How can we recognize authentic worship, and how can we make sure that we as individuals are authentic in worshipping our Almighty God?  Is there a particular style or form of worship that is more authentic than any other?  Is there something that can be measured or seen in authentic worship?   What is the focus of authentic worship, and what should be our understanding of what the word ‘worship’ really means?  How can our church experience the kind of dynamic worship that blows the doors off of our church buildings by spilling over and flooding into our daily lives and thereby impacting the community around us?

Jesus said that true worshippers will worship God in Spirit and in truth and that God seeks such worshippers (John 4:23 & 24).   What does it mean to worship God in Spirit and in truth?   The answer to this very important question often eludes God’s people, and there is very little attention given to the subject.   In over 33 years of active church life, since the time of our salvation, in the churches where Travis and I have served, we can recall less than a half dozen sermons and only one Sunday School lesson specifically focused on the topic of worship.   Is it any wonder that God’s people have a lack of knowledge about true worship?  So many people seem to think that worship is a 25 minute time of singing just before the preaching begins in a congregational worship service.  Others have actually been told by Pastors that the purpose of congregational worship is to “prepare the hearts of the people to receive the message from God’s word”  (preaching).  {Worship is worship!  The goal is to give God glory!  It is not to prepare for something else.  Preaching is not left out.  It is worship, too, when it brings God glory!   We worship through the proclamation of the word.)  Unfortunately, many people have very wrong ideas about what worship is and how the concept of worship should fit into the everyday life of every Christian.

The primary focus for every Christian should be to relate to our holy God and worship Him, and yet we are woefully uneducated about how to do the very thing for which we were created and for which the church meets together every week.  In a corporate worship service and in the way that we live our daily lives, our focus should be on worshipping God and giving Him glory.   However, when we view God only through the lens of our own lives, what we want Him to do for us, and the blessings we seek, then our focus becomes all about us.   We become more concerned about what we get out of worship and not concerned at all about what we give!   The Bible tells us repeatedly to give God honor, glory, blessing, praise, worship, exaltation, joyful singing, thanksgiving, reverence, awe, and all that we are.  This is the key:  Worship is about giving!  It is not about us, or about our preferences, or about what we get out of the experience (although true worship does give back abundant blessings when we give Him the glory due His name!).  It is about seeing God for who He is…the Creator of everything that is, the Sustainer of Life, the Holy and Righteous One, the God of grace and glory, the Merciful Father who sacrificed His one and only Son out of love for us!  Our response then becomes an effort to give all that we are to Him, seeking to bring Him glory in all of life.  That is worship.

What happens when we come to a worship service without being ready to give?   There are a couple of scenarios.  Sometimes we may feel that we have nothing to give.  God does not want our perfection…we have none.  He does not want us to pretend to feel anything other than what we feel.  If we are feeling lonely or sad, He wants us to confess that and give it to Him.  If we are struggling with trusting Him, He wants us to admit the struggle and ask Him to give us a heart of praise in the midst of it.  Whatever our burden may be, he wants us to lay it down and to exchange it for the garment of praise.  When we realize our need to be clothed with praise, intentionally seeking to give God glory in spite of circumstances, He can work in our hearts and lives in spite of any areas where we fall short of His will for us.  Imagine what could happen when a whole congregations chooses the mindset of focusing on our Great God rather than on our problems, our faults, or the faults of others!  Wow!  That would be amazing!  In contrast to this scenario, consider what happens when we sit down in the worship center and are not even aware that we could be bringing to God the offerings of praise, worship, our hearts and lives, exaltation, thanksgiving, and more through everything that takes place during the worship service (not just the singing!) ?   If we are not only unaware of our need to give Him praise but also unwilling to view the worship experience as one of giving, our focus is on self and ‘the Lord as He relates to me.’  Unfortunately, the end result of this approach is lifeless worship, selfish attitudes, and division within the fellowship.  If someone were to ask what we were doing, our response might be that we are giving God praise.  But unless we are truly praising God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and focusing on Him alone as though He were right there in the room with us (He is!), our words are nothing more that lip service.  True worship unites our hearts, because we all share a common focus…on Him!  Matthew 18:20 tells us that Jesus will be in our midst when we gather in His name!  Only as we lay aside every earthly attitude that would hinder true worship and put all of our focus on Him can we say that we are gathered in His name.  Without the presence of God, there is no power in worship.  The power comes from Him, not from us or from any specific forms of worship.  Whatever form our corporate worship service takes, if the people of God are not focused on bringing Him glory, then it is not really worship.

If I were a cartoonist, I would illustrate this post with some very meaningful cartoons.  These cartoons would depict how a fundamental misunderstanding of worship has resulted in a self-focus that is very harmful to the fellowship of the church.  The idea that the form or worship is the most important thing and the resulting attitude and fellowship problems can be well illustrated by several imaginary situations.

The first cartoon would picture a child’s birthday party where all of the guests have come wearing t-shirts with various slogans.  One shirt pictures a chocolate ice cream cone with the slogan, “Just Say NO to Vanilla!”   Another shirt says, “Bigger treat bags!”  Still another says, “More cake!”   You get the picture.  Unfortunately, the party guests would seem to have forgotten that the party is not about them and their preferences.  The purpose of the party is to celebrate and honor the birthday boy (or girl).   From experience as a party guest, I can testify that when one attends the party with the attitude that the party is for the honoree and that everyone wishes to contribute to the celebration of said person’s life, a guest can still have a great time and also the wonderful feeling of knowing that you helped someone you love have a really special moment in time.  There is joy in the giving because of  love!  Remember that God so loved that He gave!

