3 Misconceptions I Had About Worship

Written By Daniel Hamlin, USA

I looked over to see my mom trying to hold back her laughter. I’m sure we’ve all experienced it at some point—that extremely difficult task of not laughing when everything in us wants to. It usually happens at the most inappropriate times and in the most inappropriate places. This was the case for my mom. We were in church and the worship band was on stage leading the congregation in song, while my mom stood next to me trying not to burst out laughing. I looked at her, trying to figure out what I had missed that was causing her such amusement. She gathered herself and we kept singing. After church I asked my mom what had made her laugh in the middle of worship.

She said, “You.”

I answered in surprise, “Me? What did I do?”

“Daniel,” she said, beginning to laugh again, “I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone miss every note in a song before.”

My lack of musical talent was no surprise to me, and so we both had a good laugh about it. (I should mention that my mom and I have a great relationship, one in which we can tease each other and not be offended, knowing we both have nothing but love and support for each other).

Thankfully (for my sake at least), God’s acceptance of our worship is not based on how well we sing. Worship is much more than song. Jesus stated, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Over the years I’ve found that in order for me to worship in truth, the Lord has had to remove some major misconceptions I held regarding worship. It’s been a gradual process, mostly involving prayer and time spent in God’s Word. I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject of worship, but I hope what I share about my own journey will help you if you’ve struggled with similar issues as well.

 

Misconception #1: Worship Is Only for Religious People

I used to think that the only people who participated in worship were religious people, or people of faith. I viewed worship as solely a religious or spiritual act. But I now believe everyone worships, whether they realize it or not. We all worship something or someone; we were created to (Psalm 86:9-10).

We worship whatever we value most in life. For some, this might be a job, a loved one, an object of some sort, or oneself. Worshipping such things may have nothing to do with religion or faith, but it remains worship. When we place more value on these things than on God, we are worshipping them.

Sadly, I’ve worshipped many things in my life. I’ve worshipped myself, my passions, my time, my relationships—any number of things that are not bad in themselves, except when we give them higher value than we give God. Instead of worshipping the blessings that God has given me, I should be worshipping the God who gave them.

When I find that I’ve usurped Christ’s rightful place in my life by valuing something or someone else, I ask Him with repentant humility to retake the throne of my heart. He graciously accepts repentance and invites me into deeper relationship with Him.

 

Misconception #2: Only Religious Activities Are Worship

Worship isn’t simply singing in church, prayer, or thanksgiving. These are all forms of worship, but they are not the only ones. One of my biggest misconceptions about worship was that I only participated in worship when I was involved in some religious activity.

But the truth is, our whole lives are an act of worship (Romans 12:1, 1 Corinthians 10:31).

In the Old Testament, King Saul made the mistake of thinking religious activities meant worship. But God responded by pointing out that religious activities are no measurement of a person’s worship, because true worship starts in the heart and reveals itself in our daily lives: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).

This points me to a greater awareness of the importance of being in fellowship with Christ. I’ve realized that true worship is a relationship with God, rather than feigned obedience to a set of rules. Whether we are eating, working, studying, on vacation, doing laundry, we are worshipping whether we realize it or not. We either live life with Jesus reigning in our hearts, or we live life with something or someone else holding that place. I am learning to ask myself, do I love God in my work, my study, my daily life?

 

Misconception #3: Worship Is for God’s Benefit

Perhaps the biggest misconception I had about worship was that it was somehow for God’s benefit, as if He somehow needed our worship. The truth is quite the opposite: worship benefits us, not God.

David declares, “How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear  you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in You” (Psalm 31:19). God is pleased with our worship, but He doesn’t need it. He is all-sufficient, self-existent, eternal, not created. He is not in need of anything, but He is the source of all life and all joy (Psalm 16:11).

God created us in order that we might know Him and experience His life and joy, and worship is the doorway into that life and joy. The Psalmist says, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere . . . For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless” (Psalm 84:10-11). God is eager to bless us and give us peace; when we worship we open the doors to His peace and blessing. This isn’t to say that we will never see trouble in this life because we worship God, but He does promise He will be a stronghold in the day of trouble to those who trust in Him (Nahum 1:7).

