What's In A Name

Okay, so you’re probably wondering why I didn’t use the generic title of “Worship Matters” or “Thoughts on Worship” or “Worship Reflections” – or any other general title you can think of that would communicate the idea of general thoughts and reflections on worship and worship leading.  I chose the title I Respond to Jesus because it best communicates how I define worship.  This is something I will write about more in future posts, and it’s also a topic I’ve written about in previous posts (just click on the tag “Worship” and you’ll find multiple posts on this topic).

So let me just throw out my working definition of worship: Worship is how we respond to God as he’s revealed himself through is word.  Or, if you want it to be even shorter and simpler, Worship is how we respond to God.

This definition communicates two key truths: first, worship is God-initiated (hence, our response), and it is also God-focused (vs. me-focused or others-focused).  The question we need to ask about worship is not “What do I like?” but “What does God desire?”

Which leads us back to my blog title: I Respond to Jesus.  It reinforces the definition by continually reminding us that worship is both God-initiated and God-focused.


Worshiping Worship (Grace Notes Issue 2.15)

Originally Written for 1/24/10

Cross Posted on Grace Notes

I discovered this quote this week by a gentleman named D.A. Carson:

“In an age increasingly suspicious of (linear) thought, there is much more respect for the “feelings” of things – whether a film or a church service. It is disturbingly easy to plot surveys of people, especially young people, drifting from a church of excellent preaching and teaching to one with excellent music because, it is alleged, there is “better worship” there. But we need to think carefully about this matter. Let us restrict ourselves for the moment to corporate worship. Although there are things that can be done to enhance corporate worship, there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself. Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God. As a brother put it to me, it’s a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset. “

I sometimes feel as if much of our (meaning the Christian church at large, not necessarily LBC) discussions on worship center on “worship” rather than God.  Recently I listened to a conversation on worship styles and the speakers made the point that we as music directors need to focus on “leading people” and not “leading music”.  This applies to us as a choir, as well, because we need to lead our congregation (ie, people) in worship.

It’s very easy to get caught up in two extremes in regards to this area: the first is pure emotionalism where we do worship worship rather than worship God.  The other is when we become so focused on musical perfection that we then worship the music instead of worship God.  God wants us to give Him our best, that’s for sure, but if we focus on doing “our best” out of a sense of duty to the music, we loose focus.  Likewise, if we get all caught up in emotion and just say, “Well, it’s for God and what matters most is my heart” then we begin to shift our sight off of Him and onto ourselves.

This is the fine line that we must walk as worship leaders in our congregation.  So how do we do it?  The simplest way is to ask this question of ourselves: “Is what I’m doing focusing me on Christ or something else (myself, the music, etc)?”  If we walk away thinking, “Man, that was a great song!” instead of “I really experienced Jesus” then we probably have our answer.

Authentic Worship (Grace Notes Issue 1.4)

Originally Written for 9/14/08

Cross Posted on Grace Notes

We’ve been looking at worship over the past few weeks, and so far we’ve given a working definition of worship and examined how we worship.  This week we’ll look at the last of the three “keys”: what authentic worship looks like.

I’ve been reading through a book entitled Worship Evangelism by Sally Morgenthaler.  As I’ve gone through the first couple of chapters there are two quotes I’d like to share that go back to what I’ve been writing about:

  • o “The most significant benefit of worship service is connecting with God.” (23)
  • o “Worship cements our preceptions of God and the world around us…Between the stained-glass windows or corporate plaster walls of our sanctuaries, our concepts of and attitudes toward God, ourselves, and others are being fashioned, for better or for worse.” (29)

If authentic worship is God-intiatiated (as I wrote three weeks ago), and the purpose of worship is connecting to God (see above quote), then the answer to the question “What does authentic worship look like” is authentic worship is anything that draws us closer to God and deepens our understanding of Him and our relationship to Him and others.  In other words, we judge this aspect of worship by the result, not the process.  Just as we judge a team by it’s winning record or the effectiveness of a company’s CEO by its income and growth at the end of the year, so we can only judge authentic worship by its end result.  We can identify authentic worship when it is worship that draws us closer to God, which then deepens our relationship with others.  This understanding explains our mission statement on the front of the newsletter.

I’m going to take us back to what Jesus said in John to the woman at the well: We must worship God in Spirit and in truth.

Our job as a choir on Sunday mornings is to lead the congregation in worship.  Whether we admit it or not, whether we like it or not, they are looking to us – all of us – for leadership.  The way we step into the loft communicates something very powerful to the congregation, the way we show our love and adoration toward God, the words we sing in the call to worship – all these things set the tone for how the congregation will worship – they take their cues for us.

