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Archive for January, 2014


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Prayer is a two-way communication between us and God. One of the wonderful privileges of prayer is that we can come to God “just as we are.” The blood of Christ gives us the privilege to enter the throne room of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16). However, it is important to also grow in our prayer-communication with God. And the primer used for growing us in prayer is the Psalms.

The Psalms were used to teach Israel how to pray to the LORD. In the 150 Psalms we see just about every type of human situation and context for prayer. It shows us how to praise and to give thanks. It shows us how to offer a petition or a supplication. It shows us how to pour out our hearts. It bears in mind both the holiness of God and the compassion of God. It teaches us to be authentic, but not flippant or too familiar with the Lord.

I believe one of the best ways to pray the Psalms is through the Daily Office (also called the Divine Office or Prayer of the Hours). The Daily Office consists of several prayers (morning, mid-morning, noon, afternoon, evening and night prayers). The Psalms are usually the centerpiece of the prayers in the Daily Office (although other Scriptures may be used). The Daily Office is meant to be done in community (and it is very powerful to pray the Office with others), but I find it helpful in my Personal Worship Time.

There are two sources for the Daily Office: a Protestant version through the Anglican Church (which utilizes the Book of Common Prayer) and a Catholic version. Depending on which tradition you feel most comfortable. The Catholic version does utilize some of the apocryphal books in their readings – albeit rarely – and there is an occasional reference to Mary that some might not feel comfortable with. I personally use Phyllis Tickle’s “The Divine Hours” in my personal worship of God. It is a little bulky and when I’m on the road, I have an electronic version of “Hour by Hour” on my Kindle app – which is an abbreviated form of the Daily Office.

The Daily Office helps me to pray the Psalms, which teach me how to pray to God more reverently and confidently. I also find that it is helpful to not have to “think so hard” when I pray. Spontaneous prayer can be tiresome and very effort ladened; as well, it can become very self-focused or self-absorbed. Praying the Office takes that responsibility out of my hands. Like riding on the back end of a “bicycle-built-for-two” I can rely on someone else to drive the bike while I just focus on engagement.

But regardless of whether or not you use the Office as a part of your Personal Worship, it is good to make the Psalms a regular part of our prayer training. Billy Graham once shared with me (and 17,000 other college students at #urbana76 missionary conference) that his Personal Worship involved the reading of 5 Psalms a day (he read through the Psalms and Proverbs once a month). And I think his prayer life was pretty effective!

Are you growing in your prayer life?

What has helped you to connect with God in a deeper, more Biblical manner?

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In Personal Worship it is so easy to just jump right into the spiritual disciplines. We are so accustomed to “doing” that it is hard for us just to “be” – which is where we need to be when we meet with Jesus. There are so many things that fill our hearts and minds – things we need to do, people we need to see, thoughts of past, present and future, worries and fears. The one thing we need to do is STOP and release these things so that we can do the One thing that is needful – that is to sit at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:42).

Here is a routine that helps me to be fully present to the Lord as I begin my Personal Worship time:

1. Light a candle. This is not for ambience. The lit candle represents the very real Presence of the Holy Spirit (I got this from Ruth Haley Barton @transformingcnt #invitationtosolidtudeandsilence). Every time I look at it, I am reminded that He is with me.

2. Begin with a time of silence and stillness. I get myself in a position that is comfortable, but not lazy. I want to be attentive and alert. Once I am in that position, I close my eyes and try to remain as still as possible.

3. Take deep breaths. As I inhale and exhale deeply, the noise in my head begins to leak out and I begin to hear things I never noticed before. I hear the sounds of my environment (cars driving down the street, the movement of the second hand of my wall clock, the singing of the birds outside my house). Then I hear the sounds of my body (my breathing and the faint pounding of my pulse). Ultimately, I am positioning my soul to hear the small, still voice of God (1 Kings 19:12).

All of this takes about 2-3 minutes, but they are the most important moments of my Personal Worship. That moment sets the posture and priority of attending to God and our precious time together. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” This infers that knowing the presence of God demands that we still our souls before Him.