My second cartoon illustration would picture a congregation sitting in the pews, waiting for the service of worship to begin.  Several of the congregants are holding signs.  One sign says, “More hymns!”.   Another, “More worship songs!”, and still another, “More Southern Gospel”.  Other signs read, “More drums!’ and “Bigger choir!”   The second frame of this cartoon would show the platform area of the worship center.  Suddenly, a large cloud has appeared, hovering directly over the platform.  This is clearly not a normal cloud, for it is seemingly illuminated from within.   The third frame would show the startled looks on the faces of all of the members and ministers.  One person asks, “What in the world is that?”  In the fourth frame, an answer is given.  From the bottom of the cloud, a sign drops down with a 2 word message from God:  “More worship!”

My third cartoon would again show a congregation in the pews (or chairs), with one very important difference.   This congregation is very visibly divided.  There are soundproof glass walls that extend all the way to the ceiling of the worship center and divide the seating area into sections.   Each seating area has it’s own mini platform in front, with a sign indicating the style of worship music that will take place in each section.  One section, labeled “Christian Rock”, has a full rock band set up, with lighting effects and a smoke machine.  Another, labeled “Traditional Worship,”  has a choir and orchestra, and a piano and organ.   Another section, labeled “Southern Gospel,”  has a quartet warmed up and ready to sing.  Finally, the fourth section, labeled “Praise and Worship,”  has a praise band and praise team, a celebration choir, banners proclaiming God’s glory, and an incredible media set-up.   In the cartoon frame, a greeter has escorted a guest into the worship center.  As the guest takes in the scene, the greeter says, “Well, at least we’re still worshipping together!”   (Ouch!  Not really!)

The fourth cartoon is unfortunately a really sad commentary and could take place not too far into the future.   In the first frame of the cartoon, each person in the worship center is wearing headphones and sitting in front of a screen.  You see, there is no longer enough unity to truly worship together, so the church of the future has settled for being in the same building at the same time.  Each individual controls their own “worship mix.”   At their personal computer screen, each person chooses which song videos they will see and hear on their screens and through their headphones.  They determine the style of the songs, which songs are sung, and even choose which group will perform them from a pre-recorded video menu.  Then, they can even choose their own sermon and preacher.  The middle frame shows everyone concentrating on their individual screens, isolated from fellow church members with their headphones and their individual worship service mix.  In the final frame, congregants begin to leave the worship center, having finished their ‘service’.  One shakes hands with another and says, “It was great to worship with you today.”   (Double ouch!)

I hope and pray that these last 2 cartoon depictions from my head don’t become reality!  We must begin to teach and preach and proclaim that true worship is about giving!   We’ll continue right down the slippery slope of demanding our own way and failing to extend any grace to other believers if we don’t begin to shout this message from the rooftops!  It’s not about me!  It’s not about you!  It’s not about one age group or another!  It’s not about a preferred musical style or your own particular list of favorite songs.  It’s not about formality or informality.  It’s not the style or cost of our clothing.  Worship is about Him!  It’s about giving Him glory in every area of life, and corporately giving Him glory, honor, blessing, exaltation, thanksgiving, praise, and our whole hearts when we meet together to worship!  That, dear reader, is true worship!

Please, feel free to share this blog post with everyone you can think of!  God help us to worship Him in Spirit and in truth!

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This post was written by Cynthia A. Boyd, with full responsibility and no apologies for its content.

Lord, please use the foolishness of bold words to draw hearts to yourself!

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There are several additional posts about worship on our blog.  Read the following posts and pages for additional perspective, practical ideas, and inspiration:

1.  “Lifestyle Worship”  (page focusing on giving God glory in all of life)   http://boydbrainmusic.wordpress.com/lifestyle-worship/

2.  “Creative Worship Ideas  (page, self-explanatory)  http://www.boydbrainmusic.wordpress.com/creative-worship-ideas/

3.  “Worship ABC’s”   (good as a reminder or even for a dramatic or media presentation in worship)  post published Nov. 7, 2011  http://www.boydbrainmusic.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/worship-abcs/

4.  “Worship Planning and Preparation”  (a comprehensive guide, with lots of inspiration and things to consider)  post published Jan. 26, 2012   http://www.boydbrainmusic.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/worship-planning...

5.  “Worship is Joy!”   (post focusing on the joy of giving God praise when we worship Him for who He is)   post published 1-31-2012   http://www.boydbrainmusic.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/worship-is-joy/

In addition, our page entitled “Lift Your Voice” is an extensive resource page for worship related scriptures from both the Old and New Testaments.  Check it out at http://www.boydbrainmusic.wordpress.com/lift-your-voice/

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Do you know Jesus?

The decision to ask Jesus to come into your heart and life as your Lord and Savior is the best decision you could ever make!  The one true God is ready to give you forgiveness and eternal life as soon as you understand your need for Him and believe on the name of His only Son, Jesus, for your salvation.  Here’s a blog page link to help you find the answers to your questions about Jesus.  http://www.boydbrainmusic.wordpress.com/do-you-know-jesus/

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