Worship—More Than Just A Spiritual Encounter

Written By Justin Lim, Singapore

Yet another routine—our alarms go off, and in our drowsy states, we set off on our weekly journey to church with our half-eaten breakfast and coffee in our travel mugs, slipping into the pews of the church as we walk past the friendly ushers and the lights dim.

The worship leader starts off with a call to worship and encourages us to “Praise God as we worship Him today . . .” With Psalm 100 on the big screens, the pads fade in with a single melody accompanied by a low bass note.

Growing up in church as a teenager, I picked up the guitar, then became a musician for the youth, then the main congregation, and was finally asked to be the elusive “worship leader” that I was so excited to be.

At the tender age of 19, I sang my heart out in front of the church, in hopes that the congregation would do likewise. I often questioned why we did not sing loudly or with vigor like charismatic churches, and always tried to find ways to improve the setup in church so that our worship could be as loud as the bass thumping from the church across the street. Listening to concerts from Jesus Culture, Bethel or Hillsong, only caused me heartache—why couldn’t we worship like that in a Presbyterian church?

 

“All of Life” Worship

Then came a change of scenery—I went overseas to Australia for further studies. I quickly settled down in a good church, and when the opportunity arose, decided to join the worship ministry.

However, I soon realized that it wasn’t the worship team I was joining. It was called the magnification team, or mag team for short. I was confused, and I soon noticed that the word “worship” was rarely used during the singing portion of a service.

I spent my second year playing for a different campus of the same church, often asking when I would be asked to lead the band. However, in hindsight, it was clear that my heart wasn’t ready—I had to rid myself of things that I struggled with: pride, envy, malice.

Towards the tail end of my second year, my music director and I read through Titus together. We prayed and gained each other’s trust as Paul did with Titus.

One day, I finally decided to ask the question, “Why don’t we call our mag teams worship teams?” My director replied, “It was because we are moving away from the misconception that worship is solely about music, towards an ‘all of life’ worship as we see in Romans 12.”

Paul reminded the Romans to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1). God demands our undivided attention in all of life. This means that our hearts should yearn to do His work and love Jesus as He loves us in every area of our lives.

And then it dawned upon me that worship was more than just singing. It was more than just good music. It is about my entire life. I think David clearly hits it on the nail when he said that God does not delight in sacrifice or burnt offerings, but wants a broken and contrite heart, and for us to do His will (Psalms 40:6-8). Fast forward to this side of the Cross, worshipping God is about listening to what God truly says in the Bible, holding fast to it, and following it dearly as an act of worship.

Singing is often echoing Scripture creatively and poetically. It is declaring how we should respond to God for the rest of our lives. Congregational singing is meant to be an avenue for teaching and a means to encourage one another (Ephesians 5:19). Singing is not simply a “spiritual encounter”. No amount of clap offerings or shouts of praise would suffice if our hearts aren’t broken and our lives entirely devoted to God, as David reminds us in Psalm 51. That step of reconciliation is the mandatory step towards worshipping Him in spirit and truth.

 

Outward Expression of an Inward Posture

Two years down the road, I am now leading a band while also directing music in my own congregation. I hope to help fellow brothers and sisters in Christ see that congregational singing, while significant, is just one facet of worship. I hope that we can remind one another, through song, who Jesus is, and together praise Him melodically (how good would that be?).

Music leaders, while we know that worship is much more than just 30 minutes on a Sunday, can sometimes fail to emphasize it. How can we communicate that to brothers and sisters in Christ whom we help lead in congregational singing? Can we be intentional about our words, and the way we carry out our Sunday gatherings? Can we help our churches look for more than a “spiritual encounter”, but to see that singing is an outward expression of an inward change and posture that is worshipping Jesus 24/7?

3 Healthy Ways to Handle Conflict

Written by Madeline Twooney, Germany

A few Sundays ago, an acquaintance of mine from church pulled me aside before the morning service to talk to me about a weakness in my character. She thought that l was too occupied with accommodating other’s needs in church, that I neglected my own needs. In her opinion, l could do with standing up for myself more.

l smiled and muttered some vague thanks for her concern.

