Tuesday, December 18, 2012

We don't worship in a vacuum

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100:1-5 (NIV84)

I have to confess that I can get pretty excited during a football game. I've been known to make babies cry with my sudden and jubilant outbursts following an exciting play from my favorite team. Family members have been known to come running from other parts of the house to see what all the yelling is about. To be kind of honest, it's fun to lose oneself in the excitement of the moment...but I've also learned that knowing when to shout is a matter of maturity.

Have you ever worshiped the Lord that way? The Psalm above actually encourages us to "shout for joy." We are encouraged to "enter His gates" with joyful songs of thanksgiving. That's one of the reasons we start our Sunday worship times with more up-tempo and jubilant songs...because we're entering God's presence with joy and thanksgiving. Later on, as we near the end of our worship time, we're spending more time reflecting which is why the tempo takes a marked turn toward slower and gentler songs.

So. when is it the right time to shout for joy? Well...using my football analogy, it usually happens when something amazing takes place on the field of play. However, if some family members are in the same room having a serious heart-to-heart talk, my boisterous celebration could be a real intrusion on their conversation. In that case, my jubilant celebration could quickly take on a selfish tone.

In the same way, when we are gathered on a Sunday morning and everyone in the room is quietly reflecting on the Lord's goodness, it would be an unwelcome thing for someone to suddenly burst forth in shouts of joy. That person might be worshiping the Lord well enough, but because they failed to consider the ministry going on among the rest of the family, their "worship" quickly becomes an obtrusive lack of respect for others.

As the Apostle Paul gave instruction for worship to the believers in Corinth, he cited this same uncaring scenario...

If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say "Amen" to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified. (1 Corinthians 14:16-17 NIV84)

When Paul refers to "praising God with your spirit" he's talking about praising God with the gift of tongues. This was apparently something the Corinthians loved to do and Paul was careful not to say that this practice was wrong in and of itself. (In fact, he admitted to speaking in tongues more than all of them!) The problem was that the Corinthians weren't considering the feelings of others.

When we come together we should never do anything in worship that is just for ourselves. We don't worship God in a vacuum. Because we are gathered as a family we must be aware of the needs of the entire group, and even our praise should be geared in such a way that it blesses others, rather than merely calling attention to ourselves.

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