Why Your Worship May Be A Silent Prison (And A little Weird…)
I have had a long and tumultuous journey with worship. Some of it euphoric. Some of it painful. And I’m sure it isn’t over. But I wanted to share one insight with you that has opened up worship for me in a powerful way.
This isn’t everything I’ve learned or experienced on worship. Just one aspect.
As many of you know, I spent 2 amazing years at Bethel Church in Redding California. During that time, I experienced more amazing worship sets than I could count. Yet, I could probably count on one hand the number of worship sets that impacted me in a positive way.
For me, most of the time worship was a constant struggle. I had these kinds of thoughts running through my head: “I should be engaging more.” “Why am I not having the same experience as those people up there?” “There must be something wrong with me.” The list goes on an on.
I felt buffeted by what I was not. Many times I would have to step out of the sanctuary because I couldn’t take the struggle any more. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I needed to get outside.
That being said, in my private life, I could engage with God with ease. It was the corporate setting that posed such a struggle for me.
Obviously something wasn’t right. And I still struggle with some of this today – but to a much lesser extent.
Ironically, in my 2nd Year I took a year long class on worship. Every week I had the privilege of sitting in a room with 30 other people learning how Bethel did worship. It was amazing.
I’ve also wanted to lead worship and play guitar for a long time. It was something I day dreamed about for many years.
You can see that I was a walking contradiction. I loved the idea of worship, but struggled with my participate in its corporate expression.
I know now that I am a spiritual feeler (meaning I can pick up on what others are feeling) and that I was also struggling with low-grade depression. These things certainly weren’t helping me. But that wasn’t all.
Towards the end of my 2nd Year, I remember walking out of the sanctuary (couldn’t take the worship) and asking God what was wrong with me.
Why did I struggle so much with worship?
I heard, “You think you are a failure because you can’t seem to worship like everyone else.”
And a light went on. Bethel lifts worship up as the penultimate of the spiritual experience – for good reason. I’m not countering that.
But I struggled with my understanding of it, and thus I felt like an outsider because I wasn’t in love with corporate worship. I felt like a Redding failure. I didn’t belong there. I wasn’t a true “bethelite.”
I have since made a lot of progress on this front. I don’t believe any of that anymore. And I am much freer in worship than I have ever been.
I have learned many things about myself, and about worship that has changed my experience significantly.
I can still struggle with the echoes of these feelings, but I’ve learned to be okay with being a work in progress.
I want to share with you one of the things that led to this turnaround.
It forms one of the fundamental pillars in my understanding of worship.
It has changed my experience with worship, and I hope it can do the same for you.
Many People’s Worship Is… Weird
Many Christians have a discipline of worship. And when done for the right reasons, it is good. But when done for the wrong reasons, it can hinder you.
Let’s use our relationships with our parents as an illustration.
Our relationships with our parents are supposed to be picture of how we relate to God. It is not perfect (there are others, like romantic love, friendship, etc…), but Jesus taught us to see God as The Father. So lets go with it.
It would be very weird for me to wake up every morning, call my parents, and say, “I just want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me. Mom, the pain and sacrifice you performed giving birth to me, and the continued sacrifice you made in raising me. And dad, for all the hard work you’ve put into protecting me and making sure I have food on the table. I just want you to know that I am eternally thankful.” And to go on like that for several minutes.
That may be a good thing to say every once and a while, or semi-regularly (it is good to keep in mind what your parents do for you), but doing that everyday would be VERY strange. My parents would think I had a serious problem. Especially if I then just hung up without actually talking with them!
Yet, this is exactly how most people treat worship and their relationships with God.
There are moments in scripture when people fall down in worship. And there are times when we need to be smacked upside the head with His goodness (to the point that we can’t help but praise Him). But that is not how we are supposed to live our lives. God doesn’t want that kind of relationship with us.
That would be strange…
He wants to walk with us, like He did with Adam and Eve.
Nor does He need our praise. He is not an ego maniac. He is completely sufficient in Himself. He doesn’t need anything from us.
It is true that He enjoys us, but that does not mean that He lacks anything without us. He is infinitely joyful on His own. We do add to that, but it’s like saying “Infinity + 1.” How does that work? I don’t really know. But lets not get hung up there.
