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The "Excuses" of Worship

Estranged2It has always fascinated me why something as important as worship has been the arena where so many of us develop clever “excuses” to avoid worshipping as we should.

Some of us seem only interested in worshipping according to our own personal style and preferences.  This leads to cliché excuses that label worship as:  too loud, too soft, too fast, too slow, too contemporary, too traditional, too difficult, too simplistic, too esoteric, too shallow – and on and on it goes.

Others of us entrench ourselves in a theology of worship that conveniently allows us to avoid biblical expressions of worship we consider embarrassing or unspiritual (e.g. singing, shouting, kneeling, raising hands, or… responsive prayers, traditional liturgies, etc.).  We either staunchly defend holistic definitions of worship (e.g. preaching, giving, serving, painting, dancing, performing, fellowship, silence, and prayer), or we narrowly define it in musical terms (i.e. psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs).   

And finally, in a culture addicted to the rights of the “individual”, many of us stubbornly defend our right to “worship in our own way,” thus avoiding the threat of conformity, and perhaps even the accountability that worshipping in community with other believers may include.  We’ve convinced ourselves that maintaining our “to-each-his-own” defense will succeed in protecting us from worship expressions unfamiliar or uncomfortable to us.

Over the past 30 years I’ve witnessed plenty of “traditionalists” who were not interested in experiencing the fresh move of God’s Spirit during the charismatic and contemporary worship movements, as well as plenty of contemporary worship “enthusiasts” who “threw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater” in terms of traditional worship forms.  These traditionalists were offended by the narrow definition of worship being espoused by the enthusiasts who, in turn, were quick to relegate older worship beliefs to a “spirit of religion.”  Both were wrong. This, of course, is nothing new, and much has been written of the subsequent “worship wars” that have ravished the institutionalized church, even to present day.  And the emerging Church is certainly not exempt, where we’re tempted to offer up a smorgasbord of worship experiences that cater to people’s consumeristic, individualistic appetites.

When it comes to worship, we are all prone to the making of excuses.

It’s not worship, however, that’s at fault.  It’s us.  It’s our character, our selfish nature, our depravity that deserves the blame.  The story of humanity’s beginning – in the Garden – reminds us that the desire to hide from God and to make excuses is part of our spiritual DNA. It comes naturally. And if this “distancing” ourselves from God (even the God we love) were not so common, James would never have needed to urge us: “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (4.8a). 

We’re all pretty good at keeping God at a bit of a distance – close enough to help us when we’re in trouble, but far enough away to avoid any serious life-transformation. The sober reality is that it’s as easy for us to hide from God in the singing of contemporary worship choruses as it is to hide within the recitation of liturgical prayers or the practice of silence.  This is a sickness of the soul -- a serious malady that lies not in the worship, but in the worshipper.  We’ve convinced ourselves we are entitled to worship experiences that are “comfortable,” and equally entitled to dismiss other forms that make us “uncomfortable.”  Furthermore, we validate this discriminating practice by claiming: this is how I “connect” with God.

What?!  Shouldn’t we celebrate that people are connecting with God regardless of how it takes place? On one hand, of course we should!  How could we not? But on the other hand, such discriminating practices do not deserve carte blanche approval.  Instead, we need to grow up.  We need to embrace a type of whole-life worship that refuses to minimize or trivialize how “other people” worship, choosing instead to stretch ourselves as worshippers.  As is the case in all of life, relational health is not dependant on feelings, but on choices.  Our relationship with God is no different.  We need to stop making excuses about why we don’t like worshipping “this way” or “that way”, and get on with the privilege of worshipping God will all our mind, heart, and strength – regardless of bias or preference.


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Some of your argument falls along the lines of "by any means necessary." The problem is that not all means are good. It's okay to worship God as you please, but I am not sure if its okay for the one woman who always dances down front to decide one Sunday to strip off her clothes while she dances. Similarly, the worship leader may think that Prince's message in "When Doves Cry" is metaphorically about the relationship between God and Man, but I wouldn't recommend it for a worship song.

There has to be a line.

I believe there has to be some level of excellence in the music we use in worship. I believe it should have stood at least a few years' test of time, and that it should reach the widest audience in the church. It needs to be godly and resist the "God is my boyfriend" syndrome that plagues a lot of today's worship music. It must be theologically sound, too.

As someone who has led worship (and been in a worship band), I know that not all music "works." Some worship music just grates on my spirit. It is juvenile lyrically and the music itself appeals to coarseness. As a drummer in a worship band, I once remember feeling truly bad inside about a new worship song that had been picked out for the week. I mentioned this to the others in the band and several felt the same way I did. We got overruled by the music pastor, but were eventually able to weed that song out of the "rotation."

I've also noticed a tendency for some worship bands to "funk up" the sound of older songs in order to make them sound more "relevant" to a younger crowd. But most times this toying with the arrangement makes the song unsingable (too fast to say the words) or drains the worshipfulness out of it for one reason or another.

So I don't agree. We like to toy with the edges in order to seem trendy, but we may fall into a pit for doing so. It's the same with worship.

I, too, approach worship from the point of view of a musician, singer and worship leader. I appreciate musical excellence, but the local church body often has to work with musicians with less-than-stellar abilities. The local congregation is filled with people who can't carry a tune in a bucket and have little or no music education, but often have strong musical opinions. Worship is much more than just good music -- it's about my attaining an attitude of honor and obeisance towards my Lord.