 

God cherishes our worship. He understands it can be difficult for humans to worship what we cannot see, and perhaps that’s why our worship moves Him so deeply. I know there is still much I need to learn regarding worship, but I’m thankful the Lord has righted these misconceptions I once held. I now have a greater understanding and a deeper relationship with God than before. And maybe someday, perhaps when I’m in Heaven, when I’m singing in heartfelt worship, I’ll even be able to sing the right notes. But until then, I’m grateful to know that I can worship God with my every act, and that God loves my worship regardless of my singing abilities.

When I Realized I Was Lukewarm

In 2012, I was in a near-fatal car accident and suffered extensive brain injury as a result. Up till then, I had been working as a family doctor in northwest Indiana, USA, for six years.

From my earliest recollections following my accident, I remember hearing over and over again that people who suffer a brain injury have to find a “new normal.” They said my brain injury was so severe that there was no chance of me going back to who I was before my accident.

However, for the first several months, I shocked nearly everyone with my unexpected, unexplainable, and rather quick recovery. This led me to believe that my brain injury wasn’t nearly as bad as my doctors had suggested and that I’d be back to my old self—my old normal—in no time at all.

But it wouldn’t be long before my recovery slowed down to a crawl and it became clear that I simply wasn’t going to return to my old self again. The long-standing effects of my brain injury had become undeniable.

I no longer had the mental capacity and the ability to easily remember any and all sorts of information. No matter how much effort I put into it or how hard I tried, the focus and concentration I once had was no longer there. This, as well as many other signs, pointed me to the realization that my doctors had been right from the start. I now had a new and very different kind of normal.

This led to a season where I felt overwhelmed by my new reality and I started angrily asking God a lot of questions about what He was doing. I still consider the day of my accident “the day my life changed forever.”

However, a second life-changing day took place about the same time I was starting to question God’s plan for my life.

I was at a Christian media conference in Dallas, an event I had begrudgingly agreed to go to with my wife. Even though I went to the conference with low expectations, to my surprise, I heard a Bible verse while I was there that would change the trajectory of my life once again!

The verse was from Revelation 3:15-16:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

Now, this wasn’t an unfamiliar verse to me. It was one I’d heard plenty of times before . . . but this time something was very different. It affected me in a way it never had previously. Every time I heard this verse in the past, I’d thought, “Man, I’d hate to be one of those lukewarm guys spit out by God!” But when I heard those words that day, I suddenly became aware and convicted of my lukewarmness, and thought to myself, “I think I’m actually one of them.”

You see, I had always tried my very best to make my faith an important part of who I was. I never strayed too far from the church or God, and most people thought of me as being a “good Christian.” But I had an awakening that day and realized how “lukewarm” I truly was.

Part of that awakening involved starting to understand that I’d been following an “inverted gospel.” I claimed to be following Jesus, but in reality, I’d just invited him to follow me. I had never fully given everything to God and was still trying to handle most things myself. I thought that Jesus was a way for me to get what I wanted and to help me stay comfortable, but never considered how much He deserved from me. I don’t think I ever fully trusted that God knew what was best for me so I made sure to always take the lead.

This realization lit a fire inside of me that I’d never experienced before. I wanted to learn more about who Jesus truly was and what a life completely surrendered to Him was supposed to look like. I felt like I’d been given a second chance to leave behind my lukewarm ways and to live a life completely for God, the only kind He deserves and the kind I should have been living all along.

My whole escape from “lukewarmness” was not a single, instantaneous event. It has been a journey—one where I am learning more and more every day about what it means to surrender my life to God. So far, I’ve discovered that surrender includes letting God lead me, and trusting His ways over my own. Unlike my approach to life in the past, I’m learning that I don’t need to know exactly how things are going to play out before taking the first step, before moving forward, or before making a decision—but can trust Him to lead me each step of the way.

One thing that stood out to me about my escape from lukewarmness is that I had nothing to do with it. I didn’t see it coming. But what I did have control over was how I was going to respond to what God was teaching me about being lukewarm. Was I going to fight with God on how He was trying to change me or was I going to accept it? I thank God that I had the courage to accept it.

