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Worship and the Power of God
By David A. DePra
I heard a sermon the other day that insisted that worship – demonstrative worship in a church setting -- was the means by which we obtain the power of God. The preacher was saying that this worship gets us to the throne of God, where there is POWER. This power, in turn, sort of, "flushes out," our bondages, and provides us with other benefits. He said that if we worship in this way, that because the presence of God comes down, we are able to enter into all that God is, and has for us.
Worship – of the demonstrative kind – is a wonderful expression among God’s people. As long as it is kept with Biblical guidelines – done decently and in order – churches do well to worship God in this way. There is no law about this, mind you, because as we will see, worship is first of the heart. But there are too many stiff, stuffy, and wooden churches, which consider any form of demonstrative worship to be wrong. There are too many over-reactions to the abuse of worship in some churches. Demonstrative worship isn’t wrong. There is everything right about it. This is taught in the Bible.
But when someone begins to say that demonstrative worship is the MEANS by which we obtain the power of God, or the MEANS by which we get free from sin, etc., a red flag ought to go up. When I heard this message – and I have heard many like it over the years – I asked myself the question: Is this what the Word of God actually teaches?
What the Bible Says
What does the NT emphasize? The NT puts an emphasis on faith, teaching us how to live, Truth, holiness, and God’s kind of love -- rather than upon overt demonstrative worship. Now, again – this does not mean demonstrative worship is wrong. No. It is right. But this isn’t the question. The question is whether demonstrative worship is the MEANS by which we enter into freedom from sin, bondage, and obtain power from God to live the Christian life. If demonstrative worship were the MEANS by which we obtain those things, then I would assume the Bible would simply say so. But it doesn’t say so. In fact, there is almost NO DIRECT TEACHING whatsoever in the New Testament about demonstrative worship. What we find are merely indications that it was going on here and there. But even on these occasions, there is no teaching attached, but those occasions are mentioned almost in passing.
As mentioned, if you read the NT epistles, I think you will find that the apostles primarily teach FAITH. They teach the TRUTH. They teach, not that WORSHIP AS A THING sets us free from anything – but that IN CHRIST we are already set free. Paul, for instance, emphasizes the POWER OF THE CROSS, not some power of worship! The NT writers clearly emphasize how to live and walk with Christ, and how to grow in Him. They speak much of how God wants His Body to function, and the means God uses to get it there.
What I am saying is this: Worship, utmost and foremost, is a LIFE lived to God’s glory. WORSHIP – it is a RELATIONSHIP word. To worship God in church in demonstrative ways is fine, but how I live in relationship to God is really what embodies true worship.
But we’ll get back to that in a minute.
I have to tell you, I cannot think of a single place in scripture where it ever states that WORSHIP – the overt, demonstrative kind – is to be the means by which we obtain anything from God – including freedom for sin, bondage, or error. In fact, I cannot even think of a place where it is said to be A way, let alone THE way.
Worship is a Relationship
What did the apostles teach about worship? The apostle’s teaching emphasizes WORSHIP as a relationship with God. As stated before, this does not mean we must eradicate demonstrative worship. But it tells us the priority. And it does tell us that once we ignore worship as a relationship, and replace it with worship that merely demonstrative, that we are asking for trouble. We may end up, not worshipping God, but, "worshipping worship."
We WORSHIP WORSHIP when it becomes a THING or an IT – that we DO -- in order to get a desired result. In other words, if, in my heart, I am saying, "I will worship God in such and such a way so that this or that will happen," or, if I say, "I must worship God to call down power to do such and such." That is error, and can be a sign that I am worshipping a THING called worship.
True worship never has ANY strings attached. It is simply an outpouring of ourselves to God. But merely doing this emotionally during a church service can hardly substitute for a LIFE LIVED in that spirit of pouring ourselves out to God.
