Driving into the brilliant oranges and pinks of a perfect sunset. Listening to the crash of ocean waves, salt dusting my lips and nose. Overlooking the valley spreading green into gray below the mountaintop I just scaled. Walking through the cool forest serenaded by bird and cicada song. The sense of awe, peace, and beauty I find in these settings never fails to lead me into a worshipful state.
I wonder, is it my smallness in the face of such vastness? Is it God’s inescapable power and love of the beautiful? Why am I less inhibited in worship and more aware of God’s majesty out there than inside a church? Did we lose something important when we stopped building cathedrals and began worshiping in more common spaces?
I don’t have answers to these big-picture questions, but I know we can do better in the now, planning and leading worship wherever we gather together.
In yesterday’s post, I started a list of suggestions that will help you create times of worship that truly lead people into an attitude in which they can sing to God, no matter what happened that day or that week or that year. The first two are:
- Select a variety of songs, readings, and prayers each time you gather.
- Be what you are and give people permission to be what they are, whether that is rejoicing, grieving, angry, confused, numb, broken, struggling, or anything in between. (Click here to read the full post.)
3. Encourage the people in the group not to sing any song or speaks the words of a prayer or reading that they cannot do with their whole heart.
Sometimes we simply cannot sing, whether the words aren’t true of us, or whether they touch my raw pain or whether they are so true it takes my breath away. I need you to tell me that I shouldn’t sing words just because everyone else is singing. They aren’t just a series of vowels and consonants formed in a specific rhythm and pitch, as if I were learning to sing in Italian. The words we say and sing mean something, and woe to the one who sings them thoughtlessly.
Mark 7:6 He [Christ] replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
Tell your congregation that it’s OK to worship in silence, to just listen and let the music and the words pour over our hearts. Say out loud that when our grief is overwhelming and we lack the words to express it, these songs may give us the words we need.
4. Teach people to turn songs into prayers.
If you’ve already said that it is hypocritical to honor God with my lips when my heart is far, you need to tell me what to do when the words we are to sing or to speak aren’t true of us at that time. Encourage me to be truthful in my worship.
Teach me to pray that God would make these words true of me. I need to be reminded that I can and should confess my failures any time, even in worship on Sunday morning. I can fall on my face before God, asking for forgiveness and help to do better. He is merciful and forgiving and loves prayers like that. Remind me that when I don’t even have the desire for these words to be true of me, I can tell him, “I don’t want this right now. Help me want it.”photo © 2010 Ingve Moss Liknes | more info (via: Wylio)
5. Acknowledge that worship doesn’t have to look any certain way.
Sometimes we worship in tears, with hands raised, by clapping or swaying (or even dancing). Sometimes we must kneel, sometimes we can do nothing besides sing at the top of our lungs. You as the worship leader can free me to respond physically to what is happening in my soul, or you can bind me into performing the way you want, ignoring the state of my soul.
Maybe the lyrics helped me see that I need to open my hands and release something to God. If I know it’s ok to cry, I will feel less ashamed of the tears streaming down my face. I shouldn’t be afraid to kneel or to bow my head instead of stand and clap if that is what fits my worship better that day. Worship can create the time and place where I can lay out my hopeless situation before God and plead for help with the assurance of God’s promised faithfulness ringing in my ears.
Sometimes worship looks like brokenness. Grief over and confession of my sin and failure. The very real pain of loss. Sometimes it looks like joy. Celebrating new life and new opportunities and breakthroughs. Sometimes it looks like quiet acceptance and submission to our circumstances. Releasing the sting of other people’s sins against me. However my worship looks and feels today, it should be honest and real. God wants that from us.
This is the fifth post in a series on worship. You can read the other posts here: How You Can Stop Lying In Church, How Happy Songs Hurt, Without Lament We Lie About God, and yesterday’s post, Hypocrisy 101: Five Tips for Worship Leaders.
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