Our Worship is selfish… but, is it?

Since the conception of the formal structured church, we have had an important prophetic role to play. The church universal has had a prophetic voice amidst some of the greatest crisis in history.  Surely the church of Jesus Christ had to navigate the holocaust? Surely there were preachers speaking about Hitler?  Did the church of the 60’s not have to teach and minister to those abusing drugs and sex? Great testimonies have been uttered in response to the message of hope professed by the Christian church after 9/11 in the states.  In our own country, the church had to help black and white alike to unite after 1994 – sometimes with some very awkward encounters as whites refused to share a pew with blacks in their traditional NG churches.

All these, and certainly more, have to do with the church speaking to a world “out there” about “its” crisis.  Within our walls, though, we too have had to navigate some challenges.   The creeds and councils are as a result, for example, of the difficulty of interpreting certain scriptures.  The doctrine of pre-destination, for example, is a road the church has had to travel repeatedly, and still we disagree.  More recently, pastors and Christian leaders are meeting to discuss the best way to help those who find themselves attracted to someone of the same sex, while sensitively rebuking those who have taken that attraction to the level of biblical sin.  How exactly, do we help the beggars in society.  We know that we ought to love our neighbour – Jesus was clear on that – but is giving a handout really helping them?  With so much divorce in our society, what do we do to minister to children who are often shoved into the back classrooms and read children’s bible stories?

Even further – how do we work around pastors on the same staff, serving the same church, who have doctrinal differences (don’t look so shocked – I suspect not a single church exists where all the pastors agree on every doctrine). And how do we develop a philosophy of worship that ushers the church into the presence of God.

It is this last question, particularly, that is on my mind as I believe the church is reaching a place of disagreement again, albeit subtle.  Ironically, it is a good thing that has led us to this place.  I am seeing, like never before in my ministry, a passion from young Christians to know truth, to interpret truth, and to apply truth.  In the ministry I serve, for example, a number of young adults (and even some teens!) gave up their April holiday to spend the week reading the entire Bible (Genesis to Revelation) in 6 days.  For 12 hours a day, they say and read the Word of God.

It is this hunger for truth and understanding that has brought many of our young people back to a place of analysing the things we do in church and the way we do them.  Worship, being centre stage  (no pun intended. Wait, that’s a lie – it was totally intended).

A concern of late is that our worship has become too selfish.  Songs are written that are all about me (Sorry, Matt Redman, your “It’s all about You” refrain seems to have lost its popularity), focussing too much on what God has done for me, rather than just acknowledging who He is.  At the end of a time of worship, we are left with a great sense of self, rather than a great sense of awesomeness of God. Our worship is self-seeking and self-honouring.

But, is it?

Don’t get ahead of me. I am not a heretic. I am not suggesting that our songs should be all about us – certainly not. Worship, as Mike Pilavachi has said, is for Jesus, to Jesus, and about Jesus.  The bulk of our time of corporate and private worship should be to simply acknowledge the goodness of God.  The Psalmists were great at that.  I love the rallying together of Psalm 95:

Psalm 95

1 Come, let us sing to the Lord!
    Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come to him with thanksgiving.
    Let us sing psalms of praise to him.
3 For the Lord is a great God,
    a great King above all gods.
4 He holds in his hands the depths of the earth
    and the mightiest mountains.
5 The sea belongs to him, for he made it.
    His hands formed the dry land, too.

6 Come, let us worship and bow down.
    Let us kneel before the Lord our maker,
7     for he is our God.
We are the people he watches over,
    the flock under his care.

Much has been debated between the difference between “Praise” and “Worship”. It’s a debate, I confess, that I haven’t felt to be too very important in the greater scheme of doctrinal discussion. However – I have settled upon a rather simplified (and, certainly not perfect) definition for myself: “Worship is a response to who God is; Praise is a response for what God’s done”.

These two aspects of the nature of God are inseparable. It is because of what God has done,  that we can know who He is. It’s because of who He is, that he he has done what He has done.  To separate these two, and to only worship God for who He is, and ignore what He has done, is to withhold some praise and worship.

In keeping with things that are linked… the songs that are often perceived to be “all about us”, and in fact, all about what God has done for us.  Yes, there is always the danger that in singing those songs that focus would be on me. Of course those pitfalls exist. We are human; sinful; prideful.

One such song that sometimes worries me is also one of my favourite worship songs:

“He loves us, oh how He loves us, oh how He loves us, how He loves us so.”

The song is all about God’s love for us  (with, also, the most incredible line: “If grace is an ocean we’re all sinking”).  Which could easily have a worshipping congregation stand with a self-assured stance of “I’m worthy of love” and “God is a big cuddly teddy bear who loves me because I’m amazing”.  But, to not sing that song because of that potential, stops Thando, an ex-prostitute who has recently come to know the Lord and understand that the beautiful exchange is that we are filthy, sinful creatures who a loving God has chosen to bless because HE is so good.  When Thando sings that song, she cannot help but be in awe of how good God is that, despite her past, He loves us.  That revelation is what compels Thando to express her worship in an even more significant way when singing “10000 reasons”, a song that allows her to “Bless the Lord oh [her] soul, oh [her] soul, worship His Holy name”.

Yes, I agree, our Worship needs to be God focussed at all times.  But to take away all songs that have reference to me, and what God has done for me, is not the solution. The solution, I believe, is to teach our congregations that even when we are singing songs about God’s goodness toward us, the focus should still be on HIS goodness, not on us.

I do wonder if Psalm 23 – the most popular psalm in the the book – would be left out if the Bible was compiled today. The entire Psalm is about what The Lord, our Shepherd, does for us. It reveals the magnificence of the protection, peace, comfort and strength that God grants us. Is the psalm about us? No. Not at all. It is about HIM, HIS goodness, HIS protection, HIS guidance.

So all that to say: let’s continue analysing our songs. Let’s make sure they are biblically sound.  They must be true to the nature and work of Christ. They must be singable! (Thank you, Hillsong, for finally writing some songs that we can actually sing).  But let’s not chuck out every song with the words “I, me, or us” in them for they do give glory to God most high for what He has done.

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