What is Worship?

I often roll my eyes at church videos, but this one is pretty much dead on.

Here are my take home points:

  • Back to the warm fuzzy issue. Worship is not about me and what I get out of it. It’s about what I give.
  • I am so guilty of not “getting into worship” simply because I don’t like the songs. (I do believe that worship songs should be QUALITY songs… but that’s for another post.)
  • Worship is not about the music at all. The music is a medium used to get to worship, but it shouldn’t be the main focus.
  • Worship shouldn’t be sugarcoated. If you just raise your hands to Jesus, all will be well. I appreciate that the makers of this video acknowledged the heartache and struggle that life brings. Part of worship is bringing all that gunk to Jesus. Some days that’s the best worship I can bring Him.
  • At the cross we SHUT UP. Well put.
  • And at the end of it all, just look at Jesus. Gaze at Him. I never thought of worship that way. I like that visual.



Mountaintop experience

After a long, hot afternoon filled with anxious waiting, we are ready. We have our spot picked out on the big hill in front of the stage. Our blanket spread out on the grass is barely big enough to fit us all.

I spent two days stuffed in a car with college guys to get to Agape Farm somewhere in Pennsylvania for Creation Festival. We have been excited about this for weeks. This was all Travis’s idea, and Derek and I are glad he came up with it. Four days filled with Christian music is a little bit of heaven to my 19 year old brain.

The sun is setting and stage lights are going crazy. It’s time for music, and we leap to our feet. We dance and sway for hours to the music that echoes over the mountainside.

Travis, me, and Derek - summer of '98

The final show of the evening is Supertones, a ska band. I am not a huge fan of ska, but I’m having such a good time that I can’t imagine leaving yet. They begin their show with their usual up beat songs, filled with horns and catchy rhythms. We are all up and dancing on our blanket, partly to keep warm from the sudden temperature drop.

All of a sudden, the music stops and there is quiet as the lead singer walks out onto stage with acoustic guitar in hand. He begins to softly sing Shout to the Lord and invites us to join him. With my eyes closed tight, my hands tentatively reach up. He asks us to kneel with him. I drop to the dirt and can feel the wetness of the accumulating dew slowly seep through my jeans. With eyes still closed, he leads us in prayer. I feel something stirring inside me, and something like butterflies fills my stomach. Tears begin to prick my eyes. I give into them and soon full teardrops are falling down my cheek. Crying harder, my hands lift higher to the sky. This God that has been gradually inching closer to me feels closer than ever. I utter out a silent prayer of thanksgiving and awe.

Ah, the mountaintop experience. For me, my first one was literally almost on a mountaintop.

Sometimes I look back on little ol’ college me, and think, “Now naive and innocent I was… I didn’t have a clue.” And other times I look back and wish it could still be that simple. I wish I wasn’t as cynical as I am now, and I wish that the simplistic Christian music that now makes me roll my eyes still stirred my soul.

I have to remember that there are different seasons in my faith life. Back in the college days, I was a baby Christian. I needed the warm fuzzies and the mountaintop experiences. I needed to feel that closeness to God. That summer road trip was awesome, and I’m thankful that I had the experience. God spoke to me loudly that whole week.

Now, I’m (supposedly) a more mature Christian. While I know God will still offer moments of inspiration to me, I’m not going to have tons of mountaintop experiences anymore. Worship music may not make me drop to my knees like it used to. God’s going to reach out to me in other ways.

  • Trying experiences that build character and deepen my faith.
  • Showing me there is so much more depth to Him than I ever realized.
  • Giving me more opportunities to serve others.

I need to find other ways than kneeling in the dirt to reach out to Him. I’m still stumbling around trying to figure out what those ways are, but I know He’s patient with me. It’s all part of this faith thing.


“Thanksgiving includes gratitude.   In fact, thanksgiving is but the expression of an inward conscious gratitude to God for mercies received.  Gratitude is an inward emotion of the soul, involuntarily arising therein, while thanksgiving is the voluntary expression of gratitude.”

E.M. Bounds

One of my favorite practices is to create a gratitude list. It pulls me out of myself when I’m feeling sorry for myself and renews my perspective. I thought it would be appropriate to offer one on Thanksgiving.

