When most people hear the word worship they have one of several incomplete thoughts. Many in my tradition will call our office and ask what time worship begins. For them, worship is the time when the community of faith gathers in a church building to read the Bible, sing some songs, give an offering, hear a sermon, and receive communion once a month. Others associate worship with the first part of the gathering, and to be more specific, the singing. Many churches today divide their gatherings: the first part is worship then the pastor shares a teaching. Still others think of worship as a response. When I receive that promotion for which I prayed, I worship. Let me clearly say that none of these are wrong. I simply contend that they are incomplete.
Several years ago I read a sentence that shifted my thinking: “Praise is a spiritual discipline.” Sit with that for a moment. It may be category shifting for you as it was for me. For the most part I see praise/worship as experiential – non-linear, non-cerebral, and often emotional. Nothing stirs my heart or makes my eyes water more regularly than times of worship. Spiritual disciplines are a means to an end. Through regular periods of Bible reading, prayer, fasting, and the like I expect to grow closer to God through Jesus Christ. I expect my faith to mature as I practice spiritual discipline. So, at times, I do them even when I don’t feel like it. Like exercise, I try to focus on the end result on those days when my motivation is low.
When I began to view praise and worship that way things started to change. Praise became a regular part of my life. I began looking at my morning time with God, not just as Bible study or “quiet time,” but as worship. I started to praise God regularly. Even when I didn’t feel like.
I have a Facebook friend with whom I grew up in the church. We don’t really know each other anymore, but I do see her posts from time to time. She recently posted the lyrics from a Casting Crowns song that served as comfort in a difficult time:
And I’ll praise You in this storm, And I will lift my hands.
For You are who You are, No matter where I am.
And every tear I’ve cried, You hold in Your hand.
You never left my side. And though my heart is torn,
I will praise You in this storm.
(from “Praise You in this Storm” from Casting Crowns’ Lifesong CD)
For us worship leaders, I think this definition of worship as a spiritual discipline is vitally important. In one of his videos on worship leading, Leading Worship: Creating Flow, Paul Baloche talks about how what we do in front of our congregations should be an extension of the worship we offer privately throughout the week. If we do not have regular periods of worship in our lives than our leadership can be directing people to something other than God.
In our praise team, we talk a lot about focus. For us focus is that difficult-to-define line between leading worship and putting on a show; the difference between people experiencing God or experiencing a good (or not so good) band. Having times of regular worship on our own allows us to achieve that level of focus.
How do you worship God other than on Sunday morning? When have you recently praised in the storm? I’d love to hear your stories. Leave your comments below.