I was once in a Christian meeting (it was a worship service of sorts) and the woman conducting the meeting wouldn’t let the service stop until everyone’s hands were raised. She looked around the room and saw arms folded, a couple smug faces, and stillness. “The music will not stop and this meeting will not be over until every one of you is closing your eyes, raising your hands and worshiping GOD! Just look at the price he paid for you, and you’re just standing there with no response. He deserves to be worshiped and he will be.” She skipped to the next song. Not much reaction. She began to call out individuals by name and demand that they repent of their attitudes and lift their hands to god. A few listened, but not all. Eventually, the few that wouldn’t budge, made her crack.
The service ended with her breaking down into tears. I remember her saying these words as she cried, “If you don’t love God, you’ll go to hell. I love you all so much. I would rather you guys were never born than for you to live and not love God and go to hell.”
In my world, the purpose of human existence was to worship God. And it was for the next life too. I was told over and over that worshiping God is what we will be doing for all eternity. A glorious giant worship service, all fixed with angels and golden streets, on and on and on. Worship was truly “the song that never ends.”
Worship was a big deal in my culture.
I have no problem with worship.
I have no problem with God.
Those are good things.
But along my journey, I noticed something about our approach to worship that didn’t line up well, or sit right with me. And it was mainly this…
our version of it.
What is worship?
We talked about how Jesus died on the cross because God so loved the world, and how humans, having received this love of God are officially in the response position.
Worship was response. Directional, from you to God.
Jesus gave it all, now it’s your turn.
That was worship in my culture.
Close your eyes, focus your mind, and, when you’re ready, lift your hands and voice, and shout to god with a voice or triumph. Give thanks to the lord for all that he’s done! Sing his praises! Worship him! Worship him! Do what David did. Rip your clothes off and dance! Be not ashamed of who’s watching. For the lord deserves it and you’re worshiping Jehovah, Jesus, the Great God of glory!
Obviously you can see the Bible verses strung throughout the previous paragraph. And we could list hundreds more.
Jesus gave his life and now you need to emotionally, affectionately, passionately, verbally, bodily, mentally, do something (preferably every Sunday morning and Wednesday night) to show him gratitude.
Show him you understand the story.
Show him you appreciate what he did.
Because, that’s why he died…because he wanted that response.
That’s why God created the world.
That’s why God created human beings.
He needed someone to sing songs to him…forever.
“Whenever you bring your gift to the alter, and you remember your friend is offended with you, leave your gift (directed toward God) and go to them. Once you do that, then come back here.”
There’s a time when God sends you away.
When He won’t receive what you’re bringing to Him.
When you go to perform worship and he says, “Don’t do it. I want something else. You may want this, but I don’t.”
Because something else is more important.
I noticed that the church never talked about what worship was—to God, or asked him what it was to Him. It sort of said, “God, I don’t care what worship is to you. This is what it is to me, why I do it, and I’m giving it to you!!!” It focused so much on how you needed to do it and what to do, that it never stopped and asked, “Why are we doing this?”
And that’s a really, really good question…
Why do humans feel the need to worship?
What’s behind it?
What motivates it?
Because that’s what’s really going on, and God (in his genius) probably sees that too.
But before we answer that I want to propose a theory, a worldview, a philosophy.
IF HUMANS PAUSED LONG ENOUGH TO THINK ABOUT WHO THEY WERE WORSHIPING, I DON’T THINK THEY’D WORSHIP AS MUCH, AND IN FACT, THEY MIGHT JUST STOP WORSHIPPING ALL-TOGETHER.
I know that sounds outlandish, but let me explain.
Once upon a time, I fell in love. Hard, fast and completely. Her name was Anna. She was beautiful, dazzling and perfect. Anna is now my wife. What a cool story.
We started “going out” and we “went out” sooo good. Coffees, restaurants, drive-in movie theaters. It was the best. We talked til’ wee hours of the night (still do), losing sleep like love zombies. It was intoxicating and scary and life changing.
One of my main methods of having fun and spending time together was going out to eat. It was like—my go-to-move. My cute way of puffing my feathers and showing her what the future would hold if she chose me. “You’re hungry babe? How bout a 9 course meal?”
On one of those dates, we were sitting in a restaurant and she says, “We go out to eat a lot. We don’t have to, you know? I’d be just as happy eating carrots and crackers at home.”
When she said that, I felt a couple things.
- Slight offense, because she was rejecting my game, or, telling me it wasn’t as important to her as I thought it was. I was bringing ‘it’ to win her over, and the thing I was doing to win her over she was saying didn’t matter. My effort, attempts, genius, heart, plans, money, was essentially going to nothing. I was wasting time and effort and could have been doing something…simpler.
