Is all worship equally precious to God?
That question challenges me quite a lot. They stretch me. And I think I see a trap in it.
It seems to me that worship from a broken place might be more precious, as it costs us more.
It’s pretty easy, when God has just healed your daughter from cancer, to respond in worship toward the God who just restored the love of your life to you. In fact, sometimes it’s hard for believers to not worship God in those circumstances.
And that worship is precious to God.
But worship doesn’t come as naturally, as easily, when you’ve missed your rent payment again, when your family rejects you, when your favorite grandmother just died. Scripture talks about “a sacrifice of praise” [Hebrews 13:15]. One reason that Job is among my heroes is because when he got the news about the death of his children and the theft of his fortune, “he fell to the ground in worship” [Job 1:20].
Worship in these circumstances is more costly to us.
I find that worship in those circumstances is more precious in me as well, from two perspectives.
First, in times of disappointment and failure, my soul is more vulnerable, more pliable, more raw. When I come before God in worship in those times, I am more effectively conformed to his image, and I receive more of his comfort and provision (though I may not recognize that until later).
Second, when I observe you worshipping passionately in the midst of your trials, that ignites something in me in response. Sometimes it’s igniting worship in me, sometimes gratitude or joy.
Watching someone worshipping in the midst of blessing and gratitude is cool too. But when you are worshipping God purposefully in those times, your worship has a more powerful effect on me, and therefore is more precious to me.
Is it more precious to God? That’s a tough one. Since Scripture doesn’t seem to answer that question, I figure I maybe shouldn’t answer for him where he’s chosen not to answer.
However, a good number of people believe that yes, God does appreciate worship more when it comes out of difficult trials.
Now here’s where the trap comes.
If I believe that my worship is more meaningful to God when it comes from trials, then I might be tempted to go looking for trials in order to “level up” the value of their worship before God. And there are all kinds of problems with that.
○ I’ve known people who believed this, and tried to walk it out. Their lives were messed up. They intentionally chose physically demanding jobs, they wouldn’t let anyone help them so as to not “lose their reward.” They had no joy, no friends, and no fruit in their lives. These were miserable people.
○ In some religious movements, this has been elevated to a virtue, an art form. Self-flagellation – whether literal or metaphorical – is always popular. And it’s the metaphorical kind that’s the worst trouble. We all know people who regularly say sad and evil things about themselves (“I deserve this” for example). Many of them will defend these beliefs at some level.
○ The worst of it may be the worship of Molech, which we see in the Old Testament, and which continues even today. One of the more detestable things that evil people in the Old Testament did was to sacrifice their children [1Kings 3:27, Ezekiel 20:31].
I was reflecting on this the other day: Why would these people kill their kids? How could they be so deceived as to think that this was a good thing?
I could feel Father’s sadness as I brought the questions up. He pointed out that these people are badly deceived: it’s not really God that they’re worshipping, though they may or may not know it. But they believe that in sacrificing that which is most precious to them – bone of their bone – that they will be more pleasing to God or gods, or that they will gain more power.
In reality, those child sacrifices are acts of worship to demons, inspired by demons, and used by demons to control the people. That’s not all that hard to see from our viewpoint as twenty-first century Christians. We can see it where they could not.
And then it dawned on me: it is, all of it, in greater or lesser measure, and whether we intend it to be or not, it is all worship at a false altar. (I can’t bring myself to say, “It’s all worship of demons, in one measure or another,” even though that’s what I think I mean: that’s just too harsh.)
Let me say it more delicately, and I’m going to cut to the chase, here: any time we hold up our sacrifice, our works, as making us more pleasing to God, we’ve missed the heart of Jesus. In that moment that we believe (whether with words or not) that “I deserve this,” or that “My sacrifice will make me more pleasing to God,” we have taken our eyes off of Jesus, and put them on a false god of one sort or another.
Summary: Worshipping God in the midst of trials and loss is a beautiful thing. It’s good for you, it inspires people around you, it draws you closer to God and to his provision for you.
It is possible, whether blatantly (as with Molech) or subtly (with our attitudes) to carry that “beautiful thing” to a very ugly extreme and to rob it of all its beauty.
