deadbolt on the door, and spending a few moments alone with God.

What ways do you find most helpful for blocking out the busy world to focus on the Lord?

Three Words

Repetition is sometimes the bane of the worship musician. You probably know the stereotype, the service where the leader and the team are lost in space singing the same chorus over and over.

Let's sing that one more time... I mean four more times... and one more...

Let’s sing that one more time… I mean four more times… and one more…

“I could sing of Your love forever… I could sing of Your love forever…”

No, really, I guess we’re going to sing of Your love forever, because here we go again singing of Your love forever, and now I’m not sure I can sing of Your love forever, we keep singing this line forever…

There are moments of powerful worship where we sense the presence of God and get lost there. And then, maybe one line is enough to capture our attention and express our heart. Maybe a few words are enough. Maybe no words at all.

I was thinking about this as I considered what to choose for ‘G’ in this A to Z challenge. It’s perhaps the shortest worship song ever, centered on God’s goodness.

There’s a key phrase in the Bible for the worship of God. In 2nd Chronicles 6 and 7, King Solomon and the people of God have completed the work of building the Temple, and they hold a massive service to dedicate it to God. They’ve offered sacrifices, and then Solomon prays, inviting God’s presence. Fire comes down, consuming the offerings. The glory of the Lord fills the Temple; His presence falls with such heaviness that the priests can’t even minister or enter. Everyone falls face-down and begins to sing.

“You are good, and Your love endures forever.”

Tobe khehsed o-lawm in transliterated Hebrew.

Three words. That’s it. “Goodness, kindness, forever.” Over and over.

There’s a verse I’ve often heard used to condemn or criticize the repetition that sometimes occurs in praise and worship.

And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Matt 6:7 NKJV.

They point to the prophets of Baal, dancing around, repeating cries for their god to act, going so far as to cut themselves to beg his favor. “How are we any different,” they ask, “if we sing the same words over and over, as though our many words will get God to act?”

But we don’t see people in Scripture praising to make something happen. They praised because God is good and His love endures. And God moved in their midst.

Paul and Silas don’t sing to break the prison walls and loose their chains. They sing because God is good in spite of circumstances.

The psalmists didn’t sing in the midst of their trials and tribulations in order to work some kind of Christian magic. They sang because they trusted in God’s kindness which knows no end.

Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn after the Last Supper (Matt 26:30). The early church had psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col 3:16). There were often worshipers on the fields of battle leading God’s people – sometimes at His direction, sometimes simply because He is good and His love endures. King Jehoshaphat was promised protection from two enemies that worked together against his kingdom. In light of the promise, he appointed people to worship God, singing four words – “Praise God, kindness forever.” God caused the two armies to turn against each other, and His people did not have to lift a hand. They just lifted their voices.

Praise and worship is part of the spiritual life. But it isn’t about conjuring up emotions or supernatural experiences. It is not about formulas or manipulation. There are no magic words to repeat, no rituals that earn us the presence of God or His power on display.

Worship is about One thing – God. It is in response to one thing – His goodness toward us. It’s a relationship, not an equation.

In relationship, sometimes saying just three words can be enough.

Starting the Chase

“I saw the Lord… then I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined!’ ” – Isaiah 6:1, 5 NASB

“Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.” Mark 4:39 NKJV

Stormy Sea, by Marcus Larson

We were not made to stay in the safe harbors of life.

Welcome to Wanton Disregard for Safety, my new blog page for my thoughts and writing on worship.

Worshipers are stormchasers, pioneers, adventurers of a sort. We read in Scripture how everyone who truly encountered God came away broken, remade, changed forever by the experience. And yet we rush in, seeking His presence, knowing that finding more of Him means dying to more of ourselves. “He must increase; I must decrease.”

We are pursuing something powerful, mysterious, and at times dangerous. What is more terrifying is that the Storm we pursue promises to turn and pursue us! “Draw near to me, and I will draw near to you.” And still we press on to find His presence.

In the place of worship, we are broken down, torn apart, challenged and convicted, our flaws exposed for all to see. But in the place of worship, we are rebuilt, redeemed, renewed, and restored to our intended purpose. God did not call us to a life of ease. He called us into a storm, to be tossed to and fro on the waves and the wind, because that’s the only place you can hear His voice whisper “Peace, be still.”

I want to go there. Care to join me?

I’ve shared thoughts, experience, and songs related to worship on my main blog for several months. But I want to narrow the focus down, to really hone in on what worship is and why it matters. If you like my writing, or want to see what else I’m working on, please check out the About Me page to see what else I have going on.