The Heart of Worship

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“The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”‘

-Isaiah 29:13

Throughout my Christian walk, I have experienced many forms of worship. I grew up in a contemporary non-denomination church band singing with my dad. I’ve always loved singing; it was one of the few things I knew I could do well. But I loved worship more than I loved singing the next new love song as I often did on our karaoke. I wanted to do more than sing for entertainment; I wanted people to experience God on a whole new level. For that to happen, I had to grow as a singer, and only recently have I learned that there is so much more than simply “singing well.”

Someone once told me, “there’s no unseen power going on during worship, it’s merely our emotions being brought to the surface through provoking sounds.” Hearing this, for a while made me think, “am I only stirring up people’s emotions, like any music genre?” I used to stay up late into the night listening to my iPod. I remember the feelings that would arise with each song, feelings that I often hid and learned to vent through music. Some songs would bring passion to the surface, others anger and the most beautiful of all songs brought sadness. Beautiful? In that, they played a song of understanding into places in my heart and life that I did not understand.

Beyond all the emotions I have experienced through music, what I have felt through worship is unparalleled. I can live without secular music, but I can’t live without worship. It’s more than a feeling; it’s a need. And if you don’t know this feeling, it is because you have yet to know what true worship feels like and have yet to fall in love with the one who died for you. For example, when I think of my past, I can’t imagine going back to a time when my husband, Aaron, wasn’t in my life. Nor can I imagine a future without him, nor do I want to. His presence in my life adds so much more to it, to take him away would be to take a piece of my very heart away. He is a part of me. And even more so, God is a part of all of us.

So, is it true? Does music stir up our emotions? Yes, but not only, God works through our passions, but He isn’t limited to that alone. He designed us all to be worshippers. Study the brain, and you will find many things that can be explained scientifically, many that can’t…and yet, both the explained and the unknown are astounding proof of God. It is proven that music, particularly worship does something to the brain, something that can only be tied to our Creator.

Before I knew any of this, I had experienced something entirely new for the first time. I entered a place of worship that was a celebration. All my life, I had looked out upon the congregation from the stage and had seen people as still as statues, some may have raised their hands, others sitting and maybe clapping..but nothing compared to this. I saw dancing, true David-like dancing, some were waving majestic flags, their rippling sounding like thunder. I heard laughter and singing, so much singing I couldn’t make out who was leading the chorus even if I wanted to. And I didn’t want to; it was beautiful. I heard another language I had never heard; it sounded foreign and familiar, an ancient tongue.

Towards the end, I witnessed something that forever shaped my view of worship. I saw someone lift up a golden crown. Presented on a royal pillow, and they lifted it up to God. I had never seen God honored in this way; I had thought honor looked like silence, bowed heads, and stillness….a somber humbleness. And I do believe there is still a time for that. But what of praise? This was praise on a whole new level, a celebration that didn’t care for fear of man. Like David, do you remember the story? When he brought back the Ark of the Covenant that carried the presence of God to its true home, he celebrated! He danced barely clothed in complete abandon, vulnerable before God. And Saul’s daughter was embarrassed by him (2 Samuel 6:14-23). But what did God do, did he side with her? No, he rebuked her and praised David because of his heart.

Since that moment, my eyes have been opened to different levels of worship, just as we experience different levels of awareness of God’s presence. Why does this matter? Why can’t we just stay where we are with worship in the church? You can if you want, I’m not sharing this to say that that form of worship is wrong, remember I grew up with that worship. I believe God cares about the heart of the one worshiping, more than what we do. But, I also believe that what we do is an outward expression of our heart. Test your heart in this…if God asked you to dance before him in front of others would you? If you immediately felt fear at being judged by those around you, then I say to you, the issue isn’t the worship, it’s your heart. You fear man, and because of that, you worship from a place of safety, when God wants you to be free like David. This question should lead you to others such as, “why do I worship the way I do? Is it because I feel led to worship this way or is it because this is what I was taught. Tell me where in the bible does the church find the template for how worship should look and feel?

Again, I’m not here to point fingers; this is a lesson for me to…I’m not quite free myself, I’m just open to the idea of more. I see no biblical context that goes against us praising God freely. The religious spirit craves order and control; they may try and say something along those lines as if it’s from the mouth of God. I won’t go into details about the spiritual gifts and the guidelines to using them, that is another topic…where caution, and proper discernment must be used, but in worship- I believe that should be free and open to the workings of God. What’s at the heart of it? Relationship. If you still are uncertain, if you still seek answers, draw closer to the one who has them. He doesn’t hide things from us, but for us to find, to seek out. However, he doesn’t reveal himself to strangers, take Jesus for example, he spoke in parables saying that only those who are his, who know his voice would understand what he tells them (John 10:27). Therefore seek to know him, and he will reveal things to you.

I just want everyone to be free, if you experience God freely at your church-please don’t feel pressured to change! This is for those who struggle with the fear of conformity and man. Those who want more and want to give God more than they feel they have given. Is God challenging you to take a risk? To be free? That is who I’m writing to. As for my personal walk, what I’ve discovered most, what I want to leave you with is this….worship is more. There is power in worship…power to transform cities, the lives of those around you, the power to transform yourself. What we say and do matters, God see’s it and our heart. Just as faith without works is dead, so is love without action. The more you give, the more you will receive…so, whether you are worshipping in a large crowd dancing, in a small town church pew with your eyes closed, or at home on your knees….God is with you, He always is.

I want to dance, I want to shout for joy, I want to sing to the lover of my soul…because He deserves it and so much more.

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