From the book "Its All About You Jesus" by Fawn Parish
There were more creative people per square inch than I thought possible in a local congregation. We were teeming with artists of all types, visual, musical, you name it, we had it. Unknown to us at the time, we were also teeming with serious problems. In fact, our problems were so systemic; they eventually caused the church's demise. After years of reflection, I think a post-mortem might include a list of several spiritual malignancies.
Jesus the Heart of Our Worship
For all the military metaphors in the Old Testament, the command that Israel receives most often is sing.
We burned with passionate zeal for God. Our hearts ached to offer to the Lord something worthy of His Name. We were genuine lovers of God and ran hot with desire to bring Him pleasure. We were willing to sacrifice anything. If it took being "green berets for Jesus", that's precisely what we would be. It was an incredible privilege to be a part of this creative group of wholehearted friends. I was one of several worship leaders.
Our major message and emphasis was worship. We poured everything into it. Jesus was our great obsession. We panted after Him, gave Him our all. We were thoroughly educated on worship, and yet, as is often the case, we were clueless to the state of our own hearts. We gradually inch by inch, fell down the slippery slope of worshiping, worship. We fell prey to a subtle haughtiness, an insidious spiritual pride, that our theology of worship was more correct, more cutting edge. We were willing to lay down our lives more than other congregations. We longed to see the arts restored to worship. We were convinced the Lamb was worthy of absolutely everything that could be offered to Him. We would be the ones who gave it, no matter what the cost, never mind if others were stuck in the mire of tradition, we were willing.
Our pastor, (who has since gone to be with the Lord), had an enormous heart for God. He would literally weep when watching the Olympics or other sporting events, longing to give his all for God and finish well. God had used him mightily in revival; as a result, he was esteemed with high reverence in one particular region of the world. The exploits God had accomplished through him had been written up in Life magazine and other major news outlets.
He was a very well educated man, in the process of completing his second doctorate. We were a well fed congregation. Attending our services was a graduate level experience in the Word. Major speakers in the Christian world would hear our pastor and say they had never heard anything so deep. Here was a man who passionately loved God with his entire being.
We exported our understanding of worship to many nations. My husband and I were on a team that taught worship through Europe. I led one team to do the first worship symposium for pastors in the Philippines. People were hungry and receptive.
We knew we'd discovered what the rest of the Body of Christ was missing. Several of the choruses that were written in our church are still being sung all over the world. Nothing seemed impossible to us.To give you a hint of our earnestness, (and lack of boundaries), one Christmas, with only two weeks preparation, we put on a ballet to Handel's Messiah at the local community college auditorium.
Sadly, imperceptibly at first, the spotlight gradually slipped away from Jesus. We moved incrementally from the simplicity of devotion to Christ, to trying harder and harder to strive for the mastery. Someone laughingly made the comment that we expected Jesus to appear on the overhead. It wasn't far from true. I remember being reticent to take vacations, thinking that we might be out of town when God came and accepted our offering by fire. We began to mercilessly critique ourselves. We were positive we could do it better for God, if we just tried harder. We fell prey to a corrosive self-centered evaluation of ourselves before the presence of God.
If anyone had pointed out that we were defecting from the simplicity of devotion to Christ we would have been insulted. "But we're doing all this stuff for Him!" we would have replied. "It's because He's so worthy!" We would have shook our heads, shocked that our brothers didn't understand. They just didn't grasp the Biblical precedents on worship. They were content to just sit in pews and sing three hymns. We on the other hand would give God our all.
C.S. Lewis observes that many times our worship can turn into smugness. "We are appalled that others can only see gray when we are delicately observing such subtle nuances of pearl, dove, and silver."2 We were enjoying the subtle nuances of Greek and Hebrew roots, a sweeping understanding of Hebraic thought. We were definitely in the know.
Like an adopted child who finally find's his birth parents, we were part Gnostic and didn't know it. Eugene Peterson describes how Gnostics think: "The Gnostic line is quite convincing when we first come across it. There is an ascetical earnestness and mystical intensity that catches our attention. Because these people seem to be so deeply concerned about the inner life and to know so much more than anyone else about the graduate levels of spirituality, we are attracted and want to know more. But beware the Gnostic's: it is difficult to dislike them, harder still to label them, for the forms are protean. A great deal of what they say and do is beautiful. But there are two elements that through their influence insinuate themselves into the prayer of faith. These elements are corrosive and can be fatal: contempt for the material and lust for the secretive. 'Gnosticism' says Virginia Stem Owens, 'is still the biggest lie of all.' Gnostics are proto-typical insiders. They think that access to the Eternal is by password and that they know the password."
Our contempt of the material world took the form of a constant laying aside the demands of the integrity of common life. We were in services constantly. This left little time for developing friendships with those who didn't know God. It also left little time for the hallowedness of the ordinary like laundry, and space to spend the night just goofing off with your kids or getting to know your neighbors.
Our lust was for the presence of God. It was a greedy lust. We had a serious addiction for more. If God's presence was felt tangibly in one service, well the next service better top that. It was like having a rating scale for intimate times with your spouse. We began to critique sunsets. We went over everything we did, with a fine tooth comb, for the expressed purpose of making it better.