  1. My faith. As much as I struggle, especially with worship, my faith in Jesus runs deep.
  2. My husband. He is faithful, loving, patient, and awesome. He supports me and my creative endeavors, and is awesome tech support and website designer. I love you, baby.
  3. My family. I grew up in a loving, supportive home. My mom’s always been one of my biggest cheerleaders. Thanks guys.
  4. My family of choice. I have a set of friends that my husband and I have lunch with on a weekly basis. We call them our family of choice. They’re a fun bunch. I feel even more grateful for them this week as one of our members suffered a heart attack last week and is now doing fine.
  5. My health. As much as I complain about my little ailments, I know I am blessed.
  6. Creativity. I am thankful for a creative spirit and ways to release that creative energy.
  7. My blogging community. I love the people I have met through blogging. I love the amazing blogs I run across. You guys are too cool.
  8. Employment. I grumble about this A LOT. I am not in my dream job, but I am in a job. I have a paycheck, and even though it doesn’t always stretch very far, I know I am blessed to have any income coming in.
  9. My home. As cluttered as it gets and as much as it does NOT look like the Better Homes and Garden model, it is cozy, comfortable, and mine. I have traveled enough to know that being in out of the cold, rain, and elements is a huge blessing. I also went long enough without a home of my own to know how awesome it is to have one.
  10. My African Children’s Choir kiddos. I’ll be sharing more about them soon in my worship journey. I miss them like crazy and hate that they’re not in my life anymore, but I am so proud of the hard work they do in school and I know they are going to do great things. I pray to have the chance to return to Africa soon to visit them again. I’m way overdue on hugs.
What’s on your gratitude list?

I wish the church would just shut up

“Be still and know that I am God…”

Psalm 46:10

I know this verse well. I even knew the reference without looking it up. But guess what? The application of this verse? I suck at it. Totally suck.

I can’t keep still. I have always been the type of person who runs a million miles an hour and never stops and then wonders a) why I’m so tired and b) why I can’t fall asleep at night.

My husband and I took a vacation this year to a beautiful, quiet, mountaintop cabin with the sole purpose of resting; i.e. doing nothing. No sight seeing, no driving all over to visit new places, nada. We promised each other that we would do this and not get swept away with the sparkly draw of souvenir shops and quaint mountain towns (this might be more my weakness than his).

We did it. With the exception of sneaking away for an hour of fishing (my hubby wanted to use the rod and reel he’d bought years ago) and a couple outings for necessities, we did it. We stayed perched in our mountain top view and rested.

It was REEEEALLY hard. Sitting still for four days nearly killed me. I got restless. I got bored and was desperate to get out and explore those mountain towns. But we pushed through and rested.

By the end of the week, I didn’t want to leave. I sadly bid goodbye to my window seat perch and days of journaling and coffee. I tearfully packed up the car, and reluctantly headed back into my hectic life. I was able to be still, but I had to be forced to do it. The end result was awesome.

I would love to have more stillness in my worship. But in most of my church worship experiences, there is none. It seems that every moment of quiet is filled. There is pre-sevice music. The service begins with a loud, energetic song that builds up in volume. Announcements are done by some energetic staff member or volunteer who barely leaves room for a breath. More loud music. Instrumental interludes are filled with some dramatic thought by the worship leader. Even the prayer time isn’t allowed any quiet. Out of nowhere, soft keyboard or strummed guitar comes through the speakers. Sermon time is (usually) good, but it doesn’t allow me time alone with my thoughts as I’m busy processing the lesson. Even communion time isn’t given the quiet it deserves. It seems most communion time is filled with singing or some sort of special music. Then as we leave, there is a reprise of one of the worship songs.

Not a single moment of stillness. Not a single moment of quiet in which to sit alone with my thoughts, process what’s going through my brain, and offer up what’s left to God. I walk out feeling no more refreshed then when I walked in. Often, more exhausted too.

If being still is a command of God, why isn’t the church making stillness more accessible to us? If people are anything like me, they need a little encouragement and prodding toward the quiet. Our lives have made it incredibly difficult to find it ourselves.

My cry and plea to the church is to stop doing and help us just be.

Praying without ceasing

I had another post scheduled for today, but I chose to put it on hold. Last night I received some bad news about a dear friend who went to the ER. He is in critical condition.

The Scripture “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), always stumps me until I’m faced with situations like this. On normal days, I cannot fathom praying continually without stopping. When bad news hits, all of a sudden it seems like a reasonable request. I found my thoughts with him all last night. Even after going to bed, I woke up almost every hour and every time offered up a quick prayer. I dreamed about him and the situation.

Prayer is a form of worship. So this morning, my worship is my plea for healing, strength, and His miracles.

Thanks for letting me share, and if you feel inclined, please say a prayer for Daniel.

Worshipping outside of church

As much as worship music often does not seem worshipful, being outside in nature does.