This is the air I breathe: Your holy Presence living in me … and I’m desperate for You

1. What helps you to be present to Jesus?

2. What steps can you take today to be more present to Jesus in Personal Worship and beyond?

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One of the great benefits of a Personal Worship approach to solitude is the anticipation and expectation of “hearing the voice” of our Lord, the Great Shepherd and the Lover of our Soul. While the language I use is rather intuitive/feeler oriented, I believe that God desires to speak to us in ways we can comprehend. For some it comes through a sense or an impression. For others it comes as an insight or thought. For others, like John Wesley, it comes through an inner physical manifestation, like the “heart being strangely warmed.” For some it comes by way of words or phrases. For others it comes as a picture or scenario. In any case, God knows how to communicate to us in ways we understand and know that it is Him. Personal Worship simply puts us in a position to hear that “small, still voice.”

It is in the context of hearing God’s voice that I want to begin on the role of Scripture in Personal Worship. Although I believe God speaks powerfully through impressions, thoughts, and visions, His voice is most evident in the Bible. In fact, I view the Bible as the tool that gives the voice of the Holy Spirit “vocabulary” and “content” when He speaks to my soul. Unless I am a student of Scripture, I will never understand – with any precision or discernment – what the Holy Spirit is saying to me.

I also want to add at this time that it is easy for some of us to get into the “intellectual mode” of studying Scripture without having a sense that God will actually speak to me through it. I am not talking about the spiritual temperament of “intellect” as a form of connection with God, but the attitude that studies the Bible as if God wasn’t “in the room.” In a subtle manner, not addressing the probability of encountering God’s voice (which the ancient Hebrews called the Kol Yahweh, “the voice of the LORD”) is a form of arrogance that places our intellectual prowess over the Holy Writ. However, the object of Scripture reading in Personal Worship is not to master the Bible, but allow it to master over us. Like the disciples on Emmaus road, we need the voice of Jesus to make the Scriptures “burn” in our hearts (Luke 24:32).

There are many ways to approach the Bible in Personal Worship, and in the next blog I want to explore some of those ways. At this time, I just want to underscore the importance of having some kind of interaction with Scripture in our times with Jesus. While other spiritual disciplines can “enrich” our time with God, Scripture reading and prayer (which is how we communicate with God) are bedrock essentials.

In closing, I encourage you to reflect on these questions:

1. Is Scripture reading a part of your Personal Worship time? Why or why not?

2. Do you anticipate hearing God’s voice when you read and reflect on Scripture?

3. When was a time where the voice of Jesus opened the Scriptures to you and made your heart “burn”?

This is my daily bread, Your very Word spoken to me … And I’m desperate for You

(“Breathe” by Marie Barnett)

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Jesus 24/7?

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Worship is more than a song. Worship is more than just what we do once a week in a congregational setting. Why? Because Jesus wants all of us, all of the time. Jesus wants us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

You might be wondering: how can this be? How can I worship Jesus 24/7? Am I even capable of doing that? Most of visualize this type of worship as something that monks or “sainted” people do, requiring intense effort, postured on your knees with your eyes upward to heaven, and being still for a very long time. In our time-poor culture, the idea of worshiping Jesus 24/7 sounds about as outrageous taking a trip to Jupiter!

Let me share with you that 24/7 worship of the Lord is nothing like what most people think. It is not restricting, but freeing. It is not passive, but active. It is does not require an intense effort; rather, it eases your burdens. You don’t have to rearrange your schedule to do it; in fact, it works best in the midst of whatever you are currently doing. It’s not an “add-on” to life; rather, it effectively takes away negativity in life – stress, anxiety, fear, shame, impatience. Best of all, it is transforming. It transforms your situations, your relationships, and most of all … you! You become a better person when you become a 24/7 worshipper of Jesus.