At the same time, it is also possible to be overly aware of the dangers of the ugly extreme, and shy away from worshipping God in difficulty or uncertainty, out of fear of making that mistake.
Reacting out of fear is never a healthy thing, is it? And taking things to extremes is so often such a mistake, isn’t it?
I’m reminded again of the wisdom of “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
Is all worship equally precious to God?
There’s a bigger problem with tambourines, and I apologize, but I’m going to get a bit nerdly here.
This is physics, folks: sound is slow. It takes time to travel from the stage to you. So when “the beat” leaves the stage, it takes time to travel to your location, dawdling along at a measly 343 meters per second: the farther you are from the stage, the more time it takes for the beat to reach you. The sound is delayed when it reaches you.
Then, of course, the sound from your tambourine – which is already the loudest thing in the audience – takes its sweet time moseying throughout the room. So that sister over there hears the beat from the band and then hears the beat from the tambourine at completely different times. Now she’s thrown off. This happens to pretty much everybody in the room that’s not standing right next to the rogue percussionist on the tambourine.
I have also been part of percussion events, where the goal of the whole thing is for everybody to be gathered around together banging away together. Some of those have been heavenly!
But in a community worship gathering, no, not so much.
- I’m pretty sure that very often what I mean when I say “It’s an anointed song,” is that I’m remembering experiencing His anointing while engaging Him with that song in times past. Our emotional memories are really powerful, and it could be those emotions I’m remembering.
- Or when I experience an anointing in the context of a song, it may be that my own spirit (and perhaps my soul, too) is trained, conditioned to quickly and smoothly enter into the place where I experience his anointing. I can think of worse conditioned responses.
- Closely related to the above, I think I’ve experienced times where my spirit is so thirsty that it leaps with joy at the barest hint of an opportunity to worship my Creator/King/Lover, and I mistake that leap toward Him for His anointing. I guess this one speaks to the quality of my private worship times. I confess, I love it when my spirit leaps to worship, but it is a sign of lack of spiritual nutrition in my life. Hmm.
- Since I’m trying to be honest here, the possibility also exists that I’m deceived, too. It is a real possibility that when I experience something associated with a song which I’ve used for spiritual purposes, that I’m actually engaging a religious spirit. Let’s be honest, there is a lot of manipulation that happens in some times and places where we worship God. Looks like I need to keep my discernment ears on.
- Or something else may be going on.
Some among us need to be less concerned about singing the lyrics on the screen, and more concerned about giving voice to the words welling up from inside them.
I was taking a young lady shopping, and she needed to visit some beauty supply shops. You may not suspect this, but I don’t often find myself looking forward to reasons to visit beauty supply shops. So I parked outside and took a nap.
In my five-minute nap, I dreamed, and God met me and spoke to me in the dream. He talked about some people among the Body whom He called “psalmists.” Yeah, I know it’s not the normal way we use the word.
I’m sure there are other definitions, but in this dream, a psalmist was someone whose worship is best when they’re using their own words, not when they’re singing words – even “anointed” words – written by other people with other histories with God.
I could hear Father’s concern for his children who are this kind of psalmist. It seemed to me that this wasn’t something that we were ready to hear before, but now it’s time, and he said,
“Some among us need to be less concerned about singing the lyrics on the screen, and more concerned about giving voice to the words welling up from inside them.”
May I encourage you: worship with the words that are in YOUR heart. If the words on the screen communicate what’s in your heart, great! Use the words on the screen.
But if those words don’t reflect your heart, then don’t use them. Don’t make a scene, but use the words that speak for your heart, even if they’re words that nobody else is using.
Worship isn’t about conformity, is it? It’s about connecting with – it’s about exalting – the King of Heaven with our whole heart, soul and strength. Use the words that do that for you.
(Curiously, as I sat in a small corporate worship environment, compelled to write these thoughts on a mobile device, at the same time a prophet friend of mine, a writer, was outlining the same topic, having been drawn into it unexpectedly in a private time with God.)
