- 2004 28 Oct
It was a hot and humid Sunday morning. Sweat was pouring down my face and the service hadn’t even begun. The congregation was gathering, but as I looked to the front of the church I was perplexed to see no drums, no amps, no keyboards. There weren’t even any microphones or speakers set up. I wondered how on Earth we were going to worship. And then it began. A loud voice pierced the silence and instantly all the people were on their feet singing their hearts out. The harmonies and melodies that filled the air created the most beautiful sound. The joy and heartfelt adoration on the faces of the congregation was infectious. I wanted what they had.
People were wholeheartedly consumed with their Savior. They had a joy and contentment that made me envious. Yet when I looked at their surroundings I was confused. The church of the Prince of Peace is based in the township of Inanda, Durban, South Africa. The people of this township live in extreme poverty. AIDS is rife, and pain and suffering are part of everyday life. Surely their songs should be those of lament and pain, not joy and celebration? It took awhile to sink in, but as the service progressed, the reason for their joy struck me. They had encountered the Lord Jesus. They knew where they had come from and they were well aware of their present, but ultimately they understood where they were going. They understood completely that Jesus was enough. Whatever life threw at them, it couldn’t rob them of the glorious riches of knowing God and being known by Him. They would always have reason to praise. That Sunday morning I learned an invaluable lesson about worship. Worship is not about songs or music. Worship is all about Jesus.
In the West we are so driven and ambitious. Everything is about getting results and making things happen. The primary focus is on gifting—if you’re clever then you’ll achieve; if you’re beautiful then you’ll be favored. As humans we have become self-obsessed. Every day we live to impress others and earn respect. The gospel, however, turns this way of life on its head. Until we surrender our rights and die to ourselves, we can achieve nothing. As Jesus said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39). The beauty of the gospel is that we cannot earn our salvation. We can work forever and a day and still never earn a moment of God’s grace. The first thing God calls us to do is to watch Him—to gaze into His eyes and behold His greatness.
My family had a tradition that I hated. Regularly we would invite guests for Sunday lunch. After the meal my two brothers and I would clear away and wash up, while my parents and the guests sat down for coffee. Every Sunday without fail one of my brothers would seem to desperately need to use the bathroom after the meal. Apparently, he couldn’t wait, so while we washed and dried the dishes, that brother would sit on the toilet. This always wound me up, but the thing that made me cross was when he would wander through with a really smug look on his face just as we were about to finish. Perhaps it’s because of these Sunday afternoons that I can relate to Mary and Martha’s encounter with Jesus!
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).
It’s not every day that the Savior of the world pops in for tea. Mary and Martha must have been very excited. Straightaway Martha swings into action and exerts herself in all the preparations at hand. While she’s rushing around doing all the work, her sister, Mary, just sits at Jesus’ feet hanging on His every word. Surely Mary is in the wrong here. Isn’t she being selfish and lazy? Eventually Martha loses her cool and turns to Jesus for help. Her question is brilliantly crafted and deserving of all the sympathy and respect in the world: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?”
The answer Martha received must have taken her by surprise. Jesus tenderly points out that she missed the point. The key word in this passage is “distracted”: “But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Martha thought she was doing the right and honorable thing. There was work to be done and she was going to do it. By working hard, she would demonstrate to Jesus how much she loved Him.
However, Jesus did not desire this from her. He desired Martha’s intimacy—her company. In this short story, it was Mary who chose the right thing—the one thing that was needed most. She sat at Jesus’ feet and enjoyed spending time with Him, learning from Him and discovering more about Him. Jesus was delighted by this response. Mary chose to watch and fix her gaze on Jesus before she chose to work.
As worship leaders, we must take note of this lesson. We are very good at doing things—organizing events, planning services and attending prayer meetings. These tasks and events are important and worthy, but they must never come at the expense of knowing God. Recently I had a few days to spend time with the Lord. I was so excited about this chance to escape and spend some quality time alone, but as I sat down on the first morning I was surprised at how hard I found it to settle down. My mind buzzed around with all the things I had to do, and I put off reading and praying by finding other tasks I felt were more important.
After a while I realized that, like Martha, I was “distracted” by things of lesser importance. Eventually I managed to still myself and was refreshed as I sat at Jesus’ feet.
Before we play our songs and commit to serving Jesus, we need to adore and cherish him. Sometimes amid the pressure to succeed we lose this focus. A passage of Scripture that expresses beautifully the heart of a radical worshiper is found in Psalm 27:4:
One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.
