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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.

3 Challenges to Worshipping God in a World of Choices

Written By Madeline Twooney, Germany

I love worshipping God and spending time with Him.

Every morning, I try my best to set aside time to worship God through prayer, music, Bible study, and journaling. During this dedicated time, I give thanks to God and meditate on His Word. In turn, God’s presence—His answer to prayers, the mercy and comfort He shows me—fills me with strength, gives me peace, and reminds me that God is always looking after me. When l come out of my time with God, l am strengthened in the assurance of His love.

That being said, making time to worship God and commit myself to Him isn’t easy. The world offers distractions and pursuits that tempt me to take my eyes off God. Hence, l am constantly challenged to choose between spending time with God in worship and what the world offers.

Over time, I have come to recognize the things that are most likely to distract me from God. This helps me work on re-focusing my attention back to God.

Here are three of my most pressing challenges to worshipping God in a world full of choices. Perhaps you might be able to relate to them as well:

 

1. Caught Between Two Masters: Technology or God

I remember receiving my first mobile phone in the late 90s. Before that, l was hightailing it to a pay phone every time l wanted to ring someone when l was on the go. Similarly, l am grateful for the invention of the Internet. Teaching myself makeup application from YouTube tutorials jumpstarted my freelance career as a makeup and special-effects artist (makeup application using prosthetics, face paint and casts).

However, at some point, my life began to revolve around my devices, apps, and social media feeds. I began relying more and more on the Internet for information, as well as the endless possibilities for entertainment.

It is scary how easily we allow the digital world to rule our lives. God says that we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). When we can’t stop scrolling through social media feeds, or when we just have to play one more game of “Candy Crush” on our phones, then we’ve become too addicted to technology. Too often, we look to Google for answers to our problems instead of coming to our Father who created Heaven and earth—the God who says that when we seek Him, we will find Him (Matthew 7:7).

When it got to the point where l was tempted to check my WhatsApp messages during church services, l knew technology was becoming more attractive than being in God’s presence. It was time to cut the digital umbilical cord.

These days, instead of looking at my phone when l get up in the morning, l thank God for the day He has made (Psalm 118:24). During my worship time with God, l turn off all my devices. If someone wants to get in contact with me during this time, they can leave a message. In church, l switch my phone off before the service starts. Knowing my phone won’t vibrate or light up during church helps avoid distraction and keeps my focus on worshipping God.

 

2. FOMO—Fear Of Missing Out

Every day when l get up in the morning, my focus is to spend those first hours of the day with God.

However, more often than not, by the time l give my one-eared pussycat his breakfast and start brewing my first cup of coffee, my mind starts formulating a list of all the activities l want to do that day, such as my plans to exercise or meet up with friends. I start to get so nervous at the thought of not experiencing any of these events, that l become tempted to exchange my dedicated worship time for the pursuit of my other endeavors.

Today’s fast-paced society is a result of an oversaturation of choices. Our anxiety at missing out on an experience causes us to run from pillar to post. We’re suffering from FOMO—Fear Of Missing Out.

When I notice myself getting anxious from an abundance of choices and too little time to choose them all, l remind myself to go back to the Bible for guidance. Matthew 6:33 encourages us to seek God’s kingdom first above all things. After that, God will provide us with everything we need. l am learning to fear missing out on my daily encounter with God more than the pursuits of the world.

 

3. The Allure of the Things of this World

One of my favorite recreational pursuits is going to the gym. Although l work out to live a healthy lifestyle, a part of me is very aware of the “body goals” that are portrayed on Instagram and splashed across the pages of magazines. Sometimes, when l lift weights, l wonder whether I should be working toward these goals instead of being content with the body God has given me.

We all chase after different goals—whether it’s a perfect body, the latest iPhone, or exotic holidays. But too often, these “goals” can easily turn into objects of worship, drawing our attention away from God.

Romans 12:2 encourages us to not conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. When l find myself choosing to go down rabbit holes of superficial pursuits instead of spending time with God in His Word, l need to stop and remind myself that the only truly worthy pursuit is that of seeking God’s presence. Meditating on the Word keeps my eyes fixed on the unchanging nature of God in a fad-induced society. It reminds me that God’s opinion matters in my life, not the world’s.

Knowing that I am easily tempted by these goals, I have learned to prioritize my relationship with God. When I spend time regularly worshipping God, I can work out for the sake of being healthy, without worrying that it would eat into my time with God.

 

We are only temporary residents in this world, but our relationship with God is one that crosses into eternity. When we consider that Jesus made the ultimate choice to give His life for us at the cross to purchase our freedom, then making the decision to spend time with God in worship and praise becomes a lot easier, and the choices of the world begin to pale in comparison.

If you find your worship of God challenged by the choices and expectations of the world, l get it. Choosing to put my worship time ahead of my pursuits of this world is something l’m still working on every day.

