Category Archives: Worship
Why do people raise their hands when they worship? I don’t know. I suppose you would have to ask each individual what motivates them. And therein lies the most important issue: Why? Why do people raise their hands when they sing? The “Why” most certainly has a lot of bearing on whether an action is right or wrong; whether it is an act of true worship or a vain expression that may look like worship.
In the last two weeks I have been to two gatherings in which all of us were instructed to raise our hands. I did both times. The first time I did so because I wanted my son to see that I could be instructed by someone who was leading me to respond to God through Jesus with songs as a medium for honoring God. Still I wondered, “Why? Why should I raise my hands? And if it is a good thing, why don’t I do it all the time?”
The second time I did it because the guy who was leading us to worship through song actually told us what it might mean to do so. He suggested that raising our hands as we sang was a way to visibly express our need of God – our reaching out to Him for help. “Okay!” I thought. “I can go with that.” And so I raised a hand to express dependence.
Then today in my daily Bible reading I read Psalm 28:2: “Hear the voice of my supplications when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary.”
Now I have read the Psalms (a hymn book of prayers) many times over, but this was the first time this verse stuck out to me. Here I now had a biblical text expressing a Spirit-inspired description (2 Tim. 3:16) of someone raising their hands in a song.
But what is the Psalmist doing when he raises his hands? Just a quick glance at the context reveals that the person writing (likely David) is in a desperate situation. In verse one he is concerned that unless God helps him, he will be like everyone else who goes down to the pit (dies). So he cries out and asks God to hear his prayer for help. He is desperate. He is needy. He needs God in a bad way. And the physical expression of that very pressing reality is the lifting of us hands toward God’s holy sanctuary, which represents the presence of God.
Perhaps a picture will further illuminate what it might mean to lift our hands when we sing to worship. Imagine a child has fallen off their bike. They have crashed and it hurt and they are desperate, and maybe they are embarrassed too. So they see mom or dad in the distance and they cry out and hold their arms up in a way that basically says, “Come help me. Come comfort me. Come rescue me. I have fallen and I need help getting up. I need you.” When we raise our hands in melodious prayer, we should be expressing our need of God who is our Father, and we are desperate for Him to rescue and comfort
Do you know what it means to do something in vain? It means to do it without giving thought to why you are doing it. I suspect many of us do all sorts of things in vain and meaningless ways. If we don’t know why we are raising our hands when we sing, then we are doing it in vain and it can’t be worship because “those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)
There may be other biblical texts in the Bible that would help us know why we should and can raise our hands when we sing to worship, but now we can worship according to the truth.
Do you ever wonder why worship is so hard when you gather with others for worship?
This past Sunday in Mark 14:12-16 , the word “prepare” was used three times as Jesus and His disciples prepared to take the Passover meal together. I commented that we must prepare to worship and that as we prepare to worship and honor Christ, we are in the process of worshiping because it is all directed at honoring Him. Preparing to worship is worship. This means worship is not just something we do on Sunday, it is something we do all the time (Rom. 12:1-2 and 1 Cor. 10:31). Worship is an ongoing activity. The question is this: “Are we worshiping God, or something else?”
Though we are to be worshiping with all of our lives, Sunday is still an important time we gather to worship. It is a time we set aside to ascribe worth and honor to God for who He is, what He has done and what He will do. Therefore, a Christian is not just someone who goes to worship, but is a perpetual worshiper who gathers with others to continue worshiping. How then do we prepare to worship to maximize our time together? Here are 7 suggestions for preparing to gather for worship:
- We need to know WHY we gather for worship. We worship together because it is prescribed and described in the scriptures (Acts 2:42-47 and Hebrews 10:19-25). The Bible tells us to gather and that should be good enough. But additionally when we gather together to remember what unites us, namely the gospel of Jesus, (Eph. 2:11-22) and that we are not just a saved individual with a personal relationship with God, but we each are a part of a redeemed people, we remember and see that we are the gospel on display (John 13:34-35). Gathering together for worship is important because it keeps us focused on the gospel, teaches us to value His body and keeps us from becoming self-centered.
