5 Ways to Improve your Worship

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Some days it’s easy for me to worship whole-heartedly and feel God moving. Other days it’s hard to stay focused and God feels distant.  I know that God sometimes chooses to reveal Himself and sometimes He doesn’t, but I also know that He’s always there, always listening, and always worth my time, attention and adoration. So here are 5 things I’ve found that improve my worship: 

1. Focus on God. If you’re thinking about lunch or the person next to you, then chances are you’re not worshiping. Focus on who God is. Listen to what He may be trying to tell you. Tell Him how great He is. Resist the (many) distractions. 

2. Practice worshiping. If you only worship once a week for an hour while at church you’re going to improve very slowly, if at all. Find time to worship during the week: take a walk and tell God how beautiful His creation is, turn on praise music and sing along, or write down some prayers thanking God for what He’s done for you. 

3. Remember what God has done. If you feel like you don’t know what to say, or feel like God is distant, remember what He’s done for you. That is the fastest and easiest way to remember who He is, and it will always give you something to say: thank you. 

“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8 ESV 

4. Study God’s word. I have always found it easier to engage in worship after I’ve been reading or studying the Bible. Even days later. It seems I am much more in tune to God and open to hearing what He may be trying to tell me when I have been reading His word. 

5. Pray. Sometimes we create our own barrier between ourselves and God when certain things happen in our lives. We can become angry with Him or question what He is doing (or not doing) or we can become too comfortable with our lives and forget how much we need Him. Don’t fall into this trap, keep the line of communication open. It’s not a sin to not understand what God is doing or why He is allowing something. Go back to number 3, remember who God is and what He’s done. Remember that He is the same, yesterday, today and forever. Then tell Him how you feel, tell Him what you don’t understand, and leave it with Him to deal with. Tell Him how you need Him, how you’re broken without Him and how you can’t believe He would love someone like you. Thank Him for caring, for listening, for loving and for grace. 

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.”

‭‭1 John‬ ‭4:9, 18-19‬ ‭ESV‬‬

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Come, Thou Fount 

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I often feel that people get confused about the music part of the worship service. They seem to think that time is designed for us to all sing together. It’s not. It’s a time crafted for us to worship together, and it’s not about the music at all. The music is simply a means we use to worship together.

That being said, music can help us worship by giving us the words to say, reminding us of who God is and what He’s done, and giving us a place to start. But in order for that to work we must ponder what we are singing. No matter if the song is new or old, we must choose to mean what we are saying and be listening for the Holy Spirit’s sweet gentle voice.

I would like to invite you to ponder alongside me the hymn Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing. 

Come. We are inviting The Lord to take part, to join us, to move.

Thou Fount of every blessing. All good things come from God:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

‭‭James‬ ‭1:17‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Tune my heart. Tuning a stringed instrument means stretching the strings to just the right tension for them to play the desired note. Asking God to tune our hearts means asking Him to stretch us. Is that what I want?

To sing Thy grace. What does it mean for your heart to sing? How can we get our hearts to sing of His grace? When was the last time I was truly thankful for His grace?

Streams of mercy. God is merciful. Not just in little drips here and there when He thinks we deserve it, mercy streams from Him! Streams also implies movement, a current. God wasn’t just merciful to us at our salvation, His mercies are new every morning.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV

Never ceasing. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the same God today that died on the cross so long ago. His mercy toward us is wrapped up in His love, which has no end.

Calls for songs of loudest praise. God’s mercy and grace are worthy of much thankfulness on our part. We didn’t earn or deserve an ounce of it, yet He gave us unending streams! When was the last time I thanked Him for His grace? His mercy? Why did I ever stop thanking Him?

Teach me some melodious sonnet. Is my heart open to learn and hear from God? A sonnet is a type of song, perhaps the hymn writer was referring to the song our hearts should be singing about His grace. Are we listening for God to teach us our ‘heart song’?

Sung by flaming tongues above. Am I aware of the spiritual world and fight going on around me? Am I aware that the great angels sing praises to God too?

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come!”

Revelation 4:8 ESV

Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it. What does it really look like to be ‘fixed’ on something? Is my attention fixed upon God right now? What distracts me?

Mount of Thy redeeming love. God’s love is truly amazing. It’s never ending, overwhelming, reassuring, saving, more than enough, strong, undeserved, good. It redeems us. THIS is what should be fixed upon. What is worth getting distracted from this for?

 

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

Words: Ro­bert Ro­bin­son, 1758; ap­peared in his A Col­lect­ion of Hymns Used by the Church of Christ in Angel Al­ley, Bi­shop­gate, 1759.

Music: Net­tle­ton, Wyeth’s Re­po­si­to­ry of Sac­red Mu­sic, Part Se­cond, by John Wy­eth, 1813

The Waiting Game

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I am 9 months pregnant with my first child, just waiting for her to make her big debut.  I feel like I am a ticking time bomb, just waiting to suddenly go off either with the drama of my water breaking or with the onset of painful contractions. I feel like I can’t make any plans – people ask me if I will be going to church on Sunday and I can’t give them an answer one way or the other. I feel like I am stuck between my familiar, old life and this new venture of parenthood. Just waiting.