I used to wish my brain injury had never happened, but over time, I have learned to focus on how God used it to bring about really positive things . . . like saving me from my lukewarmness. I wish there could have been another way, but I’m learning to not question God’s perfect plan, and instead thank Him for the good He brings out of negative situations (Romans 8:28).

I’m not sure where you are right now or if any of what I said about being “lukewarm” resonated with you. But if you were able to relate to my story, I hope you know that God loves you, and desires for you to live a life surrendered to Him too.

5 Ways to Prepare for Easter

“Will you Easter with me?”

My daughter had been at my mom’s that day, and I’d heard they had gotten out the Easter decorations. When I arrived to pick her up, she sweetly and eagerly looked up at me, holding her basket full of eggs, and asked, “Will you Easter with me, mom?”

At first, my kiddo’s syntactical error made me giggle. But after a moment, I realized that she’d said something very profound.

Easter is a verb. Or at least it should be. Easter, our annual celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, is a time for intentional and purposeful celebration. But what would it look like “to Easter” in our everyday lives?

 

Welcome Him

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem the Sunday before His death, the crowd spread their coats and branches on the ground, giving Him quite the welcome. They knew that this was no ordinary man entering their town, and so they cried out “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:8-9).

We call this day Palm Sunday, and often commemorate it in church with praise and exultation. This is not only a time to remember Jesus being welcomed into Jerusalem, but it is also a time to ask for His direction and leadership in our own lives as well. It is a day of welcoming, a day of aligning ourselves with Him.

I recently did this by writing out a list of the roles I play, the key relationships in my life, and the various places I often find myself in. One by one, I went down the list and welcomed Jesus into these roles, relationships, and places. Sure, He was technically already present in these places; He is God, after all. But this was about my willingness to welcome Him in and intentionally acknowledging once again that He’s the one in charge. It is a way of saying, “Not my will, but yours.”

This wasn’t easy. As I welcomed Jesus into my home, my marriage, my role as mother, my classroom, my friendships, my idols and strongholds, I realized that His presence would demand some changes in these areas. Lies, anxiety, and strongholds can no longer rule where He is welcomed. Part of the welcoming is believing in and affirming His worthiness above all. Let’s welcome Christ in this Easter season, no matter the cost.

 

Remember Him

The evening before He died, Jesus celebrated Passover with His disciples—a festival remembering how God had delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. At this meal, Jesus instituted what we know as the Lord’s Supper, or Communion. As He sat around the table with His followers, He broke a loaf of bread, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” He then took the cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:19-20).

Jesus’ words “do this in remembrance of me” are big and bold to my eyes. He has asked us to remember His sacrifice by eating the bread and drinking the cup. This needs to be a part of our “Eastering” this year. When we accept the bread and the cup, we are putting our lot in with His. We are saying, “We want in. We want to be a part of this.” This means we will suffer with Him, but it also means that as His children, our future is secure; we will resurrect with Him.

Remember Christ’s sacrifice in this way as you partake of the Lord’s Supper this Easter Week.

 

Grieve Him

On Friday during that Passover week, Jesus was nailed to the cross. After suffering for several hours, He called out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46), and then took His last breath. Matthew tells us that there was an earthquake when Jesus died (Matthew 27:51), and we read that there was darkness from noon until three that day (Luke 23:44-45).

Can you imagine how oppressive it would have felt to stand there at the foot of the cross? To experience that earthquake, in the darkness? To see with your own eyes the havoc that sin and shame had wreaked on the world? All of this speaks to the somber weight of that day’s events. The Son of God crucified. God the Father turning His back on His Son. This seems like the worst day in all of history.

How do we enter into this grief? How do we experience the heaviness of what went down that day? I think the obvious answer is one we don’t necessarily like—that we need to sit with this; we need to not rush past it, to not skip ahead to Sunday. We need to sit in Friday for a while, and we need to grieve not only Jesus’ death, but our sin that put Him there.

We need to ask God to help us understand, the best we can, the weight of His sacrifice, the weight of the loss and the shame that the world experienced that Friday. And so we grieve. We grieve the sin and shame that has infected and infiltrated our world. We grieve our part in it, and thus our separation from God. Rest assured, though, that the story doesn’t end here. . .