I recently went to visit an old college friend. She’s one of those friends who makes my heart smile. We usually end up having deep, real life discussions. She’s deeply spiritual, but has also struggled greatly with Christianity. I knew I could be open and honest about the crap going on in my worship world and she would totally understand.

On Sunday morning, we had originally intended to head to her church before I had to take the long journey home. Saturday evening before bed, we made a change of plans. We began talking photography terms (the “creative release” for both of us) and decided we would get up early to catch the sunrise on the beach. We packed our cameras up and went to bed early. (I was glad for the time change that weekend! We desperately needed that hour.)

We woke up the next morning groggy and disoriented (partly because our phones set themselves back TWO hours instead of one). We bundled up to prepare ourselves for the brutal wind on the beach. I slipped on two pairs of pants and grabbed an extra pair of socks, just in case. I borrowed a jacket and we waddled our way to the car.

We lamented the fact that Starbucks wasn’t open yet, and I commented that I hadn’t been up this early since my days of working at a coffee shop. As we drove through the quiet streets, I gazed at the dark horizon and wished yet again that I could be more of a morning person. I love the quiet of morning; unfortunately, I don’t always wake up so well. As I wiped sleep from my eyes, I teased her, “Whose stupid idea was this?” even though I was totally excited at our photographic experiment.

We arrived at the beach and discovered we were almost alone. Early morning fishermen were our companions. We grabbed our camera bags and tripods and trekked our way out to the beach. I set up and played with my settings, hoping that I would get it right. We had about ten minutes until the sun was over the horizon, so we snapped pictures of the intense waves that were washing onto shore.

It was peaceful, beautiful, and with the exception of the waves crashing onto shore and the click of our shutters, totally quiet.

The sun started peeking over the horizon and we began to rapid fire.

It was a bit overcast, so we didn’t get the drastic colors that we had hoped for, but it still turned out beautiful.

Standing out on that quiet beach with a dear friend was more worshipful for me than scripted music. No matter how confusing or overwhelming life gets, I can still sense God in nature. I don’t think I should be skipping church every week (although that’s been my latest tactic… avoidance is so much easier than actually dealing with the issues), but I’ll take the sweet worshipful moments when I can.

Question: What ways do you worship outside of church?

“Worship” music

I know I’m not being original by saying that Mumford & Sons is an amazing band. They’re all the rage right now. Their unique rock/folk style is taking us by storm. Honestly, I love bands that can rock out with a banjo.

I have heard of some churches using their songs in worship sets. This is two things to me: awesome and weird.

Why it’s awesome: I think it’s awesome that churches are using the songs that can speak to even the “unchurched.” Familiar melodies may draw more people in. These songs will likely speak to them more than Open the Eyes of My Heart ever will. Plus, Mumford & Sons lyrics have more depth than the typical praise and worship song. I appreciate songs that make me think and dig down for the real meaning.

Why it’s weird: Part of me thinks that anything the church gets a hold of instantly becomes uncool. Will Mumford & Sons lose their luster because Christians are taking it and running with it? There’s also the question of how “theologically sound” the songs are. I don’t know how much I get behind this, plus I hate theological debates. I’m sure there’s several people out there getting upset at the use of “secular” music within the church.

What I know is this: in my personal life, their music touches me. I don’t know if I’m “worshipping,” but the music inspires, energizes, and challenges me. That’s more than I can say of any worship song at the moment.

Lyrics like these show a surprising amount of spirituality:

Love that will not betray you,
dismay or enslave you,
It will set you free
Be more like the man
you were made to be.


But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we’ll hold your hand
Hold your hand


You told me that I would find a hole,
Within the fragile substance of my soul
And I have filled this void with things unreal,
And all the while my character it steals

So I will continue to let their music inspire me and touch me. I’m encouraged that I’m still able to find any connection with music. A fellow worship leader shared in the comments of this blog how he was reconnecting with music after doing the job of worship leader for so long. He stated: ” I am rediscovering my love of music in general and the inward solace it brings to me.” I think I might be finally getting to that point myself.

This article makes some interesting points about music like Mumford & Sons. It is extremely well written and it sorta puts what I just wrote to shame. I really can’t put it any better than this writer did.

The warm fuzzy

There is a lesson I’ve had to learn. I thought I had known it all along, but I think it’s just now sinking in.

Worship is not about the pursuit of the warm fuzzy.

