“All together now—applause for God! Sing songs to the tune of His glory, set glory to the rhythms of His praise. Say of God, “We’ve never seen anything like Him!” When your enemies see you in action, they slink off like scolded dogs. The whole earth falls to its knees— it worships you, sings to you, can’t stop enjoying your name and fame.” Psalm 66:1–4, MSG
The smells were different. The sights were different. The music was different. And even some of the words were different.
But it was the same God.
I recently attended worship in a Christian church culturally not my own. In such a situation, often the differences are what initially bombard the senses. Incense and icons. Chanting unfamiliar music. Robes of gold and an exquisitely painted dome.
I was reminded of other different services I’d experienced in other lands — preaching from a flat-bed truck in Malawi, on the beach in Thailand, gathering in a dark hut in northern Kenya, and sitting in the back pew of a Mediterranean camp church where it was literally “all Greek to me.” Here in the States, I’ve worshiped in gymnasiums, cathedrals, tents, stone chapels and yes, even a Kentucky country church with snake-handlers!
Yet in all these places believers lifted up and worshiped the same Jesus Christ. Personally, I would rather embrace my common beliefs with other Christians than focus on our differences. True, there are distinct differences, but we have the same Scripture and the same Lord and Savior. As Paul said, “There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 2:5, NLT
Why not build bridges instead of erecting walls?
That said, I do acknowledge that different can often be uncomfortable. It is human nature to seek the solace of the familiar. And far too often our insecurities prompt criticism—“Why do they sing choruses instead of hymns?” or “Why do they sing hymns instead of choruses?” or “Why do they chant instead of singing hymns and choruses?”
Do you think God is actually big enough to receive our praise and worship in a whole world full of creative ways? Our prayers reach God’s ears whether they are totally spontaneous or ancient prayers, prayed from the heart. I do both. And, I assure you, God hears.
How do I know? Because God knows the heart of the worshiper. He knows whether or not we are focused on Him, committed to Him, believing the words we sing and recite. Somehow, I don’t think God cares as much about the form as we do. He cares that we trust and believe and hope and worship.
Do you need some spiritual direction on how to become a true worshiper? What if you could ask Mother Teresa for her advice?
Henri Nouwen once did that and she answered, “Spend an hour each day in adoration of your Lord and never do anything you know to be wrong. Follow this and you’ll be fine.”
Adoration. Focusing on all the aspects of who God is and what He does. Praise. Through written word, the Word, and hymns and spiritual songs. An hour huh? With the focus on Not Me. Surely, I can do that…
John Eldredge says, “Worship is the act of the abandoned heart adoring its God. It is the union that we crave. Few of us experience anything like this on a regular basis, let alone for an hour each day. But it is what we need. Desperately.” (The Journey of Desire)
And whether God’s people gather in an urban storefront or an underground cellar or, yes, even an ornate sanctuary, He is among us.
“May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.” Romans 15.5-7, NLT
Frankly, I’m not crazy about religious labels. I am a Christ follower. That’s all that really matters. For the past 28 years, my home of worship is the oldest church in Connecticut. Founded in 1635, our sanctuary is called The Meetinghouse and we worship in a Puritan, white, simple edifice with doored pews and a high pulpit with absolutely no decoration whatsoever. In fact, it remains the same as when George Washington and Jonathan Edwards worshiped here hundreds of years ago.
And it couldn’t be a more different atmosphere than the church mentioned in my opening. Yet here I find God. As do hundreds who attend our three Sunday services. Do you find God where you worship? Isn’t that what truly matters?
After all, it’s not about me. It’s about Him. Tim Keller says, “Glorious worship is exuberant, never halfhearted. It is attractive, not off-putting. It is awesome, never sentimental. It is brilliant not careless. It points to God, not to the speakers.” (The Songs of Jesus)
How will you choose to worship today? With great joy? In reverence?
Just open your Bible to the Book of Psalms.
“Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker.” Psalm 95:6
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.” Psalm 100:4–5
Worship is our natural response to all God has done for us—created, sustained, provided for, and redeemed. It is something we choose to do. Mark Labberton says, “When worship is our response to the One who alone is worthy of it—Jesus Christ—then our lives are on their way to being turned inside out. Worship sets us free from ourselves to be free for God and God’s purposes for the world.” (The Dangerous Act of Worship)
Will you choose worship today?
Excerpted from Life-Giving Choices ~ 60 Days to What Matters Most Lucinda Secrest McDowell (New Hope Publishers, November 2019) www.EncouragingWords.net