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Moving From Guilt to Freedom

Written By Deborah Lee, Singapore

My heart was tense. I kept remembering the recent conversation with my former church leader. I had explained to her my decision to leave for a new church,* and apologized for letting her down.

But she was visibly upset, and directed hurtful, accusing words at me. After that conversation, I tried texting her once a week, but her reply was always short— “I’m fine. Thank you.” The last time I texted her, she stopped replying altogether.

This leader had been a great help to me during my discipleship journey. I remember when she first brought me to the church five years ago. I was facing some complex family issues then, and she was one of the persons who directed me to God and showered me with love.

I grew spiritually in that church. I was grateful for the comfort they provided, and I made a promise to stay faithful to the church and to eventually bring my family there for worship. But that never happened, and now with my departure, it won’t be happening at all.

I felt helpless, and God seemed so far away. I was so consumed by that feeling of helplessness that I woke up one Sunday morning, and didn’t feel like worshipping God. But I figured I should at least go to church and listen to the sermon, so I eventually dragged myself out of bed.

 

The Bondage That Held Me

As the worship leader led us to begin singing the song “No Longer Slaves,” I remember praying, “Lord, show me what is hindering me. I just want to worship you.”

God brought to light my guilt over leaving my previous church. While it was not necessarily wrong for me to leave, I felt guilty for not fulfilling my promise to my former church leader.

I had also raised my voice during the discussion with my church leader. I was defensive and somewhat bitter as I explained my reasons for leaving. Hence, I was guilty also for taking offense instead of seeking peace (1 Peter 3:11, Matthew 5:9). I should have answered with gentleness and respect (Proverbs 15:1), thus keeping a clear conscience. Instead, I sinned, and in turn, led my church leader further into sin also.

As we continued singing, I became immersed in the lyrics: I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God. . . We’ve been liberated from our bondage, we are the sons and daughters, let us sing our freedom. . .

I found myself lifting up my hands as we sang. Tears filled my eyes as I recalled how the Lord had rescued me again and again in the past. Though I have faced many tough situations, the Lord has always carried me and walked me through my darkest moments.

At the end of the song, I felt as if God were speaking into my heart, “Don’t hold onto the guilt of leaving anymore. Look at My redemptive work on the cross. Lay down your burden; I will carry it. You are no longer a slave. You are mine. Be set free.”

 

Where Freedom Is Found

As I shared my worship experience with a trusted friend, she pointed me to Romans 8:1-4. If we are in Christ, there is no condemnation; the Spirit is life-giving and sets us free from the power of sin and death. No matter what mistake we have made, Christ has died to set us free from condemnation. As long as we put our faith in Him, His sacrifice on the cross justifies us. No human work can do or undo this justification.

When we live according to the Spirit by faith, we can repent, experience Christ’s forgiveness, and move on by His grace even if the person we have wounded has not yet forgiven us. Our flesh is weak. We do things we should not. But there is power at the cross. At the same place where God freely offers forgiveness when we ask, there is a redemptive work that empowers us to live differently—to let go of guilt, and focus on leading a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in every way and bearing fruit in His kingdom (Colossians 1:10-12).

Through the worship on Sunday morning, God taught me to focus on the power of His cross—even in our confusion and brokenness, it brings both healing and direction for a way forward.

Though my former church leader has yet to forgive me, I know that God already has. Because I am set free from the guilt, I can now pray without hindrance for my church leader to also find healing at the redemptive work on the cross. I continue to pray for the eventual reconciliation of our relationship.

 

* I do not encourage changing churches lightly. No church is perfect, and generally we should remain in our home church and seek to grow spiritually there, encouraging and supporting one another to grow in Christ. However, if you do feel led to move on to a new church, it should be done only after careful consideration, a period of prayer, seeking the Lord through reading His Word, and counsel from mature Christian mentors or church elders.

Editor’s Picks: Best of What Makes You Beautiful

Try as we might to stop it, modern society’s ever-changing standards of beauty seem to constantly creep into our thinking and impression of our self-worth. But God, as our creator, designed each of us exactly the way that we are, with great intention.

What do we do when we struggle to like how He’s made us?

How God Revealed My Misconceptions Of Worship

Written By Bella Newberry, USA

For the past year and a half, I have been serving with a missions organization. This means that I have been on the move for quite some time now, not feeling like I have a place to call home. I have been surrounded by the unfamiliar, from food to language and culture. Through all these changes, I have found it hard to worship God. I didn’t know what it looked like to worship the Lord daily in the midst of confusion.