If you are involved in leading worship or playing in a worship team, the most important thing you can do to be effective in your ministry is to seek after God, to chase after a glimpse of His glory. Desire this first, before you learn to grow in your musicality and leadership skills.
Worship is our highest calling. There is nothing in this life that we can do of more importance. On this theme, John Piper says:
Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When the age is over, and countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.1
When that day comes, and we behold the Lord in all His glory, we will worship and praise Him forever. That is what we have been created for. We have been designed by God for this sole purpose. It is our duty and joy to worship God. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus responded to the question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (22:36), by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (vv. 37-38). This is why Jesus rejoiced so in Mary’s response to Him. She didn’t give her offerings of prepared food or gifts; instead, she gave all she had—herself. This is the worship that Jesus requires. Singing songs to God isn’t enough; that in itself is not worship. Worship involves offering to God all that we are and all that we’ll be—offering our heart, soul and mind.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul says, “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” (12:1). We must remind ourselves that worship is our all-consuming response to God. It affects the way we live. When we live life in the knowledge that all we do is worship, we change.
For three years I studied history at Sheffield University in Great Britain. I have to be honest and say that I found my studies pretty boring. I was not the most enthusiastic member of my class. However, I remember being really challenged by a verse in 1 Corinthians that says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (10:31). It dawned on me that when writing an essay I should be doing it for God’s glory. Even something as dull and boring as a history essay can be an act of worship. In fact, all that we do should be to the glory of God, including our words, deeds and choices. For this reason worship also involves serving and loving others.
When Jesus talked about the greatest commandment, He then moved on to talk about the second commandment, which is like the first, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). We first worship the Lord and then from that place we look to love those around us. We cannot worship if we don’t also serve.
Worship pours from the overflow of our hearts. If you squeeze an orange, out of it will come orange juice. If you squeeze your heart, what will flow out? Will it be a love for yourself? Will it be your love for a pop band, a football team, a girlfriend or a boyfriend? Will it be your passion for Jesus? We all worship. Humans have been created to worship. The big question is: who or what will we worship? John Wimber once said, “Our heart’s desire should be to worship God; we have been designed by God for this purpose. If we don’t worship God, we’ll worship something or someone else.” If Jesus isn’t the number one priority in our lives, we will never fully worship Him. We certainly won’t be moved to share the love of Jesus with others.
Awhile back I was on a plane heading to Los Angeles. As I sat there trying to keep myself amused, I noticed that a few rows in front of me was Chris Martin, the lead singer of the band Coldplay. I have to admit I was star struck. I watched everything he did: how he ate his croissant, how he talked to the cabin crew and how he listened to his Walkman. As soon as I stepped off the plane I told all my friends about this amazing encounter. I’m embarrassed to say that I got quite carried away. My eyes had seen someone famous and I wanted the world to know.
When our eyes truly see Jesus and our hearts comprehend His life-changing love, we will not be able to contain ourselves from telling others about Him. It will burst forth from within us. I’ve sat in so many meetings where we’ve been exhorted to get out there and tell the world about Jesus; to go and serve; to demonstrate the love of God. If we spend our day caring for others, meeting people’s needs and serving communities purely because of guilt, we will be far less effective than if we go out and serve because we are so in love with Jesus—then we will see the world changed.
Jesus has to be at the center of our worship. When Mother Teresa was asked how she went about each day, she said, “Each morning I meditate on Jesus. I then go and look for him in disguise.” This is how we should worship. We first look to Jesus, and then we look to love him among the poor and broken. As Bishop Graham Cray said, “Worship without mission is self-indulgent. Mission without worship is self-defeating.”2
If our worship and adoration of Jesus doesn’t lead us to the poor or into the streets, then it’s purely self-indulgent. On the other hand, if we try and reach the world in our own strength we will see little fruit. Our love for others and desire to serve has to come from our overwhelming love for Jesus. True worship means that in everything we do, we do it for Jesus.
You call us first to love Your name,
To worship You.
To please Your heart our one desire,
If there’s one thing we are called to do,
It’s to love You, to adore You.
We will bring our all and worship You,
Bow before You, as we love You.
Your honor, Lord, Your name’s renown
We long to see.
So let the glory of Your name
Tim Hughes, whose song “Here I Am To Worship” was awarded the 2003 Dove Award for “Worship Song of the Year,” currently lives in London, England, leading worship for Soul Survivor, an international youth outreach movement that exists to ignite passion and purpose in the next generation.
Excerpted from Here I Am To Worship: Never Lose the Wonder of Worshiping the Savior, © 2004 by Tim Hughes. Published by Regal Books, www.regalbooks.com. Used by permission. All rights reserved.