It was late on a Sunday morning, and I was just waking up. I’d slept in, knowing that I wasn’t healthy and that I needed rest. I was thinking, “I’ll miss church if I don’t get up soon.”
For context, my Sunday morning “Church” is online and I attend by webcast. My “in real life” fellowship is another time during the week. This train of thought applies to both, really.
So I was thinking about what would happen if I miss church this morning, and that turned into an interesting train of thought. “What is my tradeoff? What am I missing if I miss church?”
The accusation crossed my mind that my online church is unnatural, not really what God has in mind for me, so I considered that for a moment. There actually is some merit in the argument that an online “fellowship,” where I am only an observer, not an actual participant, is not really what God had in mind as ideal for me. OK, let’s follow that thought for a moment?
But wait! Isn’t that what most Sunday morning gatherings are like? I’m an observer there, too. Oh, yes, I stand up when they say to, and sing the words they tell me to sing, and sit back down when they say to. But there’s no point during our time together at
Someone will say, “That’s not what Sunday mornings are for. That belongs in a home group.” [And here is where I’ll add my commercial: if you’re not part of a fellowship of believers that meets in an informal setting like a home, then they’re seriously missing out.] that kind of “sharing” is not an appropriate expectation for a Sunday morning gathering, though it would fit in the hallway or the lobby, maybe. There’s merit in that statement: Sunday mornings aren’t really designed for those kinds of things (which is rather a strong argument in favor of my online church – or for house church – but I’m going a different direction here).
So what are Sunday mornings for? What is the church gathering for, really?
Is Sunday Morning for worship? That can’t be right. My best worship is private, and I hear others tell me the same. I find that I believe that corporate worship is at its best when the worshippers have worshipped privately, and I know that I am a far better worship leader when I have worshipped privately. So while I affirm the value of corporate worship, I suspect that it is not the primary motivation, at least in God’s mind, for the gathering of the Saints.
I hear people talking about the value of getting fed at church; maybe the value of the church gathering is in the teaching. And I do value the teaching of my online church! But the Book is clear, and I’m fully committed to the concept that I must learn to feed myself first. The teaching there is good, but it is to supplement my own feasting on the Word. That can’t be the main value of church gatherings.
I’m going to be blunt here: It seems clear that the idea of “the message is the most valuable part of church gatherings” has come from those who preach. And it is from worship leaders that I most often hear that worship is the most important part of the service. (Please don’t assume that I don’t value a well-preached message from a gifted teacher, or that corporate worship isn’t glorious. If that’s what you’re hearing, you need to read this again more carefully!)
The thought crossed my mind, “What does the Bible say about the church coming together?” and as it did, a verse from Hebrews came with it:
It hit me like a freight train: God’s purpose for us coming together is to encourage each other. Specifically, it’s to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” which is how we are to encourage each other.
That’s the reason for coming together as a congregation: encouragement.
There is more extensive teaching on the church gathering together in 1 Corinthians 11, and it’s focused on meals together. Paul touches again on the topic in the midst of teaching about spiritual gifts in chapter 14, and in that context, he says, “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” Same thing: encouragement. Apart from these passages, there is no definitive teaching on church meetings in the New Testament, though Acts shows that the early church met daily in homes and weekly for apostolic teaching.
We could take it all together and form this model: When the saints come together, let’s gather around the dinner table, and let’s encourage one another, and let’s use what God gives us to that end.
My recommendation: learn to worship by yourself, not dependent on a leader and a band, though worship with them when you can. Learn to feed yourself, though supplement that with good, inspired teaching sometimes. But choose the congregation you gather with by this: “Is this a place where we can encourage one another?” And then go there, prepared to encourage, prepared to encourage others.
There’s a wonderful worship song that sings about “Take me into the Holy of Holies.”
I was in my quiet place, worshiping with this song this morning, giving voice to my desire to lay aside other things and draw close to him, and I was enjoying his tender response to me: I could feel his presence responding to my cry and snuggling close with me. Since I was in a public coffee shop, it was kinda weird, but who cares? God & I were connecting; when that happens, everything else is superfluous!
And in the middle of all of that, God interrupts our reverie together. “That’s Old Covenant. Aim higher.” There was no sense of condemnation or rebuke with his words, but a clear invitation to more.