This is why WORSHIP, when everything is said and done, is a RELATIONSHIP word. It is expressive of our relationship with God. Thus, if I merely, "paste on," the performance of worship, but have not the relationship, I am actually worshipping in vain. It is, in that case, accomplishing NOTHING.
Worship in Vain
Some Christians don’t think it is possible to worship God in vain. Surely, we think, God expects us to worship Him as we choose. But this is not taught in the Bible. Indeed, Jesus said it was possible to worship God and do it all in vain.
All that is necessary to worship God in vain is to honor Him with our lips (or our raised hands, dancing, jumping, and singing), but keep our hearts far from Him. Jesus, in fact, said that to honor God outwardly, but to keep your heart far from Him, was the very definition of a HYPOCRITE.
You hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, This people draws near unto me with their mouth, and honors me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. (Matt 15:7-9)
Jesus actually defined clearly the characteristics of worship that is pleasing to God: It is worship that is IN SPIRIT and IN TRUTH. Can we see that this dismisses the notion that the act of worship – demonstrative worship in a church setting – automatically brings upon us the power of God? Can we see that, in fact, demonstrative worship that is not based in the Spirit or in Truth, can be entirely in vain? Let’s read what Jesus said:
You worship you know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:22-24)
There verses do not prohibit demonstrative worship, nor mandate it. Demonstrative worship isn’t at issue here. What is at issue is any act of worship – in church, or simply through our works – that we offer to God. Jesus says that it is all in vain unless our heart is right with Him.
This is where Matthew 15:7-9 hooks up with John 4:22-24. To worship God with your heart is exactly what it means to worship God in Spirit and in Truth. Why? Because it is more than lip service – it is in Spirit. And to worship God with your heart is what it means to tell the Truth about your relationship with God. It is therefore worship that is in Truth.
Many of us do good works, and worship God, not because we believe Him, but because we don’t. We are afraid NOT to do what we are doing. We worship because it is a religious pattern we have learned, or a mandated practice in our church. Other times we worship because we like the feeling. All of this may be lip service – anyone can do it. But to worship God in Spirit and in Truth means that our worship is telling the Truth about our relationship with God, and is from the heart.
If we want to talk only about demonstrative worship -- to worship God in TRUTH must surely mean that my demonstrative worship is likewise telling the TRUTH about my relationship with God. It means that what I am doing reflects my real heart attitude towards God. Now, if it does do that, this is great. But it still doesn’t make demonstrative worship the THING which hooks me up to the POWER OF GOD. Rather, it makes demonstrative worship exactly what God says it is: My RESPONSE to God – an outward expression of my inward heart attitude.
It is right here that we see a great Truth: Demonstrative worship in church is never the MEANS by which we get power from God to live the Christian life. Rather, it is our RESPONSE to God – a pouring out of ourselves to Him. But it must be from the heart.
So according to Jesus, demonstrative worship, while not a bad thing, indeed, it CAN be a good thing, is not THE thing! Worship in Spirit and Truth, and worship with the heart – that is what God is after. If that isn’t right, the rest is in vain. If it is right, then we are free to outwardly express worship to God in whatever way is in keeping with the Biblical guidelines for the church.
A Living Sacrifice
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Rom 12:1-2)
This passage clearly defines true worship of God. It is a LIFE presented to Him. It is RELATIONSHIP.
"Reasonable service," here, is often translated, "spiritual worship." Either way, the point is that God isn’t simply interested in our outward worship. He wants all of us. We are to present ourselves a LIVING sacrifice – we belong to God and need to live like it.
What God is saying here is that true worship is surrender to God. This is pictured by the metaphor of putting ourselves on the altar. But then we must LIVE from that altar – because we are to be a LIVING sacrifice, not a dead one. Thus, through this one passage we see that worship is a relationship unto God, lived to His glory. The outcome is that we BECOME the will of God.
