The Pastor’s Pen Worship
How God Evaluates Worship
In my experience, theological discussions about worship tend to focus on the cerebral, not the visceral—on the mind, not the heart. True worship, we are often taught, is more about the mind thinking right about God (using theologically correct language and liturgy), rather than the heart’s hunger for Him. But the words of our Savior resound the undeniable call to worship that transcends the intellect: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). We’ve been inclined to conclude that heart is the proper synonym for Spirit here. “In truth” certainly suggests participation of the intellect in worship, but it is inescapably second—and dependent upon the heart’s fullest release first.
This priority is usually held suspect. The heart is said to be governed by affections and thus is more vulnerable to deception than is the intellect. But to base worship on the intellect is to entertain a dual delusion: First, that the mind is less subject to deception than is the heart; Second, that the mind is the main means to “contact” God in worship (think of verses like Job 11:7: “Can you fathom the mysteries of God?”). Yes, human intelligence contributes to worship, but God’s Word indicates that He is not looking for something brilliant but something broken: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). The exercises of our enlightened minds may deduce God, but only our ignited hearts can delight Him—and in turn experience His desire to delight us!
To be more specific, I believe that the Word of God tells us how to please God. To truly worship we must do at least four things:
1. True worship treasures God’s presence. God welcomes those into His presence who want to have a true relationship with Him. The quest may be one of desperation or of delight, of frantic need or of a loving hunger for fellowship, but the motivation is clear—and so is His pleasure with it.
In Exodus 33 and 34, a tender and powerful exchange takes place between God and Moses, spanning the range from an intimate face-to-face encounter to a dramatic declaration by the Almighty. Central is the cry of Moses: “Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in your sight, show me now your way, that I may know you and that I may find grace in your sight.” To which God replies, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Ex. 33:13–15). Shortly following this, God displays his glory to Moses—as sure a sign of His pleasure and presence as He ever gives (Ex. 40:33–38; 1 Kings 1:8–11).
I had been in pastoral leadership for years when my thinking about corporate worship was transformed by coming to Conneaut. Rather than tightly regimented gatherings, concerned over aesthetics, mechanics, and academic theology, the Lord showed me a new way (through all of you) to provide an unpressured portion of the service for free-flowing songs of praise and adoration. I believe our church is experiencing God’s glory and grace in new and more profound ways because we are so open and flexible. We’ve been vigilant in seeking constant renewal in our worship because we know that even the finest spiritual habits are vulnerable to the arthritis of ritualism—when form loses its focus. And with gentleness, the Holy Spirit has a way of drawing us back to our “first love”—to a renewed hunger and thirst for the Living God. Even throughout the pandemic we have discovered new ways from our homes to worship! The Worship Team prays and works hard to create a worship environment that encourages people to “fall in love” with God.
2. True worship humbles the heart. In Isaiah 6:1–8, the abject cry of a sinful man, “Woe is me, for I am undone,” was not an achievement of intellectual analysis, but of self-discovery made upon entering God’s presence. Isaiah says “I saw the Lord” with neither apology nor arrogance; it was a breakthrough of grace that produced a breakup of pride. Isaiah, a member of the cultural, educated elite of Judah, demonstrates a childlike humility and teachability. His cry reveals an unreserved availability to God. This is the very thing to which Jesus calls us all: “Assuredly I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. … Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:3, 10).
Because of the importance of humility, we are encouraging people to become more expressive, both vocally and physically, in worship. Few things challenge our pride more than the simplest summons to expressiveness. I have learned that careful teaching and modeling can help people move beyond self-consciousness (and challenge the adult preoccupation with self-importance) so they can experience a childlike liberty in expressing themselves in worship. That’s why it is ALWAYS OK to clap while we sing, lift holy hands to heaven, and express yourself in worship at New Leaf Church. One of the members of my last church, with the best of motives, once suggested, “Pastor, if you didn’t teach and invite people to lift their hands in worship, I think our church would grow faster,” and then added, “I think you might injure some people’s pride.” “Injure pride?” I said gently. “Why, I was hoping to kill it altogether.”
We want to respect human dignity, but there is a disposition, ensconced in the church as surely as in the world, that equates dignity and pride—and it’s a false equation. It is because we value each individual in our congregation that we teach and model a way for us to “come as children before the Father.” Because pride tends to insist on finding a way to justify and preserve itself (even in church), we try to help people learn the humility of Isaiah. Only this will help us view God afresh and pave the way to deeply felt confession and purification.
