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I am the Pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. It's a church made up of people from around the world who love Jesus and find themselves here in France. These articles are written with them in mind, but feel free to read them wherever you are from!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Reflections on Worship




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London, England

Last week we were in London on a short vacation. We made the decision to attend the Evensong service at Westminster Abbey. The setting was grand and formal. The welcome in the bulletin told us that prayer had been offered there for over a thousand years. It was to be a liturgical service led by robed clergy and a visiting choir from the United States. Everything that was to happen was spelled out in the bulletin. There were prayers to be read together but mostly we were to listen. Looking around, I noted that some people seemed uncomfortable. Perhaps their church did not use a liturgy. Or perhaps they weren't believers. After all, attending a service is one way to avoid paying an entrance fee!

I was more and more drawn to the words of the songs and liturgy as the service progressed. Everything was drawn from the Bible or early Christian prayers. I was listening to the choir sing Jake Runestad's composition of Psalm 121 when I felt the gentle breath of the Holy Spirit on my soul and I found myself worshipping the one who is my help and the keeper of my soul.

Honolulu, Hawaii 

I was standing in an old Quonset hut surrounded by other young people as part of a YWAM Discipleship Training School. The floor seemed to sag in places and I wondered what my time there was going to be like. We didn't know it when we signed up, but the base had a reputation as being "the only third world base in a first world country." Most of the buildings looked like they were in desperate need of replacement. A 30-year-old man wearing shorts, a T-shirt, and flip-flops picked up a guitar and began to sing one of the currently popular praise choruses. Within minutes that worn out building seemed to become the throne room of the Lord.

Reynosa, Mexico

My family was in Mexico to scout out a potential place for a mission trip. The host church had a prayer time early in the morning. I was surprised to find that a couple hundred people were there in the darkness. Some sat in chairs, but most walked in a large circle around the sanctuary praying out loud. We called it "the swirling vortex of prayer." I was intrigued but found it a little awkward because people walked at different paces. I had to watch where I was going! After about an hour, a someone stepped up to the platform and began leading a worship song in Spanish. Although I don't speak Spanish I found myself weeping in worship as the presence of God filled my soul.

Worship

"We participate through our presence and our listening, that the words and the music might be a prayer within us and lift us to contemplate God's beauty and glory." That sentence was taken from the bulletin at Westminster Abbey. The service that evening did not invite much active participation. Instead, we were to be present and listen. The goal was that by doing so we would contemplate the majesty of God and worship him.

That was a good reminder of the true nature of worship. The Lord is worthy to receive all of the worship and adoration that we can give him. We were created and redeemed to worship. While we can and should worship in private, believers have always been drawn by the Spirit to offer worship to the Lord together. But what does this look like?

Corporate worship takes many forms around the world. Some services are highly formal and others are informal. Some are quiet and others are raucous. Some have candles and others have multi-colored lights. Some have organs and some have electric guitars.

At Trinity we utilize a style of worship that is common in many evangelical churches in the West. Our service is informal. Words to songs are projected on the wall and musicians lead us in a series of songs. These songs are mostly contemporary although we will add a few old hymns from time to time. We'll read Scripture, pray together, take an offering, have announcements, perhaps a testimony will be given. Given my background, it is a comfortable style of worship.

It is not, however, the only way to worship together. I was reminded of this when someone said that they didn't feel like they had been to church because we did not say the Lord's Prayer together. "After all," they said, "Jesus did teach us to pray like that." I thought about entering into a discussion, but I realized that many believers did recite the Lord's Prayer each Sunday. In fact, it was normal to do so throughout most of the history of the church. From the perspective of church history, our style is not normal!

Each of us has a preference regarding worship style. Even though I have my preferences, my experience has taught me that I can encounter the Lord in a variety of worship styles and settings. Let me share some insights that will help you worship both at Trinity and in other churches.

Helpful keys

Worship is not the same as being entertained. It is ascribing to God the glory that is his due. We give him praise and honor because of who he is and what he had done. When you join together to worship with other believers, keep the Lord as the focus rather than the style of worship.

Participate. Worship is not a spectator sport. It is something that you must engage in. It begins by being present and this takes effort. Have you ever been talking to someone and you feel like they are not really listening? They are standing before you, but they are not "present." They are not focused on the conversation. Worship begins with being present, participating, and engaging in practices of worship in that church service. Sing. Pray. Read. Engage.

If you don't know the music. Ideally, you know the music that is used in the service. This allows you focus more intently on the content and on the Lord rather than trying to learn the melody of the song. Often, though, you will not know the song. What do you do then? First, try to sing along if you can. Songs are frequently repetitive and by the end of the song you will know the melody.

I find that more often than not I won't pick up on the tune of the song so I just listen and think about the words. I don't check out of the service, I engage by actively listening. That's what happened at Westminster Abbey. I don't listen to choral music and I certainly wasn't going to sing along with the choir! Instead, I read the words to the song that was printed in the bulletin as a listened. I encountered God because I actively listened to a song I did not know.

If it isn't your style. Please realize that there is no "holy" style of music. God did not indicate that music should be in 4/4 or 3/4 time. He did not tell whether to use amplification or how loud it should be turned up. He didn't tell us to use printed bulletins or projectors. He didn't tell us to only play classical or jazz or rock. We all have preferences. It is a little bit like language. We all have a mother tongue that we prefer, but as we grow we realize that others speak in different languages. As we mature in Christ, we should grow in our ability to worship in different "styles" or "languages" even though we prefer our own style.

Affirm insights. Pay attention to the what is happening and say "Yes!" to biblical truths. Liturgy, spontaneous prayer, Bible readings, songs, and sermons all contain Biblical truth. When you see these insights say "Yes! or Amen!" In some churches this can be done out loud while in other churches these responses are better off being internal affirmations. It all depends on the style of service!

If you don't know the language. Some of my most powerful moments of worship have come in churches where I did not speak the language. The language was usually close enough to English that I could pick up on the subject and I would simply meditate on those truths. But what has impacted me more in these settings is the incredible faithfulness of God. Jesus told a handful of people 2000 years ago to take the message of the gospel to every tribe and language. Sitting in service surrounded by believers worshipping in a different language is a powerful evidence of the Spirit's work in crossing language and cultural barriers so that one day people from all nations will be gathered around the throne. In fact, there were many barriers crossed so that I could hear the gospel and be saved. That is reason enough to worship!

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I will sing for joy.
Psalm 92:1-4

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