I’ve Never Seen…
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him.
(1 Corinthians 2:9b, NIV)
Recently a friend of mine said “I’ve never seen anyone worship as hard as you.” I didn’t quite know what he meant, so another friend reworded it to “passionate.” Although I’ve heard other people commenting about how my worship encourages them, (that’s great!) I still wasn’t quite sure how to respond in the moment. So I thought I’d write a post that sheds some light, hopefully in a way that will encourage you!
First I will say, I have not always worshipped this way.
I grew up in a Lutheran Church. It was a great foundation for my faith that I am so thankful for. But the most expression I saw there was in children’s VBS hand-motions, and some folks (like my Dad) closing his eyes as he sang a favorite song. I’m not saying anything about the passion or the heart in worship (which was probably sincere and full of love for God in many people), but just what I saw while singing hymns or praise songs. As a kid, my childish mind translated this as religious duty, more so than a life-giving relationship with GOD. These days I understand enough to worship with passion in just about any context, but back then, it was hard.
Since those years, I’ve been in a WIDE variety of worship contexts. It may be a surprise to hear, but I am not the most passionate worshipper I’ve ever seen. Other worshippers have called me up in this, and continue to do so. I love how God is growing us together in this, because the more passionately (and the more often) I worship, the more my heart gets right before God and creates space for Him to do His thing… which is way better and way more adventurous than me doing my thing. (You know, Jesus said, “I am the way…” [John 14:6a]).
The first and most important commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30, NIV). If we don’t get this right… what’s the point? Without this, it’s just religion… An empty, life-draining, meaningless chore. From what I’ve experienced, I believe Jesus when he said that it’s the most important commandment, because when I love God fully (as best as my human heart can, with Jesus empowering me), everything else falls into place.
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (Jesus in John 10:10b).
How do we grow to love an invisible God? I could write another full post on this… but just think, how do we grow to love anyone? Spending quality time together, giving and receiving care, talking and listening to each other… (God speaks, how well do you know His voice? Jesus said his people will know His voice! [John 10:27])
There’s a story in Scripture (Luke 7) of a woman who was doing all sorts of weird passionate things out of love for Jesus. (Have we been willing to look a little weird in order to love Jesus with our actions/worship?) She’s behind Jesus at a meal, when she starts bawling her eyes out so hard that her tears literally wash Jesus’ feet. She then uses her hair to wipe his feet, kisses his feet, and pours expensive perfume on them. This isn’t some religious person… she’s well known as a “very sinful woman.” The other people expected Jesus to reject her. But Jesus instead highlights her loving actions as beautiful. He forgives her sins, and says that those who are forgiven much will love much.
Do we realize how much we’ve been forgiven? God is holy and perfect… that is the standard, yet we are far from that. We are far from God without Jesus. (Being a good person, or doing more good than bad, doesn’t earn God’s forgiveness needed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.) So we need Jesus’ to forgive a whole lot.
I am definitely NOT a performer. You can read me like an open book. (This is why I need to stay super-focused on Jesus as a worship leader… if I struggle on my instrument you’ll see it on my face!) My nature is to connect with people, and express what’s inside me. No performance in this. So as I worship, it’s a true expression of my heart to God. In my most natural, free state, my heart comes out through my feet!
As I learn more about who God is, experience Him more, and remember all He has done in my life, I am growing in my passion for the Lord. There are a lot of reasons why I pour out passionately to God. I’ve experienced God as my relationship-restorer… as my provider… as my hope and purpose… as my faithful friend… as my guiding Father… as my joy and peace… as my miraculous healer… as my literal life-saver… and so much more… Walk a mile in my shoes and you’ll see why I worship this way.
How have I been able to get to know God in these ways?
I accept His pursuit of me.
With God’s help, I try not to go about my day in my own way, but to live in the reality that God is near to His own. My goal is to communicate with God throughout the day: I talk to Him or write to Him, I read His Word and listen for His voice (which comes in many forms). We can’t know someone without communicating. Jesus sent His Holy Spirit so we can hear what He has to say (John 16:13-15). This is an amazing gift that more people need to embrace! If you want to learn how to hear God’s voice more, I’d be happy to share how I do.
Something that has helped me to go deeper into worship is to ask myself: Do I believe the words I sing in church? I mean really believe them? Like willing to stake my life on them? There are some INCREDIBLE claims being sung in churches… knowing myself, the day I go back to stone-faced singing is the day that I need to check my heart. If I’m not completely believing a Scripture-based truth sung in worship, I think it’s worth digging deeper in the Word, and struggling with God in prayer about it.
