After the many prayers and pleas had been spoken over the congregation in humble praise, and over the now evident sniffles of those present, I asked everyone to open their eyes.
"Are we worshiping yet?" I asked.
The loud yet inaudible response I received was breathtaking. I could see it in their eyes. I could sense it in their demeanor. The Holy Spirit was at work in this place. And that was exactly the point.
The brilliant A.W. Tozer writes:
The stark, tragic fact is that the efforts of many people to worship are unacceptable to God. Without an infusion of the Holy Spirit there can be no true worship. This is serious. It is hard for me to rest peacefully at night knowing that millions of cultured, religious people are merely carrying on church traditions and religious customs and they are not actually reaching God at all.
I can offer no worship wholly pleasing to God if I know that I am harboring elements in my life that are displeasing to Him. I cannot truly and joyfully worship God on Sunday and not worship Him on Monday. I cannot worship God with a glad song on Sunday and then knowingly displease Him in my business dealings on Monday and Tuesday.
Steven Baxter writes in ALIVE Magazine -
“Given the way we do church today it’s not surprising that many see worship and singing as synonymous. Neither is it surprising to note that the ‘praise and worship industry’, is big business. Sometimes you get the impression that worship is primarily for us — to meet our needs, and that it’s about feeling good with yourself, God and the world. However worship, like a multifaceted diamond, is much more than that… For Christians praise of God is natural, however it is simply not all there is to worship.”
And the part that rocks me to my core -
“Worship is not a part of life, it is life"
Perhaps this is what Paul was getting at when he said -
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
- 1 Corinthians 10:31 (NIV)
Worship cannot be reduced to a few songs, a Scripture reading, a sermon, and a closing prayer. It is a whole life of submission to the call of God that comes to us in the proclamation of good news. The early Christians never seem to use the phrase "going to church" or "planning a worship service". It appears to me that, for them, these were not only inseparable concepts, but inseparable commands - to live fully and completely devoted to the call of Christ, in all things. Everywhere. At all times.
And it struck me. So many people attend church services every weekend who are absolutely terrified to sing, and yet endure twenty-minutes of participatory music every week. For many, their voice is their greatest insecurity, and I can only imagine how many feel inclined to lip-sync during each service to avoid appearing withdrawn.
Now I know that there is certainly merit for stretching ourselves and being places in situations outside of our sphere of comfort, and I for one even enjoy being silent during many of these times and simply listening to the voices of my brothers and sisters wash over me. But is is possible that our perspective, and as a result, our execution is fragmented when we fail to examine and explore worship experiences independent from music? As a musicians myself, this is a painful but necessary endeavor.
So I then asked our congregation to grab their bulletins and turn to the blank page I put in there. I asked them to take the following two minutes and simply practice the discipline of "worship writing." I told them that it could be a letter of thanks to God for His many provisions, it would be a cry for help amidst a painful situation, or even just an honest confession of the burdens that needed to be surrendered wholly to Him. Whatever it was they chose, I challenged them to be as honest and transparent with themselves and with God as they could manage.
"We're not going to collect these and post them on the wall so everyone can see your shortcomings", I assured them. "Let your written words be an expression of your honest worship".
Once the allotted two minutes had passed, I began to transition into the next element of our service. But to my surprise, people continued to write. And write. And write. I was certain that what I was saying wasn't nearly captivating enough to demand such fervent note-taking, and paused for just a moment to enjoy the opportunity to watch so many "quiet souls" eagerly offer their written praise.
And I smiled, as I saw the God of the massive, loud, and dramatic, move so intimately among us in the still, small, and quiet. That with simple ink and paper, we communed with the Sovereign One.