Some time ago I started about thinking about what I felt were major lessons I’ve learned about worship. I started collecting the thoughts in a simple list to organize them for review and further development. Over time I would continue to add to it as I thought of more things. Below is a list of some of the most impactful lessons I’ve learned. This list is not all-inclusive and the items are not in any particular order.
1. Worship is a choice we make. We can choose to worship or we can choose not to worship. Many times we mistake worship as an emotion that drives us to sing. Worship may involve emotions at times, but emotions are not necessary. In fact, at times, they may hinder us from worshiping God. I believe some of the worship that pleases God most is when we can find our song in the middle of the storm.
2. Being in God’s presence should lead us to a response. Isaiah 6:1-8 is a great example of this. Isaiah responded in 3 ways when he encountered the presence of God. 1) He realized “I’m a sinful man” (vs 5). Being in the presence of a Holy God reveals how unholy we are. 2) He was cleansed from his sin. Even though being in the presence of a Holy God reveals our sin, God, lavishing His love on us, forgives our sin. (vs 7) 3) Isaiah responded with “Here I am, send me.” (vs 8). Being in God’s presence — seeing His holiness and having our sins forgiven — should lead us to respond to His call.
Having said that, it’s important to note that the response could look different from person to person. When we approach God we bring with us our past, traditions, hurts, etc. and all these things play into how we respond as well. The important thing is not how we respond, but that we respond.
3. Worship is the pathway to freedom.2 Corinthians 3:17 says, “For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” What has a hold on you, what weight are you dragging around? Freedom only comes from the Father. Run to your Father and allow him to show you His grace.
4. Worship is not an option.Without worship we will never manage life the way God intended (Genesis 1:28) because God never planned for us to have dominion over the earth without His help. God gave us worship as the pathway for the Holy Spirit into our lives. If we unplug from the Holy Spirit, we end up making a mess of life — just watch the news. (i.e. unhealthy conflict, sky-high divorce rates, poverty)
On the other hand, when we spend time in God’s presence and are transformed into Christ’s image, we begin to make decisions based on God’s Word and the direction of the Holy Spirit. Then, when we find ourselves with relational conflict, for example, we now approach that conflict with a Christ-like heart.
5. Worship doesn’t stop when the song stops. Over the years of leading many in worship, I have noticed that when a song stops there are those who disengage while waiting for the next song. I can understand why we have this misunderstanding. In most other areas of life, when the song ends, we are waiting for the next song to begin. However, a few years back I came to this crazy revelation: songs are not worship, so therefore worship doesn’t end because the beat stops.
My encouragement to every one of us, as worshippers, is to continue to worship God in the space between songs. Use that time to express your own heart for God and allow God to express His heart for you!
6. Worship is not simply, or even mostly, singing. There are many acts of worship that don’t involve singing. For example, 1 Samuel 15 says obedience is better than sacrifice. Worship is giving worth to something. We show worship to God when we are obedient to Him, when we show His love to others, when we look after those who cannot take care of themselves and yes, when we sing, clap, bow down and shout to God.
7. Worship crowds out doubt and releases vital faith.This is one of my favorite quotes from Jack Hayford’s book Manifest Presence. A glass can only hold so much liquid before something is displaced. Our hearts are the same way. It’s not just a matter of willing yourself to have faith or pretending that doubt, fear and anger do not exist. In worship we bring the real us – what is authentic – not what ought to be in us. If doubt, fear, or anger is where we are at the moment, it becomes part of our offering. As we yield ourselves in consistent, authentic worship, we allow the Holy Spirit to renew our hope and cheer. (Psalm 94:19)
8. The devil’s #1 goal is to stop us from worshipping and he will do this by any means possible.Ok…who really knows what the devil’s #1 goal is. Let’s just say it’s a high priority for him. Why? Psalm 115:1-8 says that we become like the god we worship; therefore, if we worship God, we will start to exhibit more Christ-like qualities in our lives.
Conflict. Distraction. Guilt. Shame. These are all tactics the enemy employs to keep us from worshipping God, our source for life and peace (see #4 above). When the enemy uses one of these tactics on us, know that God’s love for us is more vast than the oceans, His blood has already covered all of our sins, His grace is more than enough, and that warmth we feel is Christ’s righteousness clothing us. James 4:7-8 says, “Resist the enemy and he will flee. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” So, one of the ways we can resist him is to begin to worship God.
9. Worship isn’t about adhering to a formula.Worship a conversation with God and that conversation changes dynamically from week to week, day to day, and moment to moment. The “glory days” were glorious, but God will do something awesome in and for every generation that humbles themselves before Him and He’ll do it in a way that speaks to us at that period of time. And, as a worship leader, I have to pick on us for a moment. Just because a dynamic dip and subsequential dynamic build feels good emotionally doesn’t mean it’s the Holy Spirit.
I don’t want to alienate any group of people with my comments, but they are 2 examples that remind us there is no box that we can hold God in. The Israelites found this out the hard way when they took the ark into battle, the same way they had done before, and lost the battle and the ark (1 Samuel 4). The only equation that will help you sense God’s presence is: humility + yieldedness = acute sensitivity to God’s presence.
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