Here’s an experiment for you: Take a song you know and look up the lyrics. These should contain life-changing theological truths that are worthy of genuine celebration of how good God is. Pray over it. Let God examine your heart. Let Him speak to you about where your heart is at in response to these truths, and where it should be. Hint: It’s probably farther than you would assess on your own!
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
(John 6:68-69, NIV)
So thinking back to what my friend said: Hard/passionate worship, I think translates to visual expression of what’s going on in my heart.
How do we celebrate in life? — When our favorite sports team scored a goal? When we’re at a wedding? At a concert? Does it show on our faces? Do we smile, laugh, and cheer? Do we clap, jump a bit, and maybe even dance?
In these moments, we forget about civility. We just embrace LIFE and the relationships around us. The JOYS. The CELEBRATION. The FUN! (Did you know God laughs with us?)
Before you say, “Not in church!” I’ll ask, how did our joyful Heavenly Father who delights in His children become completely stone-faced to you? We can still respect our Father while expressing our love to Him. Think of your interactions with your spouse, parents, or children… How is similar or different to your interactions with God, the intimate lover of our souls?
“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17, ESV)
How do children tell their parents they need them? Do they reach their hands up for their daddy to pick them up? Do they open their hands to receive gifts? Do they cry out, tell them what’s wrong, and ask for help?
I do likewise in worship. Expressing my heart to God by lifting my voice and moving my body in expressive ways actually helps me focus and connect with God more. I know my Heavenly Daddy likes to see my heart, and I know it can minister to others as I’m free in my worship.
“Then he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.’” (Matthew 18:3-4, NLT)
Little children don’t hold back their emotions. They don’t worry about social expectations or being respectable. They just connect with their parents and express themselves.
My love for Jesus and gratitude as a child of God outweighs my need to act like a civil adult. I have no shame in letting my love for Him shine through.
I’m ok with some people thinking I’m weird if it means that they see that an incredible, life-changing relationship with God is possible!
Expressing my heart visually in worship is one way that I love not only God, but the people around me. I try not to be distracting (and I do hold back some in certain contexts if I feel like it will help the people around me more), but I’m guessing if someone is near me they probably see my passion coming out visually… which I pray God uses to draw people closer to himself. What better way to love people during worship?
Worship blesses the heart of God, our own hearts, AND it is built to encourage the people around us as well. It’s not just about me and God… but us and God.
“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18b-20)
So, I want to LOVE the people around me by pointing to Christ, rather than caring what they think of me. I’m always going to be too much for some people, and not enough for others… what I care about is what God thinks. He is my Creator, the ultimate Judge, and the one who cares about me more than any other person does. With each passing year, I am set free more and more in my life and in my worship!
Growing up in dance classes, I have learned to express myself through the art form of movement. This carries over into worship, as I express what’s in my heart through my body. So this is probably why my worship is a bit more visual than most–besides the fact that I’m pretty passionate about Jesus–when the beat drops, my heart comes out through my feet! I’m SO grateful to be part of a church community that is cool with this.
But movement in worship isn’t just for dancers. The Israelites (God’s first chosen people) worshipped in all sorts of visual ways. They had community dances. King David was seen leaping and dancing before the Lord when the ark of the covenant (sign of God’s presence) was returned (2 Samuel 6).
Before you write off visual expression of worship as “for Stefanie” and “not for me,” let’s talk about what Scripture says worship should look like.
Note: These aren’t just suggestions. These are God’s WORD! All of God’s Word is good for us. It’s not empty commands, but things that will help us live abundantly. And hey… I think you’re gonna like what you see here! A whole lot more fun than what you thought church to be!
So many of the original Biblical Hebrew words related to worship/rejoicing actually have a movement implied (ie. nathar: to jump, giul: to spin, dalag: to spring, raqud: to stamp, barak: to kneel, karar: to whirl, schachah: to lay before, halikah: to march [Min. Gail G. Faust]). It’s all over Scripture…
Praise the Lord.
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.
Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
let the people of Zion be glad in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing
and make music to him with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people;
he crowns the humble with victory.
Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor
and sing for joy on their beds.
(Psalm 149:1-5, NIV)
So… God likes a party! It’s not for church, but for the One who brought us from death to life–from an eternity separated from God (and all things good) to an eternity of joy and love.
I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:7)
His rescue is worth a BIG party! Think of every person you believe to be in heaven with Jesus right now… aren’t you glad Jesus died so they can be? That because He died and rose again, we will too? That someday we’ll all be together again? I know I am.
Sometimes the joy of the Lord in me just bursts out… into dancing, jumping, clapping, or shouting victoriously!
Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.” (Psalm 47:1, NIV)
Let’s get a little loud now…
“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” (Psalm 95:6, NIV)
When we realize God is in the room… who can stand? Even the angels fall down on their faces before the living God! (Revelation 7:11) It’s only because of Jesus that will we stand in the end!
