Worship Where You Are

There’s significance when something is brought up for the first time in scripture. The first time a particular word is used, it gives us insight into the original meaning. Do you know when the first time the term “worship” is used in scripture? If not, it may surprise you. You ready for this? You better sit down. The first mention of worship is…

In the story of Abraham & Isaac. Just to clarify, it says nothing about singing or music.

Abraham was over 100 years old and finally had his son, Isaac, who was about 12 years old at this time. Isaac was the embodiment of God’s promise to Abraham fulfilled. God knew how much Abraham adored his son, this cherished, promised boy. So God chose to test him and commanded Abraham to offer his own son as a burnt offering to God. Sounds awful, right?! We know it was a test. Most of us know the end of the story. But Abraham didn’t.

Can you imagine?! Put yourself in Abraham’s shoes for a moment. Your son whom you’ve waited for many years is here, healthy and strong. And then God asks you to murder this precious gift as proof that God is first. Even over this innocent boy. That mountain must’ve looked like Mount Everest as Abraham knew what he was about to do. The weight of it mounting on his shoulders.

“Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.” Genesis 22:5 

“We will worship there.” As far as everyone else knew, they were climbing the mountain to offer a sacrifice. Only Abraham knew that it was to be a sacrifice of his most beloved possession: his son. THAT was the first example of worship: putting God first to the point of sacrificing what’s most important.

Are you willing to do that? Would you sacrifice the thing most important to you to prove to God that He truly is first. What would that thing be? For some of us it might be an addiction or habit. Maybe it’s your work or what others think of you. Maybe it’s giving up control or letting go of the outcome. Oh how we like to think we can actually control things. Or perhaps it is trusting God with our kids.

We don’t need to literally burn “the thing” on a physical altar. But I would lovingly encourage you today, right now, prayerfully and honestly ask God to show you what you have allowed to take precedence over Him. Then (and this is the hard part), worship Him by letting go of “the thing” and put God first.

David & Garfunkel

I have played piano since I was 8 years old. I’ve sang since I learned to speak my first words. Literally. Ask my mom. I grew up in church and have been a part of worship teams off and on since my sophomore year of high school. Music holds a special place in my heart. It’s an instant soul connection. From writer to listener, singer to audience, soul to soul. My favorite thing in the world is to hear a song and “feel the feels” of whatever the songwriter is communicating.

I recently told a friend, “I’m a worshipper.” While, yes, all believers should be worshippers, I feel that some of us musician types get an extra dose of that thing David had. I imagine young, pre-king David hanging out with a flock of sheep, playing his lyre and writing music. I also envision him as a long-haired, Simon & Garfunkel type, chilling on the hillside, playing and writing. His desire was not to become a famous rockstar, but rather to write songs for the simple sake of worshipping God.

This whole scenario in my head got me thinking, “what was God’s intention for worship?” So I went on a super nerdy study journey. Cuz that’s what I do.

First, I narrowed it down by recognizing what worship is NOT. Worship is not entertainment for a crowd. It’s not a certain style of Jesus music. Worship isn’t an ego boost for musicians (that stings for the prima donnas). It’s not only for those on stage or for the most talented, trendiest super-clique at church. Worship is not a popularity contest.

So if that’s what worship is NOT, then what is it to be? According to Webster’s: Worship is to render reverence and homage to someone/something.

Most importantly, worship is a posture. It’s a heart response to God, Who He is, and gratitude for all He’s done. Worshippers exalt God to His rightful place. Exalt means to lift up, or make more important than everything else. As worshippers, our purpose is to bring God to the forefront and let everything else fade into the background.

Worship gets distorted when we try to make it about us. Musicians (myself included) are very good at being the center of attention. We want people to notice our incredible talent and sheer awesomeness. But worship isn’t about me… or you. It’s about God. Worship is about making Him the central focus because it is in Him that we live and move and have our being. It is only because of His creation that we are creative. It is only in and through God that we have the gifts and talents we do. Worship is simply using those gifts and talents back to Him.

