When we gather to worship the Lord, our primary focus is to offer ourselves to the Lord in worship in view of His offering of Himself to us first. Thus, we sing songs about surrendering ourselves and our hearts to God as living sacrifices. When we listen to His Word preached, we respond with a desire and determination to live according to His Word – that too is worship. What the devil has successfully done in some instances is turning worship into a feel good, self-comforting thing with too many songs focused on how much the Lord loves me, gave Himself for me because I am so precious, so special, so loved, and really, I am just so amazing!! It becomes all about ME and that’s not worship. And in some churches, the Word preached is also mostly about how much God wants to bless me because I am so special and so loved, favored and blessed. While it is true that God loves us and we are the apple of His eye, the worship service has to be mostly about Him, what He had done for us and what we would offer Him and do for Him as an expression of our worship and gratitude. There must be a sense of both wonder of God’s love and renewed surrender of ourselves to God in daily living. I had such a moment today in church when we sang, “if You’re calling me, I will answer, If You’re bidding me to come, I will come…. Jesus I come, I surrender, all for Your glory I give my life”. Thank you Awaken Generation for this anointed song of selfless worship.
“This is what I command you: Love one another.” – John 15:17 CSB
If loving one another doesn’t require effort and if it is an easy thing to do, Jesus wouldn’t need to command His disciples then and us now to love one another. Neither the Holy Spirit in us nor the finished work of Christ would do that for us without effort on our part. The fact that we lock our homes and car doors tells us something doesn’t it? One could say the Holy Spirit will watch over my home and car, so there’s no need to lock them myself. If you should ever meet a Christian like that, you know his or her theology is flawed! More that that, we would probably think that person is foolish! Likewise, anyone who thinks the Christian life can or should be lived without any effort on our part is theologically flawed.
So deeply affected and moved the last weekend by this song, 敞开我心 (Open Wide My Heart) written by Taiwanese pastor, Rev 葛兆昕. The worship teams at Seremban Praise Sanctuary where I spoke last weekend included this song in their worship sets on both Sat and Sun. The entire song has amazing lyrics but in particular, I’d like to share a little about the song title which is sung at the start of the chorus, “我向祢敞开我心, 恳求祢更新我心意” which means “towards You I open wide my heart, earnestly begging You to renew my heart”. While the simple meaning of 敞开我心 is “open wide my heart” but 敞开 (open wide) means a whole lot more (as it so often does in Chinese – such a beautiful language). It’s an opening of the heart that is unrestrained, without limit and forceful. It is best understood through these two sentences, “我手抓着拳，连指甲都陷进了肉里。我要跟他敞开了说” (which may be translated, “with fists tightly clenched, almost digging my fingernails into my flesh, I will speak with him most openly!”) and “昂首立山巅，喝一口水，敞开胸怀，把十万大山抱起来!” (which may be translated, “lifting my head towards the summit, I drink a mouthful of water and open wide my heart to embrace a hundred thousand mountains before me!”) Understanding the deeper meaning and emotions behind the words 敞开我心 certainly made singing it deeply emotional. It’s like saying, “Lord, unto You I rip my heart wide open!” Here’s the original version of the song on Spotify and also the video I recorded with my phone published on YouTube. May the Holy Spirit move you as He had moved me through this anointed sing.
Do I love Jesus? That’s the question I asked myself recently. If so, what does my love for Jesus look like? What should it look like? I must admit, for a while it troubled me, do I really love the Lord? How have I loved Him? Then, two things came to mind. First, that warm feeling I feel towards Him in my heart – whether it is during my personal time with Him or during corporate worship, that deep feeling I feel towards Him and my heart that has often been moved by His love and faithfulness in my life, in my family and the churches I had served in. Then I thought, where in the Bible has love for God or friendship with God been described to bring about a warm feeling in our hearts? Ah, Lk.24:32, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us while he was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?” Second, Jn.14:15 came to mind, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commands.” Loving God cannot just be a warm feeling without obedience, neither can it be obedience without that warm feeling. Loving God is about that warm feeling in our hearts towards Him, it is also about keeping His commands – that is, to know His Word and obey it, to do what He tells us to do, to faithfully and sacrificially serve Him, to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and to make disciples. That’s how I should always love Him and continue to do so till the day I meet Jesus in glory.