The key to becoming a 24/7 worshipper is to simply allow Jesus to enter into your everyday activities. As you drive to work/school, allow Jesus to give you grace for the day. As you encounter people, allow Jesus to guide your conversation. As you face a decision, ask Jesus to give you counsel. As you wait in the grocery checkout stand line, allow Jesus to guide you into prayer for the people in front of you. As you eat dinner with your family, ask Jesus how you can build up your family members. As you lay your head on your pillow to sleep, allow Jesus to guide your dreams. As you do this, you will begin to see remarkable things happen. God will open up opportunities for you. You will hear His voice. Your attitudes and perspectives will change. Hearts will soften before your eyes. You will experience the Kingdom of God in power because you are giving King Jesus access into your life.

Jesus wants to do amazing things in and through us. However, we don’t give Him very much opportunity to do so. We often wait until there is a dire emergency before we involve Jesus in the process. I am reminded of the story of the elder board meeting at a dysfunctional church, where things were going really poorly. Finally, one of the elders said, “Maybe we need to ask the Lord to help us.” To which another elder replied, “Has it really gotten that bad?”

We laugh (or cry) when we hear that joke, but how different is that scenario from our own lives? Do we allow Jesus to enter our lives only when there is a crisis? We call Him, “Lord”, but do we give Him access to our everyday, ordinary activities?

One more thought on 24/7 worship: don’t try to give Jesus your whole life at one time. In attempting to give Him everything, we often wind up giving Him nothing. How many times have we stated to God (perhaps in a song or a prayer), “I give you my whole life; I give you everything!” and then, in the very next moment, we do something entirely selfish or ungodly? The truth is this: we are incapable of giving Jesus everything all at once. To think we can do so is delusional.

But we can give Jesus one moment at a time. And that is a key to 24/7 worship. Don’t try to give Jesus all your moments, but try to give Him the next one. The idea is to give Jesus more and more access each day. “24/7” is not a starting place; it is a vision. A vision for your life; a vision that can and will happen as we take “baby steps” in whole life worship.

 Every hour, every moment; Lord, I want to be Your servant. I desire to be a blessing in Your eyes.  (“Psalm 19” by Terry Butler)

1. What helps you to worship Jesus more in your day?

2. When is a new moment in your day that you can give to Jesus?

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Choosing to Celebrate God

Clipart Illustration of a Bunch Of Floating Party Balloons With

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve been noticing a lack of joy in the Body of Christ. Christian brothers and sisters seem to have this overly serious attitude about them. When asked about how their faith is going, the usual reply is: “I’m okay” or “I’m struggling” or “I’m hanging in there”. These are honest answers. No one wants to be a Pollyanna where everything is positive, but un-genuine. Living the walk of faith can be hard and even depressing at times.

However, there is a reality that we have a tendency to ignore. This reality is the source of true Christian joy. But we are so used to focusing on the dark shadows of life (which truly exist) that we fail to see the brilliance of the Light (which also exists) that gleams undaunted above all and every shadow on the earth.

Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:1-2, “Since, then you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

There is something that has helped me to set my mind on the “above things.” That is: to start my prayers with celebration. Rather than coming before God and start in on “my stuff”, I begin my prayers with statements of celebration: “Lord, I celebrate Your love for me! Lord, I celebrate Your majesty! You are enthroned on high and the heavens rejoice. And I join in the rejoicing! I am so glad that You are on the throne. I celebrate Your grace. I celebrate Your goodness. I celebrate Your wisdom. I choose to celebrate You, Lord!”

This is not “Pollyana-ism”. These are statements of truth, not denial: I do not deny the existence of the challenges that face me nor the hardness and cruelty of life. Rather, it is acknowledging the greater reality of Christ’s sovereign dominion, love and favor over my life. It is realizing that, despite difficult circumstances on earth, Jesus has blessed me with every spiritual blessing … and He (and I, with Him) will prevail.

It is in Satan’s best interests to keep us from viewing our lives from that perspective. The devil wants us to keep our eyes and nose to the earthen grindstone, lest we discover the freedom and joy that Christ has all around us. And our feeble viewpoint communicates an all-too-common message to the lost around us:  that we are no different than they and that Christianity is just another coping mechanism to life’s hardships.

Brother, Sister, look up and behold Your King! Celebrate Him, the Lamb of God who takes away your sin! Rejoice in the Lord, who loves you and empowers you with His grace and presence! Death, darkness and sin have no power over you anymore! Christ has made you a child of the light and of the day! There is no reason for you to be joy-less!