It occurred to me this morning that as Christians this is what our lives on earth are like. We are stuck between our old, familiar lives and our new heavenly bodies basking in God’s presence. We can’t count on anything earthly to come through for us, because we don’t know when God will see fit to take us home. We are looking forward to being in heaven where there is no more pain, no more weeping and best of all God’s presence – but we are stuck here on earth.

People keep telling me to enjoy these last few days before my daughter gets here. ‘Get lots of sleep!’ they say, or ‘Go out with your husband while you can!’. But from my perspective all I can see is the discomfort that’s causing me not to sleep and to be too tired to go out with my husband.

It’s the same with our lives here on earth. We read or are told what we should do with our time here on earth, but all we can see is how hard or impossible those things are! But there is one huge difference between pregnancy and christianity I’d like to point out: The Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit allows us to get glimpses and tastes of what life will be like in heaven. He wets our appetite for the things to come, but doesn’t leave us there. He teaches us and empowers us to recognize and respond to God’s presence right here on earth, allowing us to actually accomplish some of those things that seemed impossible on our own.

I would challenge you to remember this waiting game today. Don’t get too comfortable with life here on earth – this is not where we belong. Earthly things can’t be counted on to come through. People will fail you and unexpected events come up all the time. Remember that God is not simply waiting up in heaven for your arrival either – He wants to walk with you through the trials of this life. Lean on Him as you wait.

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!” ~Philippians 3:20-4:1

Worship in Christmas, Christmas in Worship

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I was laying awake the other night pondering about the Christmas season, and decided that there are in general two types of people during the holidays:

1) People who are so busy that they look up and Christmas is already here and they nearly missed it.

2) People who dread the holidays because of loves ones who won’t be with them this year, whatever the reason.

No matter which group you find yourself in, you’re bound to be busy with a “to do” list as long as your arm (and maybe carried over to your other arm). I think we, as Christians, tend to stick “remember that Jesus is the reason for the season!” at the top of our “to do” lists. So we give ourselves a little pat on the back when we say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”, or when we go to church every Sunday in December even after late Christmas parties, and even when we do nightly advent readings with our families. We check off that box on our list and then move on to the next item, feeling good about ourselves because we had our priorities straight.

I don’t think this is what Christmas is about however. I don’t think remembering that Christmas is about Jesus should be found on our “to do” list at all. Instead, it should be something that colors everything we do during the Christmas season (and really the rest of the year too).

If you find yourself in the first group above, firstly I’m honored that you’re even taking time to read this! I would encourage you to take a step back and consider what Jesus has to do with each item on your agenda. When you’re out shopping for gifts, can you pray for the person you’re shopping for? As you wrap gifts, can you ponder how you might make your own heart beautiful for Jesus? Don’t be the person who snaps at their family as you’re running out the door to a holiday event – even if they did forget to do the one thing you asked them to! Remember that this is a time to celebrate that Jesus came to earth to die for sinners. As in people who aren’t perfect. And before you picture your husband or one of your children, picture yourself. And smile, because Jesus loved YOU enough to come and die in your place.

If you find yourself in the second group above, first of all I want to say that grieving is natural and healthy. It’s ok to be sad! But I want to encourage you to refocus your Christmas, my friend. You see, it’s easy to think that Christmas is all about family time and traditions and big meals, but – while all of those things are good – that’s not what Christmas is ultimately about. Christmas is about Jesus. And hope. We tend to associate Christmas with the nativity scene (side note: The wise men were NOT at the manger scene. They were in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’s birth.) with Jesus stuck perpetually as an infant, but that’s not the end of the story! He grew up sinless, died a gruesome death to give us the opportunity to be right with God, rose from the dead – conquering death – and the ascended into heaven. But that’s not the end of the story either – we live in a broken world full of messed up and unfair stuff. Its heart breaking. Which is why of all the seasons Christmas should be the season of hope. Christmas reminds us that Jesus came once and He’s coming again! He’s not going to leave the world messed up and broken forever.

I can imagine what you’re thinking: “That’s all good and well, and I do have hope, but I’m still sad here. My heart is broken. It breaks every morning when I get up and see how many chairs sit around my table or how many stockings are hung over my fireplace.” And you’re right. I don’t have the perfect words. But Jesus does. He can fill up the broken pieces of your heart with hope, peace, and even joy. Invite Him into your Christmas. Ask Him to take your broken heart and make something beautiful out of it. Your scars will remain, but they can be beautiful. Maybe there’s someone else out there who’s hurting, who you can encourage and show Jesus to because you can relate to them and their struggles.

Let hope and love fill up your Christmas, and then let Christmas spill over into your worship!

Class Blog Announcement

I have taken a break from posting on this blog because I was assigned to start a blog for one of my classes at school. My class blog will be more about leading worship I think, and I don’t get to choose the topics there. But if you would like to see it, you can check it out here.

I hope to get a chance to post again on this blog soon!

Thanks for your patience,

Briana