Monday, August 17, 2009

How To Get More Out Of Worship

"Your procession has come into view, O God,
the procession of my God and King into the sanctuary.

25 In front are the singers, after them the musicians;
with them are the maidens playing tambourines.

26 Praise God in the great congregation;
praise the LORD in the assembly of Israel." Psalm 68:24-26

"These are the men David put in charge of the music in the house of the LORD after the ark came to rest there." 1 Chronicles 6:31

I've been debating doing this post for a very long time. Every time I think about doing it, something else comes up, or I get caught up in knowing exactly the right words to say what it is in my heart to say. I still doubt I have the right words, but I've decided that I'm just going to go for it, because I think there are so many misconceptions about having a "good worship experience". I know we all know what I'm talking about, do any of these comments seem familiar?

"It just seemed the worship team had a hard time getting into it this morning."

" Boy, that worship leader was really on this morning!"

"I just didn't feel like worshiping today."

I have learned something about the worship experience over the last several months, and that is that corporate worship- the act of gathering and worshiping together cannot possibly be a solo activity. There is no one person responsible for making or breaking the worship, every person present can affect the direction a worship service will take. But before I talk about the group dynamic, let's talk a little about the individual components.

First, there's the worship team. This team is whatever group of musicians and singers your body has in place for worship. Sometimes it's simply a keyboardist and a singer. Sometimes it's just one person, sometimes it's a full out band, sometimes it's even a lone singer and a CD background. These are all valid "worship teams", and really should be regarded as such. As worship team members, we are considered the front lines- and think about the task the worship team has in front of them. In most services, worship leads off the service. So it's the worship teams job to take the congregations thoughts and minds off their problems, outside lives and plans after service, and turn those minds towards God and praising and worshiping Him. In order to lead a whole group of people into a state of worship, the worship team itself has to be able to focus on God first. Sometimes this can be so hard! There can be a major distraction going on in that person's life, or you can simply be suffering from a lack of sleep the night before. But when the moment comes, when the appointed time of worship arrives, it's amazing how a simple "Praise Jesus" under your breath can totally clear your mind of distraction and bring God to the forefront.

Then there is the congregation, which, while you may think that they are separate from the worship team, really aren't. The congregation, whether they know it or not are also part of the worship team. The group of people making the music may be leading the whole group into the act of worship, but it's the congregation who makes up the bulk of the worship team. How about that? Did you know that you were part of the worship team? And I have to tell you, while the musicians and the singers love being on the worship team, many times, they wish they could just be a part of the congregational worship team, because worship is even sweeter when you are not focused on a sheet of music.

But how does this all help a person "get more" out of worship? We've already established that each person has a role on the worship team-whether they are an active musician or the congregation, but did you know that these two groups of people have a huge impact on each other? Let's give an example. Let's say our worship leader has had a long week at work and is just simply tired, they haven't been sleeping well, and getting through Sunday morning service is going to be a trial. But they prepare themselves, step on stage to lead, welcome everyone, smile, say a little prayer perhaps, and then the music fires up. They start singing, and the music and the praise to God erases the rough week, and with eyes closed, they begin to worship God with all their heart. But then they open their eyes, and they see the congregation talking amongst each other, sitting with their arms crossed, or otherwise being distracted. Maybe there's some people singing along, but that's all they are doing is singing along, not full out worshiping. The worship leader then can become distracted, wondering if they're doing something wrong, and just like that the worship is broken and seems to just drag along the rest of the morning.

Here is another scenario. We have the same tired worship leader. This time, they start praising God with a smile on their face, eyes towards heaven, ready to spend some time praising and worshiping God. This time though, when they look at the crowd, they see praise and worship in full. They see smiles, they see hands lifted towards heaven, praising God. And the worship leader feels encouraged, they feel bolstered and fires off into one of those memorable worship services.

"The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him." Exodus 15:2

"I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips." Psalm 34:1

"I will praise your name, O LORD, for it is good." Psalm 54:6

When I, as a congregation member, walk into church with an attitude of "I don't really want to be here", my attitude can totally affect how the rest of the service is going to go- both for myself, and for those around me! The worship team as a whole, including the congregation, feeds off of each other, and subsequently can build up the atmosphere of worship when everyone participates fully. So do you want to get more out of worship? Participate! When I am on the worship team, and I am up front, seeing the congregation, nothing boosts my spirit more than seeing response from the crowd. And then, because I have just seen the smiles and the joy on that one persons face, I become even more worshipful, and then someone else sees how I've become more worshipful, and they become more worshipful, and then someone else sees that person, and it just goes back and forth and on and on! The real key to getting more out of worship is to check life at the door and come into church ready to spend some time with God.

Because really, with all that is going on in the outside world, wouldn't it be such a blessing if you could just set it aside for a few hours? Dwelling on your problems and issues isn't going to change them, but dwelling on God and focusing on God may very well give you the answers you need to take care of that problem head-on when you walk out the church doors.

"But You are holy, O You Who dwell in [the holy place where] the praises of Israel [are offered]." Psalm 22:3 (AMP)

If God dwells in the praises of His people, it seems to me that we should all want to be there. So I have a challenge for everyone this morning. The next time you find yourself in a worship service, try going full out. Try worshiping and praising God with all your heart, no matter what is going on outside the church walls.

In fact, because we know that God inhabits the praises of his people, the next time you find yourself in a time of crisis, try putting on some worship music and praising God. Grab a worship CD- or if you don't have any, fire up the Internet and check out some worship music on Youtube- there's tons of it available. We've started doing that in our household. Several times over the last few months we've been in a situation that, quite frankly, bit the big one. What I found was that as I stewed and mulled over the yucky situation, I was feeling worse and worse as the day went on. Thank God for worship CDS! Both times, I made my way to the CD player and filled the house with praise. Before long I was singing along, the kids were dancing, and we were celebrating the joy of the Lord instead of dwelling on an enemy attack. And you know what? We still had situations to deal with, but instead of dwelling on the negative, I became focused on God, and before anything had been done, I was able to thank God for getting us through the situations at hand, and I actually found myself looking forward to seeing how the situations would resolve.

Praise indeed, can be a soothing balm to any situation. And whether you are at church in a corporate situation, or at home alone in your living room, I strongly suggest that when times get tough, you give praise and joy a try. After all, what have you really got to lose?

"Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits-

3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,

5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

6 The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed." Psalm 103:1-6

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