Joy is not an emotion; it is an attitude. Joy is not a product of right circumstances, but right perspective. If your life is short on joy, it is because you are short on truth, not happiness. Celebrate the Lord; for it is not only brings joy to the heart, it brings truth to the mind and righteousness to the soul.

 “For our God Most High is awesome beyond words. He’s the King of all the universe. Sing Hallelujah! Celebrate the Lord!” (Celebrate the Lord by Terry, Randy and Greg Butler)

1. As you look up to God, what do you celebrate about Him?

2. As you look more closely at the life God has given you, what can you celebrate?

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Fueled By Grace

Gas-Pump

One of the most profound books I’ve read on the topic of transformation is “The Renovation of the Heart” by Dallas Willard. One of the concepts that Dr. Willard shared was particularly insightful: that the primary resource for transformation of heart, soul and body is “grace.”

The more I thought about this, the more I realized how this is so true – and the more I realized how little I proactively rely upon God’s grace in living out whole life worship. It seems that I (like most Christians) try to live the “Christian” life relying solely upon my ‘human’ resources: passion, strength, determination, discipline and will power. No wonder we feel so tired, defeated and “heavy laden” – we are trying to live the supernatural God-life with purely natural means! The fuel needed to live the Kingdom, Christ-centered life must go beyond will power and human passion: we need God’s grace.

Before we can appropriate this grace, we need to understand what “grace” means. For the longest time I thought that “grace” was that prayer we say before meals! Later on, I learned that grace also meant the unmerited favor that God shows me by forgiving my sins through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). But grace is so much more than even that!

Grace literally means “gift” (Greek word charis, where we get the word “charity”). In light of our relationship with God, grace is everything God gives us in order to live “right” and fulfill His purposes. Sure, grace includes our salvation and forgiveness, but it also includes divine empowerment, wisdom, vision, protection, provision, presence, transformation and anything else we need to glorify Him. Paul tells us to live by grace and faith. Peter tells us to grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18). John says that we are to become like Jesus (1 John 3:2) who was “full of grace” (John 1:14). Without grace, we cannot live the God-life.

Grace is a mysterious thing. In some ways God’s grace operates independently of what we do (and thankfully so! How many times has God saved and protected me without my asking Him to intervene?) And yet, God desires for us to be proactive in asking and utilizing His grace to accomplish His mission in and through our lives. This symbiotic interdependence with His grace is one of the virtues of the mature life in Christ.

An illustration from the old movie, “Back to the Future” might be helpful. Dr. Emmett Brown takes a DeLorean sports car and turns it into a time machine. The flux-capacitor, combined with a thousand jigawatts of electricity, enabled this DeLorean to the realm of time travel. However, the DeLorean needed to accelerate to 86 mph in its own power in order for this phenomenon to take place. By itself, the DeLorean was just a car (albeit a very nice car). But without the DeLorean, the flux capacitor was useless.

The Christian life operates in the same way. By ourselves, we can try to live a good, clean life. But with God’s grace we can live exceptional, supernatural and powerful lives. God’s grace is the flux-capacitor and God’s Spirit provides the thousand jigawatts of power. Yet it requires our choice and decision to tap into this way of life. Although God’s grace works around us regardless of what we choose, His work within and through us requires us to direct our efforts in His direction. And that sometimes takes some work!

I experimented with this the other day. My alarm woke me up for a very early appointment. I didn’t want to get out of bed. So I asked the Lord to empower me with His grace for the day. And He said to me, “Fine. First, get your body out of bed.” I moaned and complained because I thought God was going to give me power to get out of bed! But I did manage to get up, and what happened from that point on was truly exceptional. Every one of my appointments that day were “God-moments”. I had unusually more energy than normal. I accomplished 5 times more work than usual. And through it all, I felt light and happy. God’s grace is truly high octane!

I encourage you to learn to proactively ask and rely upon God’s grace. You may be surprised how it can fuel you to truly live a life of worship!

