If you ask 10 different people the question, “What makes a good fruit salad?” you will undoubtedly get 10 different answers. “Oh, I love banana in mine!” “No, I hate bananas! You have to have blueberries!” “You have to have Miracle Whip in it!” “No, I can’t stand Miracle Whip!” And so on.
I know, because I asked this question at the last extended-family dinner we had together. But, in order for you to have a good time with your family during a meal, must everyone agree on the contents of the fruit salad? Probably not.
I like to compare worship to a fruit salad. What is “good worship” to you? What are the circumstances under which you are able to most easily connect with God? The answer to this question may be very different, depending on who you ask.
I recently was privileged to represent Elim at the Evangelical Free Church of America worship leaders’ gathering at EFCA headquarters in Minneapolis. It was such an amazing time for so many reasons, but one of my favorite things was being able to worship together with other worship leaders from across the country. It could have been my least favorite part, if God hadn’t helped me get out of my own way in connecting with Him.
As we started the gathering, there were about 30 of us in the room, with a group of musicians and singers up front leading. They handed us a booklet containing a liturgy of readings and songs. Sadly, an attitude of disappointment began to form within me. At Elim, we tend to not do a lot of traditional, liturgical things in our worship, so it’s something that I’m not used to. Thus, when they handed me the book, I was skeptical.
The guy who was leading the worship time began to play and sing, and I immediately began thinking critical thoughts. It can be very hard for me when I am at another church or at a concert to focus on anything other than the tech they are using or what chords they are playing, because I deal with all those things on a daily basis.
But at that moment it was as if God said to me, “Nathan, will you stop? Stop critiquing. Stop focusing on all the instruments. Stop focusing on the everything but Me, and just be with Me in this time. Just be with Me!” And at that moment I let go of all the analysis and the critique and merely began to simply be.
What followed was one of the sweetest times of worship I have ever experienced in my life. The funny thing is, the ambience of the room was still not ideal. The flourescent lights were very bright. The sound wasn’t perfect. The instrumentalists made a few mistakes here and there. The songs were not even all songs I knew, nor were they particularly my favorites … BUT, it didn’t matter. Because I was with Jesus!
I have been asking the question, “What is worship and what are we really doing here?” God has continued to break out of the box that I’ve put Him in. I have realized that the biggest barrier between us and a close, intimate time with God is not the lighting, the music, the strength of the vocalists, or the volume level. Instead, it is what I see when I look in the mirror. Me! I have heard the phrase, “We should be able to worship God no matter what the music is like.” It’s a simple thing to say, but it’s much more difficult to follow. I have said it myself. But I don’t think I really believed it.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul talks about the heart we are to have. He says, “then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
We will never have the same passions or the same preferences, but we can have one mind, as Paul says. We can have a mindset of selflessness and the heart of a servant. We may not agree on what is the best style of music or what color the lights should be, or even what songs to sing, but we do agree that Jesus is worthy of praise, that He is the object of our praise and that He modeled humility and selflessness to us and has asked us to follow Him.
So I challenge you, the next time you’re in a corporate worship time and you find yourself thinking negatively about the songs, the music, or the lighting, ask Jesus, “Lord will You help me to just be with You, worship You, and let my heart honor You during this time?”
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” (Philippians 2:5-7)