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The Art of Worship

Title: The Art of Worship
Artwork by: Paris Krahn (@pariskrahnart)
Description: 
When I first became a Christian, I didn’t really understand how to worship God. I sang songs on Sundays, and tried to be “Christ-like” in my outward actions, but my heart wasn’t willing to follow God’s will.

I didn’t understand that worship had to begin with growing closer to God in a relationship, and inviting Him, even in the struggles of life, to transform us. (Ezekiel 36:26-27) Worship essentially is the eager and proper response from a heart won over in gratitude, adoration, reverence, repentance, obedience, trust, and desire for more of God. But even if we fail, He is faithful and is willing to give us the grace to begin again. Knowing this, how can we not live our lives for Him in endless worship?

Now I am pursuing God’s call to paint and share my love for the Word of God with others. My goal isn’t just to make pretty artwork, but to point people toward the Author of creation and the Word, and consequently, worshipful living.

 

REDEEM OUR LAND

This piece reflects a prayer I had for God to “heal our land”. However, In order for God to heal our world, we have to let Him into our hearts. He’s the God who will meet us in the muddiest of valleys and willingly breathes new life into us. We don’t need to be afraid to open our secret hearts to God, because He is ever patient and overflowing with grace. He will redeem what was once dark and lifeless into something purposeful in His kingdom, and transform us into new creations who are truly alive!

 

 

HEAVEN’S SONG

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1-2)

Creation bears proof that we have a brilliant Creator, but it also sings back to God in worship, though seemingly silent. God hears the sound of creation loud and clear–it’s an endless Halleluiah. Creation teaches us to praise, even in the dark night or mundane moments. How beautiful it is that right now we can join an ongoing chorus of worship and connect with The Life Breather.

 

 

MEET ME IN THE MORNING

Psalms 143:8 is a morning prayer of reliance. When we rise, we revive our hearts with God’s unfailing love. When we face mountains too hard to scale, or when another day daunts us, He gives us the strength to move forward. What I love most about this passage, is that when we read His word, He speaks life into our weary souls.

“Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” (Psalms 143:8)

 

 

BUTTERCUP

This was the first painting I did after having a baby. I felt inspired to work on it when I sensed God calling me to “begin” again, just as I was, and paint. Completing it gave me the confidence to officially sell my art professionally. Though the original face has been now updated, I feel like it describes my style now, celebrating growth and the worthy pursuit of God’s call in our lives.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

 

How Worship Helped in My Body Image Struggles

Written by Agnes Lee, Singapore

Church was crowded that Sunday. My family and I took seats in the back. A woman standing up from her seat in front of me quickly caught my attention. Her body was perfectly ladylike, with a small waist and a nice hip.

“I wish my body was as beautiful as hers. She is so perfect,” I thought to myself. My build is boyish, and though I have always desired  a tiny, well-defined waist, I most definitely do not have one. This is something I have struggled with for a long time, and I couldn’t help but compare my body with hers.

During worship, such thoughts continued to distract me. It was a battle to stay focused on the songs. The Bible says that believers must worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23), so I kept praying and asking God to remove the struggle from my mind, and to keep me focused on worship. I could not worship in spirit when my mind was struggling to focus. My worship was not truly from my heart. It was just an outward display that is not pleasing in His sight.

One of the songs we sang was “Glory to the Lamb”. I was wrestling with my thoughts when the lyrics suddenly spoke to me—God is all glorious, and He became the lamb that took away our sins. His resurrection conquers all our struggles.

 

I Am Made For God’s Glory

He is greater than my struggle! I can lay my sinful thoughts—of dissatisfaction with my body and distraction during worship—down at His feet. As I surrendered my struggle in God’s presence, I prayed that He would guard my mind and my thoughts so that I could focus on Him.

