Preparing for Worship: Heart, Mind, and Body
It wasn’t until I began attending college and got involved with a Christian fellowship that I started asking the big questions about the purpose of music in my life of worship. Fast-forward five years. I still don’t have all (or even a minute portion) of the answers to the questions that plague our current culture of worship in the Christian church, but I would love to share a bit of what God has revealed to me about worship over the course of my experience as a music leader in the church.
I think a lovely picture of true worship can be seen in Psalm 34:1-3. This passage shows how worship is the continual act of bringing glory to the Creator of all things; not to be confined to or defined by music.
“I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
My soul will boast in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt his name together.” (Ps. 34:1-3)
Verse 1 says we are to extol the Lord AT ALL TIMES. David doesn’t mince words. He pledges to praise and worship God every second of every day. Frankly, that frightens me. What an intense commitment. There are 24 hours in a day. For (hopefully) 8 of them, I’m sleeping. Should I be singing worship songs in my sleep? How do I even DO that? I know I can’t be the only one feeling overwhelmed by this precedent set in Psalms. I believe Romans 12:1-2 has an answer for the conflict addressed here.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Rom. 12:1-2)
This passage speaks about worship, but it doesn’t mention music. Why? Firstly, and I think most importantly, worship is not reliant on music. Not all worship is music, and while it can be used as a form of worship, the reverse is true too. Not all music is worship either.
We see in Romans 12 that worship isn’t equitable to music, but rather, that worship is the act of “offering our bodies as living sacrifices to God.” When I sat down to really understand this passage of Scripture, I was surprised at the terminology used. Through the lens of Old Testament Scripture, the term “living sacrifice” is confusing and contradictory. A sacrifice was an animal that was killed to atone for the sins of the one sacrificing: an exchange. One life is taken to pay for the new life given (in this case, cleansing from sin).
In this passage, Paul is urging the Romans to be LIVING sacrifices. Before Christ, this would not have made any sense. Obtaining forgiveness required the death of a substitute. Here, Paul is reminding us of Christ’s atoning work for us on the cross. We no longer have to offer a life to God in place of our own to be forgiven because Christ has given His as the ultimate substitute.
While we don’t have to die physically anymore in payment for our sins, Paul is encouraging us to willingly die to self, an act of surrender, because we have already received something we don’t deserve: His mercy in saving us through Jesus Christ. If we have already received the reward, why wouldn’t we gladly offer ourselves in gratitude and love? Laying down our selfish wants and desires, and being obedient to Him with joy is what Paul calls our spiritual act of worship.
The visible, tangible ways we worship then come straight from a heart that is surrendered to God. Obedience to Him is the fruit of being a living sacrifice. If joyful obedience to God is the product of being a living sacrifice, then our worship (offering ourselves as living sacrifices) is everything we do in obedience to Him. The way we extol the Lord at all times is by living in surrender to Him, in obedience every second of every day.
Sometimes this prospect seems about as fun as singing the same song over and over again forever. Boring, predictable, and ultimately just tiresome. Trust me, it’s anything but. Nothing with God is ever remotely predictable. And there is so much joy in obedience. It does require giving up control, but we are giving it up to One who knows better than we—and wants to bless us. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) This doesn’t mean that we won’t have sorrow and challenges in life, but it does mean that our reward is much greater than our trials. Praise God!