Church has changed in the past couple of years. COVID-19 will do that. The good news is we are in a slot of this pandemic where in most areas churches are allowed to be open.
We are glad to be able to get together and feel the power of Holy Spirit connection in one room. For a lot of folks this is better than the online church we had before. But it still isn’t the same, is it?
In my slice of the world we still have to wear masks, social distance, and are not supposed to have congregational singing. That last one is hard. Some sing anyway under their masks but most try to open themselves to God’s ministry through the worship team and quietly set their hearts and minds on Heaven.
It seems like an oxymoron, worship without singing. Yet it feels like a good to remind us of a lesson I learned while leading worship teams and writing a book about worship: the importance of being able to worship on our own, away from everyone else.
A discipline to make personal
I am tempted to say that church is a group event. But we are quick to remember how the Church is the people of God. God’s Presence is not contained in any structure. And right away we find a touch of the foundational principles for this challenge of worshiping outside of the building.
Before we get any further down the road, though, we recognize how God calls us to worship together. This is not because it is the only way to worship. I believe it is because of how easily we allow ourselves to drift from the connection of the Body of Christ. If we are not purposeful in coming together our tendency is to simply slip our ship into our own lonely course. We love Jesus, we know the Bible, but now eventually we are on more and more of a solo journey.
Spiritual disciplines are key components of living the life God has for us. Prayer, Bible reading, Scripture memorization, fasting, solitude, meditation (thinking over God, His Word, and His ways); all of these are spiritual disciplines. They help make and maintain our connection with God. Without them we may know about God but will not truly know and have relationship with Him.
While we employ a number of these disciplines in our services, they are just as powerful when we are alone. In fact, some of them can only work in the life of one individual believer putting them to use.
Worship is also a spiritual discipline. We understand the musical concept of worship from a corporate point of view: we gather in one place, gifted musicians sing and play instruments, and we join in one voice proclaiming the greatness of God. This is not on accident. God gave direction to come together and do this, and He even gives giftings to help make it happen.
Just as God receives our prayers, Bible readings, and musical worship on a corporate level, He desires them on a personal level. He wants to hear and speak to us through prayer. He wants to guide and teach us through the Scriptures. God also seeks to send His presence and rise up in glory within our personal worship.
I don’t think I can do that
One of the reasons we consider worship a group or congregational aspect of church life is because of our dependence upon others to bring all of the pieces together. If we are working from a musical definition of worship we need musical instruments of some kind, even if it’s just simple background music. At least one person has to be able to sing on key and with a little understanding of the song’s flow. What about knowing more than just a few of the words?
Thoughts like these lead us to reject the idea of worshiping alone. I don’t have that kind of talent or training. I can’t play an instrument. I can’t sing on key. The dogs howl when I try to sing. I’m just not a musical person. That isn’t for me.
Do you have radio stations programmed in your car? Is there a CD in it? Do you have music downloaded on your phone or a streaming service with playlists ready to go? When you’re standing in line at the grocery store or walking around the mall do you hum along to the music playing over the PA system?
Does music have a place in your workout routine? What about your favorite television show, do you recognize the theme song? Is there a movie franchise theme your brain uses a soundtrack only you can hear? Is there a band or singer whose musical message or style helps you through the rough days?
I would wager that everyone has a tendency towards music. Even the deaf respond to the feelings of structured beats and bass notes. The emotional response we have to music is God-given. He created us to use music and lyrics to affect our spirits and share what we might not be able to express without it.
Shaping a worshiper’s heart
When David first appeared in Scripture he was off in a field taking care of his father’s flock of sheep. Still young and inept in the eyes of most, David was chosen by God to become a king, the king God wanted (1 Samuel 16). You may know of how he protected the flock from wild animals, killed a giant, led armies to victory, became the king, and many other aspects of David’s life.
David had a lot of time on his hands while taking care of the sheep. He grew in courage and fighting skill as he killed bears and mountain lions looking for a mutton meal. What did he do the rest of the time? There was no internet. No smartphone games or game consoles. Even something to read would have been scarce. Is there any clue how he passed the time in the wilderness, away from everyone and the bustle of life, with little to nothing to do?
It is not a stretch of Scripture to conclude David was worshiping God on those hills and fields while he watched over the sheep.
- David was nominated as a skilled musician to play in the presence of King Saul too soothe his soul when tortured by an evil spirit.
- He wrote numerous songs which were sung in the Tent where the Ark sat, then in the Temple day and night, and they are part of the musical, not just poetic treasury we know today as The Psalms.
- When David brought the Ark to Jerusalem he was so comfortable with worshiping in the Presence of God he danced and danced, making his wife blush with embarrassment.
These are all signs of David’s heart of worship, not just in the assembly of all Israel but alone and personal with his God. I believe this is one of the key elements that made David “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:22). It helped him through his lonely and painful years, and it led him back to right relationship with God when he sinned.
I realize I have not helped you create a plan for worshiping alone or even shared much regarding what benefits you will find from it. Hopefully you have come the distance from wondering if worshiping alone is even worth looking into.
Let me encourage you to find your song. Not just some love song or country song or something with a beat that lifts you up when you are down. I mean finding a way to break out in worship with your voice.
Don’t just hum. Don’t just think about it. Let it out. Confess. Sing. Shout! Our God is too great to let our worship be cut down or clamped shut because of COVID-19 and safety regulations. You don’t have to be surrounded by other Christians with loud music and lights to worship. Just sing.
Then he turned my sorrow into joy! He took away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy so that I might sing glad praises to the Lord instead of lying in silence in the grave. O Lord my God, I will keep on thanking you forever! (Psalm 30:11-12 TLB)
When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen ... But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!” He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!” (Luke 19:37-40 NLT)