A Worship Time or A Time to Worship?
Paul Critchley January 2013
Towards the end of 2012 I began to sense more and more that God was encouraging me, as part of my leadership role at Beacon House of Prayer, to draw together worship leaders and musicians for 24 hours of unbroken worship; to gather together those who had a heart to bring an offering to God, regardless of who else might listen and join in. I didn't want to greatly advertise it, but just to connect those together who had a passion to lift Him up and bring an offering, just for Him.
The result was a wonderful, rich, diverse palate of worship and praise that was vocal and musical, but most importantly heart connected and vertical.
For me, there's been a tension often between being up front and leading others in worship whilst making sure that the focus is God and not the music, the style, or the content. I'm blessed to be in a place where there is much flexibility and opportunity to sense where the Holy Spirit is leading and aiming to follow.
There's something powerful about the joining of our hearts and voices together in corporate worship; about bringing a united expression and declaration of our praises. The potential issue can be that the focus turns to the song, to the music or even sometimes to the team, the presentation, or whether we like the style or not. All this can be a distraction.
I've personally been so aware of the power of music on the emotions; how songs can draw us into a place that may not be where God might be leading, but purely an atmosphere. This is not to say that God isn't in our emotions, but a 'check' on whether it's connected to Him or the music is needed.
The goal for me is bringing something that takes us on a journey of worship and takes us to a deeper place of connection with God. If you're a worship leader or musician reading this, then let me just say that I believe our aim is to draw hearts and welcome God's presence and then to get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit move.
When we gather together as a body to worship, it should really be an overflow of our daily walk and relationship and not the start and end! If our private worship place is right, then it's likely our public worship place is too. It's very hard to have it the other way around.
We often use this phrase, 'we are going to now enter into a time of worship'. Early followers of Jesus would have no idea what we were talking about! To them everything was worship. The way they lived and for some even the way they died. Every day, hour, minute was an opportunity to worship God. I'm sure this is what God is looking for and what He loves to see when He gazes upon us.
For a long time I've held Psalm 63 as a real target. It's not a place I'm at yet, but is a real desire. David was talking here about every moment being offered to Him. I'm including the text here, because it's really worth praying out as an act of submission and desire to encounter Him more. I'm asking this again today too as I type in the words.
'You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me. Psalm 63:1-8.
Elsewhere in John 4:23, the scripture speaks about the sort of worship Father God is looking for; truthful and authentic. It really isn't about a worship time, but about our lives laid out before him in every moment.
In my city of Stoke on Trent, we are learning the reality that full time ministry to God is for every person, in every place. Yes it is about the ordained minister, pastor, leader, but it is also in equal measure about you, today, wherever you work, study, raise up family and do life.
Let these places be where we bring our offering of worship and praise and we will know His presence there because our attention to Him draws His attention to us. It becomes a place of Heaven to earth connection.
Don't save your worship for the next meeting, or even your next quiet time. Bring it now in your everyday living
Stir up faith
Paul Critchley 2012
I've been really encouraged recently by the evidence of faith that is growing in those who are around me. I've been especially spurred on by seeing faith expand in my worship team.
I don't apologise for writing about worship. It's my calling from God and I am definitely speaking this to myself as I write to you. I'm on a journey of increasing faith but am so glad that God has given me freedom to stir up faith in me and in those I lead.
During worship we often sing songs that: declare God owns everything, that He's in control, that we love Him regardless of joy or pain, whatever the circumstance. We express thanks no matter the situation. Say that we surrender to His ways, sing out the authority of His name, ask for forgiveness. The list can and does go on. There really is so much to worship and thank Him for. So many subjects and themes, but our worship must also be on dislplay in our behavior and attitude as well as our singing.
Worship itself is a an act that needs our faith and trust. A belief that we can, without fear, give our lives totally over to Him, allowing Him to lead us where He wants us to go, even if it's not, and maybe especially if it's an uncomfortable place. It's a mindset that faithfully allows Him to have control of our money, our jobs, our relationships and the future we cannot yet see.
When we recognised the truth of our friendship with Jesus we were each given a measure, an amount of faith and that faith needs encouraging, excercising, stirring up on the inside. If we never feed it or give it any attention, it's not going to grow bigger or stronger.
Giving our own daily worship, meeting with others to worship, speaking and singing out God's word will all cause our faith to grow.
I am in no way making light of this and saying that a formula will do it. It can be hard, it can be an act of will. It might be out of a place where I'm saying.. 'This is the last thing I feel like doing' BUT... when we make a choice to come to Him, He will meet us in that place.
I remember well leading a worship seminar a couple of years ago. I was taking the group through the amazing truth of our right in Jesus to come to the most intimate place, the holy of holies, once reserved for the High Priest but now wide open to us because of Jesus ultimate, worthy sacrifice. It's the truth found here in Hebrews 10:19-22 'Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to Godwith a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings. I was a bit shocked when someone stood up and said... That's old stuff, Jesus is everywhere. He's all around us! Hmm.. after a swift prayer for wisdom I had to of course agree, but was able to share this: 'It is true, His presence is everywhere but He still want's us to come and meet with Him. We have friends and family 'around' us, yet without coming together we don't have relationship'.
