I recently had a conversation with someone who was carefully critical of our worship service. Grace Fellowship uses both hymns and contemporary songs. We have a praise band, praise team and choir. Few of those who attend wear dress clothes – most are in nice casual clothing, but jeans and t-shirts are not uncommon. Worshipers clap, raise their hands, and occasionally voice “Amen” or “Thank you, Lord.”
His criticism was that we weren’t “loud” enough. No one left their seat to run around the worship center. There was not constant verbal affirmations when I preached. I listened. Thanked him for his input … and thanked the Lord that He is far more interested in the heart behind our worship than in the form it takes. To this gentlemen, worship needed to be loud, boisterous, and constantly active to show that the Holy Spirit was present.
I am deeply concerned that we worship the Lord in Spirt and in truth (John 4:23-24). i work with our team to create an environment where people can encounter the Lord, hear from Him, and be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. We cannot make it happen. As Jesus said, “The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
As I read my Bible this morning, I was brought again to the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. Elisha had just had a spiritual high. He has seen God show His power in an incredible way. He had shared in that victory by faithfully following the Lord even when the odds seemed to be against him. But after this dramatic victory, fear creeped into this mighty prophet. He ran for his life out of fear of the wicked and vindictive Jezebel. He ends up in the Sinai.
After telling God that he’d be better off dead, Elijah was instructed to go out onto a mountain and to wait for God to show up. What happened was astonishing. Three dramatic events took place. First, a rock-splitting wind blew through – but God was not in the wind. Second, an earthquake shook the mountain – but God was not in the earthquake either. Finally, a blazing fire swept across the mountain – but God was not in the fire. Lots of drama! Lots of fireworks! But this was not how God chose to show Himself.
Finally, God showed up, but not in a dramatic way; instead God showed up in a way that was breathtakingly real – in a soft whisper. At this, Elijah simply covered his face. God was present in a simple but unmistakable way.
The point is not that worship cannot be loud or even a bit rowdy. It can. I can worship when listening to Michael W. Smith or Lecrae. I love to sing at the top of my voice. I clap. I lift my hands. I will respond with “Amen” or “Thank you, Jesus.” But I must be careful not to judge the worship experience of other by either my personal preferences or by my personal experiences.
Let me boil it all down – I am far less concerned about how God shows up, just that you and I recognize Him when He does.