As the song ended, I felt a prompting in my heart, saying, “Honor me with your body. Follow My ways and My righteousness, and you will be My glory.” At first I wondered if I was out of my mind, because it seemed unimaginable that I could be God’s glory. But now I think I understand what it means: when we choose to walk in His ways and righteousness instead of giving in to our struggles, God is proud of us, just as a father is proud of his own child.

The Bible says in Psalm 139:14 that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and His works are wonderful. God made no error in our creation, and it is God’s intention for each of us to look unique as His handicraft. He has given us different looks and different talents according to His purpose for our lives. It is only by following His ways and His righteousness that we can fulfill God’s unique will for us in each of our lives. When we live out God’s unique purpose for us, we will shine and be His glory.

I realized that there is no need to compare my body with others’, because comparison distracts us from fulfilling God’s unique purpose for each of us (James 3:16, Proverbs 14:30).

 

Walking in God’s Ways

I was moved by this thought. God Himself is already all glorious, but yet He says that we will be His glory when we walk in His ways. The Bible tells us that God created us for His own glory (Isaiah 43:7), and reminds us to live worthy lives, “because God is calling us into His kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12).

God should be our ultimate focus, not the size of our physical bodies. By focusing too much attention on my body shape, I dishonor God and His creation. Instead, I can seek to honor God by not trying to watch my calories, or not exercising excessively in order to look like that skinny model on the runway. In fact, we need not even worry about what we eat, because the Bible reminds us that the kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).

This does not mean that we can eat whatever we want, but if we focus too much on our diet or exercise in seeking to achieve our ideal body shape, we are robbing ourselves of the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit. And by focusing on our body image, we idolize our own bodies. If we idolize our own bodies instead of allowing Jesus to satisfy us, how can we effectively point others to Him?

Because God created us, He counts us as His own. He urges us to turn to Him and live our lives focused on Him, so that we can inherit His kingdom—that has no end—and His eternal glory. My heart stirred with a sense of belonging, that despite my struggles with my body image, God still holds me close and assures me that I am an heir of the glory He would bestow.

I am reminded that our bodies are only temporary tents for our dwelling on earth (2 Corinthians 5:1). As co-heirs with Christ, we can take heart that God will eventually transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body (Philippians 3:21). With these truths in mind, I am determined to walk by faith and not by my own sight, to make it my goal to please Him while I dwell in my earthly body so that one day, I may receive what is promised (2 Corinthians 5:7-10).

For a long time, I felt like I would never be able to surrender my struggles with body image. But God used worship to draw my heart back to Him. He reminded me that my sin is already conquered, and that I am made for His glory.

 

Worship Leads Us to God

I am convinced that worship is meant to lead us back to God. When we worship in spirit and in truth, we come into His presence and allow Him to purify our thoughts. When we keep our minds focused on Him during worship, we set our minds on things above, not on earthly things that will eventually fade away (Colossians 3:2). When we sing praises to God, we fix our minds on the presence of God and allow ourselves to be captivated by His beauty that is beyond comprehension.

As we soak ourselves in His sovereign presence, we begin to surrender our own sinful desires and allow Him to renew our spirit. God is attentive to our needs, and always ready to help us (Psalm 34:15-17). When we give God our whole heart, He will speak into our situation and struggle. Worship is an opportunity for us to lay down our weary struggles at His feet and be purified by Him, so that we can live freely for Him and inherit His glory.

Every now and then, I still struggle with my body image, but each time I come before Him in true worship, He frees me from the weight of my struggles.

When I was a new believer, I used to think that we had worship time so latecomers could arrive before the sermon started and would not miss the beginning of the sermon. But now I realize that each encounter during worship is an opportunity for me to experience God’s powerful presence. I do not want to miss it.

Do Worship Styles Matter?

I was raised in a small, old-fashioned Pentecostal church in New York, USA.

Singing simple hymns every Sunday grew my appreciation for those century-old classics used to praise God. I enjoyed the straightforward and doctrinally sound lyrics, as well as the simplicity and clarity of the music.

