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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?

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.