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Lessons in the Wilderness

While we have been in this season of virtual worship brought on by the global pandemic, perhaps you have felt like you were in a wilderness. Whether you’re a worship leader (pastor, musician, or other staff) trying your best to lead worship in front of a few people and a camera, or just someone who has been forced to worship alone or with immediate family while watching worship online, this has probably been a difficult time. That’s understandable, because God created us to be in relationship with others, and when we can’t be with many others, our worship can easily feel dry, lifeless, like we’re in a wilderness.

Perhaps your church is getting ready to re-open. Before leaving the wilderness and returning to the “promised land” of your home church, it might be good to look back at what God may have taught you during this season. If your church isn’t able to re-open any time soon, why not start now asking God what He wants to teach you during this time in the wilderness?

As you may know, my use of ‘wilderness’ is a reference to the people of God in the book of Exodus, specifically following their deliverance from Egypt, when they ended up wandering in the wilderness for 40 years before God led them to the land He had promised to them. As I was rediscovering the Israelites’ journey recently, it occurred to me that we can learn something from their time in the wilderness.

Did you ever notice that the first organized worship center in the Bible was a tent? I am referring, of course, to the tabernacle. God spent a great deal of time and attention to detail when describing to Moses how the tabernacle was to be built. The majority of Exodus chapters 25-40 is a step by step guide to creating the tabernacle, from the exact measurements for the tent itself, down to the exact details of the utensils and dishes that were to be used. Even still, this worship center was designed to be taken down and moved. My favorite TV show of all time, M*A*S*H, was set in a mobile hospital, made of tents, that could be packed up, moved elsewhere, and quickly set up again. Well, God’s first official worship center was likewise designed to be mobile, so it could be packed up, moved elsewhere, and quickly set up again.

So, the first lesson from the wilderness is: we can worship as we go, as opposed to just going to worship. Just maybe, one of the things God is trying to remind us during this time when we can’t go to church to worship, is that we can worship anywhere, any time. Online during the weekends? Sure. But also during the week, at home, at work, in the car. We can worship through prayer, song, reading the Bible, serving and helping others, being the hands and feet of Jesus, and sharing what God has done in our lives with others, especially those who don’t know Jesus. When we meet together for worship on Sunday mornings, it can be very easy to leave the church grounds and forget about worshipping God the rest of the week. But while God does want us to meet together to worship, our worship isn’t supposed to end there.

A second lesson from the wilderness is: we should take our lead from God as He meets us in worship. Going back to my M*A*S*H analogy: each unit would know when it was time to pack up and move when a general told them it was time to go. For the Israelites, God made His presence palpable to them through a cloud that covered the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34), and they would know when it was time to pack up and move when the cloud of God’s presence lifted and led them on to the next place (Exodus 40:36-38). As we develop a lifestyle of worshipping “as we go,” we allow God to lead us in our daily lives as He meets us in our worship of Him.

So, those are just a couple things we can learn about worship from the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness. I challenge you, if you haven’t done so already, to ask God what He wants you to learn about Him, about worship, or about your relationship with Him, while He has you in your season of wilderness. It’s not that bad a journey if we can learn something from it!


Worship and Prayer

Today is the National Day of Prayer, so I thought it would be fitting to post something about worship and prayer.

The two go together like peas and carrots, peanut butter and jelly, unicorns and glitter… but I digress. There are many ways that prayer and worship work together; some you’ve probably realized and some maybe not.

  1. Prayer is an integral part of a worship service. In just about any style of service, there are multiple times when prayers can be made: opening prayer, confessional prayer, prayer of thanksgiving, prayers for “the people”, prayer for understanding before the sermon or message, closing prayer.
  2. Worship – specifically, the singing of hymns or praise and worship songs – is in a sense, prayer itself. St Augustine is noted for saying, “He who sings prays twice.” This could be a blog post on its own.
  3. There are Biblical examples of praying and worship going hand in hand: In Acts 16:25, Paul and Silas were praying and singing while in prison. In Luke 2:36-37, the prophetess Anna was recognized for a life of worship including prayer.
  4. The psalms themselves were mainly written to be songs of worship, and while they are still used today as the basis or inspiration for hymns and contemporary songs of worship, they can also be used as prayers, privately or in corporate worship.
  5. Finally, I find that when planning worship, even down to the details of what songs to choose for a given worship service, it is most helpful to pray: to ask for God’s blessing and guidance when choosing the right songs or other elements that He knows will be most effective in sharing with the congregation what He wants them to learn and experience.

May this National Day of Prayer be a worshipful one for you!

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