Is that really worship?

What would you call a relationship between two people where only ‘positive’ feelings such as happiness, hope, excitement, passion, etc. were shared, but no ‘negative’ feelings including frustration, anger, sadness, bitterness, etc. were part of the discussions of the two people involved? “Shallow” seems to be the obvious word that comes to mind.

At the numerous churches I’ve attended over the years, I’ve heard the phrase: “worship is an expression of our relationship with God” countless times. If that’s really true, then I’m afraid a lot of church-goers are caught in very shallow relationships with God!

I believe corporate worship can be a place of honesty, and a beautiful expression of life, but in the majority of the churches, I’ve visited in the 40 countries I’ve been to so far, I’ve more often had the feeling of the little boy in Hans Christian Andersen‘s fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, who is the only one who has the audacity to express the truth about the Emperor in the parade through the city: “The Emperor is naked!“. I’ve often felt like that. This is so empty. This is not what it’s supposed to be, or even what it could be. I know from my own life, from people in my counseling office, and from countless conversations with discipleship training school students and the average person in our churches that none of us have this happy-clappy-life-is-always-great-relationship to God that we often sing about. It simply doesn’t exist. Life isn’t like that. We end up fooling ourselves. And surely the God of the Universe who knows all our thoughts and feelings must at times be as bored with our charades as I am…?

I’ve heard much teachings over the years about what worship is, and I’ve always sat in the pews with a feeling and a thought of: “there is more to this, than what I hear here”. This simply isn’t as good as it gets. To me, worship boils down to one word: HONESTY! I believe that God, above all else, is looking for us to be honest with him. Honesty is the key factor in any relationship. If you are not honest with somebody you call your friend, and you feel you have to fabricate certain feelings in order for the two of you to be okay, it’s a shallow and empty relationship. I fear that too many of God’s children see God that way. When you examine the lyrics of  most of the popular worship songs each Sunday in our churches, it’s hard to see most of them as expressions of honesty. We have to keep up appearances. We must be happy. We must rejoice, even when we’re depressed. We must this, we should do that, we ought to feel this…..all of this points to an Old Covenant/Law mentality and understanding of who God is.

The God I know, love, and serve is interested in who I really am, and how I’m really doing. He wants to be known by me, and he is inviting me to let him know me intimately. He who is all Truth, desires nothing more than to see me live and breathe and express what I really believe, feel and think to him.

Therefore, I believe the following to be true about worship:

worship songs about God’s true character and nature are always relevant and appropriate

– worship songs about my feelings towards God are great as long as they express all different kinds of feelings I may have. Again, a relationship where I can only express what I deem to be ‘positive’ and ‘okay’ feelings, is extremely shallow

worship songs about my promises to God (“I’ll do this and this, and I’ll NEVER do that or that”) are irrelevant, since I have no clue how I’ll react in whatever difficult situation I may face in the future. On the contrary, my relationship to God is built on HIS promises to me (“He’ll never let me go, leave me or desert me!”), and that’s worth singing about!

– worship songs – and there are lots of them these days – that describe a relationship to God in sensual terms that belong more in private bedroom conversations between a husband and his wife are inappropriate and show a misunderstood view of what real intimacy with God is

– worship songs that talk about promises that God never made are obviously tragic, especially since the average church-goer doesn’t know the Bible very well, and often gets a lot of his or her theology from worship songs

– worship songs that teach Old Covenant-realities to New Covenant-believers make no sense and keep people in fear-filled relationships to God (I often New Covenantify songs that we sing at different churches – I refuse to keep inviting God to come, since he’s already in me, and I refuse to ask that God won’t take his Holy Spirit away from me, since he has joined his Holy Spirit to my spirit and would never do that!)

– worship songs that preach what God demands of us are misunderstood. God doesn’t demand anyone to know him and share life with him. He invites me to know him intimately and to be completely known by him. But the nature of any real invitation is that I can choose to say no to it, and I’m still okay with the person (God) who extended the invitation

– worship songs that teach that God doesn’t care about the consequences of our choices or isn’t mourning our sin and the death (Romans 6:23) that we experience because of that are un-biblical and filled with lies

worship songs that hint at an understanding saying that ‘negative’ emotions are a problem that we just have to get over ASAP, so we can show God our ‘positive’ emotions, end up creating guilt and shame in God’s people who need space to be honest and real

– worship songs written by people who haven’t personally experienced what they’re writing about is….a waste of time!

worship songs that don’t show that forgiveness is something God already has given to his children (IT IS FINISHED!), and not something we only get if we ask for it and repent in the right way, don’t understand the freedom of the New Covenant, and the peace and rest that Christ wants his children to know and live in.

Blessings, Torben – you’re – as always – free to comment, agree, or disagree with my words on worship!

3 Responses to “Is that really worship?”

  1. 1 iyzburg
    September 15, 2010 at 11:40 am

    I totally agree with the author. An idiom runs in our country that says, “there’s too much vetsin (MSG, or monosodium glutamate) in it..” Literally, it means a food is overdone with MSG, a common flavoring that smooths up certain flavors, to a point where the food is sickening. We use the idiom to mean anything that is overdone with the unessentials that the end result feels just like that, a food you’d want to puke out.

    This is the current plight of worship. Worship leaders, without an intimate knowledge of the Word of God, plunge to the ‘worship’ the author described: shallow. They make a poor attempt to worship in spirit, and utterly fail to worship in truth.

  2. 2 Rob Henderson
    December 16, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    Hey. I like your thoughts here on worship. Interesting…some of those thoughts have passed through my head as I was singing some worship song.

    Others, I could not think of a song at least right now.

    I wanted to comment on a couple: The “I will do this or that” (promises to God). It seems to me that it is okay to make promises to God as long as you dont delay in fulfilling it. Example: “I will sing to and worship the King who is Worthy”. I wonder what song(s) you were thinking about here?

    Sensual songs: What song(s) did you have in mind here? I am not sure what type of sensual conversation that you mean, but I do think of a relationship between a husband and a wife in some ways like the relationship between Christ and the Church.

    Also, I think that honesty is really important. It would be difficult, though, to sing a song of frustration or confusion in corporate worship, especially if so few people feel that way. Although I do think of songs like “Hold me Jesus” which are pretty honest and not completely happy!

  3. December 17, 2010 at 4:03 am

    Thanks for your comments!

    And Rob, let me comment on your comments, and thanks for engaging:

    First, you say “it would be difficult, though, to sing a song of frustration or confusion in corporate worship, especially if so few people feel that way”. I couldn’t help but thinking the following: “it would be difficult to sing songs of happy feelings and a strong sense of constant peace, joy and purpose in corporate worship, especially if so few people feel that way”. I think you get my point: why should it be any harder to express songs of some feelings than of others? My experience from training, teaching and counseling definitely tells me that Christians are familiar with a multitude of emotions, not just with the “church acceptable” emotions…

    Sensual songs: I could give some specific examples, let me just write one phrase: “and heaven meets earth like a wet, sloppy kiss”, but it’s a tendency that I notice, and not so much about bashing specific songs

    Promises: Songs that talk about how I promise to never leave God or always trust him and always follow what he wants me to do to me are fairly pointless to me. As I wrote, the point is that it’s only God I can built my relationship on. He never changes. I often do.

    If worship is my relationship with God, then it’s worship whether I yell, scream, question, love, adore, celebrate or barely survive God. God wants the whole package. Churches are often uncomfortable with the questions and the frustrations.
    “God can handle anger, blame, and even willful disobedience. One thing, however, blocks relationship: indifference” (Philip Yancey)

    Blessings, Torben

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