This doesn’t mean we need to change our entire lifestyle, but can begin by taking small steps at a time. Perhaps we can get up earlier and dedicate that time to God, or maybe we can put aside 15 minutes a day to read the Bible. These small steps add up, daily drawing us closer to God. As we seek Him, He will also give us the desire and will to worship Him.

Am I Responsible for My Friend’s Salvation?

Written By Madeline Twooney, Germany

I remember the moment l entered a relationship with Jesus as though it were yesterday.

It happened 10 years ago, on a chilly January evening. My friend Hannah led me in prayer and confession while we were seated in her car, parked outside a supermarket. In a declaration of faith, l accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

The change was immediate: l felt clean and light, as if all my past mistakes and bad decisions had been erased. More importantly, l felt loved and accepted for who l was, despite my failures and flaws; a love which could only have come from God.

As the months went by, l embraced the chance to start my life afresh with God, with fervent gratitude and a heart that burned to know my Savior more and more. Hannah became one of my mentors, and she taught me about the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20)—how God calls us to spread the good news of the Bible.

My thoughts went immediately to my closest friends who didn’t know Jesus. I realized that the struggles and pain my friends experienced were often a reflection of their search for purpose in life, for identity. This broke my heart.

l wanted to help my friends know the same freedom, peace, and love from a merciful Father that l did. Additionally, l was concerned about the possibility of my friends’ eternal separation from God if they did not enter a relationship with Him. Therefore, l made up my mind to “help” my friends along the path to salvation, which led to an awkward incident between them and myself.

It happened one fateful weekend when my friends and l were visiting Amsterdam. On Saturday night, a few members of our group wanted to visit the red light district, where tourists flock in droves to look at sex workers behind red-lit glass doors. This did not sit well with me. While my friends thought that the experience would be a harmless act of cheeky window-watching, I thought of the desperate circumstances that pushed these women to such a place. l felt for them.

I told my friends that God intended our bodies to be holy and acceptable to Him (Romans 12:1), and that as a Christian, l would not pursue the things of this world. Instead, l would pursue God and so should they. Well, as we British say, that went down like a lead balloon. Some of my friends told me straight out that it wasn’t my place to tell them what they should or shouldn’t do, and most of all, what they should believe.

I wanted my friends to know the love of Jesus, but that setback helped me see that l wasn’t responsible for their salvation—they were. God desires each of us to willingly choose a relationship with Him, and I could not force anyone to a choice—whether through shame or other methods. However, l do have an obligation to share the Gospel. Since that awkward incident, l have been learning to minister to my friends in different ways, in the hopes that it would draw them to the light of Christ.

Here are four ways that I’ve learned to reach out to my non-Christian friends:

 

1. Let Our Faith Shine Through Our Lives

l can be a good spokesperson for Christ when my friends see the way l live my life as a Christian. I love the words of Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

One big change that happened after I became a Christian was that I no longer used swear words. Not only did my friends notice this change, but now they actually apologize to me if they accidentally swear in my presence!

Instead of speaking negatively, l now try to use my words to encourage and uplift those around me (1 Thessalonians 5:11). I try to show my friends God’s love by being patient, kind and empathetic with them, just as Jesus is with us.

 

2. Share Testimonies

God is constantly working in our lives, and we get to share it with our friends. When my husband and l were struggling financially, God came through and provided us with income from sources such as friends, an unexpected payment in our account, and even a scholarship for my husband! Not only do my friends get to witness how God has changed my life around, but they also get to learn more about God through what occurs in my life.

I have noticed that my friends are more receptive to hearing about God when they can see a tangible working of His role as a living God and loving Father. Some of my friends have even started attributing good things in their lives to God’s blessings, instead of the result of their hard work or simply luck or fate.

 

3. Create A Safe Space of Mutual Respect

My friends and l have created a safe space in our relationship, where we mutually respect one another, and each person is free to be themselves. We accept each other’s weaknesses and forgive each other when we make mistakes.

I do talk about God with my friends, but l now use discernment and weigh each situation carefully before sharing my opinions, instead of bombarding them with verses from the Bible.

Because of our safe space, my friends feel comfortable in approaching me when they do have questions about God, because they know l will neither judge them nor be sanctimonious towards them.

 

4. Pray for Our Friends’ Salvation

Have you seen the movie War Room? The elderly woman in the movie had a special closet—which she calls her “war room”—set aside for regular, passionate, dedicated prayer on behalf of people around her.

I pray for my friends’ salvation a lot. l have written down a list of people l hope will one day come into a relationship with Christ, and hung this list up in my spare room—my own “war room.” During my quiet time with God, l pray over this list and intercede for my friends and loved ones.

 

My friends may one day choose Christ, or they may not. Either way, l will continue to be friends with them and love them with the love that Christ has shown me.