We forgot that as Richard Foster says; "We can never master that which the objective is to be mastered." We complicated the simplicity of worship through our efforts to master it. We did think that access to the eternal was by password, and that we knew that password. We believed that password was worship and we gave it our all. Early on we did have some incredible experiences in the presence of Jesus. But those experiences only confirmed our error-laced theology. The experiences didn't lead us into greater dependency on Jesus, but rather they confirmed for us that worship was the key to Jesus. That was the heresy.
Beware A Religious Spirit
Anytime we embrace anything other than Jesus as the key to God's heart, we open ourselves to the malignant deformation of a religious spirit. A religious spirit always accents the syllable on what we do, what we know, instead of Whose we are, and Who we know. A religious spirit always holds up the mirror before your face, not the face of Jesus. Its focus is inward, into ourselves, our performance of religious routine, our spiritual resume. In contrast the Holy Spirit (Who doesn't possess a shred of religion), always points us to Jesus. When we believe the lie that we through effort can please God, we negate the entire purpose of the cross. We become an enemy of all that God intends for us through His Son.
This is why Jesus often blasted the self-righteousness, all the while being tender and compassionate with rank and file sinners. Jesus had nothing but scathing, boiling words for the religious hierarchy. "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisee's, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in."5 Religion that bars the door, and only lets the initiated into the deeper things of God, is the first sniff of heresy. There are no keys, no passwords, no hidden knowledge that gets you entrance to Jesus. He is the door. He, Himself is the key. He said "...the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out."
A religious spirit is puffed and stuffed with pride, and pride always divides. Love on the other hand, always includes. Love always sets another place at the table, when pride prefers to dine alone, (or at least in very select company). Pride's always applauds self, while love applauds others. If there is any modicum of spiritual pride in you, show it the door immediately lest it ruin your whole house.
We paid dearly for our theological error. Our church closed leaving a mixed legacy. Some have pleasant memories. But for many, the wounds go deep and color perceptions even now, of authentic worship. A few who attended, while remaining lovers of God, no longer attend church anywhere. For me personally, because of my own sin, it was many years till I felt comfortable leading worship again.
Back To The Future
We often need to begin at the end to understand this present moment. God intends to have His Son occupy the center stage of history. As Lord of History, He has given Jesus the Name that is above every Name. He occupies the place that is above every place. It is to Him that every knee bows, every tongue confesses His Lordship. "For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers, All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things in Him all things consist...that in all things He may have the preeminence." As John sees The Lamb in the book of Revelation, He is the central figure of worship. He is the One standing in the midst of the lampstand; "eyes pouring fire-blaze...His face a perigee Sun." John faints dead away, and Jesus picks him up. "Don't fear, I am First, I am Last, I 'm Alive. I died, but I came to life and my life is forever. See these keys in my hand?" (Rev. 1:18, The Message)8 True worship centers on Jesus. It's not about us. It's about Him. It's always been about Him, and nothing else. It's not about the arts, culture, tradition. It's not about style. It's not about musical preference. (Most music wars in the church are simply a matter of preference, rarely substance). Worship is not even about music period. It's not about anything but Him.
Jesus, The Glory of the Father
Jesus is the glory of the Father. In John 17, Jesus' prays that we may be with Him to see His glory. When Moses pleaded with God to see His glory, God answered and said that He would allow His goodness to pass before Moses. Unlike Moses, we ask to see many things; more anointing, more miracles, more provision more influence. But Moses asked to see God's glory. He wanted to know God's character and ways. God's glory is His goodness, and His goodness is completely summed up in Jesus Christ. When Moses saw God's glory pass before him he heard God say "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy to thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin..." 9 God's glory is simply a description of His character. And God's character is perfectly presented in the person of Jesus. This prayer of Moses to see God's glory could be one of the reasons that Jesus is seen with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration. Could it be that God allowed Moses to come back and see His glory perfectly demonstrated in His Son?
In his biography of Martin Luther, D'Augigne describes tells how Luther wanted to know God. "He wished to penetrate into the secret councils of God, to unveil His mysteries, to see the invisible and to comprehend the incomprehensible." Stupitz checked him. He told him not to presume to fathom the hidden God, but to confine himself to what He has shown us in Jesus Christ. In Him, God has said, you will find what I am and what I require. Nowhere else neither in heaven nor in the earth will you discover it. 10 In Jesus the full character of God is perfectly revealed.
Jesus is the center of our worship because He is the perfect revelation of God. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell.11 There was no aspect of God left out. In Jesus, there is no deficiency in God's greatness, His power, His holiness. When we worship Jesus we are worshipping the character and personality of God fully expressed in His Son.
Worship, is as John Piper says "feeling, thinking, speaking and acting in a way that magnifies the infinite beauty and greatness of Christ. Not the way a magnifying glass magnifies, but the way a telescope magnifies. Microscopes move the appearance of size away from reality. Telescopes move the appearance of size toward reality. So worship displays Christ the way He really is-infinitely beautiful and infinitely great."
