Growing up in Baptist churches in New England my whole life, worship was somewhat conservative. When I say conservative, I mean that very few people raised their hands, few people had their eyes closed, and nobody was dancing. Yet, people were still praising the Lord with joyful expressions and thankful hearts. Needless to say coming to CIU was a new experience. I began to question my “praise practices.” Thoughts ran through my head such as, “Is it wrong to praise with my hands in my pockets?” “When should I raise my hands?” and “If I don’t raise my hands, is my expression of worship any less meaningful?” It was not until recently that I realized how foolish these questions were. My worship needed not to be based on whether my eyes were open or closed or whether my hands were in the air or on the chair in front of me. It’s all about the spirit. You see, my worship was not in the spirit of celebration of my Lord, rather my worship was in the spirit of comparison with my peers. I will not speak as to the physical expression of worship, but I will say that comparison in worship is wrong.
I once heard worship described as ascribing worth to God. I suppose you could call it “worthship.” Comparison during worship does not attribute worth to God. In fact, as soon as you compare during worship, you immediately lose sight of your vertical relationship with God and shift your focus to a horizontal relationship with your peers. Worship becomes about the individual, not God. Instead of marveling at the goodness of God, you become concerned with your image. Worship should be an abandonment of all love of self and an embracing of the concept of God’s majesty. If we fail to surrender our love of self, then our worship becomes increasingly difficult.
In my search for remedies to this problem I struggle with, I have found one quick fix. Close your eyes. If you are distracted, close your eyes. Think about what is being sung. Meditate on the Lord and his attributes. Yes, some may argue that by closing your eyes, you miss out on the atmosphere of corporate worship. However, though the word corporate may come first, worship is the priority. If corporate becomes the focus, then again, we’ve lost our focus. Worship should be a natural expression for the Christian. I think of so many people throughout the Bible and in my life who were so full of the joy of the Lord that their heart sang of the praises of the Lord. In everything they did, they couldn’t help but worship. They paid little attention to the worship of those around them because they were so caught up in the greatness of God, that they couldn’t be distracted if they tried. The majesty of our Lord should be so overwhelming that we can’t help but focus on that alone. This is why closing your eyes is so crucial. In doing so, you create an isolated environment that makes it so much easier to focus on the Lord and Him alone.
Consider King David in 2 Samuel 6:14. After David and his men had returned the Ark of the Covenant, he rejoiced. The Bible states, “David danced before the Lord with all his might.” David was so caught up in what the Lord had done and so overwhelmed by the Lord’s blessing that he rejoiced with everything he had. When David returned, his wife, Michal, was very quick to rebuke him. She was judgmental of his behavior and at the end we see that she was wrong in doing so. As believers we must be careful how we judge the practices of others in their worship. We go to a school with a very specific approach to worship that is different from many other types. Yes, there is a variety of worship styles here at CIU, but as a school collectively, CIU has its own style. But what happens when you leave your Baptist church for a week and go to a Presbyterian service? What is your reaction when your conservative church background is shattered by the one guy in the front row who is dancing in circles? This is his form of worship, as standing still may be part of yours. Plus, if you’re busy judging your neighbor, then once again you’ve neglected your obligation of glorifying the Lord.
We serve an amazing and wonderful God. He is worthy of all praise and of all glory. As believers, bringing Him glory should be a priority, and anything that distracts us from this priority is a serious problem. Worship should never allow for you to bring yourself glory or for you to judge others, because in both situations, you are making yourself like God. It’s something I’ve wrestled with for a while, and it’s no easy thing. But you are surrounded by a Christian community that can support you and a community that can remind you that you are not alone. Worry not, but examine your heart and ask what the intent is behind your worship. In the words of one of my beloved professors, “It’s not about comparison, it’s all about celebration.”
Written by:Tim Lapointe