I began to think that traditional hymns were the only way to praise God. Having been immensely blessed by them, I figured everyone else felt the same way too. And surely, I thought, God appreciated it since those songs were written by such holy men of old.

When I wasn’t engaged in traditional songs on Sundays, I listened to modern songs at home, at school, or while driving in the car. I listened to plenty of Hillsong, Bethel, Kari Jobe, and so on. But while I was fairly familiar with modern worship songs and enjoyed listening to them, I didn’t value them as much as the traditional stuff. I thought that the sometimes ambiguous lyrics and often atmospheric melodies made for a distracting worship experience, so that I would focus on the music itself, instead of on God. I thought that the modern songs weren’t as deep or meaningful as the hymns I was used to.

At college, my perspective on Christian musical worship broadened. I found myself at a very charismatic Christian university in which chapel service was mandatory, and singing took up a considerable portion of those services. During the singing portion, the lights grew dim, special beam lights turned on, and smoke machines began puffing out clouds of water vapor. Not only was the mood specially set for worship, but people were encouraged to move around and dance. Some even twirled flags along the aisles. The songs were upbeat and had a more interesting musical aura than traditional hymns.

At first, I disliked them because I thought the songs didn’t have the same depth found in hymns. It took me some time to realize it, but I found that if I tried hard and focused on God, I could have a meaningful worship experience in spite of the fact that it was in a style I did not appreciate by nature.

During this time, I began to talk with people who fell on both sides of the worship aisle. I had heard traditionalists criticize modern services by saying things like, “It’s more like a concert than praise to a holy God.” And I’ve likewise heard many modernists say that, “hymns are outdated and from an era of Christian legalism and rigidity.” Being able to converse with people who had such diverse views broadened my perspective on types of singing worship.

 

The Nature Of True Worship

The Scriptures give us several clues about the nature of true worship. When Christ spoke with the woman at the well, He revealed an interesting insight: “. . . the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24).

This verse shows us that we are not to worship God only externally, for others to see. We are called to worship in spirit and truth, which are firstly internal matters. In essence, we are to have a heart of worship—and God alone sees the heart of a person. I also want to note that this goes beyond the kinds of songs we sing at church. Worship is not limited to music. It encompasses one’s entire life—work, family, hobbies, and much more. Worship is much greater than mere singing.

Matthew Henry, a prominent English biblical commentator, once explained that true worship is deep, tucked within the heart of the worshiper and directed toward God. He said that Christ did not institute a way of worship that was clogged by the trappings of Old Testament ceremonies. In that sense, the way of worship that Christ brought to earth was distinct from what was typical. And typical worship back then was external and ceremonial in nature, not personal and internal.

When worshipping, one must hold God as the center, focusing solely on Him. If we worship either to impress others or to appear holier-than-thou, we commit a great mistake. “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3, ESV). We must keep Christ as the object of our worship and ignore the temptations of the flesh to worship for any other reason. It was only when I placed Christ at the center of my focus, that I was able to experience a connection with God regardless of the type of setting I was in.

What Kind Of Worship?

These are revealing clues about the nature of worship, but how does that look? What kind or form of singing is acceptable before the Lord? From my own journey and involvement with various styles of worship services, I can say that I’ve come to a moderate stance. Though I love my hymns, I know God is pleased with a heart of worship, and that means that modern worship songs are just as pleasing to Him as hymns are.

God made everyone an individual—that means every person has his or her own individual perceptions, ideas, and tastes. When I recognized this, I saw worship in a new light. When people jokingly called me outdated for listening to hymns, it wasn’t a matter of whether their style of worship was right and mine was wrong, or that one was better than the other. It was a matter of personal individuality. So it was okay for me to have one preferred style of worship than my neighbor. Though two may eat diverse flavors of ice cream, they both are consuming ice cream, and that is what matters. The definition of ice cream is not dependent on flavor and worship was never defined by style in the Bible; it was more accurately defined by the heart of the worshiper. That is why two “flavors” or styles of musical worship may be equally enjoyed and equally as fruitful to two unique individuals with unique tastes.

