I remember it distinctly. I was at Hillsong Conference NYC serving on the communications team. It was opening night and I stood at the back of one section as the lights dimmed for the beginning of worship. As the lead female vocalist’s distinctive voice filled the arena, I heard someone excitedly whisper, “Oh, here it is — it’s THE SONG!”
You call me out upon the waters, the great unknown where feet may fail…
The masses around me were so excited about hearing this song that was sweeping the nation via their churches and radio. To be completely honest, I was sort of annoyed. Did they not understand that, though this song is beautiful, and Hillsong United’s Taya Smith slays it, it’s more than a song? That the actual worship is both the words and the way in which we sing them?
The Psalmist proclaims, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6). As Christians, we are not simply called to worship God; worship is a central part of who we are as His creations. I liken worship to sunflowers. When in darkness, the sunflower weakens, as its very being begins to disintegrate. But when the sun comes out, the flower immediately turns to its source of life.
When we come to know our Source of Life — the Light of the world — our automatic response is worship, to turn toward our Creator.
Psalm 143:6 brings this into focus, saying, “I stretch out my hands to you, my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.”
Though worship doesn’t always involve singing, it is personal, whatever form it takes. Worship can be keeping our bodies healthy, honoring what God gave us. Or it can be in the thankfulness I feel when I’m walking in a forest or just down the street, reflecting on His love.
Going back to “the song,” I asked myself why it bothered me that these strangers were so affected by the hype of a popular worship song.
I mean, who am I to judge?
That’s when I realized the Holy Spirit was gently making me aware of how often I sing songs in church, that barely touch my lips, let alone my heart.
The Heart of Worship
This happened a little over 18 months ago. I was officially graduating from business school with a Masters of Science in Marketing and would start a new job a few weeks later. I didn’t know that the following year was going to be one of the most blessed, fun, horrible, tumultuous years of my life. But that night I decided that if I was going to worship, I would do it with all my heart. I determined that I would change the way I worshipped. I would allow God to change the way I worshipped.
So I gave myself a rule. If I wasn’t “in the mood” to worship, I would stop, pray and refocus — for as long as I needed — to keep my heart in the right place. I would sing because I meant it. I would praise because He deserves to be praised. I would worship because I am a thankful. I wouldn’t sing words, I would sing prayers.
For the next year, I listened to more worship music than I ever have. I changed my alarms to worship music to remind me to start the day thankful and appreciative. I took moments to turn off all distractions, put on songs like “It is Well” or “We Dance” and stand, sit or dance — whatever allowed me to surrender.
Like any good habit, surrender takes a lot of practice and discipline — and time. I wish I could say that this change brought me into some super-spiritual, blissful existence, but if you remember, I mentioned that last year wasn’t so great.
You see, when you prayerfully sing, “I will call upon Your name … Keep my eyes above the waves,” God gives you waves. My renewed commitment to worship was tested over and over again. And over and over again I vowed to keep my promise to practice this new habit of praising God with all of my being.
Practicing His Presence
This journey into true worship was so private, so personal, that I didn’t even tell my best friends about it. I guess I never felt ready or wasn’t sure. Or maybe it’s that it’s still a daily practice that I haven’t perfected. Much like my commitment to going to the gym six days a week, I know the results show, but it doesn’t mean I am always consistent.
Full disclosure: My nearest and dearest know that I have had times this past year where I was still a wreck and worried, fretted and cried. But it was a lot less than other trying times in my life.
Though I wasn’t perfect at fulfilling my promise to always worship from the heart, my year of worshipping prayerfully brought several tangible results:
Peace. When my heart was continually focused on who God is and His promises, and worshiping Him for that, I didn’t have space to worry. As Psalm 73:26 says, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Hope. When I sang about allowing my soul to rest in Him, I was reminded of all the times that He has carried me, blessed me, and moved my life forward, even when I was less than deserving. I was encouraged much like the Israelites were when Moses told them, “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:14).
Joy. The Apostle Paul encouraged the Romans with these words: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13). When I reminded myself, over and over again, that His grace abounds, that I am saved and made free, I could remain joyful in times of sorrow and pain, even when the world felt like it was collapsing around me.
Patience. When I couldn’t see my next steps, I sang out to Him. I reminded myself of His faithfulness in the past and was able to wait on Him. I remembered the words of Colossians 1:11, which say, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”
Nearness. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “Be careful what you pray for, because you just may get it.” That was my experience as I prayed that He would take me deeper and make my faith stronger. He did both of those things. The more I prayed and sang prayers that encouraged me toward a closer relationship with Him, the more those truths infiltrated all areas of my life. Some of it hurt, but it was beautiful when the words I once sang as prayers for my desired relationship with God became words that described my actual relationship with Him.
My year of rediscovering worship brought honesty back into my life and walk with Christ. Worship isn’t always an idealistic, focused time with God. Recently, I was in a church service and my blood sugar was so low, my mind was elsewhere and worship was just OK. A year ago I would have gone through the motions and left. Instead I reminded myself why I was there and Who I was worshipping, and I was able to refocus.
In the end, I learned that true worship is not about guilt; you can never build a loving relationship out of guilt. It’s about an honest, no holds barred, sincere relationship with God. And that’s amazing.
Copyright Michelle Plett 2016. All rights reserved.