So the next time you join or lead corporate worship, gently (or not so gently) remind yourself that it’s not all about you. But rather, it’s all about Who God is. And when you bring Him to the forefront and make it all about magnifying God in your focus, He can show up in your life in miraculous ways!

“I will praise the name of God with a song,
And will magnify Him with thanksgiving.” Psalm 69:30

 

Jonah Called. He’d Like His Whale Back.

“I love you. Come back home. I called you to ministry and you said, ‘no’…” As my dear friend shared these words meant for me from God, tears streamed down my face. “I didn’t say no… exactly,” I argued in my head. “But your actions didn’t say ‘yes,'” my heart tugged.

A little over a year ago, I felt very strongly that I was being called into vocational ministry. I was scared, anxious, and excited. God had been very clearly taking me down a path of preparation for full time ministry. I didn’t know exactly what that ministry would look like, but I knew writing, public speaking, and ministering to broken and abused women would play some part in it. This very blog was my first step of faith toward whatever it was God wanted to use me for.

But then my son started struggling in school. The preverbal crap hit the fan and suddenly we were in an all out war for his life. Depression and suicidal thoughts, lying, swearing, anger, and disrespect were causing more and more problems for my boy. Until, finally, we made the decision to homeschool. I stepped down from my ministry leadership roles and ultimately pulled back from everything ministry related. With the best of intentions, I chose to focus on helping my son deal with whatever was plaguing him. We eventually quit going to Celebrate Recovery altogether which had been my ministry field for nearly 3 years. Even church attendance became more and more sporadic as I tried to clean up the mess of our family.

Because of my son’s struggles and behaviors, I continued to isolate us and tried to handle it alone. This mess was too messy for church. People couldn’t possibly understand what we’re dealing with. Especially not church people. So when we’d go to church, it was like a secret mission: Slip in. Slip out. No one sees. No one knows. Incognito church attendance. Or better yet, watch the live stream online. Can’t get your messiness on people that way! I’m a single mom. I’m supposed to fix this on my own.

Isn’t it crazy the lies we’ll buy into to justify our unhealthiness? The devil is using the same tricks today as he did in the garden. Lies, manipulation, and isolation. He plays on our insecurities and then convinces us we can do this without God. He convinced Eve that just a little bite wouldn’t hurt and she didn’t need God anyway! And here I am convincing myself I can parent a troubled preteen without Him and the best way to do that is to desert my community?! Yep. That totally happened.

Every time I step out and try to pursue God’s calling in my life, something catastrophic happens that knocks me back 10 feet! (You’d think I’d figure out where those blows come from.)

The last year has been my Jonah in the belly of the whale season. God called me and I chose a distraction to focus my attention on and say, “See? I can’t do what You called me to. It’s too messy out there! I think I’ll just hang out in here for awhile.”

Many years ago, a very godly woman whom I admire a great deal told me, “You know God has called you to ministry. If you don’t step up and do what He has called you to, He will find someone else to pick up YOUR mantel.” Those words echoed in my head tonight like a movie reel stuck on repeat.

But I’m a mess! Look at me! I’m a mess! I’m supposed to get my crap together first. Make a million dollars so I can fund this ministry way off in the distant future doing I don’t know what yet… I’m not qualified. How can I lead Your people when I’m standing in the middle of my own pile of garbage?!!? I screamed at Him in my head as I sat in my seat. And then that gentle voice of Abba Father said, “I qualify the called. I don’t call the qualified.”

I leaned over to my friend sitting next to me and said, “I think it’s time for me to do another Step Study.”

“Are you volunteering to lead it?” she asked. Seriously? I KNOW she’s in cahoots with Him on this. I could’ve sworn that whole conversation was just in my head!

“Yes. I guess I am,” I said.