Hunh? What? Um… Tell me more….
And he did. He began by pointing out that the whole imagery of the song is from the old covenant, from the Tabernacle of Moses and from the Temple of Solomon: the Holy of Holies was a kind of a secret room where one priest went, on one day out of the entire year, into the place that was supposed to hold God’s presence. The intent of the song is really good: “I want to be in your presence!” but the theology is weak, the goal is too low. The song is crying for God to take me to a place on earth, in a man-made, off-limits, structure, where God promised to put his presence from time to time. In fact, that’s kind of how we talk about God’s presence sometimes: kind of off-limits, hidden away, and sometimes we get access there on a special occasion.
He went on: “Why would you still want me to give you access to the special place on Earth when I’ve already given you access to my very presence in Heaven?” He was offering to upgrade my worship. By this time, I’m pretty excited. Yeah? Tell me more! Please!
- You’re aiming to enter a place on Earth I used to visit sometimes. I’m not like that; really, I never have been like that. I encourage you to come to the place in Heaven where I am always present.
- You’re asking me to do it for you. Don’t do that. I’ve already made the way available to you, any time you want! New Covenant is ‘Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.’ That’s what I want from you.
While we talked, he seemed to focus on the second point. When I was a child, it was really appropriate to ask my Mommy or Daddy to take me where I wanted to go. But I’m not a child any longer, he gently reminded me, and he’d rather relate to me as a mature son, as a co-heir of the
It’s not his job anymore, he explained, to bring me in. It’s my job to come in. The imagery was from my own life: my son has grown up and moved out and made his own home, and has his own responsibilities, but he’s always welcome in my home. If we’re going to visit together, it’s not my job to drive to his house, pick him up, bring him to my house and carry him through the front door. Let’s face it: that would be weird.
But that’s what I was asking God to do with me. I began to understand why he demurred.
I don’t know why, but I am often hesitant about intruding on others’ space. And I have friends that are freaked out by the thought of “taking trips to Heaven” to visit God. Yeah, that’s not commonly taught. But Father pointed out, “Jesus did it. He even talked about it. Interesting, isn’t it, that so few hear him say it.”
“No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man” – John 3:13
Apparently Jesus, in his private prayer times, would – in some way that is available to me – visit heaven. Oh wait, Paul did it. Enoch appeared to do it (He didn’t come back!). And it was kind of normal for John. There is precedent for this.
So I am feeling challenged, provoked, to upgrade my worship in 2011:
- I want to worship – at least some of the time – from Heaven, not from earth toward heaven. I’m seated there, I can do that.
- I want to worship as a mature son, not dependent on Him or others for my entry into his presence. I want my visits to be characterized by “coming boldly.”
- I want my life to be characterized by the fact that – while I’m walking around on the dirt down here – I’m also seated with Christ at the right hand of our Father’s throne: I’m also actually in heaven, while I’m on earth. I want that to infuse my life.
How will you upgrade your worship this year?
The other day, I went for a walk in the woods, in “our place”: a set of trails that God & I used to spend a lot of time on together. What with the price of gas to get there, and the business of life, I haven’t been to those trails much recently; we’ve been meeting in coffee shops and back rooms instead.
When I got to the trailhead, my first words were according to tradition, “Hi Papa,” and then He broke our tradition. Instead of waiting for me to quiet my mind over the next mile, He immediately began speaking to me of reciprocity in relationships, particularly His relationship with individuals. He seemed very excited about it. I’m afraid I loved that part best: His enthusiasm is very contagious.
“My relationship with you,” He began, and I could hear Him smiling, “is reciprocal.” And He let me think on that for a bit.
I sometimes teach a model of relationships that uses a bridge as an illustration of our relationship: the stronger the bridge (the relationship) between us, the more weight that can be carried across the bridge from you to me, or from me to you, but we both have to build the bridge.
I thought of this illustration now, as He was teaching me. “That’s actually not how I relate to you.” I was getting excited with Him by now.
