Overcoming Worship Worries (Sep-Oct 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

by Al Sturgeon
September – October, 2002

“Whatever is outward in worship must come as a direct result of what is inward—otherwise, it will be form without power.” — Howard Brinton

Simon Peter met three friends –Bill, Bob, and Billy Bob – for their initiation tour of Heaven. Peter explained that Heaven was a wonderful place, but surprisingly said that Heaven has one rule: Do not step on a duck. The three friends laughed at dire consequences of “duck damage,” until the gates swung open, unveiling ducks as far as they could see. They laughed again, a bit nervously, and began to walk.

Bill stepped on a duck. Peter suddenly reappeared with a horribly ugly woman and attached her to Bill as punishment. Bill’s two friends decided to be more careful. Nonetheless, a loud quack soon betrayed that Bob had stepped on a duck, too. The punishment once again came quickly, with the female in tow twice as ugly as before. Shaken, Billy Bob vowed never to step on a duck. He successfully navigated the quacking mine field for hours, refusing to look anywhere except at each of his painfully important steps. Eventually, Peter appeared again with the most gorgeous woman he had ever seen. Peter smiled at Billy Bob, patted him on the back, attached the beautiful lady to him, and disappeared. Reaching back to his romantic side, Billy Bob coolly said to his new mate, “I don’t know what I ever did to deserve you.” His female companion replied, “I don’t know about you, but I stepped on a duck.”

Can you imagine eternity in Heaven looking at our feet, afraid of making a costly mistake? Wandering around the Great Reward in constant fear is a stretch for any believer’s imagination. Ludicrous as that seems, though, consider our corporate worship assemblies – intended to be a bit of Heaven on earth – and you may see that we find ourselves in that very situation.

Wars over worship “issues” can be distracting ducks to those meant to be enthralled in God’s presence. As a preacher, I often find myself in the heart of worship most concerned about how folks I know on both ends of the theological spectrum are evaluating the service. Am I alone here? That is the tip of the iceberg. I have also discovered in the middle of, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” that I’m worried how we’re doing in regard to time. We don’t want people to get mad, you know. Don’t forget another awfully big duck – worrying in the midst of worship what impressions local guests are developing. Will our guests exclaim, “God is really among you!”? Or, will they exclaim, “I’m never coming back!”? Maybe I am alone, but I often find my worship time consumed with distracting ducks.

I have a friend who is a guitarist for a country music star. He also plays in a praise band at a large Baptist church in Nashville, with several stars of professional music in the assembly each week. He communicated that it is difficult to maintain proper focus, yet the worship leader helped change his corporate worship approach. In the “holy huddle” just before the assembly, the leader told the collection of impressive musicians to imagine they were about to enter their parents’ living room. He taught them that what they were about to do was simply intended to make the Father smile. I think that’s a nice thought.

I have come to be convinced that God is ultimately concerned with the heart of the worshiper instead of the flawless performance of requirements. The rules for Cain and Abel’s sacrifices make for an interesting debate, but the actions that followed their offerings revealed that Cain had a heart problem.

Hezekiah convinced me the best. In 2nd Chronicles 30, Hezekiah re-instituted the Passover observance, and we are told that many people from four different tribes broke the rules of worship. Hezekiah responded by praying to God, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God – the Lord, the God of his fathers – even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” The next line recorded for posterity that God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and healed the people (2nd Chronicles 30:18-20). Hezekiah’s story teaches me that God accepts those who seek Him with their heart.

Jesus told the Pharisees to go and learn what God meant when He told Hosea, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings (Hosea 6:6).” For those who took Jesus’ assignment to heart, I believe they found that God meant He was concerned with the heart of the worshiper. David said simply, “…for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you (Psalm 9:10b).” The Story of God is a story lined with the message that God is interested in those individuals who are seeking Him with their hearts.

Which all looks good on paper, of course. I can convince myself quite easily that, when corporate worship arrives, God is most interested in my heart offering. But practically speaking, it is not so easy. How do I sing focused on Him when I am concerned about other’s impressions? How do I concentrate on Jesus during Communion when a single mom’s first visit is dominated by her baby’s screams smashing the silence, and I want her to come back?

My answer? I cannot do it. I cannot put others out of my mind in corporate worship. I cannot ignore the lonely guest sitting nearby. My corporate worship will involve distractions, and there is nothing I can do about it. I will always find significant distractions in “the assembly.” And yet, I believe there is an answer to my problem. I believe there is a way to overcome our worship worries. The answer is found in a lonely place.

Consider Jesus. Can you imagine what it must have been like for Jesus to sit in an assembly? Can you picture Jesus listening to a “teacher” of the law rattling on and on – incorrectly quite often – about the Law and the Prophets? How frustrating it must have been for He who was there before the creation of the world to attend public worship! So what did Jesus do? “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed (Mark 1:35).” Luke tells us that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5:16). Jesus sought His time alone with the Father first in lonely, private worship.

Louis Evely wrote, “What was our Lord thinking about as he walked along the roads of Galilee, so often alone? What were his thoughts in times of repose, during the journeys by boat that he liked making with his disciples after a day’s exhausting preaching? What occupied his mind among the hills where he liked to go alone, without even the disciples? The answer, we may think, is easy: he was thinking of men, of sinners and their salvation, and what he had to do to affect that salvation. But, surprising as it may seem to us, it wasn’t with us that Jesus was concerned. The constant object of his meditation, the natural orientation of his heart and mind and soul, the food that constantly nourished him, was his Father.”There are lessons there for us.

First of all, we need to admit that our needs for worship experiences will not be satisfied in a corporate setting either. Just like Jesus, our souls crave time alone with the Father. I believe that our anger over corporate worship not meeting our needs would be drastically reduced if our needs did not completely depend on what takes place on Sunday.

Secondly, we need to realize that our corporate worship will only be moving – to believers and unbelievers alike – when it is a collection of disciples who engage in regular, private worship. I believe that most of our worries about the needs not met in others would be significantly abbreviated if our personal needs for pure worship were met regularly in lonely places. Oh, our worries might remain, but the odds of those unbelievers falling down and exclaiming, “God really is among you” would be dramatically higher if our time with God was not a one-hour-a-week phenomenon.

Finally, we can begin to comprehend the power of the Psalms. Not just in our private worship. Instead, we begin to see that the Psalms are gems of private worship. Not recorded for the stage or to get a record deal, these moments of private audience with God record words that have led countless others to an intimate relationship with the Father.

In our world today, the same may hold true. In private worship, where our worries are removed and our worship is revived, we just may find the answer to reach a lost world hungry for Him.New Wineskins

 

Al Sturgeon lives in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, with his wife, Jody, and daughters, Erica and Hillary, where he preaches at the Ocean Springs Church of Christ. In addition to preaching, he spends many hours supporting his Habitat for Humanity habit. He has founded two affiliates, currently serving as Chairman of the Board for Habitat for Humanity of West Jackson County. Finally, Sturgeon is an aspiring writer. He is completing his first book, The Fighting Never Stops, a biography of Vietnam War hero, Jim McVeay. He also publishes “A Daily Thought,” an e-mail devotional sent around the world. Click here for Al’s site. Contact Al Sturgeon.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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