 

Wait for Him

Can you imagine what that Saturday was like, when Jesus lay lifeless in the tomb? The disciples—did they feel hopeless, thinking they had it all wrong? Or did a few, through understanding from the Spirit, begin to put all of Jesus’ teachings together and wait hopefully for His return?

This tension of Saturday—between Jesus’ death on Friday and His resurrection on Sunday—is not to be skipped over. Jesus was dead, and some of His followers felt hopeless. Yet we know that Sunday was coming and Jesus would rise again. The interim is a hard place to be. A willingness to wait, to sit in the tension, demonstrates an understanding that we’re not in charge. Just like the grieving, let’s not rush past this. The joy of Sunday won’t make sense without the restlessness of Saturday.

What does it look like to wait for Christ today? Yes, in the Easter season, but also in the seasons of our lives. Maybe we’re “in-between” in our circumstances right now. Where and in what way are we being asked to wait, to live in the not-quite-yet? How do we cling to Christ in this time of waiting? And what exactly are we waiting for?

As Christians, ultimately we wait for the fullness of God’s Kingdom. We wait for when Jesus will return and set all things right, when sin will no longer have dominion over the world. And so, in our waiting, we set our eyes on Sunday. . .

 

Rejoice in Him

On Sunday morning, the Resurrected Jesus appears before His friends, family, and disciples. The grave could not hold Him. He stared death in the face and overcame it. He took on the wrath against our sin and shame, and atoned for us completely.

Can you imagine this day? All the sadness and hopelessness being undone? Our worst nightmare proving not true? The disciples missed and longed for Jesus, and now He stood in front of them, in the flesh again. He is indeed who He said He was. He is the long-promised Rescuer, come to save His people from their sin and for His glory! A debt we could not pay, paid in full! He has made a way for you and me to know Him and to live with Him forever! Sin no longer separates us from our King, and so Sunday is the best day in all of history!

This year on Easter, let us drink deeply the joy that abounds because of the risen Christ. Let’s sing our praise to Him loud and proud. Let’s open our arms wide and receive His forgiveness, grace, and goodness. Let’s hug our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and announce with the worldwide Church that He has risen! He has risen, indeed! Augustine said it best in his discourse on the Psalms: “We are an Easter people, and Allelujah is our song!”

My friend, will you Easter with me this year?

4 Signs That God Isn’t Your First Love

I’ve been a Christian for a long time, but one truth I’ve learned is that life doesn’t get easier and I’m still self-centered and proud. At times, even more than I realize. Some days, this truth grips my heart with guilt and remorse. But most times, I simply pat myself on the back and reassure myself that “I’m not that bad”.

I hate to admit it, but I struggle daily to put God first in my life even after knowing how much He loves me (Romans 8:31-39), how faithful He is despite my sin (Hosea 2:14-15), and how He has made me His child (John 1:12-13).

Of course, there have been moments when I’ve tried to make my life “more about God and less about me” after being convicted by a Bible study or teaching. But those moments are usually fleeting; I settle back in the driving seat not long after and relegate the boot (yes, not even the backseat) to God.

So these four signs come from a place of “experience”—one that I’m not proud of. And I invite you to join me in critically evaluating whether you’ve knowingly (or unknowingly) done the same.

 

1. You care about following the Bible . . . but more about following societal norms

Every day, we’re faced with hundreds of decisions—from minor ones like what outfit to wear to work, to life-changing ones like who to tie the knot with. Though we know at the back of our minds that we ought to do all things for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), we allow our lives to be governed by the same considerations society has: Will this major land me a good job? Will marrying this person give me financial security? Will aligning myself with this person improve my job prospects? Because of the questions we ask, we gravitate towards the same self-actualizing decisions the rest of the world makes.

But if we truly understand the gospel, we see a completely different picture of what and whom God deems as important. The world glorifies the rich, the famous, the powerful, the proud, and those who come first. But God blesses the poor, includes the outcast, cares for the weak, exalts the humble, and recognizes those who are last. The gospel turns everything we know on its head.

If we truly believe in Jesus’ upside-down kingdom, the way we live must necessarily be different from the rest of the world. Will we make decisions according to what God values? Will we give generously to the poor, reach out to the marginalized, help the needy and sick, shine the spotlight on the humble, and affirm the last—even if it sets us back financially, emotionally, and physically?

