he sanctuary lights are dim, and the music is loud. Everyone is standing with their hands stretched high, eyes closed, in an act of surrender to God. Some people are weeping, others clapping, some laughing, and others swaying with the music. One thing is for sure—if you’re not feeling it, you need to have a spiritual tune-up.
Aren’t those the preacher’s words when he enters the pulpit after a wonderful time of worship in song? I think we all know what he means, and I know we all love those services. Why, then, are those times rare even in Pentecostal circles? Why are people always trying to find the right church that checks off every one of their preferences, allowing them to “truly worship”?
I had the chance to attend a megachurch in Texas. The lighting, music, audio, and media all helped create an exciting atmosphere. Music played before the service began, helping the congregants to prepare their hearts to focus fully on God. They sang songs that worshipers could relate to and help them move into a deep level of worship.
I have also been in small churches with no special lighting, poor sound quality, and maybe a piano and a couple of singers, where the Spirit of God moved powerfully. So, what constitutes true worship?
In Pentecostal churches, we love to feel the excitement of worship—the person beside us is jumping up and down, others are clapping, and the whole room is filled with electricity. It drives the worship inside our hearts, and makes us want to move. It is easy for us to get revved up when everyone else is feeling it too. However, when those around us are checking their watches and whispering back and forth, it is difficult for us to worship God.
As a worship leader, this is the hardest part of my ministry—getting people to move beyond their emotions into true worship. It is easy to worship when the situation is right and everyone around us is enthusiastically praising God, but that should not be the reason we praise Him.
In John 4, Jesus has an important encounter with a woman whom He meets at a well in Samaria. Being a Samaritan, this woman had been taught to worship God on nearby Mount Gerizim, where her ancestors had built a temple three centuries earlier. She asks Jesus why the Jews worship at the Temple in Jerusalem instead of at Mount Gerizim.
Jesus tells her, “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (vv. 23-24 NIV).
It no longer mattered is a person worshiped here or there; what mattered is how one worshiped.
The Scriptures give us many reasons to worship God, but our primary motive should be Jesus’ sacrifice for us. For some people, the joy of salvation motivates them to worship exuberantly—they might shout and dance. For others it is solemn reverence, and they kneel at the altar.
Over time, that initial reaction begins to fade away. We can sing the words while making a shopping list or trying to decide where to go for lunch. Attending Sunday worship can easily become nothing more than a routine.
More than once, I have heard a longtime churchgoer tell a new Christian, “Oh, you’re excited now, but soon it will fizzle out and you’ll be like the rest of us.” Sadly, it is often true. After a few months, too many new believers take their salvation for granted like other Christians easily do.
We try to rationalize our indifference by saying, “I am a mature Christian, and I do not need that type of worship to be close to God,” but our justification just covers up our waning desire. We get into a rut, and we find ourselves going through the motions.
How, then, do we break through? We might go from one church to the next looking for a place that will boost our passion. We find evangelists and revivalists who can pep us up. We look for the “next big thing” to help us encounter God. However, when the services are over, that same old feeling creeps back in, causing us to begin looking for the next high.
There is no special formula or secret ingredient. The only way to break through is by choosing to worship.
When everyone looks to the style of music, the setting, or the type of preacher, no one will be completely satisfied. To meet everyone’s preferences, we would have to organize churches by labeling them: (a) the church with acoustic worship, dim lighting, and a mellow preacher;
(b) the church with a choir, bright light- ing, and a loud preacher; (c) the church with flashing lights, a praise band, and a seeker-friendly preacher; (d) many other combinations. No church will check off every box on a person’s preference list.
The solution is choosing to worship. No matter the musical style, choose to worship. No matter the lighting, choose to worship. No matter the preacher, choose to worship. When we think about who God is and all He has done for us, we should be prompted to worship Him.
Our worship is an act of expression to God of our appreciation, love, and reverence to Him. Our choice to worship— whether we run the aisles, kneel, or lift our hands—will move the heart of God.
If we want God’s Spirit to move in our worship services, it is time that we stop trying to make Him move, and just let ourselves worship Him.