WORSHIP: WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE?
“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name” (Psa 103:1).
In New Testament congregational worship, we sing “psalms” (Col. 3:16). The authorized instrument of the sincere worshipper is the heart: “making melody with your hearts unto the Lord” (Eph 5:19).
So, do we put our whole hearts into worship with emotional fervency? Or, are we satisfied to go through the external motions of the correct, outer form of mumbling some a cappella songs?
Will God accept the correct external form of worship that is devoid of spiritual enthusiasm, which is dead and dull? No!
I recently talked with a Christian who went out of town on a business trip and had visited some different churches of Christ. Sadly, it was found that in some doctrinally “sound” churches, they seemed to have unduly slow, lethargic worship that was not uplifting. I’ve worshipped with numerous churches over the years, several of which had edifying worship, while in a few I wanted to pull my hair out because it were so dull, lifeless and unedifying. Some are so sound in the truth that they are sound asleep (1 Cor. 11:30)!
God Doesn’t Want “Dead” Worship
The church at Sardis had a reputation for soundness in their spiritual life, but the Lord knew their true condition: “you are dead. Wake up and strengthen the things that remain, which are about to die. For I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of my God” (Rev. 3:1-2). Part of their “dead works” could include heartless, apathetic worship, as it could today with us.
Also, Malachi faced the problem of “worship weariness” among God’s people long ago. When they brought blemished offerings to God, they acted like “how tiresome it is!” (Mal. 1:13). They just went through the outward motions of worship, because they “had” to worship, but their hearts were not really into it. Malachi said God is insulted by such disdainful, “dead” worship, because it reflects little thoughts of His awesome greatness (1:6-14). We are commanded to honor God by giving Him our best in the “sacrifice of praise” (Heb 13:15).
Matthew Henry applies the lesson of mediocre worship of Malachi’s day to us: “If we worship God ignorantly, without understanding, we bring the blind for sacrifice. If we do it carelessly…if we are dull and dead in it, we bring the sick. If we rest in bodily exercise and do not make heart-work of it, we bring the lame. If we suffer distractions to lodge in us, we bring the torn, and ‘is it not evil?’ (Mal. 1:8)” (Commentary, Malachi 1).
Too many brethren put much more energy in supporting for their favorite sports team, hobby, or finding the best deals in shopping than in enthusiastically worshipping God.
Spirited, Enthusiastic Worship
“Worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23-34) that pleases God is both doctrinally accurate and spiritually enthused. Scriptural enthusiasm is conveyed in Psa 103:1 by praising God “with ALL THAT IS WITHIN ME”!
Besides the mind, true worship includes the emotional energy of the heart and soul in contemplating the majestic, awesome greatness of our gracious God: “My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to You; and my soul, which You have redeemed” (Psa 71:23). This is giving God our all, our best in worship.
Is our spiritual enthusiasm manifest in exalting our marvelous Creator, our unrivaled Redeemer? The English word “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek word that means “God within.”
Spirited worship from the emotional energy of the heart filled with the glory of God is reflected in Biblical examples and admonitions to “shout” to the Lord!
•“Be glad in the LORD
and rejoice, you righteous ones; and shout for joy, all you who are upright
in heart” (Psa 32:11).
•“Shout joyfully to God, all the earth; sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious” (Psa 66:1-2).
•“O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD, let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the LORD is a great God…” (Psa 95:1-3).
•“On the glorious splendor of Your majesty and on Your wonderful works, I will meditate. Men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts, and I will tell of Your greatness. They shall eagerly utter the memory of Your abundant goodness and will shout joyfully of Your righteousness”(Psa 147:5-7).
•“A great multitude…standing before the throne and before the Lamb…and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb" (Rev 7:9-10).
•“I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, `Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God’” (Rev 19:1-2).
The emotional fervor of spiritual enthusiasm is ignited by meditating on the truth of God’s infinite greatness and His unfathomable mercy toward us. A weak faith in and love for God produces weak, unenergetic worship.
Hence, unduly slow singing, that drags on listlessly, evidences a lack of enthusiasm in the soul for God. So, we let’s focus on putting sober thought, deep feeling and exuberant spirit into our worship to the Lord!
Singing and Song Leaders
To give God the best in lively praise, the Old Testament Temple worship had “skilled” song leaders. “Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was in charge of the singing; he gave instruction in singing because he was skillful (1 Chron 15:22; cf. 25:7). Can we do less in giving God our best in congregational worship?
Congregational worship should be “edifying” to all (1 Cor. 14:26), not just to give an individual some “experience.” You get experience and training in a class environment, where you are evaluated and trained to rise to a certain level of competence to lead congregational worship. Sometimes churches allow men to lead singing simply because they volunteer, regardless of their musical competence.
In our singing, I have seen how important a skilled song leader is in setting the tempo and enthusiasm for worship. I once attended a singing class and song service conducted by Tim Stevens, and it was amazing how much better the congregation sounded with a skilled, enthused song leader. Song leaders set the pace of how edifying the singing will be!
Too many churches have “song starters,” not “song leaders,” who allow the congregation to drag down the tempo, which is not edifying. Congregational singing will not rise above the song leader.
For help and resources for excellence in song leading, go to www.rjstevensmusic.com.
Let’s use endeavor to give our exalted God scriptural, “lively” worship! God is seeking such “true worshippers” (Jn. 4:23).
By W. Frank Walton
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