#6: Interrogate the words you sing.
When i mention the word ‘worship’ the majority of us in our minds go straight to ‘the songs we sing in church’ which is true but no the whole truth. Worship is so much bigger than just songs but for the purpose of this tip i am going to be referring to worship as the singing part of the service.
My definition of a worship song is that it is a prayer put to music. Years ago i had a preach called ‘The lie of worship’ in which i said this: ‘We will often sing words in songs that we would never pray to God’ because of how we know them to be untrue. But typically, for many people, the worship time in church is where we unplug our brains and get caught up in the music and emotion and vibe of the singing.
If i asked you, after a worship time in church [typically 3 to 6 songs] could you tell me any of the things you had sung, would you be able to? And if not, then have you really worshipped? Some might say yes [we can make a joyful noise to the Lord] but for me it seems a whole lot more valuable, that if you are saying words to me, you are thinking about the words you are saying and meaning them. It would be the same if you sang words to me.
So that’s one part of this – Do i actively engage with the words being sung on a Sunday? This is not meant to be a legalistic thing as much as an encouragement [this is how i see it for myself] to try and be in the moment and aware of the words i am singing to God and seeing if they make sense.
The second part is that we often just sing lies and utter rubbish. Think of this classic example:
‘The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay
The cattle are lowing
The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes’
i have to give thanks to tbV for this one cos she alerted me to how impossible this is – you have a baby lying on hay [have you ever felt hay?] and it wakes up and doesn’t cry? Come on. Am i making a big deal out of a small thing? Perhaps. But i think we lose some of the humanity of Jesus if as a baby lying in hay He didn’t cry. This is a small and silly example, but there are some worship songs which i just cannot sing because they are blatant lies. Again, for me, the test is, ‘Would i say this thing in a prayer?’ If the answer is no, perhaps i should stop singing it.
Sometimes though i find a song has a high bar of commitment to Jesus that i just don’t have in the moment of singing it and i will sometimes still sing it as a prayer of ‘this is where i want to be’ or ‘this is where i know i should be but am not now’ which again is great because it’s engaging with the singing and the words and not just getting caught up in it.
Maybe do a test this coming weekend and instead of singing along, simply read the words of all the worship songs as your church asking, ‘Is this true?’ and ‘Could i pray this?’ and then come and comment the results on my wall.
Some other questions that might be good to ask when looking at the worship songs your church uses are these:
Are most of the songs about God?
Are most of the songs me-focused?
Are all of the songs in one language?
Do the languages we sing reflect the make-up of the gathered people?
Are there songs that relate to life being difficult and faith being hard and with more of a lament/struggle theme? Or does the worship time at my church assume that ‘All is well with my soul’?
A Bonus question for church leaders would be to ask: What forms of worship are available on a Sunday for those people who hate singing or don’t particularly enjoy it? Do we have times of prayer, of silence, of reflection, meditation? Do we have spaces where people can draw or paint or move?
Are the songs you sing a reflection of the life you are seeking to live out and do they keep God in the centre and reflect an honest and truthful sense of who we are and who we want to be? If beings from another planet came into our church buildings and only took all of the songs we sing and went home and tried to figure out our theology from them, how successful do you think they would be?
Interrogate the words you sing.
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#7 Some of you need to leave the bubble
If you go to a church gathering on a Sunday, have prayer meeting on Tuesday, Bible Study/Cell group on Wednesday and only ever listen to ‘christian music’ and watch ‘christian movies’ then you may want to rethink some of your decisions.
Not that any of those things are bad. But Jesus calls us to make disciples of all Nations and teach them everything Jesus commanded us (Matthew 28) and so if we are never having deep, meaningful contact with people who are not following Jesus, then we might be struggling to do that.
One super incredible thing about Jesus was that He was able to be in all kinds of different contexts without being negatively affected or influenced by them. In fact, He was accused of being a party animal cos of His hanging out with drunks and prostitutes. But Jesus seemed to think that it was important to go where the people were and not protect Himself from them.
That Romans passage again: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. In fact the verse at the end of that chapter (Romans 12) is a powerful reminder as well: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
When it comes to books, movies and music then that can be a bit of a tricky one as i do believe there are some things followers of Jesus should avoid but generally i would suggest each person looks to the Holy Spirit in them and their community for direction and accountability.
i do think it is helpful for us to know and understand things that other people are engaging with so that we can be more relevant.
