Wednesday, October 15, 2014

You're Disturbing My Worship

"You are disturbing my worship". Have you heard fellow Christian brothers or sisters make that statement? Have you yourself ever uttered it? Perhaps you've heard a version of it: "they are disturbing my worship", "that family is disturbing my worship", "that song leader is disturbing my worship", "that style of music is disturbing my worship", etc.

Forget for a moment the inherent paganism in such a statement. Yes, paganism. When we say "I can't worship to that kind of music" or "I can't worship in an environment like this", how different is that from the pagans of old who would need to perform the "correct" magical incantation to achieve their desired state of spiritual ecstasy? As pagan as that mindset is, there is an even deeper problem.

The older I get in the faith, and the more time I spend in God's holy Word, the more I am convinced that the reason we become so easily disturbed in our worship is because we have been giving the wrong offering in the first place. We've made worship about ourselves, instead of making it about God and others. Sadly, this problem is as old as humanity itself.

In the early chapters of Genesis, in the very first human family, two brothers came together for worship. One of them, Abel, came with a right heart and offered God a sacrifice of praise. The other brother, Cain, also offered God a sacrifice. The only difference was that Cain offered what he wanted to offer. Not only did he care little about what God actually wanted, he also cared nothing at all about his brother.

Across the worship spectrum, whether it be traditional or contemporary, I hear many Christians complain about worship. Many of my Christian friends complain about the worship styles in their churches. Old people complain. Teenagers complain. Mothers complain. Pastors complain. My neighbors in my community, who attend other churches, complain. And yes, even within my own congregation such complaints are heard every now and again. Is there a church in America that is really free from this evil spirit? At the center of all of this is the heart of Cain, an individual who is so obsessed about what he or she wants. "True worship be damned" (such is the attitude), "both God and fellow Christian must take only what I have to offer."

How different is the attitude Scripture commands us to have. "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Colossians 3:17). Or consider 1 Peter 2:9, which commands us to "proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." This means, first and foremost, that in all circumstances and situations we are called to declare God's worth. So yes, you can worship with the baby 3 rows in front screaming. You can worship even though some teens up front are raising their hands and slightly swaying to the music. You can worship if a vocalist is singing off tune. You can worship if the song leader is using a style you don't care for. You can worship if the music is loud. You can worship if someone dances in the aisle. You can worship if the organist is playing so slow you are convinced she might be dead. You can worship if the guitarist is wearing flip flops. You can worship if they are singing old hymns with painfully archaic 17th century English.

You can, but like Cain you might be choosing not to.

Thankfully, there is another model we are supposed to follow. Consider how Paul and Silas could worship God with joy after being stripped, tortured, and shackled in iron chains. Or even better, consider how Jesus was able to praise the Father on the eve of his arrest, knowing the horror that awaited him. They didn't need the "right" music or the "correct" atmosphere. True worship is a "living sacrifice", meaning that it only becomes an offering acceptable to God when it ceases to be about what you enjoy.

Has something disturbed your worship? Then my dear sibling in Christ, it is time to face an uncomfortable truth. The only one disturbing worship is the one who is being disturbed by worship.


  1. So, in your mild philippic on complaints, is there room for those who choose to be conservative in their worship (do not read "traditional"--there is a difference) to be perceived as responding out of biblical conviction, not preference? You do not appear to draw any such distinction? Sam Hendrickson

  2. Sam. Congrats on the use of the word philippic in a sentence. Nice. Seriously, I mean that. As to your comment, how does one draw "biblical" conclusions regarding style of music when Scripture itself doesn't speak to that issue. What, for example, would make 19th century hymns "more biblical" than 21st century choruses? For that matter, how would 19th century hymns by "more biblical" than the Eastern/Jewish hymnody of the first century. In the absence of biblical command, we are dealing with personal preferences. Pretending a preference is a "biblical conviction" is the heart of what Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14. Now, one is of course free to choose to be "conservative", whatever that may mean, as a matter of preference. A church even has the right to say "hey, this is just the kind of worship service we like". No problem. It only becomes a problem when they begin to think of their style as "biblical" and view different styles as "non-biblical" or "less than biblical".