But how about outward expressions of worship? Well, if worship is of the heart FIRST, then the outward form of worship ought to be the same: Of the heart. This ends the argument as to whether God REQUIRES certain forms, the lack of any form, or that people ought to be told to worship in a certain way if they, "really want to be touched by God." He doesn’t. But He doesn’t prohibit forms either, as long as, "all things are done decently and in order." Something that is OF THE HEART spells freedom to do or not do in any particular way.
Incidentally, barking like a dog, crowing like a rooster, and acting crazy, all in the name of the Holy Spirit is NOT worship. These things are going on, right now, in churches, and people are claiming they are part of worship – what the Holy Spirit is doing. They are NOT worship. They are simply reflective of the true spiritual condition people are in, such that they could actually think God would do such things. No. Worship is towards God. It is the outcome of my relationship with Him. It is not a display of something weird.
The Means and the Response
When everything is added up, and all the teaching is gathered together, it is clear that demonstrative worship in church is not the MEANS of anything. Rather, if done from the heart, it is our RESPONSE to God. It is not the only response, and perhaps not even the most important response – for we must LIVE a life of worship – but in the final analysis, if we demonstrate our worship to God in outward ways in church, that is our RESPONSE of adoration, reverence, and love for God. It is not a MEANS for anything.
Now, I do realize that God is quite capable of doing things during a worship time. Sure. But can we possibly see that if He does, that it is not because we DID A THING called, "worship?" Or that it was because we sort of, "called down the power!?" No. God does things during worship time only because the hearts of those people that are responding to Him are otherwise open and responsive.
So WORSHIP is not the MEANS. It is the RESPONSE. But if that is so, then what is the MEANS by which we obtain those things that speak of freedom, Truth, and life? The Bible clearly tells us: The means is the CROSS.
There is only ONE pathway to life – and that is through death. Only if we allow God to progressively crucify our flesh – our self – will the resurrection life of Christ be made manifest in and through us. And if the resurrection life of Christ is being made manifest in and through us, then Christ is being made manifest – and HE brings with Him freedom, Truth, and life. He IS those things. But the CROSS makes it possible by crucifying out of us those things which hinder.
But can we then see that IN RESPONSE to the work of the Cross, that WORSHIP will emerge? Sure. For it is because we have put ourselves on the altar in unconditional surrender that the Cross is working, and therefore, the outcome of that is naturally going to be that we worship God with our lives, and perhaps, we will participate in demonstrative worship in church.
So we see that the Cross crucifies our flesh, and the result ought to be freedom from sin, error, and other things – because the life of Christ is made manifest in us. And the on-going response to this work will be WORSHIP. Of course.
Thus, the Cross is the MEANS, and worship is a RESPONSE. This makes WORSHIP an outcome – indeed, a spontaneous outcome of being raised with Christ. I will worship God with my life and I will worship Him in church. But I will worship Him.
The preacher I heard said that POWER is found in worship. If you gather together as a church, and do demonstrative worship, there will come much power from God – and this power will accomplish many things. We asked this question earlier, and we’ll now ask it again: Is that REALLY what the Bible teaches? That power comes from demonstrative worship?
We are seeing that the answer is NO. The way to have the power of God rest upon you is to first have the power of the Cross upon you. Let’s read a few passages from the Bible to see this:
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor 1:18)
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Cor 12:9-10)
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death works in us, but life in you. (2 Cor 4:7-12)
For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you. (2 Cor 13:4)
The power of God is released in a life because that person has come under the power of the Cross. The Cross crucifies the flesh and self, so that the life of Christ, which is already in us, might come through. This cannot be accomplished by going to church and participating in demonstrative worship. But as the Cross does do this work of God, we can RESPOND to God with worship. First, by presenting ourselves on the altar – unconditionally to God – and also by worshipping Him in outward forms.
Too often today, Christians by-pass the Cross and try to enter into the life of Christ through worship. People jump up and down, raise hands, etc. I am not making fun of them, or criticizing. But it is all in vain if you are not carrying your Cross daily.