True worship consists of us bringing who we actually are, to who He actually is, coming to Him with our everyday lives. Our moment by moment, still need to brush my teeth, shave my face, take the dog for a walk, lives. Worship is not a performance, a spectacle, an entertainment show for deity.
Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That's the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him
in their worship. God is sheer being itself-Spirit. Those who worship him must do it
out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration. John 4:24 (The Message)
Worship is bringing your true self to the True Self of the Holy One. No pretension, no showiness, no putting on a costume. Sometimes we think we need to bury our messy, frustrated self in order to truly worship. When we do, we create a fake self that methodically clicks out religious routine. God isn't fooled, He doesn't receive fake worship for anything other than what it is. Isaiah sobbed "These people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,"13 Look at the best worship
literature in history, the Psalms. David's worship is freighted with complaints; he was frighteningly honest with God. "Why have you cast me off? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? 14 Honesty is potent worship. Sometimes in a worship service, I realize that God would prefer to hear what I am really thinking, than simply putting myself on automatic pilot. How many times have I sung, "Lord I love you," when really I was thinking how much I'd really rather be somewhere else? Do I really think God won't notice?
Worship Is Not Confined to Music
Music is just one planet, of a whole universe of possible responses to the Wonderful One. Worship is not merely an emotional gift. We worship with our will. We worship with our minds. We worship with our imagination. We worship when we obey God at great cost. I have a friend, who loves to surf, who never could picture herself anywhere in the world but close to an ocean. And God called her to a country as far away from the oceans as you can get. Her life is one continual act of bowing low in worship. Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments.15 Loving God is simply obeying Him. Romans 12 commands us to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is our reasonable worship. Presenting God with our lives, our hopes, our desires, presenting our whole self, warts and all is worship. Every waking moment can be pure worship as we continually turn our hearts toward Jesus.
When we think of worship in a purely musical sense, we create an unconsciously spiritual elite. Recently a man was asked how it was he went into a dump and planted churches, and created leadership that planted more churches in a very short amount of time. Others at that same location took years to plant churches and they never produced leaders that planted other works. They said there just wasn't any leadership material in their converts. And yet this man had marvelous results. What was this man's secret? He answered that He never did anything that a one week old Christian couldn't do. He never prayed like he normally prays, preaches like he normally preaches, or worships like he normally worships. He especially didn't bring in worship bands, so people would think they had to have a lot of talent to worship. He limited himself to doing what any one-week-old Christian could do. When new converts saw the simplicity of his preaching, his worship, they knew they could easily do what he did. And so planting new churches, and raising up new leaders was normal.
There was nothing complicated, all that they saw was simple devotion to Christ. If they had seen highly professional talented worship leaders, they would have thought, "We'd better leave all that worship stuff to the professionals." It's always easier to be a spectator than a participant. Even if you're tone deaf, you can be a consummate worshipper of Jesus. Nourish your soul with high thoughts of Him. Learn to cultivate gratitude for the slightest things. My mom often thanks God for even a glass of water. Considering the drought that in many places of the earth, it's not a bad idea. Everything you look at can become a prompt for worship.
If music is our sole focus in how we define worship, it is not only limiting; it can slowly become the object of our worship. Of course I am not recommending we do away with music. I am a worship leader and a songwriter. But we need to be careful that music does not become the thing that defines our devotion. Matt Redman, a gifted worship leader/songwriter from England encountered this occupational hazard in a congregation he serves. Matt leads worship for Soul Survivor, a growing youth congregation near London, England.
Matt's pastor, Mike Pilavachi, explains: "I noticed that although we were singing the songs, our hearts were far from Him...we had become connoisseurs of worship instead of participants. In our hearts we were giving the worship marks (on a scale) of ten: 'Not that song again' 'I can't hear the bass', I like the way she sings...' We had made the band the performers of worship and ourselves the audience. We had forgotten that we are all the performers of worship and that God is the audience. We had forgotten that sacrifice is central to biblical worship. We needed to take drastic action. We banned the band. We sacked Redman! Then we sat around in circles and said that if no one brought a sacrifice of praise, we would spend the meeting in silence. At the beginning, we virtually did! It was a very painful process. We were learning again not to rely on the music. After a while we began to have some very sweet times of worship.
We began to bring our prayers, our readings, our prophecies, our thanksgiving our praises and our songs. Someone would start a song a cappella and we would all join in. We were not having church; we were once again meeting with God. With all the comforts stripped away we worshipped from the heart. After we learnt our lesson, we brought the band back. Matt wrote this song out of our experience."
When the music fades,
All is stripped away,
And I simply come.
Longing just to bring
Something that's of worth
That will bless Your heart.
I'll bring You more than a song.
For a song in itself is not what
You have required.
You search much deeper within,
Through the way things appear;
You're looking into my heart.
I'm coming back to the heart of worship,
And it's all about You,
All about You Jesus.
I'm sorry Lord for the thing I've made it.
When it's all about You.
All about you Jesus.
King of endless worth
No one could express
How much You deserve.
Though I'm weak and poor
All I have is Yours,
Every single breath.
Matt Redman (c) 1997 Kingsway's Thankyou Music