Why do worship teams always end their set loud?? My guess is that they want an inspired and maybe perspired end. That’s good sometimes – ending on a high and passionately loud note plus applause. But are there not other ways to end our worship set especially if we often say worship is about encountering God? Why not go from slow-and-soft to deep-and-quiet instead of going from slow-and-soft to high-and-loud? Let me be clearer – instead of starting the set loud and fast, go slow and softer, then end loud (like a U-shape curve), why not start loud and fast, go slow and softer, then go slower and even softer (reducing the number of instruments used) and end off totally quiet (like a reverse S-curve)? Did the Lord not say “be still and know that I am God”? Did Elijah not hear God in a still small voice? Was the burning bush experience not a holy and quiet one for Moses? What about Isaiah’s “woe is me for I’m a man of unclean lips” experience? Even in the natural, don’t we hear better and hear more when we get quiet? I believe most people encounter and hear God best in the quiet moments most of the time. Maybe that’s also the reason why we refer to our personal devotional time with God as….. you guessed it, quiet time and not loud time!
As pastors and leaders of the church, we are to teach sound doctrine so that God’s people are not led astray by every wind of teaching. If you’re a pastor (or people address you as one) and you haven’t got a good measure of theological training whether through a seminary or more informal means, then go get trained somewhere and get trained properly, otherwise you won’t be able to discern between right and wrong teaching and then you won’t be able to properly teach your congregation or lead your ministries. Consequently, church members become easy meat for the enemy. Furthermore, we should not just learn inspirational stuff in order to be inspirational (which many tend to do), instead we should study theology and be theologically grounded (which is hard work and it takes many years – too many haven’t got the patience for that). We owe it to our congregations to be properly trained, like I said earlier either formally in a seminary or through other means. (There are pastors who are more than adequately trained in biblical theology outside the walls of seminaries. A famous example is the oft-quoted UK preacher D Martyn Lloyd Jones of Westminster Chapel. Many early Calvinistic Methodist preachers had no theological training but were self-taught, steeped in Scriptures, widely read and full of the Holy Spirit!) And those trained in seminary need to avoid stagnancy and continually study Scriptures, read, grow in theological reflection and be full of the Spirit.
Over the years it is clear that many get bored with the usual, same old teaching taught the same way. As a result, new ways of expressing our faith or teaching the Word emerged. Some of these are good and biblically sound, and they breathe freshness into the church. We thank the Lord for that. Unfortunately, some are not. Some do not communicate sound doctrine and they either mislead uninstructed Christians or completely lead them astray! The church needs adequately trained pastors to teach church members properly so that all believers are equipped with God’s truth and will not succumb to poor theology and be swayed.
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
Ephesians 4:11-16 NIV
“Belongings left unattended will be removed.” – says Starbucks.
And that’s exactly what the devil says too – “Belongings (your church members) left unattended (uncared for, discouraged and emotionally abandoned or marginalized) will be removed (from your church into my kingdom of darkness)!”
The church – God’s family – must live and behave like a family. Church is NOT a meeting for 1.5 – 2 hours a week where we sit in the nice air-conditioned sanctuary or auditorium to enjoy worship and an encouraging sermon to give us a lift – it is not supposed to be consumeristic! The main and plain message of the Bible is primarily about community and giving since we are recipients of grace. Church is about giving, sharing, encouraging, sitting with someone in pain, listening to someone in distress, reaching out to someone nobody talks to, saying hello to someone new and maybe a little lost, imparting love, care and generosity to the next generation, paying attention to the needs of the elderly, praying with someone in need, and a whole lot more! Try one or more of the above the next time you’re in church and your church family will never be the same again! A church that doesn’t love their own cannot genuinely love those outside the church – it would be hypocrisy, nothing less.
“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” – 1 THESSALONIANS 5:11 NASB
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” – JOHN 13:34-35 NASB