If you and I are not carrying our Cross daily, it is because we are NOT RIGHT WITH GOD. It is just that simple, because the fact is, He has a Cross for us – without exception. Thus, if our life with Christ is nothing more than a big party, something is amiss. Christianity is serious business, and will cost us much. You enter into the power and life of Christ through death to self – via the Cross. But once you enter into the life of Christ, you will find that it is a life of life, freedom, joy, and yes, worship. There is no other pathway God offers us.
Praise and Worship
There is no question that to praise and worship God CUTS through moods and attitudes of unbelief, depression, and the like. But this is not because praise and worship are, "magic words," that we utter to get God moving, or because they are THINGS to do. No. Praise and worship cut through those things because, if from the heart, they are choices we make to speak the Truth, and align ourselves with Jesus Christ.
Even praise and worship of God can be turned into mechanical things. Some today are teaching that your WORDS create, and that if you positively confess something, it will happen. There have even been books written claiming that if you praise God, He will do what you want Him to do! This is error, and utter nonsense.
Again -- when you praise God -- IF it is from the heart -- you are making a conscious choice to turn away from lies and unbelief, and speak Truth about God. You are refusing to, "come under," the bad mood, or suggestions of the enemy, but rather choosing to turn to God. But you aren’t CREATING reality, or exerting a FORCE called, "faith," unto God, thus getting Him to do this or that! No. Instead, you are simply speaking the Truth, and coming into contact with God by faith, and this is why praise and worship can have positive effects.
Now note: Praise and worship cut through unbelief, etc., only if they are OF FAITH and OF THE HEART. They cut through the bad stuff in that case because you are making a choice to yield your members – your mind and thoughts, and perhaps your voice – to God. If you praise God, you are speaking the Truth, and therefore, error cannot remain.
Hopefully we can see a big difference between praise and worship which is a choice, and a response to God, and the mistake of thinking that they are some mechanical mantra which is the MEANS by which we get power from God.
The Bible says that we, "shall know the TRUTH, and the TRUTH shall set us free." It does NOT say, "You shall worship God and that worship shall result in the power to be free." Furthermore, Jesus said we must worship God in Truth – which indicates that the Truth comes FIRST. This would be impossible if we must worship God to GET Truth. No. We can only worship God IN Truth if worship is our response to God FOR and BECAUSE of the Truth we have already received through our everyday relationship with Him.
Not a Legalistic Form
It would seem that no matter what we are talking about with regards to the things of God, Christians will take it, and turn it into a LAW to follow, or a religious, "hoop," to jump through. This has happened even with demonstrative worship. Rather than a spontaneous response to God, from our spirit to His, some have turned it into a THING TO DO – in order to get God to do things!
I heard one preacher use this passage of Romans 12:1-2 to, "prove," that God COMMANDS demonstrative worship in His church. He claimed that to, "present your body," means to do things with it like raising hands, etc. Indeed, this particular preacher actually directs the people in his congregation as to what to do, step-by-step. He says, "Now, raise your hands," etc..
But this is not the context of the passage at all. To, "present your bodies, " – if we are talking about the physical -- means to, "yield your members as instruments of righteousness." (as in Rom. 6) That would mean outward obedience, and a walk in holiness. Paul is saying that THAT – the surrender, faith, and obedience – IS our worship. He is saying that SURRENDER IS WORSHIP FROM THE HEART, and outward obedience is the extension of it. But there is nothing in this passage that even mentions outward forms of worship in church.
Once we understand that putting ourselves on the altar as a living sacrifice is the TRUE NATURE of worship, things begin to fall into place. First, it shows that worship is not something that can be mandated. Paul says, "Present yourselves…." He does not say that anyone can bind another to the altar. No. Why? Because again – this is of the heart. It is a personal surrender to God – a relationship with Him.
