By Clarence L. Haynes Jr., Crosswalk.com
Worship is a privilege only true believers can enjoy. As believers, God invites us into his presence and gives us the ability to come before the throne of grace. One way we enter his presence is through worship.
In the church culture today, worship has become an enterprise. I often wonder if we have made worship nothing more than a musical genre and have missed the heart of worship? If this is the case, then what was meant to be God-honoring and spirit-enriching has become something that God never intended it to be.
To help you understand this, I want to address some ways our worship can become sinful. By the way, many of these things are very subtle, which is why you must be on alert. In full transparency, I have engaged in some of these practices, so I am very familiar with how they can creep in.
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1. When You Worship the Worshippers
It is very popular now to have worship groups go on tour and go around the nation leading worship concerts. I had the privilege of attending one of these concerts. While I enjoyed the concert, the music, and the time we shared, something jumped out at me. At one point, I took a moment and observed the audience. As I did this, it seems as if those in the crowd were worshipping the worshippers. There was a sense of awe that came over the people as they watched the worshipper’s worship. It was as if they could not believe they could see this worship group in person.
We must be careful that we don’t idolize those who are leading worship. Yes, they may be talented, and there is nothing wrong with acknowledging their musical gifting. However, you should know that their worship isn't more important to God than yours. Your voice may not sound as good, or maybe it does, but God will receive it just the same.
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2. When You Treat Worship Like Bartering
There is a common refrain that is spoken in many churches. It says when the praises go up, the blessings come down. While there is some truth in this statement, we can take it the wrong way. For some people, this becomes their primary motivation for worship. Instead of worshipping God for who he is, they worship God because of what they want him to do. In effect, their worship becomes a bartering system. God, I will worship you because I know when I do, you are going to do for me what I want or need you to do.
There is nothing wrong with expecting God to move in your situation. That is what faith is. Just don’t use worship as the vehicle you think will make God move faster or move at all.
Imagine a husband telling his wife I am going to do this for you and because I do it, you must give me what I want. That is manipulation. That doesn’t work in marriage, and it doesn’t work in worship. Worship should always be about who God is, not about what you want him to do.
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3. When You Forget Who You Are Worshipping
Sometimes it's easy to forget who the object of our worship should be. If you need a reminder, it is Jesus.
While it is true Jesus has done many wonderful things for us, that is not why we worship him. We worship him because of who he is. When we come into his presence, especially in church, we should be there because we want to meet with Jesus first. He needs to be the object of our worship. Yes, it’s great to see people, but the object of our worship should be Jesus.
One of my former pastors used to say if you walk out of church talking more about the sermon than Jesus, then he has failed. Lights are great. The sound and wonderful music are great too. However, when you strip all that down, it must be about Jesus and nothing else.
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4. When You Don’t Worship in Spirit
John 4:24 tells us that those who worship the Father must do so in spirit. This verse reminds us that worship is a spiritual act. Worship happens when your spirit connects with God’s spirit. We may engage our bodies physically in worship by lifting our hands, clapping, or maybe even kneeling. Remember, those are just outward signs of something that should happen in your spirit. If you only go through the motions, but you don’t engage your spirit, then you are not worshipping in spirit.
5. When You Don’t Worship in Truth
The other part of that verse says true worshippers also worship in truth. This means you are there to worship God with a sincere heart. Whether you lift your hands or sing out loud, it must come from a sincere place in your heart. Without this, then worship becomes a form of hypocrisy.
There may be moments where you find it difficult to engage your heart and spirit in worship – especially if there are distractions in your life. In those moments, don’t worry about the outward displays. Settle your heart so that your spirit can engage in the worship, and make sure it is coming from a pure place, because hypocritical worship is not worship at all.
Before I go through these next five, I want to interject a scriptural foundation for them.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).
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6. When Your Worship Is Directed to the Audience Instead of to God
It can be very easy to direct your worship to the audience instead of to God – especially the more talented the worship singer or musician is. The one leading can start singing to impress the audience, instead of singing to minister to the heart of God. They can start doing vocal gymnastics or playing incredible musical runs just to impress the audience.
I am not saying that everyone who does this is playing to the audience. I am saying be careful, because these things can creep in subtly and you may not be aware they are happening.
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7. When You Draw Attention to Yourself
Some people come into worship with something to prove. They have a desire to show people how great a worshipper they really are. This person does things to show they know how to worship. They may lift their hands higher, sing louder, maybe even sit in the front so everyone can see them worshipping God. Again, I am not saying everyone who lifts their hands, sings loud, or sits in the front is seeking attention. Unfortunately, I have been around long enough to know there are those who are.
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8. When You Look for Compliments on Your Leading or Playing
There are those who lead worship who can’t wait to get compliments from the audience on how they played or led worship that day. I believe we should always give encouragement to those who serve in any capacity. Recognizing a person’s gifts, talents, and abilities can inspire them to keep using them. Yet for the gifted or talented one, be careful not to go seeking praise. When you do, your focus can shift from Jesus to worrying about what people think. The only person who needs to be pleased with your worship is Jesus. If he is pleased, that is all that matters.
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9. When You Rely on Talent Instead of the Holy Spirit
Worship is a spiritual act that has transformative power in the lives of those who engage. However, because this is a spiritual act, the transformation comes from the Holy Spirit, not from you. I have seen people start out depending on the Holy Spirit for help. However, over time they get more comfortable or their talent level improves, and they forget to depend on the Holy Spirit.
Worship that is flowing only from your talent is not transformative, it is prideful. If you can sing great or play great, that is fantastic. Just know that alone is not enough to make a real difference in people’s lives.
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10. When You Start Listening to Your Own Worship
I remember one Sunday I was sitting at the piano playing for church. As I was playing, I stopped focusing on worship for a moment and just listened to myself playing. I actually said to myself, “this really sounds good. I hope the people in the congregation are enjoying these beautiful chords I am playing.” The moment I thought that, there was a stench of the smell of garbage that filled my nostrils. In that moment, God was showing me, when pride kicks in, this is what your worship smells like to me. I have never forgotten that lesson or that moment.
Whenever you step forward to lead worship or play, you must remember it is not about you. It never has been and never will be. If it ever becomes about you, then you are no longer leading the worship of Jesus. It is something else. If you are a leader or player, then play your very best. Sing to the best of your ability. Just make sure the singing and playing is leading people to Jesus and not to you.
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11. When You Limit Worship to Sunday Morning
The last one is when we forget that worship is a lifestyle. You should not limit it to Sunday morning, but it should be part of how you live. Imagine how your life and attitude would change if you viewed work as worship to God? What if you viewed your marriage through the same lens? I could go on, but you get the point. You should do everything in your life as an act of worship unto God. This is how we honor him, whether we are worshipping in song or in deed.
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