But in the back of my mind, l was fuming—absolutely fuming. I found her words condescending and her intervention inappropriate. I was not a frightened, insecure person. While I am fallen and flawed like everyone else, l believe that God has gifted me with a kind and generous heart that is always seeking to help others—I’ve always looked at that as an asset.

To this day, my acquaintance doesn’t know how l feel. I opted out of negatively responding to avoid an unnecessary storm.

And yet I wonder. . .was avoiding conflict by ignoring her confrontation the correct thing to do?

As the body of Christ, we need to be able to respond to conflict within the church and in our lives in a healthy way that does the following:

  • Gives us peace as individuals
  • Promotes love
  • Lifts us up as a body of believers that can serve God both in the church and out in the world

So, how do we do that?

The apostle Paul approaches this dilemma in his epistle to the Christians in Colossae. Because of false teachings, the church was suffering from severe division. In Colossians 3:13-15, Paul shows us three principles that we can use today to help us respond to conflict.

 

1. Forgive Others As God Forgives Us

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)

The act of forgiveness is of such great importance to Paul, that the word is used three times in this Bible passage. Not only are we called to forgive others, we need to strive to forgive them in the same way God has forgiven us.

This means that whatever harm the other person might have caused us, we do not hold it against them. This also means blotting out any bitterness or anger we may feel towards them. Forgiving as the Lord forgives not only frees the person who wronged us—it liberates us as well.

My acquaintance has an impression of me that may be untrue. But that’s ok. I know who l am, and God knows who l am. Irrespective of what prompted her to push her opinion on me, l am practicing every day to forgive in a way that frees us both.

 

2. Put on Love

And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:14)

Jesus commands us to love one another (John 13:34-35). However, how do we love someone we have a conflict with? In that case, we need to make a conscious decision to love them—to accept them for who they are, warts and all, and recognize that they are a work in progress, just like we are. We need to put on love.

Loving someone with whom we are in conflict is easier when we understand the motives for their actions. My acquaintance had good intentions in mind, so showing her anything but love would only promote confusion and hurt in her heart.

That doesn’t mean that l shouldn’t talk to her openly about her actions and their effect on me—l can, and l might at some point in the future. However, if l confront her, l need to do it from a place of love, not from hurt or accusation.

God is love. When we were still His enemy, He loved us (Ephesians 2:4-5). If His love can unify us with Him, shouldn’t we be sharing this love with others?

 

3. Let Peace into Our Hearts

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace (Colossians 3:15)

Being in conflict is stressful and takes up a lot of our mental energy. Why would anyone choose to live that way, when we have the option to receive the peace Christ offers (John 14:27)?

Choosing to accept Jesus’ peace has been a great blessing for me in my situation. It isn’t always easy to apply, but it helps to think of how much inner turmoil and stress l am avoiding in my life by simply trusting Jesus to work things out in His perfect timing. With that in mind, choosing peace is a better option!

The church is of great importance to Jesus. For it to function well, He requires us to be at peace. So, if you are holding tightly to an issue or a conflict today, could you let it go for Jesus’ sake?

 

It would be nice to say that conflict is something that can be avoided. Unfortunately, we are imperfect people living in a broken world—a prime breeding ground for discord and strife.

How comforting it is, then, to know that we have a perfect God who loves us in our brokenness, and guides us to respond or deal with these conflicts in a Christlike manner, through His love and teachings!

Can A Christian Be Both Loving and Critical?

The songs at church this Sunday were alright. Only one minor theological blunder that I counted. The person on stage who read today’s passage managed to pronounce all the words correctly. . .

From the moment the pastor started preaching, my brain quietly fact-checked everything that came out of his mouth, from the historical background of the passage, to the “original Greek” claims he made, to whether or not I thought his message was gospel-centric enough . . .

Not exactly the posture of a humble worshipper before God, huh?