But we are called to love our neighbour as ourselves and it is really hard to do that if we are not inviting them to break bread with us around our table, responding to invitations to join them at their place, and engaging with some of the same things and in some of the same places that they are.
If you see yourself to an extent living in a kind of protected bubble christian kind of experience, then my encouragement is to look for areas outside of the bubble where you can connect with and just love other people well.
Also if the only friends you have in your life are other christians, consider seeking out opportunities to change that, to diversify the closer group of people you hang out with. There is so much to learn and share and give.
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#8 Recognise that everyone has been made in the image of God.
This is mind-blowing because that includes Hitler and Mother Theresa and Donald Trump and Gandhi and Zuma and Helen Zille and people who like raiSINs and Chris Pratt and people who like that other premier league football team and the person who just cut you off in traffic this morning and rapists and murderers and paedophiles and you.
This clearly doesn’t mean we look like God because we all look quite different and so it has to be something else. Something that can possibly be described as the fingerprint of God or the DNA of God or the essence of God existing in each and every human being. The potential for God’ness perhaps. Not to be God, but to display God or reflect or mirror God or show Godlike tendencies, where the absolute defining characteristic of God is Love.
And if we are honest, the image of God has also been tainted in each one of us. To differing degrees for sure, making it harder to love some people than others, and feel near impossible to love some people at all.
But if we can be reminded that everyone was made in the image of God, then that will hopefully help us to get there. We don’t have to like everyone and we certainly don’t have to be best friends with everyone, but we are called to Love everyone and being reminded that they are an image bearer, can help that process a little bit.
The woman who cleans your house and you pay as little as you can get away with? Image of God.
The man begging at the traffic light who you won’t even make eye contact with or offer a friendly greeting to? Image of God.
That person who hurt you so many years ago in the deepest possible way and you vowed you would never forgive them? Image of God.
And this one for me: that person you are arguing with on social media who is being a total…? Image of God.
If this becomes our starting point, that we see people who hurt us or who we have conflict with or who we disagree with, as being created in the image of God, then there is a much higher chance that other important and crucial things like Love and Forgiveness and Listening and Restored Relationship might become possibilities.
Love your neighbour AS YOURSELF. This has to start with you being able to look in the mirror and declare: I see someone created in the image of God. And then moving that declaration to others.
Practise that today with the people you see [or experience] that are more difficult to Love. Take a moment to pause and say in your mind [or out loud if you’re alone] ‘This person bears the image of God’. Then do what you need to do.
This is a rule without exception when it comes to humans: Everyone has been made in the image of God.
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#9 Give Jesus your whole cake.
Wait? What? We were doing so well and suddenly things just got weird. Bear with me for a minute…
i used to use this analogy on camps a lot because it really helps illustrate a crucial and often-ignored following Jesus point.
Imagine that i am holding a not-yet-iced cake in front of you. That cake is divided into different pieces and each piece represents an aspect of your life. There is a money piece and a job piece and a relationships piece and a how-i-treat-the-lady-who-cleans-my-house piece and a money-i-spend-on-coffee piece and so on.
Now imagine that i have a bowl of icing for your cake. The icing represents Jesus. What a lot of people do is they take their Sunday piece of cake and they lavishly smear the icing all over that piece. “Here you go Jesus, you get all of my Sunday.” You might even add a bit of icing to your Wednesday night piece for Bible study and possibly a five to thirty minutes a day quiet time/Bible reading/praying piece.
But the rest? Attitude towards my parents? Um, I think I’ll handle that one, God. What I spend my money on? No worries, God, I got this one too. What movies I watch or music I listen to? Got it. Who I need to forgive for that thing they did to me all those years ago? Never mind God, I’ll keep an eye on this one. And so on.
In fact most people who are relatively serious about following Jesus probably would have most of their cake iced, but there might be those one or two pieces that they hold tightly to, and refuse to submit to God. Anything coming to mind for you?
So the question is, how would a truly Christ-following cake look?
Most of us will probably answer: The cake must be covered with icing? Right? Wrong!
i would take it even deeper. What happens if you take a crumb of a cake – any crumb – and you stick it under a microscope? You will find traces of flour, right? As one of the key ingredients of a cake. Which is why more than just the icing which covers the cake, or most of the cake, I think a more accurate picture of what it means to follow Jesus, is that He is the flour. Not just covering the cake, but to be found in every single grain that makes up the cake.
