There’s something amazing about thousands of us gathering together each summer to spend time with Jesus and with each other. But by Easter, we’ve almost forgotten what that looks like. Schoolwork mounts up, summer holidays seem miles away and going to church couldn’t feel more different to all hanging out together in Stafford and Somerset. In particular, worship can feel like a real struggle. Why is that?
The summer events can feel like mountain-top experiences. We get to spend hours in worship going on a journey into God’s presence together, the music is loud, the lights are bright AND there are no old people! So when we turn up to church the following Sunday, it can be a culture shock when there are only a handful of us singing along with Mrs Jones on the Clavinova and a broken projector. But this is real life. No local church could ever match the atmosphere of worshipping at a big conference – ours certainly doesn’t. And it would be wrong for us to try and imitate that for the sake of it. There are many different expressions of church and, perhaps more importantly, Psalm 139 assures us that his presence isn’t confined to a location:
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. >If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)
So clearly God doesn’t live in Shepton Mallet or on the Stafford showground! The Spirit of God lives inside his people (1 Corinthians 3:16) so we can meet with him in worship whether we’re in a small church hall with an organ, hymn sheets and liturgy, or playing guitar in our bedroom, just as much as when we’re jumping up and down to the latest songs at Soul Survivor.
But how do we engage with God in worship regardless of where we are? And how do we climb down from the mountain top without falling flat on our faces?
Firstly, worship is a CHOICE. In our walk with Jesus, there will come times where we don’t feel like worshipping God and it will cost us in one way or another. I remember the first Sunday back at my little Baptist church after having spent two weeks on a Christian holiday with my family. I felt so full of this passion for worship yet so self-conscious and aware of what everyone else was thinking. Most of my friends at youth group got dragged along to church with their parents each week and I had also fitted into that category before encountering God on this holiday… What would my mates think if I actually looked like I was enjoying myself?
Everything in me felt tempted to revert back to the old me where I would go through the motions and simply sing the songs, but deep inside, I was desperate to freely worship and express my love for God. After a tug of war in my head, I shot my hand up in the air and just worshipped. It might sound stupid, but this was a massive deal for me – that small act of worship really cost me – and in that moment I decided that I cared more about the worship of God than I cared about the acceptance of others.
There will come times when we’ll have to make a choice, a conscious decision of the will, to worship. Where we lift Jesus above our situation, above our pain or as in my case, above our insecurities. It might seem more of a duty than a joy in those moments, but this kind of worship is of great value to God. These acts of worship that cost us are the kinds of things King David was talking about when he said, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God offerings that cost me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24)
As well as worship being a choice, it’s also an OFFERING. Worship is about what we bring to the Lord not what we get out of it. In our consumer culture it can become so easy to rate a time of worship out of 10, or to disengage because our favourite worship leader isn’t on the rota or because we don’t like certain songs. But when we start thinking along these lines, we’ve totally missed the point. Worship was never intended to be about us. Psalm 96 says:
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him. Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness. (1 Chronicles 16:29)
The call is to participate and give to God. What have we got in our hands? What can we bring before God as an offering today? Rather than complaining that a time of worship didn’t do anything for us, let’s remind ourselves that worship isn’t primarily for our benefit.
Let’s not wait until thousands of us are gathered before we make the choice to worship. Let’s not seek to hop from one mountain-top experience to another. We certainly get a great view from the top of a mountain, but it’s in the valley where real life happens. It’s in the valley where – as we chose to worship – things grow.