Instead of a Show

Posted: August 30, 2012 in Jesus, Musician, Perspective

As some of you may know, I’m a musician who has sung a lot of songs about God, to God, and for God. Some of those publicly, and many times privately. Growing up in ‘church culture’ I’ve noticed a lot of nuances about the language we use to describe expressions and acts of our faith. One word that is commonly tossed around, and is often directly associated with music, is worship.

Since coming to college, I’ve thought about this topic a great deal. I’ve come to the conclusion that the majority of us in the 21st century American Church haven’t a clue what that word really means from a biblical perspective. Beyond finding a more accurate definition, I’ve pondered how that affects how I worship God. I’ll be honest; my whole perspective has been changed.

In short what I’ve learned is that there are a three main words that refer to worship in the Old Testament. One of them ‘aboda refers to temple worship such as offering sacrifices and keeping Jewish rituals. The word thusia also used referring to temple sacrifices, and Paul used it when refering to Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice for all the world’s sins (Ephesians 5:2). The other word used is shachac– which is the physical posture of bowing down, which symbolizes reverent fear, submission, and a commitment to obedience.

In koine Greek, they refer to ‘aboda as latreia. In the New Testament this word was sometimes portrayed in a negative sense, because the then Jewish leaders thought it to be an act of service to God to kill Christians.

In koine Greek, they refer to shachac as proskyneo, and it more or less means the same thing- bowing down, reverent obedience.

Paul, in the New Testament also uses the word leitourgia, which basically means an act of service or sacrifice to God, many times through helping other people (especially Christian brothers and sisters).

Here’s a few sources that explain all the language origins better than I could, and they are written by people who have done A LOT more research and formal study than I have:

Alright now that you have all that information, I’d like to share a bit about what our culture (21st century American church to be specific) tells us.

  • Worship happens on Sundays and Wednesdays, or any other day of the week, right before a sermon is preached.
  • Worship is a synonym for singing songs to and about God.
  • Worship is a genre of music.
  • Worship is confined to a time period and a place.
  • Worship is lead by a Worship Leader- a guy or girl on the church staff or volunteering who picks and leads the songs, often on a stage facing an audience (aka congregation).
  • A worship experience is best when the band is playing well together, there are dramatic but timely light shows coordinated with the songs, Powerpoint slides with the lyrics up on a big screen so you don’t have to memorize them all, and when the crowd is really getting into it (hand-raising, clapping, singing loudly, kneeling, lots of praying, maybe some tongue speaking and dancing if you’re of the Charismatic persuasion).

It doesn’t take a genius to notice the differences. Unfortunately, what I’ve gathered and learned from the Bible, and fellow Bible studiers, there’s a disconnect between what the Bible teaches and what Western Church culture reinforces. Worship in the Bible is clearly about honoring and glorifying God in words, deeds, actions, and thoughts. It is an all-encompassing spiritual posture of humility, acknowledging that we are nothing without God and that he is worthy of all praise and honor and adoration. While the 21st century Western culture does a good job of honoring God with words and lyrics, we do a poor job of honoring God with our thoughts, deeds, and actions (especially outside church walls). And maybe it’s not even about how ‘good a job’ we do, as much as it is about the condition and honesty of our hearts.

Don’t get me wrong. I love singing songs to and for God. And the Bible even says God delights when His children sing songs of praise to Him (Psalm 147). But I am deeply saddened by the extent in which we’ve sold ourselves short on experiencing and living a life of worship. I honestly feel that many of us are missing out on a part of the faith that is not only crucial and necessary, but life changing.

After about a year of staying off the music stage, I acted as the song leader for a local campus ministry at my college last night. It was really fun, and to be honest I was mentally all over the place trying to find my way to praising and thanking God for who He is and the amount of trials he’s brought me through recently. Afterwards, I was met with several congratulatory and encouraging comments- “Good job.” “Hey you did a great job tonight at worship.” “I really enjoyed your singing.” “You had an awesome presence up there.” While I realize everyone who said these things had the best and kindest intentions, I couldn’t help but feel extremely wrong and uncomfortable by these remarks. Like I was getting some kind of undeserved attention. After all if I was really up there to “lead worship”, wouldn’t we be more thankful to God for another opportunity to worship him, and not the singer? Heck I’m not even supposed to be the worship leader. According to the Bible that role belongs to the Holy Spirit. It’d be like someone thanking the grounds crew at an NFL game for the offense scoring so many touchdowns due to mowing the grass and painting the end zone correctly.

I’d like to get back to the heart of worship. And like the well-known Matt Redman song goes, it really is all about Jesus. Not about God fixing our problems. Not about the skill of the musicians and singers on stage. Not about the song choices. Not about an emotional reaction or connection to the event/show. Not about meeting at a specific time or place. It’s just about Jesus. It takes form in pausing to awe and fear and/or actively glorify Him (through service, sacrifice, reverence, prayer, adoration, etc.).

Can worship and praise happen through song? Yeah probably. But to be honest, I’d like to see a little more variation in how we (the church) worship God. The result of us continuing on this path, is believing in a counterfeit view of something God intended to be very authentic and life-changing.

So next time you see someone in emotional or physical need…worship God. Next time you get a moment to pause…worship God. Next time you see someone who is lonely and needs a friend that genuinely cares…worship God. Next time you pray…worship God. Next time you get the opportunity to encourage and hang out with other Jesus-believers…worship God. You don’t have to be in a church gathering setting, and you don’t have to have a musical instrument or a microphone, or even a singing voice to worship God. You just need your heart, which is coincidently the hardest thing to give.

“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.” Jesus (Matthew 15:8-9)

  1. Steve Lirette says:

    Good message Jordan. I too have learned so much in the past 2-3 years on worship and God. I asked myself what does God expect of me and what does it mean to truly worship. I have found there are a few things we have to understand first. What is the trinity? (understanding what “The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit position is), What is Gods Law? And understanding theology Proper. It can get really deep but once you understand these things worship becomes easlier to understand. Sorry so long but I get excited.

    Tell your Dad I said Hi. We miss you all.

    Steve Lirette

  2. emiliovelis says:

    Worship is a human’s way of sanctification.

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