Jesus doesn’t just want every piece of your cake. He wants every piece of every piece of your cake. God loves us so much that God wants to be intricately involved and included and a part of every part of our lives.
We saw that so expertly modelled by Jesus. It didn’t matter where He was or who He was with or what He was doing, He was always fully representative of God. He changed how He spoke when He was in the temple or with His friends or speaking to a crowd or an individual who had cornered Him. But He never changed who He was. Every part of every part of Jesus’ life was filled with the essence and fragrance of God. And so should ours be.
The call of Jesus to those who would be in His Kingdom are: ‘Deny yourselves and take up your cross and follow Me.’ [Luke 9.23] The idea is that as Creator of us and the world we inhabit, God knows us best and God knows the best way for us to live and so when we submit to God, we will discover that and get to live it out. Not in a way that makes us unemotional robots who merely obey orders, but in a beautiful collaborative way that allows me to be who i am and express my character and personality as i choose daily to follow God and live out God’s kingdom as best i can.
Take a few minutes to sit with this one and invite the Holy Spirit right now to reveal an area of your life that you have not invited God into…
Money is a big one for a lot of christians. Does God have any say in how you spend your money? What does your generosity look like and who benefits outside of yourself and your family, from the money you have?
Time is another big one. Does God get any time in your week? Besides God’s Sunday cake piece?
How about where you live or the places you choose to inhabit/spend time in? Have you ever invited God into those decisions or do you simply do what is easy or convenient?
Who is invited into your house and to break bread around your dinner table with you? If God has a clear heart for the poor and lonely and marginalised, does that ever show up in your home?
Unforgiveness? That person that did that thing to you that you can NEVER forgive or forget. You may never forget it, but there is a definite and clear call from God that you HAVE to forgive [check out the consequences in Matthew 6 just after the Lord’s prayer]. Is this a piece you need to hold out to God trusting desperately in God’s Love for you.
Or is it something else? And is there more than one? Which one is God asking you right now to hand over? Do some business with God on this and be transformed!
Give Jesus your whole cake.
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#10 Be on the beach
An old man is walking along the beach when he comes upon the strangest sight.
The tide has gone out leaving hundreds and thousands of starfish lying in the hot sun drying out and dying. He also notices a little girl picking up a starfish and throwing it into the sea and then bending down and picking up another starfish and throwing it into the sea.
This carries on for thirty minutes. Eventually, he can’t take it anymore and he slowly approaches the girl.
“What are you doing?” he asks her.
“I’m saving the starfish!” she replies boldly.
The old man gestures all the way up and down the beach at the hundreds of thousands of starfish burning up in the sun. “What difference can you possibly make?” he asks the girl.
The little girl says nothing and bends down and picks up a starfish and holds it out to the old man. “I’m making a difference to this one!” she says as she tosses it into the waves.
Now that is a parable that many of us have probably heard before. One person can make a difference. But when it comes to the church and this analogy i have a different question:
WHAT IF ALL OF THE PEOPLE WHO WERE MEANT TO BE ON THE BEACH WERE ON THE BEACH?
For many people, church is a spectator sport. You go on a Sunday and then you’re done. In yesterday’s tip i spoke about offering every slice of your cake or every part of your life to God and inviting God to be a part of it. But this takes it a step further.
Having worked in/with a number of churches you tend to see the same thing over and over again – a small percentage of people doing the majority of the work. We have missions teams to do the missions, prayer teams to do the praying etc etc.
But the call on all of our lives, the moment we choose to follow Jesus, is the call to service. To make disciples [Matthew 28] and to care for the marginalised in society [Matthew 25] and to love our neighbour as ourselves [Matthew 22] and to forgive those who have hurt us [Matthew 6] and more.
During apartheid South Africa, the number of people who called themselves ‘christian’ were around the 75% mark, including many of the countries leaders. Yet with such a majority of ‘christians’ something as sick and unloving and unJesus as apartheid was able to thrive. Not everyone was on the beach.
It has to be a combination of knowing Jesus [and being known by] and serving Jesus and the kingdom [as we see in Matthew 7 where the accusation held against those thrown out is ‘I never knew you!’] but if we are honestly seeking to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, then actively loving people and serving them should be a natural overflow.
We can’t individually save all of the starfish and won’t even make the smallest dent. But if all of the church suddenly got serious about putting our time, our energy, our skills, our possession and our money into building the kingdom of God we would see a transformed world.
Are you on the beach? Have you invited others to join you?
[For the next 5 tips, click here]