God’s desire for relationship with us forms the foundation for everything He does with us.
In that, He wants us to be 100% who we were designed to be. And part of that process is realizing who He is.
We were made in His image. We carry His DNA. Therefore, to know who we are requires that we know who He is.
Worship: Your Spiritual Metronome
If you play an instrument, you have probably at some point tried playing to a metronome. If not, let me fill you in – it can be very hard. Especially if you’ve been playing for a while and aren’t used to a metronome. Everyone has an internal beat that varies a bit as you play or sing. When you’re on your own, that doesn’t really matter much (and you don’t notice it). It becomes somewhat problematic when you play with other people, but decent musicians can just roll with it.
However, to really up your game as a musician, you need to practice to a metronome. This allows for higher precision and excellence as a musician. All the major worship groups (Bethel, Hillsong, Jesus Culture) and the top secular artists all perform to a “click” (the industry term for a metronome). This syncs everyone up, takes the guess work out of things, and increases the overall excellence of the music.
When you first start practicing to a click, it is hard. Your internal metronome clashes with the external one. You want to slip and slide around the tempo, but the click is blaring right there telling you that you’re off. And if you struggle with self-condemnation, it is telling you that you are failing as a good musician.
But, as you practice and push through the initial turbulence, over time your internal metronome begins to sync with the external one. There comes a point when you are almost as solid as the click (people will always vary a little). Though you need to keep yourself in shape by practicing, the external click begins to define your internal click. And it is glorious. When a group of people play together – on the click – it is powerful. The musical effect of the group is multiplied.
I realized several years ago that this was a great analogy for worship.
Worship is a spiritual metronome designed to keep us in sync with the heartbeat of heaven.
The words of a worship song (should) accurately reflect the heart of God. And when we sing them, we are declaring them as truth. But our internal click may not be in sync with heaven.
We may be singing “You are always good to me,” but our hearts are yelling, “How can that be true when [enter whatever trial you are going through]!”
And, if you struggle with self-condemnation, you can even judge yourself for not “believing” what you’re singing.
You can beat yourself up for not trusting God, or not seeing how He is good in a certain situation, or why you aren’t having the same kind of spiritual experience as as others.
And as I did, you can feel like a failure.
You can beat yourself up during worship.
If you think that worship is just a religious part of what we do, it can imprison you.
If you think God demands it because He deserves it (or that we should do it because He deserves it), it can crush you.
But when you realize it is for our benefit, to help us understand who we are and how we can achieve the joy God wants for us, it can free us.
Paul tells us to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. A discipline of worship is part of that process.
You worship to get your heartbeat in sync with the heartbeat of heaven. At first, it can be very hard. But after time (and through the work of the Holy Spirit) your thoughts should begin to sync with Heaven’s.
When Heaven’s “click” begins to define your internal click, you begin to live your every day lives (not just when you’re in worship) with a proper understanding of who He is, and therefore who you are.
Worship allows us to live a life of intimacy with Him. Not because we’re singing songs, and constantly telling Him how thankful we are (that’s just weird). But because we know who He is. Our hearts are in sync with His truth.
Worship As A Spiritual Discipline
Worship is for us – not for Him. It is only for Him in so much as it helps us realize who we are.
We are supposed to have those “fall down on your face” moments with God. They are good for us. And they are good for Him
These moments fill us with praise. And they are life changing. We want to experience as many of those moments as we can. But I don’t think that is how we are supposed to live our every day lives.
God wants intimacy. And to get that intimacy, we need to know who we are. And to know who we are, we need to be in sync with Him.
That’s what the discipline of worship is. A way for us to align our thoughts with the truth of heaven. It is a doorway to a more fulfilling life with God, and those around you.
This is not everything I have learned about worship. And I am sure I have a ton more to learn. But it is an important lesson that helps frame what I do on Sunday mornings (and in my personal times with God).
It has granted me a lot of freedom, and I hope it is helpful for you as well.
It you received any revelation and insight from this post, I would love to hear it.
Either private message me on Facebook, or leave a comment below.
Thank you for reading.
About Sean Edwards
Sean Edwards is an author and a communication strategist. He graduated from the Western Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in history. Sean has a passion for discussing philosophy and American politics.