Worship; definition?

It was a mid-week church service, sometime in the early 1980’s.

Who was preaching? I don’t remember. Who was leading the singing? I have no memory of that. Who was playing the pipe organ, the piano, the drums and guitars? I can’t recall that either. Who was present? A few relatives, a few friends, myself and many others whose names I didn’t know. I was only a visitor, not knowing what to expect.

What was happening? That I will never forget.

The main floor and the balcony of the sanctuary was filled that evening. The preliminaries had taken place – greetings, announcements, offering, followed by hymns and praise songs accompanied by enthusiastic clapping. The congregation had taken their seats. But then…

A complete hush fell over the congregation. The silence was so deep you could have heard a pin drop. Literally. It was as if a thick cloud had descended, cutting off every nuance of noise. No foot shuffling could be heard, no throat clearing, no nervous coughing, no nothing. The quality of light subtly changed from that provided by the ordinary church chandeliers to a brilliance I’d never seen before. It was hard to keep your head up or your eyes open.

After only a few moments it was also hard to stay in your seat. Many didn’t. People began to slip off the front pews and platform chairs onto the floor, out of the side pews into the aisle. No-one spoke. Nobody even seemed concerned about it. Everyone was too affected by the manifest presence of God in the room to take notice of their companions.

About half-way back on the left side of the building, my own row was too packed with people for me to move but I couldn’t raise my hands from my lap. I just basked in the soft, cherishing, comforting presence of the Lord.

What was it like? The closest I could describe was like being wrapped in a warm blanket, sitting on my mother’s lap and hugged close.

How long did it last? I never looked at my watch so I don’t know. But gradually the cloud began to lift. The people on the floor were helped back to their seats. The pastor got to his knees, then climbed to his feet holding onto the pulpit, but he couldn’t speak. Maybe he wanted to try to explain what had happened but I don’t think anyone was listening anyway.

Because the entire congregation was worshiping, telling Jesus how much they loved him, how much they adored him, how much they appreciated him. Some stood to their feet with arms raised and tears flowing down their face. Nobody wanted to leave that night and many of us lingered for a time, too awestruck to drive home yet.

As we milled around, we discovered that several miracle healings had occurred throughout the sanctuary. Nobody had laid hands on the sick or offered to pray, but as the presence and power of the Lord engulfed them the sick and hurt were made whole. Pneumonia in an elderly violin-maker – lungs completely cleared. A cracked elbow in my school teacher sister-in-law – bone completely healed.

That was my first experience of worshiping God in spirit and in truth in a church service. I’ve had similar worship experiences since then, in church buildings, convention centers, and the privacy of my own home. God instigated, they are not for his benefit, but for ours.

So, how would I define worship? Falling in love with the most precious, most beautiful, most wonderful, most worthy person that ever existed or ever will exist, knowing that he loves you back, and telling him how you feel.

(Originally published in 2015, reposted in 2017, but worth sharing again, I thought.)

Play it by ear

Or how I learned to play the piano by ear – I didn’t.

My daddy’s oldest sister, Aunt Myrtle, sponsored my piano lessons as a little girl. She had been a pianist for silent movies in the early 1900’s and loved any and all types of music. I dearly loved to hear her play, especially sitting close to watch her nimble fingers. Runs up and down the keyboard, crashing chords or delicate trills, it was all thrilling to me!

Myrtle still played for her own family, friends, and her own enjoyment too. Occasionally she accompanied someone who sang a classical-type solo at church, especially near Easter or Christmas time.

Mrs.WescottOh, how I wanted to play like Myrtle! And so, Myrtie Berry Wescott, a classical piano teacher, was chosen to instruct me. During the regular school year I would go to her house twice a week after school where for fifteen minutes per lesson she drilled me in music theory, scales, finger exercises, proper hand position, and practice, practice, practice!

I can still see her baton at the ready, threatening (but never actually rapping) the knuckles when your hands were being lazy, i.e. not properly lifted, fingers curled to strike – not mash – the keys.

Ms. Wescott was a stickler for playing music exactly it as written. She didn’t like her students playing anything she hadn’t approved… which meant no hymns, no sheet music, no “silly little ditties” such as Chopsticks, Three Blind Mice, or She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes.

In her studio, only classical composers such as Bach, Beethoven and Chopin were used for memory work, especially end-of-year recital pieces. Difficulty increased, of course, as the years went on. Imagine playing 13 notes per measure with the right hand, to 12 notes per measure with the left hand. One of the Russian composers, my mind has kindly and lovingly blanked out that name and that piece – but I did learn to play it to her satisfaction, when I was about 15.

Well, while classical piano study was school-year work, summers were wonderfully filled with big band music, movie sound tracks, Hits of the 50’s etc., folk music, hymns and choruses, books and sheet music purchased by my parents as rewards for good work for my violinist brother and me.