Having said that, l will not give up hope that, one day, my friends will accept Jesus into their hearts. Until that day comes, l will continue to have faith, believe in God’s mercy, and pray.

3 Ways to Push Through A Dry Season

Written By Madeline Twooney, Germany

Three years ago, l entered a dry season. Up till then, l had been a private school teacher for 14 years; l had worked 75 hours a week, including on the weekends and during school holidays. I was constantly exhausted and struggled to attend church and my home group regularly. To get in some God time, l tried to pray and read my Bible on my daily commute. In April 2016,  my body and my mind gave out and l had a mental breakdown. Consequently, l was diagnosed with burnout and depression, and had to resign.

During the first weeks of my convalescence, l was optimistic that with a bit of rest l would soon get back on my feet. However, as time passed, it became evident that the damage to my health has been greater than what l had initially realized.

Completing everyday tasks overwhelm me. I get panic attacks in open spaces and have been diagnosed with agoraphobia. Severe headaches leave me bedridden, and l often experience stabbing pains in my left arm. I fall into deep pits of depression that last for weeks and have become a social recluse.   

Although l regularly seek the advice of a psychotherapist and other medical experts, l believe ultimately in the power of God to heal. Thus, through prayer and thanksgiving, l lay out my petition of a full recovery to God (Philippians 4:6) every day. However, sometimes it feels like my prayers aren’t reaching God, because l can see only a little improvement in my health. In my darkest moments, l despair whether l will ever experience a healthy, joy-filled life.  

However, after much struggling and griping, I have come to realize that God is using this journey in the wilderness to teach me to completely trust and rely on Him.  

Here are three ways that has been helping me push through the dry seasons:

 

1. Keep my focus on God

The subject of God’s healing, in particular His timing in relation to it, is something l struggle with, and l know l’m not the only one. God says in Jeremiah 30:17 that He will restore health and heal wounds, but He doesn’t say whether that healing will take place in this lifetime; maybe it will occur when He calls us home, or when Jesus returns.

Instead of thinking about the “when”, l try and think about the “who”—I  focus on God and l praise Him for all the times He’s helped me in the past and l thank Him for the time that He will heal me in the future, which l leave to His perfect timing. Praising God despite not seeing a definite change in my health gives me peace in my everyday life, because it keeps my eyes focused on God and not on my circumstances.

This season has also taught me that words have power. Instead of complaining and allowing my situation to control me, l show God my faith—l praise Him not only in my prayers, but l also praise Him out loud as l go about my day. It fortifies my trust in God and reminds me that God is bigger than my problems, not the other way around.

 

2. Keep studying His Word

During this dry season, there have been times when l have wandered around aimlessly as the Israelites did in the desert. I was confused and doubtful as to whether my circumstances would ever change. Like Job, l felt that God had left me alone to fend for myself (Job 23:8-9).

However, God has been with me the entire time in this arid wilderness—my mind and heart just weren’t attuned to hear His voice. Thus, instead of hoping for rain, l had to dig deep inside myself and ask Jesus to stir up His living waters in me (John 37-38).  

Studying the Bible has been a revelation for me: It’s been like discovering a get-to-know-God manual (2 Timothy 3:16). Through His Word, God gives me courage when l am afraid (Isaiah 41:10), strength when l am weak (Isaiah 40:29), and corrects me when l mess up (Hebrews 4:12). On days when l feel disheartened, God meets me where l am (Matthew 11:28).

Studying the Word every day is now a fixed part of my morning routine, alongside prayer, worship, and journaling. It’s not always easy setting aside time every day for study, but the  spiritual comfort and inner peace l gain from doing it motivates me to open up my Bible daily.

Knowing the Word helps me realize that l am fearfully and wonderfully made in Christ and that l shouldn’t believe the lies of the enemy that say otherwise (John 8:44).  

 

3. Keep persevering in faith

Last summer, l started going to the gym. At first, l found it strenuous and my body felt stiff and sore after every workout. Nowadays, my body is accustomed to the physical exertion and l can see muscle definition forming.   

Similarly, l feel like God is using this dry season to grow my spiritual muscles. When l get a panic attack or become depressed, l am learning to hand the situation over to God, instead of allowing it to overwhelm me.  

Though it’s hard, l appreciate that God is using affliction to purify me of emotions that aren’t serving me, such as fear (Isaiah 48:10).

When l first became sick, l was convinced that this trial was designed to fail me. However, the further l push through this season, the more l see God cheering me on, as l learn to seek His face. Through this process, He has renewed my fallen spirit, given me a heart that is hungry for Him, and changed my mindset from that of a victim to that of a victor.  

 

If you are experiencing a dry season right now, let me encourage you that your time in the wilderness is a temporary layover, it is not your final destination.  Stay the course, keep your eyes on God and ask Him to show you what you need to learn from Him to move on through. Keep holding on, you’re going to get through this!