Furthermore, if you command someone to worship God in a certain physical expression, and they DO IT, then are they REALLY doing it? Not necessarily at all. Why? Because, as I said earlier, worship is out of the heart; a personal RELATIONSHIP. It is spontaneous in that sense. It cannot be mandated if it is real, anymore than obedience which is merely mechanical is OF FAITH, simply because of the thing we DO.
Now, I’m NOT saying that it is wrong to teach others about expressions of worship. But I am saying that we ought not MANDATE them. There is a big difference. Thus, when believers get together for worship, there should be no pressure to worship outwardly in this or that way. Let people worship God! Stop trying to create spiritual clones! The only cautionary words we have in scripture about these outward things is that, "all things must be done decently and in order." We are told that worship must be, "in spirit and in Truth." But the Biblical guidelines are to STOP craziness and confusion motivated by the flesh – the guidelines are never to force people INTO anything.
I think it is ironic that despite the fact that the only Biblical guidelines for worship are all geared to stopping disorderly expressions of the flesh – that this is precisely what is going on today in many places. People mandate worship forms, which God never does, but then they ignore the one area where God does give mandates – they allow confusion and disorder.
There are a couple of places in the NT where it describes worship, such as I Timothy 2. Paul writes, "I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. " (1 Tim 2:8-9) Is this a command that when we pray, we must lift hands?
No. It is not a COMMAND as to the form of worship, or an establishment of the fact that you must pray with your hands lifted up, or God will not hear. In those days, people STOOD to pray, lifted up their hands, etc. God is not saying WE must copy that outward form. If we just read the passage, it seems clear that the emphasis of Paul is the prayer itself, done, "without wrath or doubting."
Do we really believe God hears us better if our hands are lifted? Or that He hears us more if they are NOT lifted? Not to be trite, but what if I don’t HAVE hands or arms? What does God look at? He looks at my heart, that’s what. I think the point is made.
Now, if you want to turn this passage from I Timothy into a law for worship, which I have heard some preachers do, then read on. Paul continues, "In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array." The context here, of course, is that the women of THAT TIME were not to dress in a way that resembles the loose women of THAT TIME. We are to take that thought and apply it to our time as to spirit and intent. But if you want to get legalistic and literal about things, then we need to be consistent. How you take the first part of the passage on worship, you must take the last part regarding women. Therefore, all women must now realize that in order to be truly holy, you must walk around depressed, dressed in cheap clothes, without any jewelry, and without braided hair. Do we really believe that this is what Paul is teaching?
Some people do. I had a member of a church I once pastured approach my daughter and inform her that she was violating scripture because she had her hair braided. Yet I never once saw this guy raise his hands when we were praying in church. Apparently, what was required of my daughter was not required of him – from the SAME passage – and he saw no problem with this in his wooden, legalistic, interpretation of scripture.
I could tell stores that would be humorous, except for the attitude and blindness they expose. For example, a person once told me that because I did not wear clergy vestments – a robe – when I preached, that God could not possibly be speaking through me. One other time, I was told that despite the fact that during each Sunday service we spent much time taking personal prayer requests from the congregation, and publicly praying together for them, that I had sinned and chased God out of our church because I did away with the weekly, and purely mechanical recitation, of the Lord’s prayer. Yes, those in my church stated these things to me as their pastor. Believe it. And those are tame in comparison to some other things I could share.
I mention these things only to show how far Christians take the things of God, and turn them into nothing more than a pet ritual, or a religious exercise. Read Jesus rebukes to the Pharisees. He constantly talked to them about their hearts. They focused on the outward ritualistic forms, such as the washing of hands, and standing on the street corners praying, and the temple practices – most of which were originally ordained OF God. But God intended them to be an outward expression of the heart – which is what demonstrative worship is supposed to be. Again – worship it is to be our RESPONSE to God. Not a religious THING we do!