T’was grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed. (“Amazing Grace” by John Newton, verse 3)

1. What circumstances in your life prompt you to ask God for grace?

2. What are some usual and unusual ways God has given you grace in life?

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Jerry sensed God speaking to him as he listened to the missionary speak of short term missions opportunities to a foreign land. But as he started to fill out the response card, inner voices flooded his mind, “Who do you think you are? They’re looking for mature, experienced Christians; not a spiritual baby like you. Plus, you don’t know anyone and you’re lousy at relationships. Remember the last time you stepped out in ministry – how those people treated you?” And Jerry put down the card and went home.

As whole life worshipers, we want to live for Jesus. Our worship is more than a song; it is the giving of our lives to the Lord. So, we want to do His will, to be obedient to His call. That is a huge part of our worship to Him. But sometimes we get circumvented from doing that. God tells us to step out and we freeze. God tells us to control our tongue and we lash out. God tells us to go left and we veer right. We want our lives to be “Lord, I’ve come to do Your will” (Psalm 40:8). But it ends up looking like Romans 7:15 – “What I want to do, I do not do. And what I hate to do, I end up doing!”

We must remember that there is a realm that is at war with the things of God. There is an enemy out there who is working insidiously and conscientiously to keep you from responding to God in whole life worship. He is powerful, but not greater than God – far from it! We need not fear Satan for the Lord is with us and protects us in every possible way. However, we need to know the enemy’s schemes for they involve our free will (ability to choose and make decisions) and God, in His great love, leaves that area of our lives to us.

One of Satan’s schemes is speaking to our mind. It’s interesting how comedies on TV or movies depict our consciences. On one shoulder is our guardian angel, telling us what the right thing to do. On the other shoulder is the little devil, trying to tempt us to do the wrong thing. I remember Flip Wilson’s character “Geraldine” who always justified her wrong doings by saying, “The devil made me do it!”

While it is not true that the devil makes us do it, he does get into our head – and we should take that very seriously. One of the ways he gets into our head is to replay “stuff” from our past. It seems that whenever God calls us to move ahead (to take some steps of faith, to change our behavior, actions or attitudes), Satan turns on that recording. What’s on that recording? Negative experiences from the past, condemnations, memories of past sins and failures, abuse by others, ungodly vows or promises that you made to yourself, hurts and wounds, fears and struggles, lusts and cravings, lost dreams and broken hopes. You name it and Satan probably has it recorded for playback (on DVD or DVR or YouTube) with your name on it. And right when you are about to follow Jesus – click – there goes another recording, designed to keep you from taking another step forward.

Romans 12:2 (one of our foundation verses for Whole Life Worship) tells us to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” We can overcome the enemy’s scheme to control our lives through those old memories by renewing our mind. In this case, we need to  delete the old recordings.

To delete the old recordings we need to shine the light of Christ on the source: the enemy. My friend, Neil Cole, says that if you want to chase cockroaches out of a room, just turn on the light. When I sense that Satan is playing some “old recordings” in my mind, I ask Jesus to take control of my thoughts and to silence the enemy. I’ll usually say it aloud so that the enemy hears my words and knows I mean business (as does Jesus). I have experienced incredible results when I do this.

Sometimes our old recordings are so familiar to us that we need the help of other trusted, mature followers of Jesus. Letty and I have asked brothers and sisters (sometimes professional Christian counselors) to listen to what we are going through – revealing the contents of those old recordings – and asking them for their counsel and prayer. Your small group or accountability partner is a great sounding board to reveal the lies of the enemy. We can aggressively pray for each other and help one another get back on track in following Jesus.

The point is that we need to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) so that we can be free to serve and worship the Lord with our whole lives.

What are some old recordings the enemy plays back in your mind?

What are some ways you can combat these thoughts through the power of Christ?

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A few weeks ago I spent one Sabbath day looking over journal entries from 1998.  It was eye opening to relive the events of that year from the perspective of my relationship with God. I was amazed to see how far I had come, even more so amazed at how far God brought me during the past 16 years. It gave me another opportunity to thank and praise God for His faithfulness over these years!