I grew up in a Bible-believing household, went to Bible college, and now work with a Christian ministry. I love history, culture, and language, so my interests happen to line up nicely with acquiring biblical knowledge. The problem? As Paul said it so simply, “knowledge puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).

Don’t get me wrong—familiarity with the Bible is a good thing. Analytical thinking is a good thing. It is important to know the difference between a solidly gospel-grounded sermon, and a motivational feel-good speech. Even the most experienced pastors will make mistakes, and it is crucial for us to cross-check anything we hear with the Bible.

After all, even the Bereans checked Paul the Apostle against Scripture (Acts 17:10-11).

But none of that calls for sitting back with arms crossed, silently grading the pastor on the quality of his sermon. Partway through the sermon that Sunday, I realized that I was being critical of the pastor to a point of hostility. I had let myself puff up with pride, and was silently pointing out every minor flaw I noticed as a means of affirming my own inflated sense of intellect, well-read-ness, and general arrogance.

Once I realized my serious attitude problem, I told my brain to shut up and stop being so critical. But that doesn’t exactly solve the problem, does it? For the rest of the day, I wrestled with how to reconcile a critical mind with Christian love. Eventually, I came up with some guidelines to help me think through the issue and hold myself accountable.

 

Does it really matter?

Sometimes I find myself nitpicking at minute details that don’t really matter. If a person mispronounced a word, for example, it probably wouldn’t cause any misunderstanding. Or if the pastor gave an illustration of God’s amazing creation, and mentioned nine planets in the solar system (instead of eight, since Pluto has lost its status)—the main point is still clear and valid. It would be silly for me to worry over such irrelevant mistakes in a worship service.

On the other hand, sometimes there are mistakes with greater consequences. For example, I was recently in a Bible study where a newcomer mishandled biblical passages to argue that the Holy Spirit was not God. This clearly contradicts the Bible’s teachings, and could potentially mislead some of the newer Christians in the group, robbing them of the comfort of God’s continued presence in their lives (John 14:16-17). Unlike mis-numbering the planets, this was a problem that needed to be addressed.

Thankfully in that case, the leaders of the Bible study politely but firmly put a stop to this newcomer’s theories, while offering to discuss it more in a private setting.

While some mistakes are minor and have little consequence to how we live our lives or relate to others, other mistakes might be more foundational and problematic. I need to learn not to dwell on minor mistakes, as well as how to act lovingly in the face of more serious problems.

 

If it matters, how do I respond in love?

When faced with errors in foundational doctrine or mistakes with the potential to damage a young Christian’s relationship with God, sometimes we need to act. But at the same time, I need to take care in how I respond to the issue. Too often I find myself stewing in imagined debates, or pointing out errors to those around me in a gossip-like manner while not actually doing anything constructive to address the problem.

If I decide that a mistake is not trivial but requires action, then I need to ask myself, am I being loving in my approach? I should always start by praying and asking God to purify my motive.

If I counter someone’s point in Bible study, or approach a pastor after the sermon, I need to do it out of a heart of love and service. I’ve found that starting with questions and clarifying the other person’s view first is one way I can do that. After all, perhaps they know something I haven’t thought of yet, or maybe I misunderstood!

If I bring up the issue with friends or family, I should talk about it in a way that seeks further understanding and truth—it should never simply be criticism for the sake of pointing out errors. “What did you think about the speaker’s interpretation of this verse?” would hopefully lead to a constructive discussion that leaves us all with greater understanding and confidence in the truth the Bible offers.

Finally, whatever I do, pride must have no place in it. I am to “do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).

Too often, I am overly confident in my own opinions and understanding. I need to learn to let go when something simply doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I also need to remind myself—and ask God to help me—to be loving in all that I do and think. I pray that He will continue to overcome my sinful pride and reveal my many mistakes and misplaced opinions. And as I continue asking myself these questions throughout the week, I will ask God to enable me to interact lovingly and humbly with people around me.

Does It Matter How I Worship God?

Written By Madeline Twooney, Germany

A couple years ago, a colleague of mine invited my friend and I to visit an African church. l settled in my seat at the beginning of the service, expecting a heartfelt but rather demure time of praise and worship, just like the kind of church services I grew up with in Australia.