3. True worship sacrifices and then expects something from God. Hebrews 11:6 puts it clearly: “one that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who humbly seek Him.” The text presupposes that worship always brings a sacrifice to God, that “whosoever comes,” whether with praise, an offering, or by “laying down” something instructed by the Holy Spirit, is presenting something of themselves to God. Simultaneously we are told that the worshiper is to believe something will be given in return by God himself—something rewarding, benevolent, and good. Some try to defend God against human selfishness and refuse all talk of reward. But the truth is, God freely offers the reward of His blessing—and delights to do so. He doesn’t grouse, “Don’t you dare give me something and suppose you’re manipulating me to give back!” Instead, his Word simply says, in effect, “Since you come to me, I would expect you to believe I will reward your quest.”
Of course, tithes or offerings (which are, indeed, appropriate and biblical “sacrifices”) aren’t to be a tit-for-tat bargain with God. But God’s call to worship is attended by his own commitment to bless us. The promise of God in Malachi 3:10 “Try me now in this … see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it”) reveals a largess in the heart of God toward human giving—and the justice of our expecting a blessing in return.
Worship is God’s gift to us, intended for our blessing and benefit. He doesn’t need it, we do.
4. True worship extends God’s love. If God-pleasing worship addresses human need, it also will extend God’s love to others. It is, thus, unsurprising that the “greatest commandment” issues into “the second, which is like (in importance) unto it.” The vertical mandate, to love and worship God, is also horizontal, to love our neighbor. This means such things as:
Forgiving others, seeking peace and reconciliation day-by-day.
Gracious, lifestyle evangelism in both conduct and communication, living out a believable, winsome witness.
Unselfish, servant-minded attitude in assisting others in need, including a heart to care for victims of neglect and injustice.
This need for us to reach out must be met… and is essential to our effectiveness as a congregation.
We must: (1) in a pragmatic way express God’s love evoked during worship, (2) help people use their ministry gifts in the assembly, (3) allow people to express themselves personally and to care and pray for one another, and (4) lay the foundation for the invitation—it is infinitely easier to invite people to receive the love of God in Jesus Christ after they have had a personal encounter with some people who have shown it! What is birthed in the heart, then, finds expression in the hands—hands that rise in humble praise, give in simple expectancy, and serve with gentle grace.
With such sacrifices, God is well pleased. Let us then continue in our purpose:
To love the Lord, love one another, and make disciples of Jesus Christ!
WHAT IS THE VISION OF OUR CHURCH?
Obviously we have God’s Great Commandment and Great Commission as our number one priority, we want to love God, love others and make disciples.
“Without a Vision, the people perish.” This short verse found in Proverbs 29:18 tells us that we should not be a people who are willing to “Ready! Shoot! Aim!” We should have a target to shoot at and be prepared to Ready! Aim! Shoot! God has led us this far, and He shall surely lead us on! Really? To where shall He lead? Do we have a plan? How wonderful to know that God met us in our need and loved us to much to leave us there – that He has a plan for our life and it is this: 2 things. To:
Doing life with others helps us to connect in community and establish meaningful relationships.
Jesus had a team He "did life" with. He ate with them, walked with them, and ministered with them. He developed meaningful relationships with them and developed a strategy through which all humankind could be reconciled.
The early church connected in very natural, organic ways: "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts" (Acts 2:46 NIV). They loved to eat a good meal together, laugh together, and pray together in one another's homes as well as in their large temple gatherings.
Jesus "grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52 NIV). Once you have connect-ed in relationship within the church, it is time for you to grow!
I read this story about a father talking with his daughter and her five-year-old friend, Elizabeth, about birth-days. Elizabeth’s was March 30 and the father’s was March 27. "Our birthdays are three days apart," he said to her. She looked up at him and remarked, "Yeah, but you grew much faster than I did."
That brings us to a question…How fast are you growing?
I know some of us are growing in places that we don’t want to. I am reminded of that as I look at my own expanding waistline! But there is a kind of growing that we are considering that we want to be a part of our lives. This is in the growing of the church – not just in numbers, but in our knowledge of God’s Word while being in Connection with one another.
We are developing a plan that will offer home group studies on different books of the Bible: the first book being the book of John. Scott will then be preaching on what we have studied the following week. This is a great way to connect with others your age within the church while learning by digging deeper into God’s word. There will be LOTS more information in the coming weeks as to how it all works, but plan on being a part of the growth and vision of our church by joining a home group.
So, Connect (join a home group) and Grow (by learning more of His word with other believers)! This is the way it happens! Now, Go Give ‘em Heaven!
There will soon be a meeting for all those interested in being a part of our home groups. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open as to the date and time. It IS coming!
Pastor Scott Walsh
Pastor Jan Walsh
Child Care & Learning Center Director
Praise Team Leader
Chief Financial Officer
IT and Technical Director
Bell Choir Director
Child Care Custodian