Peeling Back the Layers on Worship
My road to music ministry seemed rather convoluted while I traveled it, but in hindsight, I suppose that it was rather straightforward. My parents, who are both exceptional musicians, started me in piano lessons at the age of 5. They were careful to take the words of Proverbs to heart, “Train up a child in the way he should go (according to his bent), and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” As such, they saw (and heard) my tendency toward music at a very young age, and made music lessons a priority. For the first 8 years I played the piano, I absolutely loathed it. Paul, my poor, saintly piano teacher, bore the brunt of my unwillingness to practice and my irritation at being made to do so. By the time I was in the 8th grade, however, I had discovered that the piano was becoming a stress reliever of sorts, and I began playing for my own benefit. Still, I said I would never go to college for music and I would never do anything more than occasionally play the piano in church.
God has a funny way of changing our direction and passions, midstride. At the end of my second year of college (where I was majoring in indecision while dabbling in music), I felt God asking me why I was still fighting Him. Clearly He had gifted me with musical tendencies, so why on earth was I fighting Him? He was asking me to surrender to His will. So, faced with such a clear-cut challenge, I did the only sensible thing. I surrendered. I finally declared myself a Worship Arts major and began a more direct path to ministry. 6 years later, I find that I am still discovering what the concept of Worship is all about. Here’s what I’ve discovered: Praise and worship is about honoring God with our voices and hearts, but we’re the ones who come away changed.
Here’s why: When we enter into times of praise and worship (and I’m specifically talking about worship in a musical sense here), the focus is taken off of our lives and the daily grind, and it’s placed on God. Worship is about understanding that there is One greater than ourselves to whom we owe gratitude and honor. Worship changes us from the inside out. We often come to our times of worship beaten and bruised, but we leave restored.
Life is not easy. Worship is not easy. It goes against our human nature to take the focus off of ourselves, but that’s what is so restorative about Worship. In those moments where we focus on God and consciously choose to spend time with Him, He comes to our rescue and brings healing. Just like our vocabulary is shaped by those around us, so our character is shaped when we spend quality time with the creator of the universe. It’s about God, but it’s for us. God craves our worship because that means time spent with us, and that’s what God has been about since Day 1. He wants a meaningful relationship with each of us.
The beauty of worship in musical sense is that it underscores the fact that God meets us where we are. Music has the power to convey what words alone sometimes cannot. Music and lyric combined touch our emotions and stir our soul and give us the freedom and ability to express the inexpressible. So when we come to our corporate worship, standing shoulder to shoulder with brothers and sisters in Christ, we have the unique opportunity to build community, restore our own hearts, and, most importantly, give glory to the only One who is worthy to receive it.
It’s not about style, it’s not about the songs, it’s not about the ability of the musicians. It’s about God. It’s not about us or what we want. It is about what God wants, which just happens to be what we need.
Bobby Sanderson, minister of music at the First Baptist Church, Columbus, Miss., listed these questions in the church newsletter:
1. Is worship about God or is it about what I like?
2. Do I seek God’s presence or the comfort of being with friends and doing what is familiar?
3. When is the last time God “blind-sided” me and spoke in a way I did not expect?
4. Am I so contemporary I lose the transcendence of God?
5. Am I so traditional that I forget God’s relevance?
6. Do I see myself as part of an audience giving approval/disapproval to worship leaders?
7. Can God use what I don’t like?
8. Am I more into music than the spoken word?
9. Do I ignore the command to sing just to get to the “message?”
10. Do I leave worship with a clear sense of what I’m supposed to do?
11. Is the style of worship more important to me than the object of worship?
12. Do I love God’s presence as much as the songs I sing and play?
13. Can I worship God when it’s hard work and my joy is running low?
I keep these questions tacked to my wall at work to remind me that worship isn’t about me. It’s about God. And I love God, so I’ll do whatever I can to get out of the way and focus on Him.
So if you’re wondering why you don’t get a lot out of corporate worship, you have no further to look than to yourself. The only person standing in the way of life-changing worship is you, because God has always been and always will be ready and willing to meet you when you come to Him in worship.