I learned a great deal studying with Ms. Wescott. But what I didn’t learn was how to transpose keys. Whoever heard of changing the key on a Beethoven piece? Unnecessary! Unthought of! Unallowed.

Well, my lessons with her were completed when I was 16. After a few summer months of organ keyboard instruction sponsored by my church, I began playing the organ for Sunday services. (They had an excellent pianist but a fine organ with nobody to play it, until I came along.)

All went well for quite a while, until I joined Christian Assembly Church in the 1970’s and began playing the organ for services there.

The choir leader would sometimes say, “This hymn is pitched too high, let’s lower it a couple of steps.” I just looked at him in dismay – I had no idea how to do that. But the pianist did, so she would play and I would just sit there, feeling like a dummy.

After a few times like that I was disheartened. I loved playing. I loved the hymns, the gospel songs, the Easter and Christmas cantatas, all the praise and worship music. If it was written on paper, I could play it. If it wasn’t, I couldn’t.

It really bothered me. If I knew about the change of key in advance, I could write out the notes and practice at home and then things would go fine. But those occasions were rare. My heart almost grieved, not being able to play everything they needed. Should I resign as church organist and let them find someone who could do it? I was debating with myself.

One night I prayed about it – and woke up the next morning able to play by ear, in any key. (Only Christian music, oddly enough; anything else I still have to memorize as always.) It was amazing.

Not long afterward, a gospel quartet came for a special service one Sunday night. All their songs were lively and upbeat pieces they had written and as none of them played instruments, they sang with accompaniment tapes.

Then the pastor asked them to sing something slower, softer, more worshipful while people came forward for a time of prayer. Unfortunately none of their tapes contained that kind of music. One of them looked over at me and said, if we begin, can you just follow along? My heart pounded but I said, I’ll try.

And I did. Every song, even though none were familiar; they were all original pieces they themselves had composed. They sang and I played for over 30 minutes. No-one but me knew what a miracle that was, but it was.

Transposing choir numbers was no longer a problem. I just heard the melody and harmony in my head, found the key they needed and played.

Since that day I have played the piano in many places, sometimes with written music but more often without. Sometimes song leaders rotated from tenor to bass (Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship), or from soprano to alto (Women’s Aglow). I found that I could follow the leader in whatever key they needed. Our own church where I have played piano for many years uses chord charts, because the other musicians don’t read music. No problem.

So, whenever people ask me how I learned to play by ear, I just smile and say, I didn’t. Let me tell you about a miracle – did you know the Holy Spirit can play the piano?

 

It’s time for urgent worship

SoldiersFieryPraise and worship are not the same thing.

Praise is telling God how you feel about him and what he’s done for you, how wonderful he is and how grateful you are, all wrapped up in a song somebody else wrote.

Worship is deeper, more intimate, more personal. It’s like singing a love song to the object of your adoration.

Of course, you’re still using a song somebody else wrote. And when you’re through praising God and worshiping, you give money to the church, hear a sermon from the preacher, request prayer if you need it, then go home.

That’s what I thought for years, until I researched original language for myself.

The English word worship comes from the old root word “worth-ship.” How much someone is worth, in respect, honor, position, wealth.

The New Testament Greek word carries a similar idea, but is used of a servant’s attitude towards his master – not exclaiming how great he thinks his master is, but being in submission, reverent, waiting for the master’s instructions.

The servant doesn’t inform the master of his own plans for the day. He doesn’t have any plans of his own. He doesn’t do anything until his master tells him what to do.

Jesus told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well something about the future. He said, “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)

Just physically singing in a church service is not what he meant.

I still worship with songs other people wrote, but sometimes it’s not songs at all, it’s paragraphs, sentences or phrases, sometimes just feelings. Whatever it is, it’s not complete unless followed by listening for the Master’s instructions.

Recently the Holy Spirit said to me, It’s time for urgent worship.

What does that mean, I asked? What is it, and why is it time?

True worship begins with focused attention, he said. Not contaminated with distractions like other people singing. Not drowned out by the static of worry over what is going on in your life, your own thoughts.

True worship is hard, I had to acknowledge. I wasn’t very good at it. Trying to concentrate doesn’t wipe out all the distractions. My elbows hurt. My fingers seem stiff. Time for Tylenol?

I find my mind wandering, thinking about the people I love and their troubles. Concerned about the state of the world.

Worship too easily transitions over to praying for something. Praying is not bad in itself, but it’s not focusing on the worth-ship of God and listening to his voice, his instructions.

Without the critical element of true worship, I may not hear his instructions instantly or clearly enough to respond with confidence when he needs me to.

I was worried that I just can’t do it, no matter how hard I try. Then he reminded me of how I learned to play the piano, how I learned to type: practice.