Journaling has been part of my Personal Worship time for nearly thirty years. Back in the “olden days” I wrote my journal entries on spiral bound notebooks (I have a whole stack of them). I now write on my digital journal (aka, my computer). But whether digital or hard copy, journaling has been one of the most powerful spiritual disciplines in my life.

Journaling is an extension of my prayer to God. I write as if I am writing a letter to God. Sometimes I share events and experiences. Sometimes I share reflections from Scripture. Other times I just muse about things ranging from the very mundane and practical (like fixing a door knob) to the very deep and theological. Most of the time, I share my heart and my dreams.

Often while journaling, God will touch my heart. Sometimes when that happens, I feel one with God. My fingers fly over the keyboard in such rapid succession that it is like I am out of my body. I can just close my eyes and type, and the passion of God is written on my computer screen.

Sometimes when I journal, there is just a blank screen. I don’t have much to say. I don’t sense God speaking to me. Sometimes the silence in my heart and my mind speak louder than if I had words to type in. I’m learning to be okay with that. There’s always something to learn from Personal Worship time with Jesus.

But the most amazing thing about journaling is that it captures a point of time in my life. It’s kind of like thousands of time capsules of my life with God. It chronicles the journey we have been on together. I can reminisce, I can review, I can reflect, I can redirect. Mostly I remember. God has been good and strong. He has been brutally honest, but loving. There are times He’s taking me to the shed and given me a well-deserved whupping. And there have been times so tender and intimate, that my heart can barely contain it. And it’s all in my journals.

Not everyone enjoys journaling, but I highly suggest the habit. I’m a writer and a communicator so it kind of fits my personality. But it’s always good for all of us to be able to look back. Even the Patriarchs set up stone memorials (“Ebenezers”) to remind them (and future generations) that “God and I were here together.” I think journaling is a great way to capture our history with God.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:12)

If you journal, how has it helped you grow closer to God?

If you don’t journal, what are ways that help you to remember what God has done in your life?

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“Passionate Worship.”

Now that phrase probably drums up certain images in your mind, perhaps like the photo you see above. We think of a worship service. We think of singing a worship song with great intensity and focus. Perhaps there is lifting of hands. Perhaps there are tears streaming down your face. Perhaps there is a sense of intimate communion with God. And you are thinking, “Now, that is passionate worship!”

I used to think that way. In fact, as a worship leader that was my goal – both for myself and for the congregations I led. I wanted all of us to get to that place. I thought that is what passionate worship is supposed to look like. But now I think differently.

Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy those deeply emotional experiences of connecting with God through music and devotion, both corporately and in my personal times. I still think they are a part of passionate worship. But if we think that is all of what passionate worship is supposed to be, we’re seriously missing the boat.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know that I’ll always go back to Romans 12:1-2 as the starting point of Biblical worship:

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, I beseech you, in view of God’s mercies, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not be conformed any longer 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.

“Worship” is responding to the mercies of God through the offering of whole lives to Him. It involves the process of renewing our minds, being transformed and doing the will of God.

“Passionate worship” is simply doing the above, passionately – with all our hearts.

It is more about surrender than song. It is more about doing God’s will than lifting my hands. It is more about the transformation of my soul than the shedding of my tears. It is more about how I live my life outside of the worship service than how I perform inside the worship service.

Now here’s the interesting dynamic of true passionate worship: the more we live out our passionate worship by communing with and obeying Christ during the week (through the other 5 Spiritual Habits), the more we can authentically worship God during the worship service. However, the more we confine worship to the activities that we perform during the worship service, the less we are able to authentically worship God in real life.

The sad part is that we see more of the latter in many churches. We see emotional worship in our services. We experience passion for an hour. We are assisted by fine music and great sermons.  But it’s not “passionate worship” in the truest sense. We know that because something seems to lift off of us the moment we walk outside of the sanctuary, and we go back to life “as usual.”  And I think that is one of the reasons why our churches lack credible witness to our broken, fallen world.

Passionate worship begins with understanding the mercies of God – God’s passion for you and me as evidenced by Creation, Incarnation, and Redemption. Passionate worship continues as we respond, not with lip-service, but with life-service. Passionate worship is stoked when we trust God and see God in real life situations. Passionate worship culminates with the genuine praise and thanksgiving for what He has done in our lives because we walked with Him every day. Passionate worship is Whole Life Worship lived passionately.