 

2. You care about what God thinks . . . but not as much as what others think

 The first few years into my job, I worked hard, and felt good whenever my work was recognized by my boss or colleagues. I didn’t mind the long hours, but got extremely affected if my work was not recognized or if my boss was unhappy with me. Frustration and self-doubt occupied my mind even after working hours and I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.

Though I knew in my mind that I should be working for the Lord (Colossians 3:22-25), my heart was far more concerned about gaining the approval of my earthly master. For some of us, it may not be our bosses we’re trying to please, but our partners, spouses, or even friends. Whoever our “earthly master” may be, let us remember that ultimately, it is God’s opinion—not theirs—that matters. After all, He is the one who owns every one of us: He made us, loved us, saved us, and finally, will judge us.

Recently, I’ve been reading a book called Not Yet Married by writer and managing editor at DesiringGod.org, Marshall Segal, which has challenged me to reframe my perspective about work. In his suggested “Eight Aims for Every Job”, his very first point is that we should “aspire to make God look great”. Instead of seeking the affirmation and approval of our earthly masters, we should be more concerned about God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31, Matthew 5:16).

And that means rethinking what work (or life in general) is all about and what constitutes success. So what if we didn’t get the recognition or response we wanted from our hard labor? If we had the opportunity to lead another person to Christ in the course of our daily activity, we have achieved something of far greater value and eternal worth.

 

3. You care about others . . . but more about your personal time and space

After a long hard day at work, the tendency to be fiercely protective of our “me-time” is a real one. Because I’ve worked so hard today, I deserve to pamper myself. For some of us, this could be binge-watching the latest Netflix show, hitting the gym to keep our bodies trim and fit, or simply sitting on our couch scrolling through our social media feeds.

We know that reading the Bible is the key to helping us know God intimately and that we are called to serve the church and care for the needy (Matthew 25:31-40). But we tell ourselves that those things can come after we’ve tended to our own needs. Our hearts are grieved not because of the social injustice in the world, but because someone has infringed our personal space and inconvenienced us.

I have been guilty of pushing back or rescheduling appointments with friends who are going through difficult patches because I knew it would be time-consuming and emotionally-draining to meet them, and I just didn’t feel like going through it at that moment.

But Jesus clearly demonstrates through His action and words that this life we live is not about us. One of the key evidences of a follower of Christ is that he would be willing to deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Christ (Matthew 16:24-26). We are called to live sacrificially, valuing others above ourselves, not looking to our own interests but to the interests of others (Philippians 2:1-4). After all, God’s love for us empowers us to love others (1 John 4:7). And if we all lived by that truth, I daresay that we will never need to worry about our own needs.

 

4. You care about many sins . . . but not your own sin

Since the start of this year, my Bible study class has been studying the book of Hosea together and learning that our disobedience towards God is equivalent to adultery. But if we’re being honest, we usually don’t think of ourselves as that bad. I mean, how can covetousness be as bad as infidelity? What’s a white lie in comparison to sleeping with someone else’s spouse? One of the biggest dangers we as Christians face, is to think of ourselves as more righteous or more worthy of salvation than some of our non-Christian friends.

There have been countless times that I’ve frowned upon someone’s actions, or felt shock and anger about a crime I’ve read in the papers or even written off someone else as “hopeless”. In those moments, I had put myself on a pedestal and evaluated another person based on my own standards, forgetting that I’m equally sinful and equally in need of grace and mercy. I forget that God is the ultimate judge and every one of us is directly accountable to Him for our own lives—not the lives of others.

And because of that, I appreciate it when well-intentioned and close family and friends take time to point out the inconsistencies and sins in my life. Though painful, they remind me of how much I need a Savior, and how gracious and merciful God is to send His son for someone like me.

 

Penning the above points has helped me realize that the solution to my problem is not to try and get better by my own strength. If not for anything, I’m even more convicted now by the need to pray and ask God to help me grow in comprehending the full magnitude of His beauty, grace, and truth. It is God that gives me sight (John 6:65) and only when I see how glorious He is, that everything else around me will fade in comparison. I pray the same for you too.