I have just finished reading the story of the Exodus – where God takes on Pharaoh and miraculously delivers his people from Egypt by performing 10 wonders (or plagues, depending on which end you are on!), culminating in the awe-inspiring parting of the Red Sea. Having been working through this for a couple of weeks now, the drama has continually been building up to the point where the people finally experience the full salvation of God from the hands of Egypt and get to watch as the Lord destroys the Egyptian army in the blink of an eye when they find themselves at the bottom of the sea. And then we arrive at chapter 15 of Exodus:
Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord. They said:
I will sing to the Lord,
for He is highly exalted;
This seems so simple, and I’ve written about it before, but for some reason it jumped off the page at me today. Here in Exodus we have the first recorded song in scripture, and I want to spend a minute looking at just the first line. Do you notice why the people sing? It’s because “He” is highly exalted. Other translations say it’s because “He has won a great victory” or “He has triumphed gloriously”, but what is important is to notice that it’s because of Him.
Seems simple enough, yet as I thought about this I reflected on how backwards we have it in our culture. Our culture is so self-focused and me-centered, that we really think worship is about us. Not just in our songs (I’d be curious to take modern worship songs and even old hymns to count the number of times “I” or “Me” is mentioned rather than “Him”, “He”, or “You”), but in our attitudes. Why don’t we sing in church? Here are some reasons I’ve heard and continue to hear:
- I don’t like the style
- I don’t feel like it
- I can’t sing very well
- I can’t hear myself (it’s too loud)
- I hear the person next to me (who can’t carry a tune and distracts me)
- I don’t like the song
- I don’t know the song
- I can’t sing this song – it’s too hard
- I _________________ <fill in the blank>
It’s me-centered worship. Two years ago I wrote specifically about men singing in worship services, and it still irks me. Our worship shouldn’t be dictated, determined, or driven by us (preference, emotional state, etc). Our worship is to be dictated, determined, and driven by the God we serve. Look back at Exodus 15:1 – the people sang to the Lord for the sole purpose because he deserved it.
Not convinced yet? Think it’s easy because they had just experienced the miracle of the Red Sea crossing? Take a look at these verses (which I also read today):
Psalm 61:3, “for You have been a refuge for me, a strong tower in the face of the enemy.”
Psalm 62:1-2, “I am at rest in God alone, my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will never be shaken.”
And then look at Psalm 63:1-8
1 God, You are my God; I eagerly seek You.
I thirst for You;
my body faints for You
in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water.
2 So I gaze on You in the sanctuary
to see Your strength and Your glory.
3 My lips will glorify You
because Your faithful love is better than life.
4 So I will praise You as long as I live;
at Your name, I will lift up my hands.
5 You satisfy me as with rich food;[a]
my mouth will praise You with joyful lips.
6 When I think of You as I lie on my bed,
I meditate on You during the night watches
7 because You are my helper;
I will rejoice in the shadow of Your wings.
8 I follow close to You;
Your right hand holds on to me.
Look again at verse 4…. David says he lifts his hands why? Because he feels like it? Because the key change in the music demands it? No, he lifts his hands because of God’s name. In other words, because of God.
Worship isn’t for us, it’s for Him. And it’s not for Him because we feel like it, but because he deserves it (and he deserves it whether we feel like it or not). Recently I listened to a sermon by a former pastor of mine who now serves at A2 Church in Birmingham, Alabama and was so profoundly challenged and encouraged by it I forwarded the link on to the band leadership and the general leadership at my church (groups of which I’m involved). Of particular interest to me was the 2.5 minute excerpt between about 3:25-6:05 where the pastor starts talking about the importance of Sunday.
And here’s my conclusion based of my reading and as I reflect on the sermon linked above (which I encourage everyone to listen to): until we can see for God for who he is, until we can set aside ourselves in worship, until we can deeply and truthfully begin to comprehend that the resurrection of Jesus means something beyond ourselves and our personal salvation then our “worship” will always be me-focused and me-centered. Until we walk into church and realize that we don’t sing because we want to or because we feel like it but rather because God deserves it then worship in our churches will always be driven by performance-ism and have a self-centered focus. In short, if you can listen to just the first 6 minutes of the sermon linked above and NOT have an overwhelming, emotional, and fully human response leading to awe and amazement, then you need to examine and reflect on who you think God is and what your relationship to him is like. Worship isn’t driven by us and who we are, it’s driven by God and who he is.
We don’t worship for any other reason that because God deserves it. To not worship for any reason is to suggest that God is undeserving and our feelings, thoughts, and attitudes are higher than he is. And the word used in scripture for considering something higher than God (giving worship to anything but him) is idolatry.