September 24, 2010

Worship--what are we doing?!


I am seeing a disconcerting trend in ‘worship’ songs lately.  In fact I’m struggling not to let this become a ‘rant’!  So let me just say, I’m not here to ‘blast’ any particular song writers, though I may make mention of particular songs.  My concern is with a growing number of songs that put the worshiper in a stance of attempting to invoke the Holy Sprit. 

I know invoke sounds a little harsh—all sorts of folks out there are into ‘invoking’ spirits and wondering if there’s anything different about what they see as the ‘Christian’ version.  I had my education on that via an online discussion thread titled: 'How is invoking the holy spirit substantially different from invoking Pagan deities?'  Disturbing conclusion: no difference.  And I was surprised to find there’s even a 5-step E-how on ‘Praying to Invoke the Holy Spirit’.  Not exactly an authoritative source--the contributor of this article also offers instruction on ‘How to Throw a Halloween Party for Teenagers’ and ‘How to Dance Really Well in a Club’.  But even he recognizes there’s more to it than praise and worship… But I digress.  I’ll get back to that later, maybe….

Let me explain my objection.  Picture this…the music is playing, smooth and mesmerizing.  And we begin the refrain: —“Holy Spirit come…” or “Come, Lord Jesus, come” with its requisite repeats.  A certain mystical mood has been created and we are all expecting something… but what?!  Are we prepared for our wish were granted? We sing, “Holy Spirit rain down…”  Is He not already here?  Are we not gathered in Jesus’ name?  Does the Holy Spirit not indwell each and every follower of Christ?

Of course I’ve heard it explained (as if the worship leader were reading my mind) that yes, God is present with us but we are asking for Him to show us He’s here, to touch us in some way.  We want more of Him.  My mind darts off to Jesus’ rebuke of those who demanded signs and wonders in order to believe God was in fact among them.  And do we really need something more if we have been blessed already with ‘every spiritual blessing in Christ’ (Eph.1:3)?  What is it we’re really after and why does God not seem to be showing up?!  After all, here we are singing our hearts out.  We’ve made the effort to come.  Now it’s His turn.

A recent chorus goes so far as to beg God to open the sky and fall down on us like rain, and not only that but like fire!  In fact we aren’t going to be content with anything at all ordinary!  What on earth?  I think the sense of the songwriter is that we’re desperate for a ‘move of God’, sick of the status quo, sick of life as we know it, and in this case even fed up with God’s blessings.  Now we just want the real commodity—God Himself.  Wow.  What do you do with a song like that?  And what about this habitual beckoning to God to come do something spectacular.  Does it honor Him, or is it pure self-centered worship?

The way I see it, we’ve got things backwards… But I’ll save that thought for next time.  I’d really like to know how you see it?  What are we after when we worship?  and what needs to be corrected?  Or perhaps where you are things are different.  I’d love to hear what you’re learning about worship.  Please tuck in a comment or send off a little e-mail.  I’ll leave you with the concluding remarks of an excellent article I hope to say more about next time:

Emphasizing the experience of the worshiper as the evidence of the Spirit depreciates his more significant functions, often leading to misunderstanding, pragmatism, narcissism and an idolatry of self rather than the worship of God.
                                                                    --Timothy Ralston

15 comments:

Brian & Maelee said...

I haven't thought this out before but I often have been uncomfortable, thinking that many of us don't even know what we are singing and swaying too. Are we really serious? Do we really want God to break us? I think you are right. My own addition to this would be I am also uncomfortable with songs that sing from the viewpoint of the Holy Spirit/God. It is ok if it is singing actual scripture but otherwise makes me feel as if we are molding God into our image? Perhaps these are connected?? Do we want the Holy Spirit to come, make us feel special and loved? Is it a selfish thing? It would be interesting to compare some older worship/hymns and see if they were more God or other centered than songs today.

Brian & Maelee said...

Brian's thought -
We are unaware of God's working in our lives and what we really are or should be asking for is him to help us see His works and blessings and calling. That we would become more cognizant of Him.

Daughter of the King said...

I have not participated in congregational worship for many years. But your points resonate with my experience. I was often struck by the tendency to focus on ourselves when we sang instead of focusing on God -- who he is, what he has done and what he says he will do. It seems to me that true worship in spirit and in truth is to focus entirely on God, thereby experiencing his presence through relationship. For example: if I were to say "Linda, write me, you are my friend, come to tea, I want to see you," My coments would be about me and my lack (more of a requst or a demand). But if I said, "Linda, you are an inspiration, your thoughts are deep and your expressions are honest; indeed you are real and approachable; you teach me so much!" These coments are about you, and reveal who you are to me. I think what you are pointing out is something like this.

Linda said...

It seems to me that "worship" by its definition is something directed to and in honor of the object of the worship. In a secular setting, we would recognize worship of a star or an athlete or a spouse if one was lavishing them with words of affection or adoration or praise. If instead one was asking for something, asking them to come be with them (especially if they are already there) or asking for some favor, it would not be recognized as worship. It may be more the form of begging, whining, or pleading none of which brings any honor to the one spoken to. So it makes sense to me that the act of worshiping the Lord should always take the form of giving and not requesting. Even thanking Him for being there makes more sense then asking Him to come. Linda, your ponderings are good ones. The question then is... when in a place of corporate worship, do we refrain from participating in songs which don't make honest sense to us?

