One thing that happens when corporate worship doesn't start with praise
When I began worship leading about three years ago, I really wanted to skip over those 'praise' songs that generally come at the beginning of a time of corporate worship and get to the 'real' worship - the intimate, slower songs. Those lively, get-everyone-clapping songs, loud, 'belt-it-all-out' ones at the beginning seemed like an unnecessary warm-up to getting to the point of worship: intimacy.
Now some of that is my personality - being an introvert, corporate worship is not something that comes naturally. Or rather, I find it much more difficult to engage with God in those settings - it is much easier for me to pray, to hear from God and meditate on His word and reflect on it on my own, in silence, behind closed doors (ask my husband, Mark - I can’t concentrate even if I have someone else breathing in the room!) So fast-moving songs always felt like my mind could not keep up.
But I also wondered if those livelier songs had a purpose. Most modern corporate worship begins with them, so there must be a reason why. What I discovered changed the way I worship and lead worship.
My sister, Chloe, was the one I turned to to ask advice. She had been leading worship already for several years and so I asked her whether she thought those upbeat songs were really necessary. Couldn't they just be skipped over? I love my sister's directness. She said they were absolutely essential and here's why:
When most people come to corporate times of worship, they come distracted. Distracted by the things around them, distracted by anxieties, the argument they just had on the way to church, the upcoming week, the conflicts going on with others in the church, etc. etc. It is important, therefore, that a time of worship begins with songs that focus entirely on God and who He is. No 'I need you...'songs, no 'I love you songs' even. Nothing but Him.
When we begin with declaring what is true rather than what we feel, then we can get past ourselves and begin looking beyond to the One who it is all about.
Declaring who God is causes us to focus on who He is before we come to our response.
We need the perspective of how big God is before we can enter into more intimate times of worship. We need to know how powerful God is before we can respond in faith. It has to start with Him before we can respond.
Of course it is not just about lively songs of praise. It could be that a time of worship begins with thanksgiving or declaring who God is, whether that be spontaneously or reading a passage of Scripture that declares the power of our God. It isn't about the loudness or jazziness of the music. But it is about focusing on how great God is before we come to a place of personally responding in words of love.
Just like the woman who poured out her perfume on Jesus' feet in loving response to what Jesus could do for her, we cannot pour out our love on Jesus without first acknowledging where we are at and His power to transform our lives. It has to begin with Jesus and then we respond. True worship is made up of two parts: acknowledging who God is and responding in adoration to Him for how He personally has helped us. It is a relationship with starts with Him - He has always been the Initiator.
Now that I understand the importance of beginning times of worship with praise and acknowledgement of who God is, I am no longer frustrated by the upbeat praise songs, waiting to get to the real heart of worship. I recognize now that both praise songs and adoration songs are not just valuable but essential to our worship and our relationship with God. Without them it becomes a me-focused, shallow attempt at emotional worship, rather than a truth and faith-filled worship time focused on Him.
If I fail to acknowledge who He is first, my heart cannot respond in the more intimate, slower times of worship without becoming self-absorbed. If I fail to focus entirely on Him and leave my issues in the beginning of worship, I will also fail to recognize my need for Him and His power to change those issues. If I focus on Him, then I am empowered to respond because I have met with the Almighty. I can humbly respond because I now know that He, amazingly, wants to dwell with me, help me and fight for me and I want to respond in gratitude and adoration.
Acknowledgment of who He is and then response.
That is true worship.
What situations are you facing today? Why don’t you take a moment to declare who God is. Perhaps put on a worship song, or write something down or declare it out loud. Take a moment to focus on who He is. How awesome He is.
Then offer your situations to Him and allow Him to speak into them today.
This October is a month where I am intentionally setting aside time each day to worship God. It is part of a year long embracing of grace through different spiritual disciplines. You can read more about the year here.