Worship, Keeping the Fire
Worship --- Keeping the Fire Burning
Isn't There More to Life Than This?
Isn't there more to church life than what I'm experiencing now? Many who love Jesus have asked this question at one time or another. Once we've been around the church for a while, the services sometimes have a tendency to get a little stale. How do we keep experiencing that love and excitement that we once had?
After leading worship for a while, I've noticed that many who are gathered look just a little bored. Sure, you can't tell what's really going on inside each person, but my guess is that many would rather be doing something 'useful'.
When the music is upbeat and the people are enthusiastic, it feels good to be a part of it. But I suspect there are some times when some of us would probably look forward more to going to a concert with our favorite musicians than to the next worship meeting. I have watched some rock concert videos and noticed the crowds getting totally involved and exhibiting more enthusiasm than many who profess to be meeting with the King of kings! Don't we have more to shout about? It seems that there is something missing.
What is it that keeps us fresh week after week, year after year? Is it new songs, better arrangements, more skilled musicians, 'more active dancing', louder sound systems? Or is it new worship styles which include all the senses, sights, sounds and smells, maybe recapturing some of the historical practices like incense or ancient music? Maybe a change of church would help. There is always some church across town that seems to be attracting more of 'my kind of people'.
Isn't it Just a Choice?
We're often told that worship is a choice. This often works, but what happens when even choosing doesn't do it for us?
I've discovered that working on the outward forms of worship, although helpful, can never take the place of making sure my heart is continually rekindled with a fresh, blossoming love for God. If I want to keep my worship fresh, then my heart must be kept alive with fresh love. My love for God is to be like a fire:
"For love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame." Song of Songs 8:6
When my heart has grown a little cold, no amount of choosing to get into 'worship' will light thatfire. It just seems to become more fake and superficial as time goes on and nothing is changing.
Stoke the Fire
I was camping with my family a while back and one of the joys of being away from the home comforts is building a campfire. Our hearts are like that campfire. If we don't occasionally throw logs on the fire slowly dies. When it settles, we put on a couple of logs, but nothing much happens for a little while. If we blow on the existing embers under the logs, suddenly it bursts into flame and burns brightly for a time. If we leave a fire by itself, it burns, then glows, then fades and eventually dies right out. We're left with black ashes, sometimes a little unburnt wood that escaped the heat. No flames, just the memory of what it used to be like, the warmth long gone.
As committed followers of Jesus, perhaps the biggest danger we face is not falling back into a life of sin, but continuing going to church while our love for God slowly fades. We become like the Pharisees in Jesus' time. We just grow cold ever so slowly. We can be faithful and persevere through all kinds of hardships, even staying true to our loyalty to Him, but if we don't throw logs on thefire of our love, it fades. It's a slow fading that's almost unnoticeable. That's why it is so dangerous. It is the enemy's ploy to draw us away from God. He knows he can't easily tempt us quickly away with things of the world. We have mostly learnt that those things don't satisfy. We fall for the lie that as long as we stay loyal in a church body we will be OK. But faithfulness is not enough! When we face the Lord at judgment day, I don't think he'll ask us whether we've been loyal to a church or homegroup. he'll ask us, "Do you love me?"
Know God Better
A while back I felt God challenge me with this question, "Kevin, what are you doing to get to know me better?" Wow, what a question! So I searched for an answer. Well, I thought, I read and study the Bible, but then I realized that I spend most the time studying the Bible to prepare to teach others. Well then, I pray, sometimes. Oh dear, I guess I pray for things I need, for success in ministry and for others. It looks like, Lord, that I'm not actually doing anything right now to get to know you better. I had trouble believing it was true, but it was. I could feel the heart of God saying, "Won't you just spend some time with me, without thinking about ministry and others".
I was reading in the book of Revelation where the angel speaks to the seven churches. I got to the second chapter, to the church at Ephesus. Even though it was spoken to a church a long time ago, I felt the words were speaking directly to me. "I know your works". I thought, cool, God sees my hard work for him. I continued to read. God sees my patience, my perseverence --- it felt good to know that God sees that I've served him in missions for so long. But then it said "You've left your first love". It hit me that my love for God had grown cold. Sure I'd been faithful, but I had to conclude that if I wasn't doing anything to get to know Him better, then my love was indeed growing cold.
Around that time, I met some people who loved Jesus more than I did --- don't you just hate that!! It's so convicting, but then, in a funny kind of way, it gives us hope. I realize that there's more I can learn, that a deeper relationship with God is possible. If they have found it, so can I. What would I think if I was married but my wife and I were not growing in our relationship, we were stuck at the same level of love for one another?
If you're married or hope to be in the future, then you're probably like me in that we would want to grow in our love for our partner. Most marrieds will tell you that it doesn't just happen, it takes work to keep that love growing. If we don't put effort into getting closer, then we will begin to slowly drift apart, there's no middle ground. I have heard of couples who have been married for more than 25 years getting divorced. How could this happen? Don't they love one another more as time goes on? Unfortuneately not! If the fire is not stoked it will cool down gradually, sometimes without noticing and eventually go out. How sad! But it often happens in marriage and it also happens with our relationship with God.
We either push further in our relationship, or we end up trying to live on the past memories of His love. We can easily fall into dry religious patterns of worship that fail to satify the deep longings of the heart. We sing the songs but the fun has gone out of it and it gets boring. We keep it up because deep down we know it's the right thing to do. We occasionally have fun with cool music and a hyped up crowd, but it doesn't last very long. When we lie down to sleep at night, we find we are just as empty. It just wasn't like it used to be. It's a sure sign, we are getting religious!! Our hearts are growing cold.
But any person or group that puts real effort into getting to know Jesus and his love, will begin to discover life, creativity and joy in their expressions of praise and worship. More skilled musicians will give you better music, but that's all it is, better music. But when a group of people stoke the fires of love for Jesus, then their worship takes on new life, greater passion, and there's no place for boredom in this kind of atmosphere.
Kevin Norris 2009