Brian & Maelee said...

I was wondering a little about some subconcious rationalization going on here in these types of songs. If I am not living in obedience to God, when I ask him to come am I perhaps thinking that when he comes and I feel him in that special way, then I will obey?? What would change if I focus first on the fact that he is here already, what amazing gifts he has already given me and who He is. Would I obey more or better?? Would I recognize my disobedience quicker and repent?? Just something I've been pondering deeper on as I've thought about this the past 2 days.
I agree that speaking of God's worth is worship. What to do when we are uncomfortable? Well, for years now I simply listen when I don't feel I can say the words honestly for whatever reason.

Daughter of the King said...

"Yes" to the below question:
"The question then is... when in a place of corporate worship, do we refrain from participating in songs which don't make honest sense to us?"
--Just like Daniel.

Daughter of the King said...

I just read this in a devotional I follow I think it relates to the topic of worship, when our heart is crying for help:

"Here is how we can use Psalm 121 as our prayer of praise:

Lord, thank You for being my help in this difficulty. I praise You for watching over my life and for keeping me from falling. Thank You that You never take Your eye off of me, that You protect me from all evil, and that You are the keeper of my soul. Thank You for the comfort I find in knowing You are guarding me wherever I go.

May the Lord help you to turn your prayers of petition into prayers of praise."

Linda, thank you for broaching this topic. Though it doesn't affect my life as it relates to corporate worship, it definately ministers to me as it relates to my personal worship.

Linda said...

Sorry for my poky response here. I so much appreciate the response and knowing that the phenomenon I'm seeing is not 'just me'...
Re:"also uncomfortable with songs that sing from the viewpoint of the Holy Spirit/God"... Are you saying it feels like we are putting words in God's mouth, making Him say what we want to hear? I think you are on to something. He for sure wants us to know we are loved, and etc. but there is the balancing factor of the fear of God. Are we having a balanced diet of worship songs? Or can we assume that God is moving in modern-day songwriters to give the message(s) we need to hear? hmm... I agree, sticking with Scripture would be more sure. And that to has got to be in context. "Come Lord Jesus" is straight out of the Bible. But it's in Revelation referring to the actual literal second coming. Can we juxtapose this into a Sunday worship service where we are actually meaning come and make me feel better today, here and now, with no reference to the Second Coming? Enough. For sure we need eyes to see from His perspective... "Open my eyes Lord" has that idea before it gets 'feeley'. The old hymn "Be Thou My Vision" is sturdier! (and beautiful!)

Linda said...

"Re:It seems to me that true worship in spirit and in truth is to focus entirely on God"
I LOVE your illustration about inviting me to tea! That so pictures it for me. I am for sure inclined to invite selfishly. (If you were here, we'd do tea!!) But yes! I see what is the better way. Thank-you!
I get so easily preoccupied with myself that I NEED to learn to really worship.
And the example out of Ps.121 is so excellent. I regularly pray with someone who understands this way of praying. I am so drawn to learning this and you have spurred me on! It seems to me this is truly praying (and praising) in faith. And interestingly, though you say this doesn't apply to your corporate worship, it is a reminder that we can only bring to corporate worship what we have cultivated in our personal worship... Thank you!

Linda said...

And Linda,
Re: refraining from singing. I've been talking to my mom-in-law about all this. She suggested the option of praying in your heart when there are songs you choose not to sing. Something she tries to practice. I thought this good advice because I am so easily caught up in feeling critical of others around me. Pride very easily slips in when I feel like I've got an edge on truth...Ughh. Then I'm not worshiping from my heart either! The thing is to worship with my whole heart and not be distracted by anything else... God seeks true worshipers. May He grant us hearts like this! Thanks for clarifying with the word picture. Makes is so obvious. ( :

Linda said...

Re: "What would change if I focus first on the fact that he is here already, what amazing gifts he has already given me and who He is. Would I obey more or better??"

I definitely think you're on to something here! We think we need to feel loved first. Maybe we need to believe what He's already said and confess who He is! and the rest will come in line, i.e. the obedience, out of a proper fear of God and a realization of His amazing love despite who we are...Thanks for that thought!

Brian & Maelee said...

Regarding choosing to pray in your heart... I agree totally. I also have a critical spirit. I sometimes really have to force myself to focus on the worshiping God or I can be distracted not only by lyrics but people's dress, the music's tempo, how loud the music is...

Linda said...

Amen, Maelee-- I hear you! God is so gracious and still seeks our worship in spirit and truth. What a learning curve.

Daughter of the King said...

Isn't it precious that God accepts us, that we are wholly and completely loved even though we are selfish, frail, ignorant and pridefull, ETC? And even though he wholly accepts us (because of Jesus' sacrifice) he spurrs us on to grow, to learn his ways, to be more like his Son? How I love my Father in heaven!

Linda said...

Yes, I've been struck by the same thing lately. So easy for me to jump on my 'high horse' and who am I worshiping in that?! Hmm... Jesus had harsh words for Pharisees who heaped scorn on others. Ahh... grace. And He leads us on...