-Save the Date-
Entering Into Worship
by Leroy Chavez
“As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for Thee, O God…” Psalm 42:1
Most of us in the worship arts are familiar with this verse, as it is the beginning to a beautiful and well known praise song, one that perfectly captures the longing that draws many of us towards the Lord. So, too, are we familiar with many of David’s Psalms…many of the songs we sing are simply modern recreations of the powerful words of God’s “Beloved”, echoes from the heart of the most influential worship leader in history, and we seek to model our worship after his. Yet, as is often the case when we take quotes that tug at our souls and repurpose them, we run the risk of losing their full context.
In the case of this verse, and many of David’s other Psalms, that context is an honest description of what our relationship with God, through worship and otherwise, truly is. A process. A journey.
We don’t simply arrive at Worship. We enter into it, through passages and hallways both spiritual and physical. Though we share some of the paths, they are nevertheless personal and specific to each of us, and they are often lined with pain, anger, sorrow, loneliness. In the Psalms, David gives us example after example of how to navigate through those obstacles and ultimately arrive at the place we all long for — the presence of the Lord.
First: Honesty. David doesn’t pretend to worship, in the hopes it will somehow become authentic. If he’s angry, he tells God he’s angry. If he’s upset, he says so. If he doesn’t feel God’s presence, he admits it. He opens the 22nd Psalm with words that would carry all the way to the cross — “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The Psalms overflow with sentiments so brutally honest, they resonate in the deepest part of us — we cannot go around them. We must attempt to go through, believing there is a reward for our efforts.
Second: Commitment. Even while in the throes of his deepest despair, David continuously commits his heart to the idea that God is there. Even when he doesn’t feel like God cares, he believes God hears him, and will follow his cry and lift him up. He throws himself upon God’s mercy. Even when he is unsure if God is merciful, he grants Him permission to do what He will. This is the doorway through which we all must pass to enter God’s presence — “THY will by done”. This is the point where we surrender control…where we admit that even though we want things to be “good” and “happy”, we we will not withhold our praise if reality does not match our definition of those words. Again, we see this process reflected on the cross where Jesus, though he feels forsaken, yields his spirit to God nonetheless. (Matthew 27:50) We can model this in our worship (and lives), as well, by relinquishing our expectations and entreating God to use according to His plan, not ours.
Third: Rest. In many of my favorite Psalms, you can see the point at which David finds himself in the Lord’s presence. There is a change in the tone…a shift from minor to major. And you can sense that he wants to stay in that place for as long as he possibly can. This is the area I have often struggled with…I work so hard to get to worship, yet I am not always able to be still once I’m there. As Christians, we focus on our eternal rest, our desire to follow Jesus to the House of our Father…yet there is rest here “on Earth as it is in Heaven”. Though it rarely results from the removal or changing of our circumstances, we can find rest within our circumstances…the song we sing in whatever prison we find ourselves in. Yet even when God grants us that peace, we are so focused on the walls that confine us that our first thought is to escape, even if it means leaving the presence that brought the walls down to begin with. In Acts, Paul and Silas sing in prison, and God blows open the doors…but they don’t leave!! Why? Because they’re already in the presence of God! Where else would they want to go? I aspire to this…as a worship leader, and in life.
I believe in this as a repeatable process. I believe the Bible confirms it…and that when viewed from this perspective, Jesus on the cross is the ultimate example, not just of sacrifice, but of worship (after all, in the Old Testament, the two were often one and the same). And I believe we can model this for the people we seek to lead into God’s presence, both on Sunday and every day. As I said on Saturday, I think we need to find a way to make people start their “entrance” into worship before they actually enter the sanctuary, but maybe that’s just a question of starting with step one and being honest about the fact that might be an issue. Or maybe, as someone else said, it’s a question of allowing our own worship to be so Spirit filled, people will not want to be anywhere else.
Who knows? Maybe someday we’ll see people running through our parking lot, too?