Of course, anytime one talks about this subject, there is a risk, no matter how much is said to the contrary, that people will say that you are teaching that the outward doesn’t matter at all. That is not what I’m saying. I’m saying the inward matters more. I’m saying that unless the inward is adjusted to God, the outward is a facade.
Worship is not something that HAPPENS TO US. It is not something God DOES upon us, to act upon us, to change us. Neither is worship a THING WE DO to, "call down," God. Despite the fact that some people may have indeed had an experience and been touched by God during worship, there is something MORE that is necessary to bring about change and freedom in our lives. There is something MORE about worship itself. And once we realize that, it calls into question the whole idea of whether worship is THE priority for the church.
Christians come into the knowledge of the Truth – into knowing Jesus – by walking by faith, obedience, and surrender. We come under the power of God by coming under the power of the Cross. We must make CHOICES of faith and obedience with regards to LIFE. This is never accomplished during a church service – although sure, we could make the choice there. But the point is, we must live it out in LIFE before the Lord.
I could give extreme examples where demonstrative worship did NOTHING to help people. I have been in groups that spent an hour or more in demonstrative worship before each service – for years -- and yet were, in reality, walking in terrible error. Indeed, some of them were becoming more hardened in it, not less. Some of these groups were cult-like. How could this be? It can be because worship – as a THING we do, even in sincerity – is not equal to having one’s mind renewed, believing and obeying, and most of all, demonstrative worship is not the same as the worship of unconditional surrender of oneself to God. Demonstrative worship is NOT those things, and cannot DO those things. Again – demonstrative worship, if it is of the heart, is a response to God of love, reverence, and adoration. It is not the MEANS.
In the end, worship is not to get things from God – not power and not favor. Worship is giving to God OUR adoration – as the outcome of the fact that we have already given Him ourselves. You can do this by raising your hands, or by sitting there and doing nothing. God looks at the heart – at whether we worship Him in Spirit and Truth.
There are other examples that prove that demonstrative worship does not replace our relationship with Christ, and the Cross, and the MEANS by which God releases in us His power. For instance, I have seen videos of avowed homosexuals with hands raised to God, and tears running down their cheeks. No intention of getting free of their sin, mind you, indeed, some of these deceived people are actually THANKING God for, "making them gay." I have seen videos of same-sex partners doing this, "worshipping," together, with arms around each other. They are convinced that they are right, and believe God has affirmed their sin. They just feel the love of God upon them! Is this worship actually of God? Is this experience real? Is it worship in SPIRIT and in TRUTH? Or is it a worship of worship? Merely an emotional thing?
I want to be fair. God is always trying to set people free, whether it be in a worship service, or at home washing the dishes. He wants free even those who are committed to sinful life-styles. But God will never AFFIRM the lifestyle. He will never accept worship that honors Him with lips, tears, and outward forms. Rather, IF God is doing anything, He is trying to bring them to repentance. But you see, again we come back to the issue of TRUTH. All the worship in the world isn’t going to help us get free if we don’t know the Truth. It is the Truth – Truth embraced, believed, and obeyed – that sets us free. Not standing and crying because we think God has touched us, or because we are deceived into thinking that forgiveness equals license.
The FACT or the ACT of worship cannot replace faith, obedience, and the essential of worshipping God with our lives. It is entirely possible to go to a church service, have a tremendous emotional experience, and for NONE OF IT to be of God. Believe it. It is also entirely possible to have NO emotional experience and be touched by God. Believe it. Of course, it is also possible to be quite emotional because you are touched by God, and have no emotion because you aren’t. The point is this: My reactions are never the test for Truth. Jesus, and the Bible, are that.
Worship is a wonderful expression of our hearts to God – when kept within Biblical guidelines. But the NT does not mandate any certain outward form – except to say that true worshippers much worship God, "in Spirit, and in Truth." Thus, whether we raise our hands, or simply praise God quietly in our hearts, God is primarily after a RELATIONSHIP OF WORSHIP with us that is of the heart.
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