Practice urgent worship. Focus on the Master and he will strip away all your unnecessary distractions. Don’t worry that you’re not perfect, just practice.

Okay, I said.

But why? I wasn’t sure if he would tell me, but he did.

Because a day is coming when he will speak a critical word. We must be able to recognize his voice and respond, perhaps in an instant.

Urgent worship will prepare his people to hear him clearly, when that day comes.

Originally published in 2010. That day may be sooner than we think.

Discovery, ongoing process of worship

GrandSpiralGalaxyNGC1232So much more vast than all of space, Father God, just the edge of your little fingernail could crush our whole universe and disintegrate us into dust.

Creator of multitudes of galaxies, you are fully aware each moment of each infinitesimal component as each spins in perfect balance, obeying your design for it.

Yet having set these multitudes into motion, you made yourself small enough, intimate enough, personal enough and individual enough that you can see your own work with our eyes!

You experience it, explore it, examine it and enjoy it through our eyes, hearts, minds and souls. And as we discover your works in the vastness of your creation, you lead us to discover You.

You, your person and your personality. Your heart and your care for us, who you dreamed of and fashioned on this earth, this tiny planet, the people you have chosen for a habitation.

As we discover more of your works in heaven and in earth, help us never fail to discover more of you.

Adapted from February 2008 post, Creation.

What would you do?

What would you do if Jesus, physical and in person, walked across the platform at church one Sunday? And you recognized him in a flash, knew it was really him.

Would you continue thinking about where to go for lunch? What to do after lunch? About work tomorrow? Would you continue sitting there not singing during the “praise and worship,” wishing they would sing something you liked better?

Or would you leap to your feet with hands raised, begin jumping and shouting praises, clapping, crying and laughing  at the same time? Would you be completely awestruck and filled with amazing joy?

Sunday after Sunday some church-goers act as if Jesus wasn’t there and they hoped he wouldn’t show up. They sit with hands folded, not singing during the song service. Their minds and hearts don’t seem to be present, even if their bodies are there in the pew.¬†

Jesus is there, though. Actually. Want to change your Sunday worship experience? It’s a conscious decision. Choose to focus on him, thanking him for his presence whether you feel it yet or not. Thank him until praise comes, praise him until worship comes, and worship him until his glory comes.

It’s time for urgent worship

Praise and worship are not the same thing.

Praise is telling God how you feel about him and what he’s done for you, how wonderful he is and how grateful you are, all wrapped up in a song somebody else wrote.

Worship is deeper, more intimate, more personal. It’s like singing a love song to the object of your adoration. Of course, you’re still using a song somebody else wrote.

And when you’re through praising God and worshiping, you give money to the church, hear a sermon from the preacher, request prayer if you need it, then go home.

That’s what I thought for years, until I researched original language for myself.

The English word worship comes from the old root word “worth-ship.” How much someone is worth, in respect, honor, position, wealth.

The New Testament Greek word carries a similar idea, but is used of a servant’s attitude towards his master – not exclaiming how great he thinks his master is, but being in submission, reverent, waiting for the master’s instructions.

The servant doesn’t inform the master of his own plans for the day. He doesn’t have any plans of his own. He doesn’t do anything until his master tells him what to do.

Jesus told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well something about the future. He said, “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)

Just physically singing in a church service is not what he meant.

I still worship with songs other people wrote, but sometimes it’s not songs at all, it’s paragraphs, sentences or phrases, sometimes just feelings. Whatever it is, it’s not complete unless followed by listening for the Master’s instructions.

Recently the Holy Spirit said to me, it’s time for urgent worship.

What does that mean, I asked? What is it, and why is it time?

True worship begins with focused attention, he said. Not contaminated with distractions like other people singing. Not drowned out by the static of worry over what is going on in your life, your own thoughts.

True worship is hard, I had to acknowledge. I wasn’t very good at it. Trying to concentrate doesn’t wipe out all the distractions. My elbows hurt. My fingers seem stiff. Time for Tylenol?

I find my mind wandering, thinking about the people I love and their troubles. Concerned about the state of the world.

Worship too easily transitions over to praying for something. Praying is not bad in itself, but it’s not focusing on the worth-ship of God and listening to his voice, his instructions.

Without the critical element of true worship, I may not hear his instructions instantly or clearly enough to respond with confidence when he needs me to.

I was worried that I just can’t do it, no matter how hard I try. Then he reminded me of how I learned to play the piano, how I learned to type: practice.

Practice urgent worship. Focus on the Master and he will strip away all your unnecessary distractions. Don’t worry that you’re not perfect, just practice.

Okay, I said.

But why? I wasn’t sure if he would tell me, but he did.

Because a day is coming when he will speak a critical word. We must be able to recognize his voice and respond, perhaps in an instant.

Urgent worship will prepare his people to hear him clearly, when that day comes.