So often I think of worshipping God as an amazing experience in church—where the music is great, the lights are dimmed, and everyone seems to be in awe of the Creator. But overseas, I often do not know the language well enough to understand the worship songs. The music is different than what I am used to. That is when I saw that worship is not only in the moments before a sermon at church. It was something more.

But what? I asked the Lord for guidance, sought counsel from others, and spent time studying the Bible over the last few months trying to answer this question. Each of these things brought some peace, but I was still asking God, “What’s next? How can I glorify You when I feel like I’m constantly confused and things are uncertain?”

I’m not naturally an angry person, but anger and frustration have crept upon me this past year. I’ve found myself discouraged, in tears, not even knowing the cause of all the pain.

At the time I was reading the gospel of Matthew, and I remember longing to hear the words of Jesus—His love and gentleness was marked on every page. In those moments of reading and praying, I felt that I truly had the comfort of Jesus. Even though I might be uncertain and unsatisfied, He was there. Each morning I read through the gospel of Matthew, I saw how present Jesus is. I also saw some people who worshipped Jesus just once after He performed a healing or miracle, while in contrast, the disciples followed Jesus every day, giving up their livelihood to be with Him.

 

What Worship Really Looks Like

The New Testament uses different Greek words to describe worship. Some words, such as proskyneo (John 4, Revelation, etc.), bring to mind the image of someone falling down and paying homage, kissing another’s hand, or bowing down. Other words, such as latreia (Romans 12:1) and its close cousin latreuo (Romans 1:9, Hebrews 12:28, etc.), mean to serve or to minister to. I see these words and think how wonderful it is, that our worship of the Living God can be an act of falling down or bowing down, but it can also be the act of rendering service, which implies an active choice to daily serve.

That changed the way I approached and thought about worship: Worshipping God is not limited to a great church service. Worshipping the Lord is a daily choice, to serve Him and represent Him well as an image-bearer.

Though there are times when it’s still difficult, I am learning to worship God by serving Him—in all circumstances and in every season of life. Worship happens when I can sit and read the words of Jesus; it happens when I acknowledge that all my security is in the Lord alone.

When I’m overwhelmed with emotions—I worship Him. When I feel aimless—I worship Him. When the future feels uncertain—I still worship Him. I don’t do this because I have the strength to—I have seen how weak I truly am—I worship because He is worthy.

I haven’t done this perfectly, but I am learning to continue serving Him. I have worshipped Him through ministry, serving others, and acknowledging Him as Lord of my life. Some days this looks like praying for people, other days teaching the Bible, other days reminding myself of biblical truths, and still other days the “glorious” work of doing dishes. Worship can look like so many different things because we are made in the image of God, which means in all things we do we have the opportunity to represent Him. It is not limited to Sunday service or ministry we are involved in once a week—everyday in every moment, there is opportunity to worship God.

On the mission field I have been given wonderful opportunities that I know I do not deserve. But I realized, one day while washing dishes after one of the smallest Bible studies I have ever attended (only one woman and her two children showed up besides those who work at the church), that my service to the Lord does not always have to be this amazing act of sharing the gospel or saving someone’s life, my service can simply be to wash everyone’s dishes with joy.

I have seen that all my purpose comes from the Lord. No matter how overwhelmed I get in life, when I choose to remain faithful, it is a sacrificial act of worship: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship”(Romans 12:1).

When we’re confronted with our weaknesses in the midst of changes, remember that when we are weak, Christ’s strength is made perfect. I am not called to be perfectly strong, but as a believer I am simply called to obey my good Father, trusting Him with the rest. I have not found all the answers to my questions, but I have found that Jesus is faithful and because of that, I can still worship God in my day to day life. We worship the Lord by remembering His faithfulness despite our weakness. We worship in every season, and in every change.

When I Didn’t Encounter God During Worship

What comes to mind when you think about worship?

Or more specifically, what do you think of when it comes to singing in church?

For me, it used to involve emotional music, closed eyes, and of course, raised hands. Every Sunday, I’d look forward to the half an hour or so before the sermon where the lights in my church’s auditorium would be dimmed and the musicians would come on stage. The drummer would tap his sticks together three times and all together, the band would play.

