Worship is a remarkable phenomenon, as we are currently witnessing thousands of people gather in worship around the nation. We saw it unfold at Asbury college when one ordinary chapel session continued for 10 days before it was moved off campus to accommodate the flood of people who were arriving to participate. Worship continues to break out on other college campuses, churches, and communities inspiring believers everywhere and piquing the curiosity of a watching world. It’s no surprise that people are drawn to worship, and seeking to connect with God. After all, it’s what we are made for.
From the Garden of Eden to now, we were created to be in relationship with God. Our hearts are designed to long for Him, and worship plays a vital role in our relationship with God and in living the Kingdom life to which God has invited us.
Isaiah 61:1-3 describes a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven, the kind of life that Jesus came to bring and set loose in the world.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”
When it comes to worship, we often limit our definition of worship to singing songs and reading a Scripture or two in church on Sundays. But when we look at Kingdom life, we see that worship is so much more. It is every aspect of our being pointing to God and living every facet of our lives as a sign and a foretaste of God’s Kingdom coming.
That means singing songs and hymns and reading scripture and praying, but it also means comforting a neighbor, fixing a meal for a new mom, or listening to the grocery checker when they are having a hard day. Worship can be loving your family, kissing boo-boos and helping with math homework. It can be helping someone cross the street, or treating one another with love and grace.
All of these things can be acts of worship to the Lord, but I want to zoom in specifically on the time we set aside intentionally to worship the Lord both on our own and in our church families.
When we gather together for worship, we remember what God has done in the past, rejoice in what He is doing now, and look forward to what He will do in the future with eager anticipation. In worship, we have an opportunity to be close to God and grow in our relationship with Him. It’s a chance to recognize God’s Sovereignty, stand in awe of His love, realign our hearts with His, and surrender to His will. Worship is an act of our devotion to God and a source of encouragement and edification for others. (Ephesians 5:19-20)
But what astounds me, is that in worship, God meets us right where we are but He does not leave us there. His Holy Spirit works powerfully in our praise and we are truly transformed. In worship, we can encounter God, and in doing so find exactly what we need, right when we need it most.
When it comes to worship, especially in churches, it can be tempting to disqualify ourselves or to keep God at an arm’s length. Maybe we are keenly aware of our sins and imperfections and don’t feel worthy to be in the presence of the Lord. Maybe we are broken or hurting and feel like we have to pretend we have it all together before we walk through the doors of the church. Maybe we are scared that if we let our walls down, God may lead us out of our comfort zone into the unknown.
But in John 4:23-24, we hear from Jesus’ own lips the kind of worshipper He’s looking for:
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
In this passage of Scripture, Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman who was an outcast in society, known for having 5 husbands, and whose life was a complete mess. Because of her societal prejudice against her gender, race, and her checkered past, she had both disqualified herself and been disqualified by her community, from being able to worship God. There wasn’t a fake smile big enough that she could put on to distract anyone from the shambles her life had become. And yet Jesus assures her she can bring her whole heart and her whole mess to Him, and just worship.
He says it’s all about the heart. He will take care of all the messy bits, if we just give Him our whole hearts, and allow the Holy Spirit and the truth of God’s Word to work in us.
And there’s the miracle of it! When we bring our hearts to God in worship, if we are willing, He will not give it back in the same condition. He renews it, makes it whole, and restores us to right relationship with Him.
I know from experience.
There have been times in the past when I’d show up to worship in the worst mood. Cranky with everyone and sick of myself too. I’d sit down in my church pew like a toddler in timeout, with a scowl on my face and little in my heart that resembled gratitude or grace. My attendance was out of sheer obedience, but song by song, Bible verse by Bible verse, the Holy Spirit would go to work and my walls would begin to come down. In the presence of the Lord, my heart was softened and by the end of worship, I was filled with the love of God and overflowing with thankfulness and peace. I came to God with a heart that was ugly, and God made it pure.
I’ve gone to worship in seasons of grief and found there were times I could barely whisper the words. My heart was so heavy that sometimes I’d just sit when everyone else would stand. I just couldn’t muster the strength to rise. But bit by bit, as I listened to songs of hope, encouragement, and of our God who never lets go of us, my heart would start to lighten and I’d begin to experience a comfort that words could not describe. The circumstances of my heartache and pain had not changed, but I had. I felt held, safe, and secure in the arms of my Heavenly Father who met me there, to walk alongside me in my grief. It was in worship that I was reminded that God sees me, knows me, and will not let my grief consume me, because His love is stronger.
There have been other times still when my self-sufficiency and pride kept me from obeying God, from following Him with my whole heart, and doing the thing He has asked me to do. And yet in worship, I’d remember the Lord and who He is (and just as importantly, who I am not.) My heart would soften, not out of obligation, but in joyful willingness to join God in the work He is doing.
If I was unsure of myself, overwhelmed by insecurity, and stuck in a cycle of comparison, it was in worship that I was reminded of my belovedness as a daughter of the King. My heart was renewed and my vision cleared so that I could see myself and others more like Jesus does.
Isaiah 61:3 says that God gives us a “garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”
In the Kingdom of God, we are not stuck in despair, or even prisoners of our past. We are given a new heart and a garment of praise! When we allow God to transform our hearts and our lives, we become like mighty oak trees, displaying the splendor of the Lord for all the world to see. We are living the life we were made to live. We are living a life of worship.
Hebrews 12:28 says it beautifully: “Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.”
That is my prayer for all of us dear friend, that everything we say and do could be worship to God. And if you’re going through a difficult season, or you’re just not feeling it today, I want to encourage you to spend some time in worship-in your car, in your closet, or on a walk with a friend. If you’re a music lover like me, check out this song. Sit with the Lord and let Him give you praise for your despair, and beauty for your ashes. And as God transforms us to be more and more like Him, may our lives be a little glimpse of His Kingdom breaking through, like sunbeams filtering through the branches of a mighty oak.