- Lightness – like a thousand pounds lifted. After processing through the feelings of my game being rejected, I felt super light. Because I was actually getting something better. If she would have been won over by all that exertion, I would have had to keep it up for a life time. She didn’t need all that to be impressed, to fall in love, to choose me. She was ok with just carrots…crackers and…me.
What’s so interesting about love, is how different it is for both sides. What one person thinks the other person wants, isn’t necessarily what that person wants. Two people can spin round and round trying to impress, win over, romance, and woo that other person, completely “missing the mark” the whole time.
Most of this is created because of separation;
because the relationship hasn’t been solidified yet;
because you don’t really know what the other person thinks of you;
because you don’t know where you stand yet…
So, how does this relate to worship?
Can you see it yet?
Imagine if Anna said what she did to me and I just brushed it off and kept on my same course. Or, maybe, added it to the agenda but kept my game plan as priority. “Sure babe, we’ll eat carrots and crackers, like once a week, but you’re so beautiful, and you deserve the world, so I’m still taking you out the other 6 nights of the week. You just don’t know your worth…how much you deserve. I’ll show you. Just let me love you babe.”
It’s amazing what we can do, thinking it’s love.
It’s amazing how our own idea of showing love, if we’re not careful, can become our definition of love…and not be love.
And I think we do this with God…with worship…with showing him our love.
Back to some text—
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.”
In other words, “If you’re trying to love me, show me love, win me over, interact with me, show me you’re someone I can spend my life with…I don’t need a restaurant every night. I don’t need to go to the movies. I appreciate it, but pretty soon, like, the next time you ask me to a movie, I may just turn you down. I may just ask if we can go for a walk in the park. I may ask you for something different than what you had in mind. I may reject your gift, and be honest with you about what I really want. And if you don’t understand, you’re welcome to go to the movie by yourself.”
Back to Amos…
“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-ending stream!”
In other words, “You know what I really want?”
“I just want carrots and crackers…”
Here’s where it get’s interesting.
He then asks “Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings those forty years you spent in the wilderness, children of Israel?”
In other words, “That whole time I took care of you and provided for you and guided you, was it because you were singing and sacrificing and doing religious stuff?”
“Because I took care of you regardless of your worship. But now you’re doing something different.”
In other words, “Do you think worship get’s you something?”
Could that be what’s behind the worship we give? This idea that it gets God to pay attention, warms his heart, and then encourages him to protect, bless, and love us?
Is that why we worship?
He says next, “You lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal or your idols, the star of your god — which you made for yourselves.”
“THE SHRINE OF YOUR KING. THE STAR OF YOUR GOD. WHICH YOU MADE FOR YOURSELVES.”
How can God say they’re worshipping the shrine of “their god,” if he’s their GOD? So, perhaps, they’re worshipping a different God when they worship this way?
What we’re seeing here, is that God says, “Remember when you did nothing?
Remember when you were helpless and lost and dependent and had nothing to offer but receive from me?
Remember that time?
But something’s changed, and you call it worship. You call it singing, and festivals and assemblies, and I detest it. It’s not what I want. If you want to have a relationship with me, you’ll have to actually think about what I want, what life is from my perspective. This worship thing you’re doing…is FOR YOU, NOT FOR ME.”
And some might say that it says in Psalms to, “Sing joyfully before the lord.” Or, “Shout unto God with a voice of triumph.” And other parts, “I will bless the lord, oh my soul.” Great points. The psalms are covered with worship pictures and declarations. But we have to remember something. Those were coming from David. And here’s something to know about David, he still didn’t have it right.
I know he’s often quoted as being the best worshiper (if there is such a thing), the founder of modern praise music. I mean, most of our hymns are taken from stuff he wrote.
So let me explain why, even though the psalms may be covered in what we, today, call worship, according to God, they were still, maybe, something else.
One night David said to himself, “I will build a house for God. I’m in this beautiful place full of cedar. It’s majestic and big and expensive. God is out there being carried around in a box. That doesn’t seem fair. If I get a big house, so should God, and I’m going to build it.”
Later, God goes to the prophet and says, “Tell David I heard him saying to himself that he will build a house for me. Tell him no he will not. Tell him that ever since I brought my people out of Egypt I have been content to wander to and fro, through the desert, with no need of a house. No, it is not in the heart of God to build a house for himself, but in the heart of man. Tell David he will not build a house for me, but I will build a house for him. In fact, I will build you a throne—a dynasty of kings. When you die, I will raise up one of your offspring and I will make his kingdom strong. Your house and your throne will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.”
A couple things to notice here.