Sometimes I feel God’s presence and power in the room so strongly, that I can’t help but bow down. I feel the “weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17) causing me to submit to Him.
A Confession; A Plea
Something you may not know about me, is that I have battled with intense life-altering pains in various parts of my body.
But I have never wanted to let it hinder me in worship.
There have been times that I’ve come into worship in so much pain that I could barely stand. But I worshipped passionately from my chair, standing as able.
There have been times in worship where I’ve jumped around with so much joy, but then went through weeks of battling worsened pain afterwards as a result. I don’t let that stop me from doing it the next time I feel led to.
Am I doing what I can to care for my body and get strong again so I hopefully have fewer struggles down the road? Absolutely. But I refuse to dull my worship in the waiting.
I don’t share these things for you to pity me or admire me, but to say: This is how much I believe our worship matters.
Will you join me in sacrificing a little so people can see God more clearly?
WHAT’S THE POINT?
Let’s talk about worship. Why do I think it matters so much? What is it?
Worship is adoration.
It’s telling God He’s worth our time and affection and devotion. Because if you truly know God, you know that He is.
LOOK at Him. He is the most beautiful. He is incredibly glorious. And SO GOOD.
If you are unsure of this… take time to get to know Him more and more. I promise it will be the best decision you’ve ever made in your life. (Why else would an otherwise normal person from Hilton, NY be writing this post? Yeah… knowing God more changed my life, and still is changing it.)
Worship is entering more fully into God’s presence through Jesus.
WHAT?! Just take a moment to let that soak in. HOLY GOD… CREATOR… OVER ALL… He lets us come near through Jesus.
“But you are holy, O you that inhabit the praises of Israel.” (Psalm 22:3, KJ2000)
This isn’t some casual thing. We don’t say “Hey what’s up?” to a King in a glorious throne room. You better bet we come in full of awe and even a bit of fear because of His power.
When we come before the King, we bow down. We beg for mercy and grace… but it looks like we’re not good enough for that.
But then, Jesus steps in.
The King takes one look at Jesus, who says, “We know each other.”
The King calls us to rise and receive what we asked for. He welcomes us in as His own, because of Jesus.
With a sigh of relief, we thank Jesus and the King profusely. We celebrate (laugh, smile, jump, shout, dance…) in this moment when we realize who he is and how much he loves us. He LOVES us so sweetly!
Let the party begin.
Worship is also a way to BATTLE.
Do we treat it as such? As we sing songs from our souls to God, the spiritual atmosphere changes. People are SET FREE in Jesus’ name. His people are VICTORIOUS against dark forces in the spiritual realm. In Scripture, we see that the worshippers actually led the way into battles… and God miraculously gave them victory. (For example, 2 Chronicles 20).
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm” (Ephesians 6:12, NIV).
So let’s think…
How do warriors go into battle? They don’t casually stroll in, monotone voice, shyly saying “hey enemies, can you just like give up?” NO… With authority and power, they CHARGE in, fiercely SHOUTING, every ounce of their bodies and minds ready to FIGHT until VICTORIOUS.
The only difference is, we battle from a place of inner PEACE and JOY, knowing that the victory has already been won by Jesus. So, I might battle in worship with shouts and stomps… or I might battle in still surrender to the Holy Spirit, standing firm in the armor of God, knowing the angels are fighting for us… or I might battle with leaping and dancing as David did, knowing victory is already ours!
Worship is a lifestyle.
I am the Lord your God, who brought you […] out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
(Exodus 2:2-3, NIV)
This is the first commandment God gave to His people. If we don’t get this right, and just focus on “being a good person” then we’re totally missing it. TOTALLY! Our culture says being a good person is enough for heaven. But that’s NOT what God says! God says faith in Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection is the way. We can only get to that point of faith if we start with the Exodus passage quoted above: “No other gods before me.”
“Other gods” in this passage refers to–
- Love: Anything we give all our love to, getting in the way of loving God the most.
- Obsessions: Anything we can’t stop thinking about, or we want with all our hearts.
- Priorities: Anything we put before God.
In our context, these could be good things! But if how much we focus on them hinders us from loving God the most, then we have other gods before GOD. And that’s not good.
- Addictions (It could be drugs/alcohol, or it could be to food, sex, social media, games, even exercise.)
- Money & Consumerism
- Career & Dreams
- Having Nice Things
- Health & Beauty
- Happiness & Fun
People trust these things for abundant life. But Jesus came to give us true abundant life (John 10:10).
