Monday, January 14, 2008

Incorporating Faith in Corporate Worship

“For without faith it is impossible to please God.”

For a long time I have asked the question, “If our goal in worship is to please God, then it is imperative that we have faith in our worship. How on earth could we do that? Have faith while playing guitar, while singing, while doing Power Point, etc?”

So during times of corporate worship, we all desire as most worship leaders would say, “We would please God, rather than man.”, “To PLEASE God, to make Him ‘smile’”,
to “bring Him sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving”, “to ‘sing and make music with our hearts to the Lord, giving thanks to the Father in Christ…” We even say, “May Your servants find favor in Your sight O God.” Yes, our object is to give God pleasure in what He hears, sees and feels from us. I should say, FAITH then, plays the most important role in our pursuit of pleasing God. In our goal of finding favor in His eyes, in our desire and hope that God would find our sacrifices acceptable, it should be done in FAITH.

How many times, if I may ask, did we depend on our own talents and skills, wisdom and resources, methods and intellect when it comes to worship leading? How many times did we “have Faith” on ourselves? I’m guilty, and I know many of us are NOT pleasing God.

As I see it, the things that we can achieve or posses normally, and all the products of our natural state seldom result to faith. What do I mean? If I can normally sing, normally play an instrument, normally give my time, talent and resources, then could it be a product of faith? Could be, but most probably, it’s not faith. It’s “self”. Then if it is self, it cannot please God, thus it is not worth God’s attention. David expressly showed that when he said “I cannot offer to God something that cost me nothing”.

Abraham wasn’t used to sacrificing an only promised son. Noah wasn’t used to building an ark. Sarah wasn’t used to bearing a child. Enoch was definitely not used to dying! These people were listed in the “hall of Faith” in Hebrews because they accomplished things only God can do! They depended solely on God’s sovereignty when they found it difficult to obey. They did things they normally wouldn’t do. They did it all by faith!

How then in our state, even in our “expertise” in musical performance, do things by faith? It’s quite simple really. It all begins with the heart.

In leading worship, or playing an instrument in the praise band, we must begin with an attitude of humility. The acknowledgment of our natural talent as a gift from God, because the Bible said that all good things come from the heavenly Father, is a good place to start. Then after realizing that, we can then move on to an attitude of thanksgiving. Now that you know where that ability came from, we must then thank God that He has allowed such an amount of ability in music to flow in us, knowing that anytime, it can be taken away from us. After an attitude of thanksgiving is an attitude of service. This gift was given for a purpose. And it is simply to glorify the Giver. There is nothing for us in this. God did not intend for us to be famous because of His talent. He demands His glory and His honor in the gifts He has bestowed upon us. He even said that He will not share His glory to another. The only glory we can get is the pleasure of seeing God glorified. Its like the pride you have when your favorite basketball team wins the championship, and you applaud in the audience, without being noticed, and you simply relish the satisfaction of the glory of your team.

Here’s a point I would want to inject: practically speaking, the worship team, specifically the worship leader, gets a lot of “pats in the back” compared to most of the ministries the church has. If not checked, this could get to our egos and would tend to blow up our heads, and our pride. Our response would be simply; first to thank the giver of the praise, but the important thing is to redirect the glory and praise to God. We act as mirrors that deflect the glory that “naturally” goes to us, to the One who really and fully deserves the glory. As mirrors, we also have the responsibility of reflecting the image of Jesus in our lives. But that would be another topic.

Okay, after the heart issue, we then go to the issue of excellence and dependence. This is a call to a skillful degree of musical performance. Our purpose is to give God glory, not shame! With a low musical skill level, our praise to God is not maximized. How is faith involved in this? Simple and in many ways. It is not normal for musicians with different skill levels to know the songs and play together, therefore they practice. They “sacrifice” an amount of time to do so. They also must devote numerous hours to individually develop their skills so it is also an act of sacrifice. Now, seeing these things work together involves a full dependence on God’s Spirit to work through and in us. Now a dependence on His power requires faith.

For us musicians, there is a fine line between depending and jamming. It is so easy not to distinguish the two. I myself get confused a lot of times. As a remedy, we can be in an attitude of prayer and constant heart and motive check, while playing or leading worship. It must be constant. I can begin with a pure heart, but can easily drift to a mixed motive heart during the singing. I don’t know exactly when the transition happens but being aware CONSTANTLY may help refocus our attention to worship and not just in the performance.

From an act of excellence and dependence, we now move on to an act of service. We not only use our gifts for ourselves but so that others may be blessed because of God’s gift to us. “and the second Greatest Commandment is LIKE it, love others as yourself.” By serving others, we follow God’s command, and we act in faith.

The last point is simple: believing in God. The simple fact that you believe and actually sing to an unseen Being, one you have not heard, touched, or even felt, and worshiping Him as if He is right there listening to your voice is an act of faith. You run the risk of being labeled as either a fanatic freak or a crazy person. Look at it from a different point of view: what if you see someone talking to someone invisible? Isn’t it sort of ludicrous? What if you see someone singing TO (not just about) someone invisible on the street, not in a casual way, but singing as if the invisible being is right there beside that person? And even closing their eyes, lifting their hands, even bowing and crying? It is normal for us to think of that person as crazy. But that’s exactly what we do when we sing to God. And it requires faith.

For those who want to know a deeper meaning of this faith, it also has a theological side to believing. And this is actually the key to the faith we need to worship. Here it goes: we are ALL sinful. Small sins, big sins, white, black, mortal, venial, doesn’t matter…if we’re sinners; we have no business approaching a holy God. In fact, it is a dangerous act to come to Him in our sinful state. But we need to go to Him! For many of us, we like to run away from Him, and we don’t see the need to go to Him, but in reality, we HAVE to. Our purpose, our meaning, our very existence depends on a close relationship with Him. But how do we do that? The deafening answer is: we CAN’T. We simply can’t…unless God Himself breaks the barrier and comes TO us. That’s the reason why we have Christmas. Now, by being born to the world via virgin conception, and living a sinless, perfect life, and claiming deity and teaching wonderful stuff won’t complete the requirements for us to be bridged to God… He needed to die in our place so that the wrath of God on OUR sin can be exercised. Someone worthy had to accept the punishment for our sin. And not just anybody, the sacrifice must meet the requirements of God…and that is God Himself, Jesus. That’s why we have the Lenten season and Last Supper. Now, we have access to the holiness of God’s presence. We can now boldly approach the holy throne of God through the finished work of Jesus on the cross (“it is finished…”). Jesus sort of says when our filthiness is revealed to God as opposed to His holy wrath: “I got him covered Father, I bought this guy for You when I accepted the punishment for his sins.” Then the Father would simply say something like, “I see my Son’s blood covering your sins, therefore you are my child too.” But it doesn’t end there! Jesus had to prove everything He said about Himself by rising from the dead and by physically going back to the Father via ascension. If He didn’t, then our faith is futile. Our faith has no basis. Our beliefs are no different than the other world religions. The only cutting edge we have against all other “faiths” is that our God LIVES. We have an empty grave.

With all that said, from an attitude of humility, excellence and dependence, to service and the risk of humiliation, to the proper understanding to where our faith comes from, we can have faith in our worship to God. And truly, in faith, we are able to corporately please God.

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