One, that David actually thought God was confined to a box.
Two, David looked at his own surroundings and came up with an idea he thought God would like. God didn’t.
Three, God says it is not in God’s heart to have this done, it was in David’s.
Four, God sees it differently. God says, “I know you want to do something for me, but it doesn’t work that way. I’m doing something for you.”
What we see here is the beginning of a thought process that never was corrected. David did not head this warning, instead, he misinterpreted God saying, “I will make a covenant with you David, and one of your sons will sit on your throne and will be king forever.” David didn’t understand what God meant by this, so, taking it quite literally, when he died he gave 666 measures of gold to his son Solomon and commissioned him to build the temple of the Lord. This dream David had early on, was off base. The imagination he had in his head of what it meant to worship and serve and do something for God was off. Even when confronted, he kept going.
So yes, praise and songs and lyrics and instruments are all over the psalms. That’s what they are—songs. But when we look at Davids viewpoint and see where he was coming from, we have to ask: was it all worship to God? Or was it David’s idea of worship? Did God have something else in mind?
Breathing is about pressure. We open up, surrender, collapse, relax, and create a vacuum—and the oxygen around us goes into our lungs. Our lungs take it in and transport it throughout the blood. We receive pure, precious, life-giving substance, and then exhale.
We breathe in oxygen, we breathe out carbon dioxide.
What came in was life giving, what goes out is poisonous (to an extent).
It’s less pure, corrupted and un-breathable unless mixed and filtered with more air around it.
What we take in, is purer and better than what we give out.
I’m not saying singing a song to God is bad, but I am saying there’s something better.
The inhale, is holier than the exhale.
Growing up, not entirely, but mostly, I was taught about the exhale of worship. The singing, the hands, the dancing, the response, the rejoicing…what you did for and to God.
Worship was primarily, a response.
Worship was focused on God.
And because it’s so focused on the exhale, worship was like breathing in what you just breathed out. If you place a bag over your mouth and do that for too long, without any new or fresh intake you’ll die fairly quickly.
But rarely, if ever, did the voice of the prophet come in and say, “Have you ever wondered what worship is to God? How can you sing? How can you walk, move, live, exist? Where does that all come from? This CO2 you’re breathing out, what was it before it entered your body and exited?
This thing you’re doing, is it in it’s purest form?” Because that’s what we tell ourselves, “This thing I’m doing, is in it’s purest form.”
Before you sing, dance, jump up and down, and focus on God, start with what God is focusing on. Ask yourself, “what’s on God’s mind? Before you take her out to dinner again, put yourself in her shoes and ask; what does she really want?”
When I started to realize my inhale was purer than my exhale, I started to relax. I started to worship in reverse. I started to let myself be loved, first. To just breathe first, focusing on that question, “All those years I wandered in the desert, was it because of my singing and sacrifices and festivals and vows—all the stuff I was doing for God?” No.
It’s like a mother, feeding and holding and caring and protecting her baby. No mother does this only waiting for the day the baby can learn to talk and say “Thanks mom. You’re the best.” No, she only thinks of the present moment. And though it costs her her energy and time and sacrifice, it’s gift love at it’s best: laying oneself down for the love of another—for joy. As the mother sings her baby to sleep, though the baby is unaware and unable to give back in the same way, she’s receiving her own reward—the reward of her own love.
So we start there.
Remembering, this is God. “That he first loved us.”
So may worship be an inhale. A silent, calm, precious, breathe; eyes closed like a child, unaware of the bills and duties and pressures that surround it, because it’s in great arms.
The inhale says “Receive. Take this reality, this gift in fully. Don’t ask questions. Don’t rush to pay back or respond. Just accept it and let it do it’s work.” For when we receive fully, we see the voice, the calm, the care, the protection, was looking for nothing, but to love you.
As Solomon wrote, “Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If one were to give all the wealth of ones house for love, it would be utterly scorned.” There is an aspect to this thing of life, God, Spirit, Love, that asks us to sit back and let it do what it does. And, if we try to pay it back, even selling all the goods of our house for it, one translation says, “the gift would be utterly scorned.” We cannot pay back this thing. It’s good. It’s there. It’s constant. All the singing and dancing and crying and offerings in the world won’t make it increase or decrease. So we learn to inhale, and let it be.
May it be thoughtless, keeping no record of give and take, content to just receive the manna from heaven that is bestowed day after day, moment after moment, on the righteous and unrighteous alike.
May our hearts trust this love, and, perhaps, that’s exactly what, might possibly, delight the heart of God more than any song or tears or guitar or volume level; pure and innocent and childlike acceptance of a love that asks nothing in return, but to be received.
May we be still, and know…