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How to Get the Most Out of Worship

We don’t always have the same experience in a worship service. Sometimes, we can have a very meaningful, uplifting, edifying experience that stays with us for hours, days, or maybe even causes lasting spiritual growth. Sometimes, we can have a very flat experience, where we leave the service wondering where the last hour (or more) of our lives went. The temptation is to attribute the value of our worship experience to others: the music choices, the level of excellence of the musical performances, the sermon/message, any creative elements (or lack thereof). However, like many things in life, what we get out of worship often depends on what we put into it. After all, you can control what you do; you can’t control all those elements that were planned and prepared by others. With that in mind, here are some things I’ve learned about what each person can do, to get the most out of one’s worship service experience.

Pray. In Luke 11:1, one of Jesus’ followers said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray;” notice, he didn’t ask Jesus to teach us how to pray. I think this person had noticed that Jesus often prayed, and simply asked to teach us to pray. That is, to understand the importance of prayer in every facet of life. I believe you will get the most out of worship by praying before the service starts – at home before you go to worship, or in the parking lot, or even in your seat just before the service begins. Ask God to prepare your heart and mind for worship; ask God to soften your heart; ask God to speak directly to you, and for the wisdom and discernment to understand what God wants to tell you; ask God to remove all distractions from your mind; pray for the pastor and other worship leaders, that God will speak through them; pray that God would be glorified; take time to be still, and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). I’ve listed prayer first because it is the most important, most effective, and often most overlooked practice. Like many areas of life, if we start with prayer, the rest will come easier.

Participate. Sing along with the songs and hymns, even if they are not your favorites, and even if you don’t think you sing very well. Speak along with prayers and other elements of the service where the congregation is invited to join. Whether singing or speaking, think about what you are singing and speaking. If a pastor or other worship leader asks a question, don’t be afraid to answer. Bring your Bible (or use a Bible app on your phone) to look up and follow along Scriptures that are referenced or read. The more you actively participate in worship, the more you’ll be able to focus on what is being done in worship, and the more likely you’ll hear from God.

Take notes. During the sermon or message, anticipate that you’ll hear something new, that God will illuminate something that is said that will pertain specifically to you. Then, write down whatever it is: main points, an anecdote that triggers a principle or a memory, something that God brings to mind that may not even directly relate to what was just said. Use your phone’s note-taking app, bring a journal, or find space in the bulletin, if your church is using those. Even better, create a place to collect notes, whether a journal, notepad, or digital file, and transfer your notes to this place when you get home. Writing them again helps to reinforce the concepts in your mind, and it helps to have them in one place for future reference.

Revisit. How often do you forget what the worship service was about by Monday morning? How often do you forget by the time you get home? Satan doesn’t mind us going to a church service, as long as we don’t apply what we learn or let the experience make a difference in our day-to-day lives. So he bombards us with distractions: TV, sports, arguments with family, someone cutting us off on the road (or even the church parking lot!). Try developing a habit of intentionally revisiting the worship service experience. On the way home, ask family members in the car what they remember, what their favorite part was, anything that can spark a conversation to recall what God was up to. Or maybe wait until you’re around the dinner table. Or both! My wife and I pray with our kids every night; we can bring up the main teaching point of that day’s worship in our prayers.

My prayer is that by developing the habits of praying before worship, participating in worship, taking notes during the message or sermon, and revisiting what happened in worship later in the day or week, we will get the most out of our worship experiences, and grow in our Christian walk every week. For the glory of God and the building of His Kingdom!

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Why and How to Worship When You’re Not Feeling It

There are times when I feel spiritually worn down. At these times, I relate to the father of the boy with an evil spirit, who told Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24; you can read the full account here)

God promises that by His grace, He will restore, support, strengthen, and establish me (1 Peter 5:10). The Bible also teaches that Jesus is the perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

A lot has happened and is still happening this year that can be disappointing, disheartening, discouraging, or even depressing. In times like these, we can get worn down and feel weak in our faith. When we feel this way, it can be challenging to worship God. We don’t feel like it. We don’t feel like it will be honest or genuine to do so. We may wonder if it’s worth our time and energy.

But as Thomas Watson, a 17th century pastor, once said:

We must distinguish between weakness of faith and no faith. A weak faith is true… Though thy faith be weak, be not discouraged. A weak faith may receive a strong Christ… The promise is not made to strong faith, but to true.”

When I feel weak in my faith, I can also be encouraged by remembering that several times throughout the gospels, Jesus told His followers that they had little faith. Yet, Jesus did not give up on them, and He won’t give up on us.