Gosh, was l ever wrong! As the worship band dropped its first chords, there was a wave of raised hands and fervent clapping that resonated throughout the church. People stood up and started dancing; some even held tambourines that they jingled animatedly to the rhythm of the music.

It was a wondrous sight, and l marveled at the energy and enthusiasm for God that this church community displayed. However, it was totally out of my comfort zone. Though l didn’t feel pressured to raise my hands, I just couldn’t see myself worshiping God in such a lively manner. It didn’t seem like something a shy, quiet person like me would do, so I did not join in.

However, after moving cities and joining my current church, l found myself raising my hands as l clapped and danced in worship. My actions surprised me. Until then, l had never considered myself a hand-raiser! But I was in a strange, new city, my husband was away on a trip, l was in a new church, and l didn’t know a living soul apart from God. So, l clung to Him and wow, did it feel fantastic to raise my hands and worship Him! I felt a freedom l hadn’t felt before, because l had finally found an avenue to physically express to God how much l love Him.

My journey has prompted me to wonder: Does it matter how we worship God? Are the people next to me insincere in their love for God, just because they aren’t singing or raising their hands? Should people be encouraged to worship in a certain manner if they don’t feel like doing it?

Here are four truths about worship that I’ve arrived at:

 

1. Worship begins in the heart

Though Christians sometimes discuss whether or not to raise hands in worship, it is important to remember that worship is first and foremost a desire to praise and honor God. It is the attitude of our hearts that takes precedence in worship.

What changed my worship experience was that my heart changed. In the past, l had viewed the worship part of a church service as lyrical and enjoyable. But l did not have a heartfelt encounter with God until I experienced burnout and depression last year. Since then, l have started raising my hands and dancing around during worship. When l do so, l feel the depression and anxiety lift, as though through raising my hands, l am handing over my problems to God.

This is how I best express my love for God. We may all praise and love God in different ways, but the most important thing is the attitude of our hearts when we come before God in worship.

 

2. Worship is more than just singing and raising hands

Though singing is a fundamental part of worship, the essence of worship is to ascribe worth to God. King David writes in Psalm 29:1-2, “Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.”

Worship is a gesture of reverence to our God. The Hebrew word for worship in the Old Testament is shachah, which means to “bow down” or “prostrate oneself.” The New Testament uses the Greek word proskuneo, meaning “to do reverence to.”

To me, revering God can be expressed by singing, clapping, or raising our hands, as well as by kneeling, praying softly to ourselves, or even bowing our head in reverence.

Romans 12:1 further calls us to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” This verse has encouraged me to view worship as an act that isn’t just expressed by outward actions, but with our entire lives.

 

3. Worship is greater than our feelings

I am a hand-raiser, but that doesn’t mean that l always feel like lifting my hands when l worship. Sometimes l am tired, or l feel weighed down by problems that are affecting me outside of the church’s four walls.

However, though worship can release intense emotions and can be itself an emotional experience, its purpose is to bring us into the presence of God in humility and thankfulness. When we choose to worship even when we don’t feel like it, we honor God and show Him that we trust Him above our emotions.

 

4. Worship should be done in spirit and truth

Jesus said in John 4:24 that God desires worshippers who “will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth.”

In other words, God wants us to worship Him filled with the Holy Spirit—with love, peace, and joy that come from Him in our hearts—whether by dancing to a contemporary worship song, or by singing a hymn in solemn reverence.

God also wants us to be guided by the truth that Jesus preached on earth—that He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). After all, we are not set free by standing on ceremony in worship, but by this precious truth (John 8:36).

 

I’ve learned that singing, raising hands, and clapping during worship doesn’t make us holier than our brothers and sisters. Nor does standing in reverence and singing hymns. Everybody has their own approach to honoring God, and that in itself is to be honored.

So, next Sunday, if you see your neighbor raising his hands and singing his heart out during worship and you’re not feeling it, know that God sees your heart to worship, and that’s what matters.