Years ago in church, while I sang along with the music, there was a sweet sensation that would overtake my body. It was like that feeling when you’re first falling in love with someone. I felt all warm and tingly inside and simply overtaken with emotion. Warm fuzzies. Ahhhh…

God wants us to feel loved and wants us to love Him. Warm fuzzies aren’t all bad. Sometimes God gives us those feelings to encourage us. But when worship becomes all about the pursuit of the warm fuzzy, it becomes a problem.

All was well and good in my worship world as long as my warm fuzzies weren’t interrupted. Then suddenly, they were gone, and I didn’t know what to do. I still don’t know what to do.

I’ve known all along that worship isn’t about good feelings for me. It’s giving back to God what He has given to me. It’s honoring Him and obeying Him. It’s thanking Him for all the good things in my life, even when I don’t feel there is much good.

Even though I knew this in my head, my heart was still way confused when the happy feelings went away. Without the warm fuzzies, it’s like worship isn’t worship.

To be totally honest, I think it’s God who took the warm fuzzies away. And I think He did it on purpose. Why?

To challenge me.

To push me out of my comfort zone.

To remind me what true worship is.

So I suppose it’s time to redefine my worship. If it’s not about the warm fuzzies, what is it really about? What should I be focused on if it’s not a big bear hug from God?

Here’s a few ideas to get me started:

  • God’s goodness. Although sometimes it feels “overdone,” it’s so true, and so important.
  • God’s mercy. I am a spoiled little brat. I don’t know why He puts up with me.
  • God’s grace. Grace is a really beautiful thing.

Again, these are all things I know, but don’t… know. Trying to figure out how to focus on them is still a challenge.

Worship: the opening act

This article totally convicted me. Please click the link and read it.

Three things that I pulled out:

1) It scares me that this is happening in churches.

Has worship really become that scripted? Or that manipulative? Is it really that simple to tug on people’s heart strings? Sadly, I know the answer is yes.

Worship has simply become the opening act. It’s a way for the congregation to get “in the worship mood.”

2) It fits with so much of what I am feeling. It explains the disconnect.

If worship is really manipulated and planned out, no wonder my heart can’t connect with it. I’ve been told as a worship leader that I need to do more energetic worship, to encourage the people and make them forget about their bad weeks. I understand the need for this (I feel another post a-brewing for that one), but I prefer meaningful songs that say something and make people think. Not simply peppy. I just can’t connect with peppy.

3) I feel relieved that I am not alone.

I’m not the only worship leader that doesn’t feel worshipful? Hallelujah! There are others that have acknowledged that there is a problem. Instead of continuing ahead in the dysfunction, they’re choosing to step out of the shadows. This worship leader’s honest and raw interpretation of his worship experience is refreshing.

Contemporary Christian music

I pull the plastic wrap off  the album and gaze at the soft brown cover. There is a man staring intently at the camera with his guitar propped against him. He has a kind smile on his face.

The Great Adventure.

I pop the CD into my player, and it doesn’t come out for another month. It is constantly on repeat. It was a birthday gift from a good friend. He knew that I had been listening to a loaned dcTalk cassette tape and thought that I would enjoy a new album by another Christian artist. It turns out that Steven Curtis Chapman turns into my favorite Christian artist.

I enjoy the music, but the lyrics compel me. I have gone to church for years and I believe in God, but he speaks of a faith that is lived everyday. He sings of a Savior that changed him completely. There is a peace and a passion evident throughout the album, and I long for it.

I don’t remember where it happened or exactly when. I can’t pinpoint an exact “salvation date.” I didn’t drop to my knees and confess all my sins at once and invite Jesus into my heart. But gradually, slowly, I started to let the message of these songs melt my heart a little. I felt myself soften and noticed I was praying more. Before I knew it, Jesus was Savior of my life. I found myself wanting to live for Him. All of my actions were held accountable to Him.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that Christian music saved my life. God could have reached through to me some other way, but He chose to do it through music. I’m thankful that He did.

Contemporary Christian music used to be the only thing I listened to. I cleared out all secular albums and tuned my car radio to the Christian station 24/7. Every song spoke directly to me. I could play name that tune and win every time.

Now, I rarely listen to it. The music seems trite and the lyrics contrived. There are a few Christian artists that I still respect and enjoy, and though I don’t listen to him much anymore, Steven Curtis Chapman is still one of my favorites. But on a whole, Christian radio just seems so unoriginal.

So I wonder… is it just me that’s changed or is it the music that’s changed? It may be due to a bit of burn-out, or changes in musical preference on my part. I also believe that this music is becoming unoriginal. Much of today’s Christian music lacks originality and passion. It’s like there’s this formula that all Christian musicians have to follow. Where’s the fun in that?