Which is why it is so important for us to have a firm understanding of both the theological doctrines that influence worship and how we can effectively lead the congregation.  We’ve spent the last several weeks looking at the former and we’ve touched a little on the latter.  Now our job is to simply do it!

We’ll revisit this topic often, but I believe we’ve now got a basic understanding.

How We Worship (Grace Notes Issue 1.3)

Originally Written for 9/7/08

Cross Posted on Grace Notes

Let’s briefly review the last two weeks.  We started by mentioning our mission statement, which is located on the front of the newsletter, and then last week I introduced three key ideas that need to be understood in order to be better worship leaders:

1)      What Worship Is;

2)      How We Worship;

3)      What Authentic Worship Looks Like.

Last week’s devotional focused on the first of those – what worship is – and we were reminded that worship is always God-centered and God-initiated.  So let’s look this week at the second idea.

How do we worship?  First, let’s remember that worship extends beyond music and singing in the service.  In fact, everything we do, every day can be (and should be) worship.  Romans tells us we should be “living sacrifices” (12:1).  For the sake of our newsletter (and our role in the church), though, we’ll focus on the musical aspect of that since it’s how we most overtly lead in the service.

First and foremost, we must remember that worship is an outward expression of an inward attitude.  Jesus said we must worship the Father in “Spirit and in truth” (4:23).  Some common outward expressions of worship found in scripture can be singing (Ex 15:1, Eph 5:19, Col 3:16), playing instruments (Ps 150:4), raising hands (Neh 8:6), clapping (Ps 47:1), or even dancing (2 Sam 6:14).  Remember, though, these are all outward signs and do not constitute the heart of worship.

As leaders in the worship service we should not be afraid to express our gratitude toward God.  We should also feel free to praise Him and proclaim Him.  This means that we need to be emotionally engaged in the worship service, since the congregation does look at us.

Obviously, the first step to outward display is inward engagement.  When we arrive at church – and even before – we need to take some time to focus ourselves on what is going to happen.  Taking a few minutes before service is an invaluable way to focus our efforts on God.

Once we do that it should show in how we worship.  Do we smile?  The congregation notices.  Do we think about what we’re singing?  The congregation can tell if we do!  Next week, as you get ready to lead the congregation in worship take a few minutes to quiet your soul before God and listen to what He’s telling you.  Remember – worship is God-initiated, but in order for us to hear Him we need to be listening for Him.  Look through the songs before the service – they’re listed in the bulletin – and think about the texts and what they tell you about Christ.  As you sing, meditate on the words you’re saying and let your face and body reflect those thoughts.  It makes all the difference in the world!

Working Definition of Worship (Grace Notes Issue 1.2)

Originally Written for 8/31/08

Cross Posted on Grace Notes

Last week I introduced our mission statement and wrote regarding our job as a choir to model worship for people.  In order to do this we need to have a richer understanding of the following:

  1. What Worship Is;
  2. How We Worship;
  3. What Authentic Worship Looks Like

Today, let’s focus on the first of these three issues.

Biblical worship is rooted in our response to God’s holiness, majesty, power, grace, mercy, justice, greatness, and even His judgement (just to name a few important attributes).  Worship can be summed up in one word from that statement: Response.  Worship is, at it’s core, always God-initiated.

How is it God-initiated?  From a theological standpoint, as New Testament Christians we might say it’s a response to Christ’s death and resurrection.  This is the simplest way, so let’s examine it.  Everything we do in our lives is a reflection of the reality of Christ’s saving grace as evidenced by the cross, the empty tomb, and His work in our lives.  But responding to this can sometimes be difficult to accomplish, and is one reason men in particular have such a difficult time with worship.

Traditionally in our society – and one could make a very strong case that it’s because this is how God made us – men are initiators and women are responders.  This is modeled in many aspects of our lives, but perhaps the most basic is in romantic relationships, which also happens to be a picture of our relationship with God.  In our relationship with God through Christ we (both men and women) are the responders and God is the initiator – we are called the bride and Christ the bridegroom.

Once we understand that worship is based on God’s initiation and not ours, though, we free ourselves.  What are we free from and free to do?  We’ll talk about that in a future devotional, but this week I want you to reflect on the idea of responding to God’s initiating so that you can enter worship.

How will this affect how you sing in choir?  As leaders we sometimes feel we need to “put on a show” or “make it look like….” (finish the sentence however you like).  In order to model for the congregation what worship is we need to model responding to God’s work in our lives.  Over the next several weeks the hymns we sing will (hopefully) help us do that.

Just remember: worship is about Him and not us.  Once you understand that, begin to respond to the Spirit’s leading and focus on what God has done for you – don’t worry what others think.  As you respond to that leading you’ll begin to worship.  And, by the grace of God, others will see and follow.