It's that place of closeness that God loves. We were made to worship, we were designed to live in His presence. He has made every opportunity, offered every invitation for us to have that level of intimacy with Him. It's a place where he holds us, hears us, advises us, cheers us on. And yet, we often miss out on the reality of His nearness. James 4:8 says this. 'Draw near to God and He will draw near to you'
I did say that that sometimes we worship Him out of obedience, out of choice. This is sacrificial worship. It's given along with our practical tithes and offerings It's a response to God's commandment. Though this might sometimes seem a bit false or weak on our part, the exciting truth is that He sees it intentional. He values our decision to come towards Him, especially when the road is not smooth or we don't 'feel' anything. It's these times that build our faith. They work on our spirutal muscle and strengthen us in times of weakness. They give God the opportunity to train us and equip us.
God loves our worship. He is jealous for our love. If anyone ever deserved this response, It is Him. Naturally, we love it when we are encouraged by others, when we receive praise for that we've done well. Though God values this from us, He doesn't need it to grow or function or stay encouraged. It's us who need it. He's pleased in watching us as we engage with Him, as we dig into the reality of our relationship with Him. But the exercise builds us up, it benefits us, it grows our faith
So, whatever's happening today: the good, bad or ugly! Make a choice to get close. Make a choice to worship. Stir it up and sense His pleasure and passion over you as you do.
I AM Blessed
Paul Critchley March 2012
Particularly in the times of our own struggles and difficulties, which are without doubt part of life's journey, we can be tempted to be drawn into a place of believing that “good things” always seem to happen to “everyone else”, We can be taken to a place of focus on our troubles rather than the greater perspective of our blessed position in Christ. We can quickly come to a place where we are soon unable to see the amazing grace, goodness and provision of God. I've definitely been in that place where other people seem to be doing really well, their lives seem fruitful, their situation is great.and the truth is that in those times my attention can turn selfishley into a place of focus on my apparent lack.
It's one of our enemy, the devil's tactics, to distract us from looking on and declaring the goodness of God over our own lives and to be overwhelmed by thoughts of short term 'fixes' that only hold empty promise of temporary happiness. Instead of grateful hearts and worship, we think on what could be “if” we were someone else, “if” we had something else, had a different job, lived somewhere better... we could make a list of “what if's”.
I read recently this quote. “Comparison is an ugly game that no one wins”. It steers us away from the reality of God's heart for us as His children. Those special ones that He dotes on. Remember? He chose us, He adopted us, He drew us, He looked out for us even when we far off. He ran to meet us, He flung His arms wide to greet us, embrace us. He celebrates us! Wow, it seems to me that God demonsrates how much He values us whilst we can so quicky devalue all that He is and has given to us!”
Philippians 4:8-13 speaks about the power of fixing our thoughts on things good, true, and praiseworthy, finding our joy in the Lord, not in self or circumstances. As Paul writes this letter He's living in a place of perfect contentment even though it's thought that he is writing from His prison cell! He's living in a place of amazing faith in Jesus who's able to give him strength in every situation, no matter what the outward appearance. Paul's focus is on how blessed He is, not how terrible his position is. What a testimony!
I began to dig deeper into this with my own worship team recently. We all began to list what gifts we had been given, what we were grateful to God for, those things tangible, those relationships He'd given to us, those abilities He'd given to us. We began to focus in on what we have rather than what we don't have. There were different things for each one of us. A living example of God's personal connection with each of our lives, how He interacts with us, know us intimately, blessing us personally! So, we then began to look at how we were or could bring those blessings back as offering, being prepared to be generous with all He has given, being open handed and not holding anything too tightly. It became even clearer to me, the importance of taking time to worship Him not only with our mouths but also with the practicalities of serving Him out of His great provision for us.
Our lack of gratitude, our focus on the negative rather than the positive can become a dangerous downward spiral. Again, Paul shares this observation in Romans 1:21: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” It's an important warning to us about the importance of having a thankful heart. It also, to me, speaks not just about giving God thanks for His blessings because we should but also of the benefit to us in doing this, keeping our hearts and attitude in a positve place.
There's no doubt that daily living comes with it's difficulties, but we don't live it alone. Even our challenges, especially our challenges bring strength and character if we allow God to shape us and mould us in the process. So, I'm not sharing that everything in our world must always appear to be perfect but I am encouraging us to take heart out of the rich blessings He has given to us. To stir up our faith and our level of thanksgiving.
There is an old song called 'count your blessings'. I've found it really helpful on a practical level recently to speak out my blessings, could you speak out yours down today,write them down, literally name them one by one.
Allow your grateful heart to rise up in worship, let your heart, mind and spirit rise above your daily challenges and be put into perspective in the light of God's love and favour for you.