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PackedStJoeChurch

The fourth and last movement of a symphony is usually called the Finale. It is usually the most exciting movement because it is the culmination of the opus; a closure of the composer’s singular intention, developed over the first three diverse movements, containing numerous themes and motifs. The Whole Life Worship paradigm operates in the same way: The fourth movement, Worship in the Congregation, culminates the weeklong journey of receiving from and responding to God in the contexts of solitude, marketplace, and spiritual friendship. Here, the Whole Life Worshiper joins other worshipers in the corporate expression of praise and thanksgiving to God. There is something wonderful, powerful and dynamic when God’s people gather together to praise their God for who He is and what He has done.

Almost all Christians engage in weekly congregational worship (although an alarming and increasing number of Christians do not attend a local church on a regular basis – another topic we’ll hit at a later date). What makes the Whole Life Worship paradigm different than how many Christians view congregational worship is that Worship in the Congregation is seen as the culminating movement of worshiping God. For many, the congregational gathering is their first (and perhaps only) movement of worship. As a result, the worship service is seen as the spiritual “vitamin” that one takes to help them cope with their week of non-church and non-worship. This wrongly places the onus on the worship service itself to provide what Christian consumers want for their spiritual pill: inspiring songs (in the style of their preference and at the right volume level), motivating sermons, state-of-the art videos, award winning choirs or musical soloists, ambience in lighting and staging. And many churches are happy to oblige their customers.

Even traditional and liturgical churches struggle with the “consumer-orientation” of Christian congregants. In spite of the noble effort of Matt Redman who wrote that worship is not about us but about Jesus (“The Heart of Worship”), churches and church goers find themselves in the “rat race” of trying to have their “worship experience” expectations met. It becomes all about us, and little to do with Jesus.

However, if Christians had a Whole Life Worship mentality, I believe things would be different. Whole Life Worship says, “Instead of improving the worship service, why not improve the worshiper?” When a person encounters God throughout the week (in personal worship, in the everyday ordinary, and in spiritual friendship), they come to the congregational gathering ready to “give” to God, instead of hungry to “get” something out of the service. Congregational worship would not be the “bread and butter” of their worship, but the “frosting on the cake.” It is an opportunity for overflow, where the life of God oozes out of one life and into another.

I’ve taught Whole Life Worship to several people at my church and their attitude toward congregational worship is markedly different than others. They come with hearts full of praise and thanksgiving to God. They engage with the songs as opportunities to honor the God who has revealed Himself throughout their week (even if they don’t care for the song!) They seem to be more full of joy and exuberance in their worship. They listen to the message with a sense of expectation because they know God will speak to them, as He did on the weekdays. They are more alert and sensitive to the needs of people around them; often ministering to others who are downtrodden or discouraged. The reason for the difference is that they come to Congregational worship already “full” of Jesus, the love of the Father, and the empowerment of the Spirit.

Can you imagine what a worship service filled with Whole Life Worshipers could be like? Where God could actually receive the praise that is due His name? Where peoples’ hearts would so be in tune with Christ’s heart that the response to mission, outreach, compassion, and evangelism would be a “no-brainer”? Where people would be so in tune with each other and so filled with the love of God that there would be no need among them? Where the personal transformation of individuals and corporate transformation of the church would be so remarkable that the world around them would say, “What is up with these guys?”

I dream about it all the time. Maybe you’re dreaming the same thing. It can happen. As I read in Acts, it has happened before. And as I read in Revelation, it will happen again; in fact, it is the destiny of the Church of Jesus Christ. But I don’t want to wait until “Kingdom come” to start worshiping God the way He wants me to worship – with my whole life. We can start today, right now. How about it?

I’m coming back to the heart of worship and it’s all about you, Jesus. I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it, when it’s all about you, Jesus. (Matt Redman, “The Heart of Worship”)

1. How do you prepare for congregational worship?

2. What are some ways you can encourage others in the congregation as you worship together?

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