So He began to describe to me how He limits Himself in His relationship with me – or anyone else – based on how I approach Him. While He is always attentive towards me, if I give Him my time and attention, then He gives me His time & attention: the degree to which I experience Him is pretty much determined by how much I’m willing to invest myself in Him, in our relationship.
I wish I could capture the joy, the immediacy, the clarity that came on those trails.
He pointed out that He’s “pretty much omnipotent” and if He relates to me in His omnipotence, I’ll pop, or my brain will fry, or I’ll burn up in a puff of smoke. “No one can see My face and live,” He said to Moses, and suddenly I understand better. If He brought the infinite force of His personality to our relationship, I would crumble to dust when He showed up. That’s hard on the relationship.
It’s mercy that keeps Him at a distance from me.
And so He must limit Himself, His glory that is in His person, His personality. I pray, “Show me your glory” like Moses, and He must answer, “I cannot.”
But the limit that He puts on Himself is the limit that I set. Or to put it the other way, the more I open myself to Him, the more He opens Himself to me.
I long for His presence. I appreciate His mercy.
I love the worship of the big group; it’s often really hard to match that in most home groups. And the teaching in the big meeting is often (but not always) really valuable. There are things that you can do in a big group that you can’t do in a little group.
But the reverse is equally true. There are things you can do in a little group that you can’t do in a big group, really valuable things like making great friends, like sharing your heart, like getting prayed for regularly, like laughing together until your sides hurt, or weeping together in the presence of God.
The combination of the two is priceless. In fact, between the two, I often think the home group is the more important gathering of the two. Not always. Not saying the big meeting is insignificant. Just saying home groups are that valuable.
Too often, I’ve found it too easy to be too comfortable in a big church. If I plaster on a big fake smile and don’t linger too long in conversation in the lobby, I can get away without ever having engaged anyone at all. I can’t get away with that in a home group. And I like that. I need that.
We’re starting home groups in our church. It’s kind of hard work, mostly because of all the bad experiences we’ve had before. We have as much un-learning to do as anything else.
Here are some values we have in our home groups:
• The first rule is that church leadership is not making a bunch of rules for home groups. If you want to start a group, go for it. We’ll help, but we won’t tell you what to do. Well, we’ll try not to.
• You can meet whenever you want, wherever you want, and as often as you want. Homes are always a good place for home groups, but so are coffee shops, pubs, conference rooms and the local shopping mall. Take field trips. Wherever you are, the Church is, so have at it! Be creative.
• Teach what you want to teach. All we ask is that you love God and love people. Then teach what you want. Teach the Bible. Teach from a study guide, from a popular book, from current movies. Or don’t include any teaching in your group. We don’t recommend reviewing this weeks sermons unless the group insists. They’ve already heard that.
• Invite who you want to invite. People from the church. People from the neighborhood. People from other churches. People from other home groups. Heck, you can invite people from other planets if you can figure out where to park their cars. Bring in guest speakers if you like. Or not.
• Relationships are primary. More than teaching. More than acts of service. More than prayer. More even than having a meal together! (Oh my!) On the other hand, there’s not much that’s better at building relationships than praying together, or serving together, studying the Word together or especially sharing supper together.
• If you’re leading a group, you’re choosing to submit yourself to a higher standard of accountability than Joe Schmotz in the back row of the church with the big fake smile. But like Paul Manwaring says, “Accountability is not about making sure you don’t smoke. Accountability is making sure that you are on fire.”
We’ll undoubtedly think of more values as we do this for a while. But for now, this is a good starting place.
Visit Northwest Prophetic for a complete archive of regional prophetic words.
I have a friend who is really enamored of the clock on his computer. It’s his favorite thing about his new computer.
It’s kind of weird. He spent thousands of dollars on the computer. It’s got several gigabytes of memory, dual quad-core processors, many terabytes of hard drive space, a luscious 24” high resolution LCD monitor, and a pair of studio monitors for speakers. I have had some difficulty not being jealous.
And his favorite part is the clock in the task bar at the bottom of the luscious 24” high resolution LCD monitor. The clock! He really loves his computer because of the clock. He spends a lot of time online, looking for ways to tweak it: now his clock displays the time in fancy script, that changes typeface and color along with his whim.
