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5 things I have learned about worship this month

5 things I have learned about worship this month

It is the end of the second month of a year of embracing grace through spiritual disciplines.  This month we have been focusing on worship.  In month 1 we looked at the spiritual discipline of meeting with God intentionally in creation.  It was not something I had intentionally embraced before and so I made time each day to do it.  Worship has been different - it is something that is already happening regularly in my personal and community rhythms and so embracing it has looked different.  It has been less about setting a time aside each day, although there have been ‘extra’ worship times in our community, but instead it has been thinking about the ‘why’ in worship and being encouraged to keep going faithfully for much of it.  There have been some big changes for me though - shifts in the ways I view worship and shifts in my practices, especially as a parent helping my children embrace worship.  I wanted to share some of those things God has revealed or highlighted to me this month to encourage you: 


1. God is the Initiator of worship. 

This seems like such a stupid statement.  Of course He is the Initiator of everything, but when I began thinking about intentionality in worship this month I noticed anxiety creeping in.  Striving.  A feeling I needed to do something for God and that was, of course stupid in itself.  God doesn’t need our worship.  But if worship is so important, He must have another purpose in it: an opportunity for relationship with us.  One of the early things God showed me this month was that I need to prepare my heart for worship, yes, but He is the One who initiates the worship.  It is like when you are dancing with a partner - one partner leads, but both have to be willing and cooperate.  So it is with worship - He is the One who leads, I play my part in the dance but He is the Initiator. 

Understanding this has helped me lead worship - it has reminded me that it isn’t up to me to make everyone worship - it is His Spirit who guides and leads when we allow Him space to.  I don’t need to have it all worked out in my personal worship times.  I can just show up and allow Him to lead me.  And enjoy it! 

Worship is the human response to the Divine initiative… worship is our response to the overtures of love from the heart of the Father. It is kindled within us only when the Spirit of God touches our human spirit…singing, praying, praising, all may lead to worship, but worship is more than any of them. Our spirit must be ignited by Divine fire.
— Richard Forster in Celebration of Discipline

I love this description of worship by John Koessler in The Radical Pursuit of Rest: Escaping the Productivity Trap: 

We enter God’s presence through worship because we have been invited…worship is not a feast we lay out for God. It is the table on which God spreads His feast for us.

I have been able to stand back more in worship, asking Him what the feast is that He is spreading before me and enjoy relationship with Him in those times.  


2. Worship in its simplest form is recognition of who God is.   

Spending a month looking at worship brings up the question ‘what even is worship?’ very quickly! What gets included in worship and what doesn’t? Is service worship? Is music and singing worship? What about spending time with my family - can that be worship? And the answer is that they can be and yet they are not worship of themselves.  Eugene Peterson’s explanation has helped me this month: 

Worship is an act of attention to the Living God who rules, speaks and reveals, creates and redeems, orders and blesses.

Because worship is relationship, worship is an intentional act of recognizing who God is and calling attention to it.  It includes therefore thanksgiving, declarations in speech or song, thoughts, and acts motivated by thoughts which recognize God.  


3. Small and often is enough most of the time


As I re-read my journal from earlier in the year I came across these words: 

‘Anna, I am not interested in grand gestures as much as I am interested in faithfulness.’

This month has been very busy with visitors and finally acquiring a building for our church which needs renovating.  As much as I would have loved to spend hours in worship each day it wasn’t going to be possible.  Early on in the month I felt like I couldn’t give ‘worship’ as much time as I gave ‘spending time with God in creation’ and I felt like a fraud just doing what I already did in worship with a bit extra.  But God showed me quickly that it is not about doing grand gestures of taking hours or days to worship that count, but rather being faithful with the time I did have.  There were many opportunities in my life to worship - not just at prayers or in my quiet time, but in lots of different ways.  Would I take those? Would I choose to see God in His glory in all aspects of my life? Of course I didn’t manage it all the time, but choosing to worship even for a moment did happen more.   

Earthly worship is an exercise in sustained attention that requires us to train our vision to see reality as God describes it.
— John Koessler in The Radical Pursuit of Rest: Escaping the Productivity Trap

4. Worship does not come naturally to most people. Worship takes practice in private to bring freedom in public. 

Worship times have been some of the most glorious times I have had so far in my life.  I truly understand why worshipping God forever in heaven can be something so glorious, but sometimes you can be worshipping with others and their folded arms, bored posture and their distractions can tell you that they want it to be over as soon as possible. And that includes my children. 


Over the last few years I have noticed that those people who find the most freedom in worship are often worship leaders, but being one myself I know that is not because we were naturally made that way.  Instead it is because we have had lots of opportunities to practice personal worship in private! It is not so awkward to get on your knees in public worship when that is a normal posture in private worship. 


One of the things that has been puzzling to me this month has been how my children tried to avoid worship at all costs.  Being at church on Sunday mornings even for two songs was very difficult.  I know they have personal relationships with God but you would have seen no evidence of that on a Sunday morning. In fact, one of my closest friends once told me she was concerned for one of my children because they seemed to hate Sunday morning worship so much and assumed they also therefore hated God.  

I remember feeling awkward in worship times as a child and so I felt that my children would mature into it.  I didn’t want to make them worship.  But this month I wondered if they struggled to worship on a Sunday morning in public because they hadn’t learned to worship God in private.  So we started incorporating worship into our homeschool time in the morning (just two songs sung from a song sheet accompanied with thanksgiving) and a worship song from youtube with lyrics in our evening prayer time.  I talked to the boys about the importance of worship and it has already made a difference. They are beginning to engage with God in worship in private and that has impacted their ability to worship in public as well.  


5.  Worship is meant to be restful and restorative.  

‘Worship does not have to be functional in order to be legitimate… worship is “an activity that is meaningful in itself”. This is hard for us to accept in a value-added world that believes that production alone gives meaning to our existence…coming to church “just to worship” seems unproductive.
‘Rest is worship…worship is a kind of rest’
— John Koessler in The Radical Pursuit of Rest: Escaping the Productivity Trap

Worship can feel hard when we think it is about producing something.  When we think it is about moving God or making Him take notice of us. It is hard to relax into worship when we have a brain full of other things we need to do.  But when we let go and accept His invitation to come to the table and enjoy the feast He has prepared for us, worship can be truly restorative and restful.  It is the essence of true relationship with God.  

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it.
— Isaiah 30:15

What about you? What have you learned about worship this month? 

Recommended books I have enjoyed this month: 

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.  I hope it has been a blessing to you.  Please do share it with others who you feel may benefit! This is the last in a series of blogposts on worship this month.  Check out the full list here to see if you missed one!

Looking forward to sharing more with you in November on the next spiritual discipline - prayer. Do let me know if you have any particular struggles or questions relating to prayer to explore!

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How journalling transformed my prayer life

How journalling transformed my prayer life

Struggling with distractions in worship

Struggling with distractions in worship