- We should read the Sunday Morning Preaching Passage and pray through it. We should saturate our minds and hearts with the word that will be preached so we are prepared to interact with it and receive it. We should also pray that God would open wide the eyes of our heart, that we might see wonderful things in His word (Ps. 119:18). Our prayers should be shaped by God’s word.
- We should be disciplined and get adequate rest. Sleep is a spiritual discipline that can increase Godliness.
- We should determine not to be a distraction or be distracted. From my elevated perch, I have the vantage point of watching distractions unfold. Some are understandable and some are preventable. Going to the bathroom and teaching our children and youth to do likewise, usually makes leaving preventable. I can’t argue with the orphan Annie when she said, “Mister, when you got to go, you got to go!” But every Sunday? When the bathroom becomes necessary and someone does leave, you are not bound to observe their every step as though you are seeing something incredible. Walking is a normal human function. So determine to stay focused for your own good, the good of others and God’s glory. You can’t control others, but you can control what you see and for how long.
- We should bring a Bible and take notes. I have personally found that taking notes helps me to track with the preacher on stay on the task of worshiping through listening.
- We should sit up and lean forward. I complemented one of our members the other day, saying he was easy to preach to and that he encouraged me by the way he listened. There really is an art to the discipline of listening. He said he intentionally leaned forward to help his listening but also to be an encouragement to those who were speaking. Listening is worship and it is easier to listen when we intentionally posture ourselves to receive.
- We should determine to respond. The preacher may not always be right, but the Spirit-inspired text always is. If the preacher is following God’s word and attempting to be faithful to the authorial intent, you can be sure God is speaking, and when God speaks, we must respond by asking: “What attitude or action do I need to change to follow Christ and glorify God?”
Did you? Apparently every church is a liturgical church to some degree, depending on how the word liturgical is defined.
The staff and I have been reading through a book by Mike Cosper: Rhythms of Grace; How the Churches Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel. It has been very helpful toward helping me more fully understand and think about what we are trying to accomplish when we gather together. We want to engage in processes and practices that facilitate gospel shaping.
But back to liturgy. Cosper writes in chapter eight that though liturgy can be confusing, “often conjuring up images of ‘smells and bells,’ vestment-wearing pastors and priests, burning incense, and ancient chants. The word itself (liturgy) comes from two Greek words meaning “public work,” or (as it’s often described) ‘the word of the people.’ To talk about liturgy in its most basic sense is to talk about what the congregation is gathering to do. In this sense, every church has a liturgy; we all gather with work to do… As we plan and order our services, discerning the content to include, we shape beliefs and devotional life of our church members. It’s a crazy pastoral opportunity, if you think about it. When else do you have the opportunity to put words in the people’s mouths?”
All churches should be intentionally liturgical churches because every church ought to be thinking about gathering in such a way that they help people remember and proclaim the gospel so that they can be shaped by it for God’s glory among the nations.
So a couple of summary thoughts about why this is worth the time of a writing a blog. First, Cosper’s book is worth the read for those who want to think in-depth about worship gatherings. Second, it is good to know what words mean, not just what we think they mean based on cultural conditioning. Third, our worship gatherings should be evaluated by whether the work we are doing is helping us be shaped by the good news of Jesus Christ. It should not be judged primarily on entertainment value or for other lesser reasons. Fourth, the Eagle Heights faith family is trying to be intentional about all we do. Some areas still need a lot of work, but we aren’t just gathering for the sake of gathering.
We were created worship (Genesis 1:26-28) and so we will worship. This truth is self-evident.
Therefore, we will worship God or will worship the creature/creation. The worship of God is true worship and the worship of anything else that God has created is idolatry.
We can see this in Bible narrative from the very beginning and therefore make several propositional (truth) statments about worship and idolatry.
- In the beginning the Holy and Triune God Created (Genesis 1:1) the heavens and the earth and everything in them.
