With crashing cymbals, a drum roll and a flashy guitar riff, the praise band launched into the chorus of "Shout to the Lord."
Hands clawing the air, eyes peeking at the big screen projecting the lyrics, hundreds of people sang along, swaying hypnotically, surely feeling God's glory in that moment.
A perspiring pastor bolted onstage as the final strains of the song echoed off the acoustical tiles on the ceiling.
"Come on, you can do better than that!" he shouted into his microphone. "I've seen you at college basketball games! If you can yell that loud for a team that isn't even going to the NCAA Tournament, you can give it up for God!"
Obligingly, the congregation ramped up the decibels, applause punctuated by whistles and shouts.
"Amen and amen!" shouted the pastor. "That's what I'm talking about!"
Unseen in the back of the auditorium, Jesus lifted his eyes to Heaven.
"Father, is it because We are as old as time that they think We are hard of hearing?" he asked. "I told them in Matthew 18:20, 'where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.' They don’t need a megaphone.”
There are some 250 references to variations of the word "worship" in the Bible, depending on which translation you read. Only a couple mention the use of music, and at least one of those (the story of worshipping the idol of Nebuchadnezzar) is distinctly negative.
Why, then, has worship become synonymous with music in many churches? To go a step further, why are people choosing which church to attend based on music rather than on what a church might mean to their spiritual development?
There are a couple of Bible verses that may help explain what God really wants in worship.
Paul states it pretty well in Romans 12:1:
"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."
It's important to focus on the LIVING part of being a sacrifice. God doesn't want our deaths. He wants our lives dedicated to those things He has set out as worthy of our attention -- things like caring for others and bringing the world to Christ.
In fact, Jesus makes it clear this type of sacrifice is more important even than the many offerings of the Old Testament.
In Matthew 5:23-24, He says, "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."
Peter, still grieving over denying Christ three times before the crucifixion, wants to know how to express his love. In John 21, Jesus asks him three times if he loves Him. After each protestation, Jesus doesn't tell Peter to write a Christian song, or add some drums to the Sunday worship mix. He says this:
"Feed my lambs."
"Tend my sheep."
"Feed my sheep."
There are probably some worship leaders who embrace this passage and say, sure, that's what we are doing. We are feeding the sheep through praise and worship music. But the proof is in the pudding: What are your sheep doing the rest of the week?
I asked Andy Park (a Christian songwriter and worship leader; author of "In The Secret") how he dealt with transitioning people from praising God to doing God's will. He acknowledged this can be a problem and has written some songs that bridge the gap.
From "To Give My Life Away:"
"What can I do to serve You? How can I live a life of worship.
How can I show You I love You?
To freely give Your mercies. To love the ones who can't repay me.
This is my worship to you.”
From "Multiply Your Love:"
"Multiply Your love through me, to someone in need.
Help me Lord to freely give, this grace that I've received.
May my single purpose be, to imitate Your life.
Through my simple words and deeds, let love be multiplied."
Certainly, music has an important place in the church. But if we want to truly lead "worship" instead of just songs, we need to get people out the doors and into the lives of hurting people
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