As I’ve been thinking about how I’ve traditionally seen worship done, one of the things that I’ve noted is that most of the time when the crowd is urged to do something, it’s positive in nature. For instance, to pick on one of my favorite artists, Fred Hammond, he shouts this on This Is the Day, “Put your hands together and bless Him!” And this is the normal type of thing we hear. The idea is to get people enthusiastic and set a positive mood. And that of course, if done from the heart, is worship. Positive messages have their place. I’m not knocking them. But what I’d like to point out is that not every form of worship results in positive emotion for the worshipper. Case in point:
She, greatly distressed, prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly. She made a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.” – 1 Samuel 1:10-11, NASB
We might say Hannah was praying, but shouldn’t our prayers be a time of worship, too? We find Hannah greatly distressed. She’s not been able to have a child and has suffered greatly due to the social implications of being without one. So she throws herself before God, weeping bitterly and pleading for a son. In the Church we have many prayer concerns and petitions. The way things are in the world, there surely are things that should cause us to feel similarly to Hannah. But we don’t hear worship leaders calling us to weep bitterly for those things in our world and around us which are broken and which should be breaking our hearts. Why is that?
When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” – Luke 5:6-8, NASB
Or what about Peter’s reaction? When Peter realizes he has come face to face with one who controls nature in the manner which Jesus does, He knows that Jesus is either a prophet from God (which there hasn’t been one in 400 years) or is God Himself. Either way, Peter is overcome with his own sinfulness, falls on his face and pleads Jesus to depart rather than look upon Peter any longer. We serve a perfect and holy God. We are an imperfect and sinful people. If we truly reflected on the holiness of God in comparison with our own sinfulness, it should tear our hearts apart. But we don’t typically hear those leading worship telling us to take a soul searching stock of our sins and to hit our knees (I’d say fall on our faces but our pews won’t let us prostrate ourselves like Peter did) and admit our own sinfulness before the Lord. Again, it’s not a positive message to do so. But it is worship. It is coming before God with a greater understanding of the unfathomable gap between His holiness and our lack of it and throwing ourselves before God and at His mercy because of it. That, too, is worship. About the only time you hear this sort of call is during an invitation. Now could you imagine if a worship leader did that in the middle of “praise and worship time” during a Sunday morning service? Can you imagine the looks and the shocked responses? But if it’s authentic worship, why aren’t we doing it?
I could go on and on because there are numerous examples throughout Scripture where people have been confronted by God and had a very humbling reaction before Him. As they bowed down or prostrated themselves before the Almighty, they worshipped Him. And I think that’s an element of worship we’ve lost in our modern Church, much to our own impairment. If we’re not seeing it in our churches, we certainly can do it on our own. There is nothing stopping us from crying out like Hannah did with respect to what breaks and troubles our hearts. There’s no one saying we can’t hit the floor and offer ourselves up to God after we have considered our own sinfulness and how far apart we are from what God intended us to be. Worship isn’t supposed to be about a positive emotional experience. It is about giving God praise, glory, and honor. It is about coming before Him as we are, with no false pretenses, with open hearts who desire Him more than anything else. And sometimes that worship should cause us to hurt and to weep and to regret. We should not be ashamed of those reactions if they are true and from the heart. For if that is their origin, then we’re participating in authentic worship.