- He created the creation to display and reveal His glory and the creation was good (Genesis Ch. 1).
- He also created man as a distinct part of that creation to worship God by faith (Genesis Ch. 1 and 2) and enjoy the creation by honoring God and giving thanks (Romans 1:21).
- Therefore, when God is worshiped, mankind enjoys creation righteously.
- But when the creation and creature are worshiped, the created design is suppressed (Romans 1:18), and man worships the creation because mankind was created to worship.
- Idolatry is self-worship (Isaiah 44:9-20). Bottom line: We trust God or ourselves. Though we may assign value to another object or idea, we are ultimately valuing and trusting ourselves because we have decided what is worthy of worship. This is a paradox of sorts because it looks as if the idol is the object of our worship. But who decided it was of ultimate value when God has told us that He is the most valuable being in the creation?
- The Fall-Out: Moral Chaos (Romans 1:24-30). With each person deciding their own moral standard by which they make decisions about what is ultimately valuable, moral chaos ensues. We should not be surprised when we see the chaos. With more than 6 billion people on planet earth acting as their own god, we get a lot of moral standards instead of one.
A Idolatry Diagnostic: FAD
If we don’t carefully define worship and idolatry then we might conclude that we are not idolaters since most of us are probably not housing any little wooden or stone idols. Idolatry is making a good thing a god-thing. Idolatry is assigning ultimate value to anything that is not God. How then do we identify idols? FAD.
- Fear. What do you fear? What controls or paralyzes you because you are afraid of losing it or not having it? “One of the signs that an object is functioning as an idol is that fear becomes one of the chief characteristics of life because we are dependent on that object.” Tim Keller
- Anger. Anger can be a Godly response when exercised in a Godly way for Godly reasons. But if there is something that easily offends you, or sets you off regularly, then that thing or person is probably controlling you in an idolatrous way. People tend to get angry about things that they value, but don’t get angry about what they don’t value. Is that thing you get angry about more valuable than God says it is?
- Dear. What do we spend the most time and money on? What is it that we can’t live without? Football, clothes, a big home, a new car, hunting, reputation, food, control, or a pet? Any object or idea/dream? If we hold anything more dear than God and His glory, then it is probably an idol. For instance, Americans spent billions of dollars last year on Christmas presents for their cats. We spent over $40 billion on our pets – more than movies, video games and music combined.
- Acknowledge that you, like the rest of us, are an idolater and then turn to Christ by grace through faith. Repent and believe in Christ alone. Trust God and not yourself.
- If you are a Christian who has an idol, start by praising God (Romans 1:25c). Don’t just admit the problem, do the right thing immediately. Value God with your thoughts and actions.
- Guard yourself from going back to an idol with regular self-examination. Use the FAD diagnostic and ask others to speak into your life. We are always in danger of going back to the very thing Jesus saved us from. Trust in Jesus and He will put everything in its proper place.
I am fascinated with Bella’s pinkie fingers. They are so small, fragile, intricate and perfect. Meet little Bella.
I was dwelling on this early this morning and somehow made the thought jump to the universe and the little I know about it. It too is fascinatingly intricate and stunning, but it is also dangerous.
The fact that Bella Faith, barely a week out of the womb, can live in a universe with black holes, supernovas, massive solar flares, asteroids flying all around our little planet and all sorts of other known and unknown, awe-inspiring dangers is mind-numbing.
It begs the question(s): Why are we still here? Why does God allow the massive known and unknown danger in the universe that is completely beyond our control?
For me the answer was awe and worship at the sovereign mercy of the only Creator God.
Pure majestic and all-powerful mercy reminds us that God has to be in control and that He is in control (Ps. 19; Isa. 40:25-26; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:2-3). Otherwise, we can’t exist and know the joy of little pinkie fingers that belong to the most fragile beings in the universe.
Stop, ponder and worship the God of the universe, who crafts pinkie fingers and controls the dangerous universe.