If you don’t already know this about me, I really enjoy worshiping with you all every Sunday! And I really hope that comes across consistently, mostly because I believe that is how God has wired me to connect with my fellow believers as we live out our lives in a biblical community (one of our church’s core values!). If you would indulge me, I want to share some things that have helped me grow in my own worship life as we all strive to make every opportunity to grow together as a worshiping family.
When I was in college, I had just learned to play guitar and got swept up by the musical trends by a charismatic movement known as the Vineyard Church. Some of you as old as me may remember songs from this era including titles like “I Can Feel You”, “Eternity”, and “Arms of Love”. Catchy for sure, but probably more so than I had ever experienced before, these songs stirred our hearts with strong emotions towards God. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for authentic emotions of love, devotion, and adoration for our deserving Lord, but focusing on emotional and relational lyrics risks characterizing our relationship with God as merely a human one, not one between Creator and creation. Jesus clearly tells us that “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24). Over time, I found myself confused whether I was seeking the feelings more than the rightful object of these feelings – God Himself, and consequently feeling let down when I didn’t feel them which led me to believe something must be spiritually wrong with me. All this to say that I learned that emotions ought to be rooted in the truth and reality of who God is and what He has done.
Fast forward to my thirties when I was leading worship for my church in Queens, NY, and I came across a worship blogger by the name of Bob Kauflin who consistently shares genuine and biblically-sound insights on how and why our worship brings glory to God. In one of his books, True Worshipers: Seeking What Matters to God, Bob encourages us to actively seek to encounter God during every worship service. We do this by all the means of grace the Bible has revealed – through listening to the preaching of the Word and actively singing and participating in worship through music and prayer. And we will know it was not just merely a witty sermon illustration or creative music arrangement that moved us because “encountering God generally bears the fruit of things like a greater hunger for his Word, a deeper love for the Savior, and a greater passion for a holy life. God can use music to affect us emotionally, but music will never mediate his presence. Only Jesus can do that.” In Psalm 63, David is running for his life in a dry desert but earnestly seeks God and meets Him refreshing his weary soul. Church family, the question is not IF God is present during our services – He always is, but whether we are open to inviting His presence and being transformed by it, so let us always seek to encounter God each and every time we gather to worship.
How do we do that? Although I admit worship is a lot about receiving from God – His Word, His blessing, His presence, and His power – there are things we can do to actively engage in worship. By faith, we believe God will work through our trust and obedience to reveal Himself and lead to that sanctifying encounter with Him. First, we need to actually sing, not because God cares whether we can carry a note, but because singing engages both our minds and hearts with the truths that we are vocalizing. Second, we can engage through active listening to the preaching and prayers of His people. Finally, let us never be afraid to express ourselves through our bodies – whether it be clapping, shouting (Ps. 47), dancing (Ps. 149), lifting of hands (Ps. 134), or even just smiling when appropriate, as we allow the melodic truths to affect us. Needless to say, even the sacraments like the Lord’s Supper and baptisms that we partake in are profound ways God shows His presence to His people. Psalm 73:28 reminds us “But as for me, it is good to be near God” so let us engage God in any way we can in worship so that we might seek to be near Him and know His presence.
GRC, we are called to engage in worship so that we can encounter our God who loves us and wants to bless us which will naturally fill us with emotions that remind us to Whom we belong and for Whom we were made. To close, as the barriers to gathering during this pandemic continue to fade, I encourage you, if you are able, to come and worship with us in-person as much as you can. I leave you with these words from Bob Kauflin: “God has uniquely designed the church for true worshipers to experience, enjoy, and be edified by their common life in Christ. Every time we meet, God is eager and able to do more than we can ask or think according to the power at work within us (Eph. 3:20). There are no normal Sundays. Just fresh opportunities to behold the glory of the Lord as we’re “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Cor. 3:18)”
John Chung is a Ruling Elder and serves on the Worship Arts Team.