Fine. I submit to you, God. I’ll follow You wherever you want me to go and do what you want me to. Even if that means starting from this whale’s belly. I won’t try to figure out all the pieces on my own. I’ll trust you. I won’t put You off anymore while I chase the dollar. I trust You to take care of me just like You do for the sparrow. I’ll lean in to You and Your people, my village. I won’t try to control every step. 

And then I bawled and whimpered through the serenity prayer….

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time. Enjoying one moment at a time. Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace. Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will. So that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.

And right then, it was like God dropped the mic. #BOOM

Open to Everything

“Be open to everything and closed off to nothing.” One of my dearest friends shared these wise words with me recently. Ironically, I was able to nearly immediately put them into practice.

Last Sunday, I visited a church that a year ago I would’ve rejected. The denomination is one I would’ve classified as dull and dry. My home church is one with electric guitars and fog machines during worship; videos and skinny jeans adorn the messages. Conversely, the church I visited had pews, an organ and hymnals. Enough said.

When I walked in, I reminded myself of my friend’s words. I made a conscious decision to set aside my preconceived notions about what I might expect. I kept an open mind and opened my heart to receive whatever the Spirit might have to say to me.

Being raised in a Charismatic church (in the eighties, mind you), I was led to believe the Spirit of God chooses only to speak through interpretation of tongues and dramatic encounters of the rolling on the floor kind. Looking back, I don’t think I was taught to listen to the “still, small voice.” But rather, look for flashing neon lights of sorts.

This week, as I sat in the pew, listening to the teachings and singing along to the hymns (all this over the dull roar of restless children), I felt a peace that I can’t describe. Later, when I joined the women for a class, I was moved by the authenticity of the ladies and their desire to be the hands and feet of Christ in the community through whatever opportunities presented themselves. Isn’t that what the Gospel is truly about?

The services were simple and the people so kind. In fact, at a couple intermissions, I felt a bit like a rockstar. It was obvious that I was a visitor and rather than breeze past, people lined up to introduce themselves and offer to show me around. I had 3 people in a row offer to show me where my children would go for Sunday School. I was overwhelmed in all the best ways. I felt welcomed and wanted.

At the potluck following service, my children and I sat with a lovely family to enjoy the meal. While the children carried on in lively talks, the mother and I had the most engaging, authentic conversation. I think the last church potluck I attended was in elementary school. But it was wholesome and enriching. Why did we ever stop this tradition? When did we get so busy that Sunday services became an entertaining in-and-out event?

That sweet woman even invited me to join in on choir practice. Oh how glorious it was to sing in a choir! I didn’t feel like an outsider one bit. They were thrilled to have another alto and I was delighted to participate. The Christmas hymns with piano, organ and a cello resonated in beautiful harmonies. I almost giggled to myself at the thought of the drastic contrast to my normal Sunday digs.

I started out this Sunday, open to see God through another perspective. Admittedly, I was nervous initially, not knowing what to expect. However, I certainly did not expect to spend 5.5 hours at a “traditional” church, being ministered to through simple talks and hymns.

One thing I know, I felt loved and appreciated by people who would receive no benefit from loving a tattooed, single mom. It wasn’t just the sweet people who met me and enveloped me in kindness that Sunday. It was the Holy Ghost Himself. The light of Christ shown through that congregation in such an unexpected way. My children skipped to the car, begging to go back next week (did I mention we were there 5.5 hours?). I floated out of the doors, feeling a peace that surpasses understanding.

At the end of the day, we all worship the same God. Whether Charismatic, contemporary or traditional, we all follow the same Jesus. Rather than drawing lines and distinctions between the various denominational differences, we should appreciate the value in a lively service as well as the full sound of an organ. The Spirit of the Lord is present with those who desire to seek Him. As believers, we should unite over the commonalities. And as a follower of Christ, I encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone and worship where that “still, small voice” might be leading you.

“Be open to everything and closed off to nothing.”