So, when we are feeling weak in our faith, the thing to do is focus on, and trust in, the strength of Christ. When we worship, what matters is not the strength of our faith as much as the strength of the God Whom we worship.

How We Can Worship God with Our Lives

You know how you can read a passage of Scripture multiple times, and God can bring new insight to your mind when you read it again? I have posted about Romans 12:1-2 before, but recently I was reading it in a slightly larger context, through verse 8. This time, I believe God wanted to show me a deeper meaning to these words, to show how He looks at what we do with our lives as a potential act of worship.

If you’d like to read the whole passage: Romans 12:1-8

In verse 1, God urges us to offer our bodies (our physical lives) to God’s use:

  • sacrificially – we often have to sacrifice our will to follow God’s
  • holy – be willing to set ourselves apart for God’s use
  • when we do this, God is pleased
  • why? because God is merciful to us, we do it as a response of gratitude

It is not easy to do this, because we are naturally inclined to do what we want, and because we do not like giving up control, even to an all-knowing God. Sometimes, it’s hard because we may not know exactly what God’s will is in a given situation. But verses 2-3 show us how we can offer ourselves to God in this act of worship:

  • Don’t just go along with the ways of the world/culture (v2).
  • Transform how you think by renewing your mind with God’s Word (v2).
  • Don’t be conceited, but be humble. Realize that whatever measure of faith (or gifts or talents) you have, comes from God (v3).

The passage then goes on to describe how each believer in Christ is to be a functioning member of the body of Christ. So I think one of the main ways God wants us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, to offer this kind of worship to God, is to use the gifts, time and talents that God has given us to support other Christians. Of course, God also wants us to serve those outside of the church. There are many passages of Scripture that teach about that. However, the focus in this passage is on serving fellow believers in a local church body.

It is important to keep some things in mind as we participate and contribute to the body of Christ in a local church.

  • We should do the best we can with our gifts (v6-8).
  • We should serve each other humbly, not comparing our contribution to that of others, because all tasks have to be done, and it is God who decides what each person should do, through the gifts He gives (v3,6).
  • Serving others in humility is easier if we take the perspective that, as members of the body of Christ, we belong to each other (v4-5).

It is this sacrificial service to others, by allowing God to use us however He wants, that in itself is an act of worship, because we’re acknowledging God as Lord over our very lives.

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.

Worship from the Psalms: Psalm 146

The book of Psalms in the Bible is a great source for worship: not only have many hymn and song writers used the psalms as inspiration, but reading through the psalms can be a means of worship in and of itself. They can also teach us about worship.

Today I’d like to focus on one psalm that I think is a great psalm of praise to God, Psalm 146.

Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD, my soul.

Psalm 146:1 (NIV)

These words, Praise the LORD, come from the original Hebrew Hallelu Yah. Yah is short for Yahweh, often written YHWH in Hebrew because the name of God was considered too holy to write out fully. This specific name for God is often translated “LORD” (all caps), as opposed to “Lord,” which is the translation of the Hebrew name Adonai. I am not a Hebrew scholar, but from what I have studied, Yahweh refers to God’s sovereignty or being almighty, while Adonai refers to God’s lordship, or authority. Regardless, the phrase Hallelu Yah is often used directly from the Hebrew in hymns and worship songs, as “hallelujah” or “allelujah.” And now you know (if you didn’t before) what that term means!

I will praise the LORD all my life;

    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

Psalm 146:2 (NIV)

I don’t believe this is a suggestion to be constantly singing praise to God, but more of an encouragement to sing praise to God throughout our whole lives.

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.

When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;on that very day their plans come to nothing.

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.

Psalm 146:3-5 (NIV)

These verses are an encouragement to not place our trust in earthly leaders (or any human), because all of us humans are fallible – even the wisest of us – and we all will one day die. But God, the God of the Bible, is the only one worthy of our complete trust.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous.

The LORD watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The LORD reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the LORD.

Psalm 146:6-10 (NIV)

These last verses of the psalm provide reasons for praising God:

  • God created heaven and earth
  • God provides justice for the oppressed
  • God provides food for the hungry
  • God sets prisoners free
  • God gives sight to the blind (spiritually and physically)
  • God lifts up those who are down
  • God watches over foreigners, and sustains orphans and widows
  • God frustrates the ways of the wicked
  • God is eternal

So, this psalm is not only a great reminder to worship and praise God, but also a great example for how and why we should praise Him.

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