I understand that, as they say, “Time is of the essence.” And I know that his task-bar clock is synchronized with the atomic clock in Denver on a regular basis, so it’s always accurate.
He doesn’t know what he has. He certainly doesn’t appreciate it. I’m afraid this fascination makes him look rather foolish to his friends, especially those that know computers.
I have another friend that married his wife because, well, frankly because he wants to have sex with her. She’s beautiful, and as he points out, she has big … er… feminine characteristics which are … um… quite prominent.
It’s kind of weird. She actually is a fascinating person: erudite, congenial, funny, thoughtful. She has written a couple of books; they weren’t bestsellers, but they pay her a small, steady income. She keeps a blog that has some amazing insights into our culture and government.
And she completes him in ways that he has no comprehension, enamored as he is of her … “prominent feminine characteristics.”
He really loves his wife, though I think it’s mostly that he loves her enchanting feminine qualities. He spends lots of money on her, and on events where his friends get to see him with her. He buys her lots of clothes, many flowers; his jeweler owes his success to my friend's purchases for his wife. He even encouraged her to consider cosmetic surgery recently, to enlarge those famous feminine qualities. In his devotion, he is missing most of the finer qualities of this stunningly patient and loving woman.
I understand that the physical aspect of marriage is delightful, even spectacular (and no, I’m neither single nor a newlywed!). And I know that loving your wife is a glorious thing for a husband, and that enjoying it is part of His command.
He doesn’t know what he has. He certainly doesn’t appreciate her. I’m afraid this fascination with her physical attributes makes him look rather foolish to his friends, especially those that actually know his wife.
I know some folks who have experienced quite a bit of the revival that God is pouring out right now. They travel from meeting to meeting looking forward to shaking and quivering and falling down when the presence of God touches them, or to receiving yet another prophetic word from the minister-of-the-week.
It’s kind of weird. It seems that there’s so much more to God than just shaking when He touches you. They aren’t particularly growing in character or maturity, though they certainly are in love with God. Often enough, they fall to the floor under His presence. It’s not fake, either on their part or anyone else’s.
They’ve stood in line and received prophetic words and impartations from hundreds of ministers in perhaps thousands of revival services, and yet they haven’t caught on that the prophetic words have mostly been God inviting them to intimacy, to a deeper personal relationship with Him. They’ve fallen deeply in love with one aspect of a relationship with God, and an aspect that looks to me to be fairly shallow: it's true, but it misses so much of who He is and what He's done.
They don’t know what they have. They certainly don’t appreciate all that God is and does for them. I’m afraid this fascination makes them look foolish to some of their friends, especially those who are looking for a greater relationship with God themselves.
OK. True confessions: the first guy isn’t real. The others actually are, though I’ve obviously over-simplified their stories. (The guy in the second story has grown beyond the middle-aged puberty of this illustration, thank God!)
The point is real simple: we get so caught up with some of the good things God has done for us that we forget to go deeper with Him. (Well, maybe with our spouses, too, but that’s only a side point.)
And the antidote is equally simple: let’s ask God to show us new things about Himself, about His love for us, about how He would like to reveal Himself to us this year. Let’s look for new breadth, new depth in God. I know a man (true!) who prays every January, “Lord, who do you want to be for me this year?” and it changes him: he walks in a greater intimacy, a greater wisdom than most of the men and women of God I know.
Too many of our Christian brothers and sisters know God, but have stopped learning, have become comfortable with our limited view of God, and therefore a limited relationship with Him. Let’s not do that. Let’s keep learning who He is, what He’s about. How can we upgrade our worship? How can we Know Him better?
Joy Dawson used to say, "God is greater than your current understanding of how great He possibly could be!" Let's go find out!
If God is the only one who gets to be clothed in glory, then I can sit back and look forward to that day. But if I am designed to carry glory – whether His glory or my own – then these things should happen when I show up as well. Wherever I go, the glory of God goes. Wherever I go, the results of glory should show up: people should be changed, goodness should replace evil.
So here’s the bottom line commission: go forth and splash the glory of God! Go leak glory! Everywhere you go!