As with many things in the body, we have to deal here in this world with less than what it will be later, in God's presence -- and we need to have the grace to accommodate each other, even when our attempts at worship fall short.

Worship isn't about me; it's about God. When we refuse to worship because things don't feel right, we fail in our duty of love and gratitude to God.

We can get stuck in worship ruts. Worship is much more than 4 songs and a prayer. God is awesome, and our expressions of worship should be varied in style and pace and emphasis, so that we can explore the richness of God's character. But it's also true that our worship here on earth is very difficult, because the God we worship is in many ways abstract and invisible.

One day, when we see him face to face, perhaps the words and music will come from our hearts spontaneously, and we will all agree that it is a beautiful and marvelous offering of praise to our God. Until that day, I think worship will continue to be a struggle for us, both individually and corporately.

Dan and Charlie -- I think it's interesting that both of your responses were heavily anchored in a worship-as-music construct. In some ways, it feels as if you are both proving my point -- although Charlie's thoughtful reflection on the complexity/difficulty inherent in worship was very good. Dan was right in drawing attention to the limited focus of my post and how it fails to take a few important things into consideration. I'm still thinking about this (thanks).

Neither of you have said much about my main concern: "hiding", or making "excuses" related to worship. Have neither of you ever seen this happen?

I think that there is very often too much focus on worship as music, or even worship as something-you-do-Sundays. Surely true worship of God has to be a 24/7 life thing. I've made a couple of comments on tthis in one of my posts -

In Him



Obviously, I think of worship as more than just music/singing! I thought your statement was from the music angle ("too loud, too soft, too fast, too slow, too contemporary, too traditional..."), so that it what I addressed.

As far as the "hiding" and "excuses" angles go, sure, I've felt that way during some worship services. I remember my old church had a "metal service" at one point. I went to check it out and was definitely in the category of "I can't worship this way."

I wanted to comment on the photo. When I saw it I thought it was about the differences that a husband and wife experience when they want to worship differently. (drama that has been real in my life)...

oh well. I do think that perhaps worship styles and preferences are sorta like the denominations or versions 2.0 if you will of the three streams of Christianity (Orthodox/Roman Catholic/Protestant) God allows them so that more will come to Himself.

Sorta like Paul saying he becomes all things to all people so that he might win a few...

btw I have to ask, why in the world would you be excited about Weaver's book the Non-Violent atonement?




p.s. do I come back here to see your reply, or will you email me?

Chris: You're right about the worship-as-music problem, and as a musician I get caught in the trap of thinking musically when worship should be so much more.

I was trying to get at your hiding observation (and I agree that many folks make excuses of all sorts so as to duck out on worship) in my comments about the difficulty of worshipping a God who is so utterly unlike us.

My own theory is that worship takes us out of our comfort zone -- for some of us, way out. Americans have no political tradition of obiesance to a King to help us figure out what to do or how to act in the presence of God. Most of us are taught to be emotionally guarded in public, but are encouraged to be emotionally open and expressive (with complete strangers!!!) when worshiping. We pray and sing to a being who is invisible, without any feedback as to what this being might be thinking about our attempts at worship.

So I wonder if the arguments about music are not really just convenient excuses to mask our general discomfort with the entire business of worship? Worship, like witnessing, is a demonstrative response to faith. It is far more comfortable to have a "private" and "intellectual" faith that doesn't require us to do anything embarassing in public.

Charlie said: "My own theory is that worship takes us out of our comfort zone -- for some of us, way out."

I like that! Only because we sing the song "We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise". "Sacrifice" means it costs us something. For a lot of us, it would cost our "comfort". Are we not ashamed of worshipping our Lord?? Why do some of us want a "way out".

I also like the last paragraph Charlie wrote. Most would discuss "worship" at the music level and the style, the volume, instruments used (electric guitars..even when he is not even plugged into the house system and cannot be heard), complaining to the worship leader about the song "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever" being "boring" because the chorus is sung over and over again..going on "forever and ever".
Worship so little to do with music; but with the heart.

"The offering a sacrifice of praise" - what is it costing us?

"Worshipping the Father in spirit and truth" John 4 - moving on from a duty bound form or a place, to worshipping a person with passion.

I wonder how many times I've been frustrated when hearing "I want to worship my way" and asked myself: "what about worshipping the way God wants you to worship?" The former is egocentric, and sadly, the standard today.

Johan -- "egocentric" worship. Good point. I wonder if "part" of today's proliferation of worship styles is adding to this problem rather than helping to diminish it?

Good question, and one which I'm inclined to answer yes to. Some of it might have been the leading of the Holy Spirit, but most of it, I'm afraid, is not. However, that is not to say that a variety of worship styles is necessarily bad. There is a difference between African Christian and Western European Christian worship style, for example, and that is a natural one. The problem is when we place ourselves in the center of the worship of God (as pointed out previously). In my view, the Egocentric Worship that then arises is quite a paradox and ceases to be worship in its original meaning and turns into a platform for Your Self to act on under the pretense that God is worshipped.

Terribly sorry! But a typo crept in in my last post: it's "Chris" and NOT "Christ" :)

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