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Real Worship

Ezra opened the book.  All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up.  Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen!  Amen!”  Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

Nehemiah 8:5-6

I would guess that your average Christian is not too familiar with the book of Nehemiah in the Bible. And I know that some Christians don’t think the Old Testament, as a whole, is nearly as useful or important as the New Testament. But I would disagree, and go so far as to say that we can directly apply principles from some Old Testament passages to our lives today, and this passage from Nehemiah is one such example.

The context for these verses is that the people in Jerusalem had re-dedicated themselves to God. Now, for many of them for the first time, they were about to hear God’s Word. Notice the response of worship before they had even heard the Word: they instinctively gave it awe and respect, first by standing, then by raising their hands to praise God.  Then, as they heard God’s Word and were convicted in their hearts, they got down on their knees and even put their faces to the ground, in humble reverence and in acknowledgement of their sins. None of this was done by the people because Nehemiah prompted them to do it; this was just the real, in-the-moment response to God and His Word.

In many churches today, it can sometimes seem like a chore if the congregation is asked to stand for too long. Generally, people don’t stand in church unless told to do so (except for an occasional member who knows the routines of the liturgy so well that they anticipate the invitation to stand).  Certainly, many denominations of Christianity are not comfortable with raising hands to praise God.  And I don’t know any church that shows the kind of humility and remorse for sins during worship that these Israelites did.  

We have become too lukewarm in our worship. Perhaps it’s due to familiarity, or that we take God for granted – Who He is, what He has done and is doing in our lives. Perhaps we’re distracted in our minds, and aren’t fully paying attention to what is going on or really thinking about the God we are worshipping.

As a worship leader, I especially need to model a stronger dedication to God and reverence for His Word; to praise God with my total being without being afraid of what I’ll look like; to give God the awe and reverence He deserves; and to allow His Word to convict me and lead me to humble reverence. This is easier said than done, but like many aspects of the Christian walk, with God’s help, I can grow in it one step at a time.

Especially as people are able to worship in person again in the days, weeks, or months ahead, it is my prayer that more and more people, starting with me, would gain a renewed sense of awe, respect, and humble adoration for God in worship, and not be afraid to show it.


Pandemic Worship: Online vs Live

These days, many churches have been allowed to open, but with several guidelines in order to control the spread of Covid-19. One of these guidelines is to minimize (or eliminate) congregational singing. I know there are differing opinions among the average person, and sometimes among health experts, about what precautions should be taken under various circumstances. This post is not to debate whether or not masks should be mandatory, or whether or not congregational singing should be taken out of live worship. The regulations are what they are, and churches ought to follow whatever guidelines they’ve been given. No, this post is more about something I’ve noticed as a result of these guidelines.

For both of the churches I attend and serve as a volunteer worship leader, they have begun having live worship as well as continued offering online worship. I thought that as soon as live worship was an option, I would certainly prefer that to online worship. As I’ve written in a previous post, worshipping online has definite drawbacks (see Lessons in the Wilderness). However, with the current restrictions in the guidelines, at least in my area, live worship also has its drawbacks. So then, the question becomes, what are the pros and cons of each? How each person or family weighs them will probably determine which method of worship you choose.

Of course, the biggest difference between attending live worship and participating in online worship is the risk of exposure to the virus. So, depending upon your degree of concern about that, that factor probably trumps any other.

But I’ve discovered a difference in the worship itself that I didn’t anticipate. In live worship (for the time being), guidelines to minimize singing result in a worship experience that, while being better because one is with other people (at a safe distance, of course), one is not able to participate as fully because the congregation isn’t asked to sing much, if at all. On the other hand, if one stays at home for online worship, those services can include more music with which one can sing along. The tradeoff, of course, is that you’re not singing with others, other than your own family, and trying to sing out loud when you’re by yourself or with your own family can make one self-conscious.

For me personally, because music is such an important way for me to connect with God, if my choice were to be in live worship but not sing (or sing very little), or to stay home and sing more, I’d be inclined to stay at home. However, because I am often serving at a church by leading worship, I get to sing more in a live worship setting, because we have built in additional music for just the worship team to sing.

For others, perhaps just listening to music live, even if you aren’t singing along all the time, along with being present with others for all the other aspects of a service, is still preferential to watching online. What do you think?

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