By David Walker
I’m a worship leader in a church that immensely values the musical expression of worship. I love music that connects and gives people an opportunity to respond to God. With all that is in me, I feel this is a good thing.
But what happens when this musical expression becomes the central focus, instead of the King who it is for? As worship gatherings happen all over the world week in and week out, how much time is the church actually spending worshipping the King of Glory, and how often are people instead worshipping worship itself?
From what I have seen and experienced, this addiction to worship is a common problem. So how do we break out of worshipping worship? Maybe a story will help.
A few years ago, before my wife and I had kids in our house, I actually had a room in our home that was mine. It was my little quiet place to do songwriting, study, and read. (Disclaimer: I wouldn’t trade my kids to get this room back.) One particular evening I was lying on the floor reading through Psalm 149 as worship music played in this room. When I got to the verse that read, “Let them praise His name with dancing,” I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to begin to dance.
Well, my first reaction was not to dance. I didn’t want to feel stupid. I didn’t want to feel embarrassed. So I didn’t dance.
I read on into Psalm 150, where I came across another verse, “Praise Him with the tambourine and dancing.” Again I felt a prompting in my spirit to respond by dancing. Now at this point, my face was turning red. I’m embarrassed to tell you that I responded in such a way to the Lord, but I did.
Finally, I gave in and began to dance like a little 3-year-old kid in this room, where it was just the Lord and I. At first I felt awkward and weird, but as I began to focus more on the Lord and less on myself, something changed in my mind and heart. I realized that the breakthrough I wanted to see corporately as a worship leader must first happen in my own life. Private breakthrough in worship always precedes corporate breakthrough.
In that small room, while I was alone, this monumental moment with the Lord took place, and I was forever changed. I discovered that worship isn’t about how I feel like responding but rather about simply being obedient to what I was created to do – to worship. It is the natural response for disciples as they relate upward to God.
I share this story because I think the church has perhaps forgotten the “wonder” of simply responding to a King who is worthy. Perhaps the Church is being trained to respond in worship only when seeing the right lighting cue, hearing the right song, or resonating with someone else’s passion for Jesus expressed on a platform. This is worshipping worship, and it’s addictive because it’s so emotional.
But this addiction to the feeling of worship is a major problem. We have to ask a question: Have we lost the art of cultivating sincere worship when there is no platform, no lighting, no band?
I don’t know about you, but I can’t live like this. I can’t maintain the demand of a worship addiction that grows as I go to more and more church gatherings, more camps, more retreats, more worship. There must be more to worshipping as a disciple of Jesus.
In my opinion, a piece of the “something more” is the saints realizing Jesus is available to be worshipped all the time – not just when the band is ready to roll and the lights are pretty. These things can help us worship, but they are not required for worship.
The relationship Jesus intends us to have with Him should look far more like a marriage than an affair we carry on gathering to gathering. In a marriage there are ups and downs, highs and lows. In this kind of relationship, we recognize that He is worth our devotion all the time, not just when it feels good to worship. The encounters we have with Him can and should drive our devotion even when no one else is around.
When it comes to worship, does your life look more like an affair with moments of emotion but no sustainable discipleship? Or does it look like a marriage relationship that persists no matter what the level of emotion is?
I’m reminded of John 4 when Jesus encountered the woman at the well. In the dialogue with Jesus, the woman mentioned the Samaritans’ claims of where it was proper to worship. In verse 20 she says, “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim the place we must worship is found in Jerusalem.”
Jesus responded in verse 23, “A time is coming and has now come that the true worshippers will worship in Spirit and in Truth, for these are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.”
We can be these kinds of worshippers and disciples.
So wherever we find ourselves, may we choose to let our worship be defined by who Jesus is instead of by how we feel. May we choose to let our daily encounters with Him drive our devotion for Him. May we choose to let corporate worship be an inspiration that helps us follow instead of the climactic moment of our lives with Jesus.
And in doing these things, may we choose to break the worship addiction and instead worship in spirit and truth.
What ways have you found to overcome the addiction to worship personally? What about with the people you lead? Share your ideas in the comments so that we can learn along with you.
David Walker is the worship leader at City Church in Greenville, South Carolina. He has also led worship at each year of Wayfarer Camp. You can find out more about David and his music at www.davidwalkeronline.com and follow him on Twitter or Facebook.