A test: How much time do we spend on these things listed above? How much energy? How much of our day-to-day thoughts go them? How much of our resources are devoted to them?
Is God getting the leftovers? Or none at all?
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
(Romans 11:36 – 12:2, NIV)
On Sunday, I sacrifice a desire to be a civil, respectable adult in order to worship God with my heart, soul, mind, and the strength of my body. A real heart test is to see if I am doing the same “true and proper worship” on Monday through Saturday… (not just when I play worship songs on Pandora, or read Scripture or pray) — to sacrifice my body out of love for God, for my life to be changed for the better because God’s Word has renewed my mind so much that I’m living in God’s will.
This reminds me of a song that has resurfaced in my life recently: “Clear the Stage” by (proud Aggie – WHOOP!) Jimmy Needham. (Watch the powerful lyric video here.)
You can sing all you want to
and still get it wrong
Worship is more than a song
(Jimmy Needham, “Clear the Stage”)
This doesn’t mean I’m living perfectly, but moment by moment I can approach God’s throne for mercy and grace to live a life “worthy of the calling” (Ephesians 4:1) — full of a Christ-focused, others-loving, Spirit-led hope and compassion. I can’t earn my way to heaven, and I can’t earn a heaven-filled life here.
For we do not have a high priest [referring to Jesus] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
(Hebrews 4:15-16, NIV)
When We Worship
What does worship do?
The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
1 Samuel 16:7b
I hope by now you’re getting the picture that God looks at our hearts. Not the outward appearance. Showing up to church and going through the motions doesn’t do a whole lot.
“These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.”
(Matthew 15:8-9, NIV)
I could dance my little heart out in church, fall on my knees, raise my hands, shout, clap… but if these actions aren’t an overflow of my heart, a true expression of my love for God, then it’s all meaningless.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NIV)
Love matters. Worship matters.
[Jesus said,] “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
(John 4:23-24, NRSV)
When we worship God truly from our very spirit, here’s a small portion of things that take place:
We enter more fully into THE CREATOR’s presence through Jesus.
Our hearts and lives become more aligned with God’s.
God’s heart is blessed, and He rejoices over us! (Zephaniah 3:17)
We join all of creation and the angels in celebrating God. (NOW THAT’S A PARTY!)
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”
The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.(Revelation 5:11-14, NIV)
We experience the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. (God in charge… all things new… all things beautiful.)
People around us are encouraged, and lives are changed for eternity.
Salvations, healings, miracles can happen.
We battle our way to victory, and people are set free! –set free from death… from purposeless living… from addictions… from physical and mental illnesses… from shame… from sin… from whatever kept us in bondage before…
Check this out:
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
What?! This is the power available when we worship!
Kind of makes me want to sing a little louder…
MY FINAL RESPONSE
So here we are… let’s go back to the start, where my friend said, “I’ve never seen anyone worship as hard as you.”
My response is, let’s change that.
I’ll say it again: Let’s change that!
Let’s call ourselves and each other up to another level of passion for the Lord. Passion that overflows every day of the week.
On Sundays, let’s stop being thermometers, and start being thermostats: setting the temperature of the room to be on fire for God’s presence! Let’s go into church believing God has more for us to experience than rote religious tradition… because He does! I’ve experienced so much more of Him than I could imagine years ago. It’s amazing! Let’s listen with expectation that we will hear what God is saying. Let’s worship with expectation that God will move mightily.
Let’s help each other create an atmosphere of freedom that allows people to be themselves before God. Think about how we can be the most honest before God and each other. This creates true spiritual connections. If you need to submit to God, it might help you to bow down physically until your heart follows. If you’re feeling broken, it’s ok to cry to the Lord and ask the person next to you for prayer. If you’re feeling grateful, let it out in whatever way comes natural to you!
In a worship service, I have personally witnessed (otherwise civil) GROWN MEN dancing with all their might before the Lord, and laying down before Him, in worship.
So go ahead, do what you gotta do to be honest and get right with God. (You won’t be able to hide in the end anyways.)
I’m not saying if you’re a quiet type that you have to get rowdy… just join me in growing to love God more fully each day, and growing to be the same people inside church that we are outside of church (and vice versa). But… I bet in heaven you will get a little rowdy. I believe everyone will in some way. We’ll be pretty excited when we’ve seen all God has done for us, our loved ones, and the whole world. So why not get used to it now? It’s gonna be LOUD!
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.
[…] I heard what sounded like the ROAR of a great multitude in heaven shouting:
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God…”
(Revelation 7:9a & 19:1, NIV)
Who am I in this picture? Just another worshipper loved intimately by God… an introvert with a quiet voice that tends to get lost in the background.
But in WORSHIP…!!!
He’s worth it.