In the end, I trust that as long as true worship is the focus, many common pitfalls of false worship will be avoided. God is patient and desires genuine hearts to worship Him. He will lead, guide, prod, and help any heart willing to praise Him.

As a side note, I currently attend services where most of the worship music is contemporary. And I greatly enjoy these services. However, as God made me with my own individual tastes, I often listen to hymns in my private time.

God grants me moving experiences regardless of the worship style, and I believe that anyone can be a true worshiper in most any circumstance. Paul and Silas worshipped in prison without so much as a single instrument (let alone lights, televisions, and an air-conditioned room!). We, too, can worship God if He is the center of our focus and desire.

God desires true worshipers, those who place Him at the center of their praise. When we come with willing hearts, we can trust His guidance and patience to carry us through into the depth and richness of the highest worship, worship that draws us and bonds us to His own loving heart.

 

Texas shooting: The Aftermath

On Sunday, while I was worshipping at my church, a shooting happened just a few miles away at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. It turned out to be the deadliest church shooting in US history. At least 26 died (almost half of them children) and others were injured.

As a fellow Texan, I can say that the whole community is still in the early stages of the grief process. If the five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, we’re somewhere in between denial and anger.

Anger is obvious, because we’re mad something like this could happen.

The denial part is equally strong. To be honest, Texans have a certain pride that things like this can’t happen here. In such a small town, this seems like the most improbable thing. It’s hard for us Texans to wrap our minds around it.

That said, I feel that it’s important and necessary that we work our way through the grieving process, no matter how tough it is. And the first thing to bear in mind is this: We can grieve.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Paul talked to the church about grief. “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.” Paul never told the Thessalonian believers not to grieve; he told them to grieve from a place of hope.

This hope, I believe, can propel us to go beyond the “acceptance” stage of the grieving process to a sixth stage that is available to believers. That stage is “worship”.

As believers, we can land somewhere greater than just accepting the negative circumstances. With faith and hope available to us, we can go beyond mere acceptance and turn it into worship towards God. We can turn it into giving to others. We can turn it into doing the hard thing out of love. We can turn it into gratitude for what God has given us.

While this tragic turn of events might seem extra heart-breaking in light of the upcoming Christmas season, I’d like to suggest that we change our perspective and see the opposite instead. Not only should the approaching Christmas season give us hope and comfort, it can teach us how to process this sixth stage of grief. And Mary’s a great example of how to do it.

When she found out she was pregnant, Scripture tells us that she accepted her fate. But she was human, just like you and me. This young girl’s expectations for her life were shattered by something God did. Surely she felt these emotions too:

  • Denial that God would do such a thing to her. How could that even happen? How could a virgin become pregnant—much less with the Son of God?
  • Anger that her expectations for her life wouldn’t be met. Why did she have to be given an abnormal pregnancy?
  • Bargaining with God to find someone else to do this. After all, she was already engaged and about to be married to Joseph. Surely God could find someone else who didn’t have so much at stake to do this.
  • Depression over the loss of a scandal-less marriage and nice, quiet honeymoon season.

Mary probably experienced a lot more mental turmoil. But Scripture focuses on what she did after the fifth stage of acceptance. Mary’s faith not only led her to acceptance, but ultimately, also to worship.

One of the most beautiful songs from Scripture was birthed out of this grief-turned-to-worship moment.

For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.

—Luke 1:49-50 (NLT)

That’s what happens when we let God speak into the areas of our heart that disappointment or tragedy exposes. We have the opportunity to respond with worship. By giving to others. Praising God. Loving the unlovable. By focusing on God instead of ourselves. Appreciation pours from our hearts and turns into worship.

I’m working on letting my grief turn into worship through these circumstances. I’m trying to help my friends walk through this process too. Let’s add faith to our acceptance and see worship result from this tragedy. God can get glory through this.