Most of the time, the set involved two fast songs and two slow songs—except the times when the mood was “extra spiritual”—then maybe it would be one fast song, and three slow songs.

And while the fast praise songs were loads of fun, I have to say the highlight for me was always the slow worship songs. This was when things quietened down a bit, and the worship leader encouraged the congregation to shut everyone around us out as we focused on God.

I can remember many a Sunday spent singing my heart out, eyes tightly shut. At first, I’d feel very self-conscious about the people to my left and right. “Is it weird that I’m so into this?” was a question often at the back of my mind. But I’d trudge ahead, trying my best to forget that I was in a corporate setting and imagine the moment as one shared intimately between just God and myself.

Slowly but surely, as I repeated the lines of the song’s chorus, emotions would start to well up within me, bubbling up like a pot of water approaching boiling point. And before I knew it, they’d release in the form of tears streaming down my face.

This moment—when singing culminated in some sort of emotional release—always seemed to be my desired result of corporate worship. If I experienced those feelings, then I could call it a job well done. I’d done my part as a worshipper.

Over the years I’ve heard many explanations for this phenomenon: a touch from God, His presence falling on me, entering His presence, an encounter with God—these were just some of the phrases that pastors and worship leaders have used to describe the experience.

The problem was, for every time I can remember experiencing this, there were many more times when I didn’t. As much as I would try, I wouldn’t feel anything. No matter how tightly I clamped my eyelids shut, no matter how many times I passionately repeated the lines of a familiar chorus, the stirring of feelings within me just wasn’t sufficient to count as “a touch from God”.

In those times, my worship felt like a failure.

This was more or less my general attitude towards corporate singing until one day, I attended a meeting at my university’s Christian campus ministry. I had been joining in their small group Bible studies, but this was the first time that I’d gone for one of their weekly corporate meetings.

It had been a tough week of classes and I was feeling particularly worn out. An encounter with God and His presence was just what I needed.

But I found myself sorely disappointed.

First of all, the lights weren’t dimmed. In fact, all of the lights were turned on. This meant that it was easy to see that almost no one had their eyes closed while they were singing. On the contrary, their eyes were mostly trained on the lyrics projected onto the screen. I suppose this was a necessity because the set that night didn’t include the usual popular catchy songs that were played at my church. Instead of memorized lyrics, we were singing hymns with melodies that were as dated as their verbose verses. To make matters worse, not one hand was raised.

Needless to say, not a single tear ran down my cheek that night, and I didn’t experience any encounter.

My shock at the state of their corporate singing was only compounded by the fact that these people seemed to really love Jesus, and in all other aspects seemed very devoted to following Him. Why then, was it not reflected in the way they worshipped?

This question was at the top of my mind a few weeks later when I had the chance to sit down with the campus pastor.

When I brought it up, he duly pointed me to a passage in the Bible which has since changed the way that I approach corporate singing:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-20)

Here, we see that singing in church isn’t about ourselves—it’s about God.

That probably wasn’t news to you. But what was surprising to me is that singing in church is not just about God, it’s also about the other people in the church. Paul tells us to speak to one another with “psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:19). That means that we’re not just singing to God, but we’re also meant to sing to each other.

As I processed this, I thought about how by singing truth to each other, we’re encouraging each other. Depending on the song, we’re reminding the people next to us—who might have had a terrible week or could be facing incredible pressures—about the gospel, about how great God is, or about the amazing grace that He has shown us. I know I’ve personally had moments where witnessing others worshipping has encouraged me to continue living a gospel-centred life.

I remember feeling so rebuked by Paul’s words in Ephesians as I realized I had made worship and singing all about myself and what I had felt during the songs when instead I should have been thinking more about encouraging the fellow believers beside me as we sing about the goodness of God.

To top it off, verse 18 suggests that singing to one another is a sign of being filled with the Spirit. In other words, it’s what truly spiritual singing in church should look like. For me, that was a huge break from what I had traditionally seen as a spiritual experience during the worship music portion of a service—which had previously been all about feeling some sort of emotional release.

That’s why today, ticking off the box of a spiritual encounter is no longer my agenda when worshipping. When I sing in church, I still sing as passionately as I possibly can. But instead of chasing a feeling, or an experience, I approach singing with a sense that I’m actively participating with my God-given family, following the Holy Spirit-inspired instructions of Paul the Apostle!