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A Heart of Worship

God gave Moses specific instructions for how to lead the people of Israel into honoring Him. In the place of worship, He gave them visuals to help them understand Him - gold and precious stones, robes with intricate designs woven in gold, and light coming from specific directions to highlight important things. There were strong scents from the freshly baked bread, animal sacrifices, smoke, and incense. There were memorable tastes from eating roasted meat (especially when they were in the wilderness and mostly ate manna). Their sense of touch was included with the different textures used throughout - fabric and animal skin and metal and blood. Trumpets were included in their worship. There were singers and and the sounds of animals.

Their worship was a full sensory experience.

Our churches today touch our senses. Most of our modern churches don't burn incense, but my church smells like coffee (yum). We use lights pointed in specific directions at specific times to create an atmosphere of worship. We have stage backdrops and seasonal decorations. We taste communion bread and juice, and feel the textures of our seats, the hands we shake, and the cups we hold. Our worship is loud and skillfully done with excellent musicians. Some churches have stained glass windows that tell the story of our faith. Some churches have large screens with song lyrics and videos of the pastor preaching, and some have hymnals with printed music and their own scents and textures.

I've heard people stand in the lobby and complain about how loud the music is or that the worship director is too boisterous. I've also heard groans when the music director pulls out the old hymns. I've heard so many other complaints that it would be tiresome to list them all here.

We are a nation of people who expect everything to be custom-made for us. We can choose from 100 different options of potato chips in the grocery store and even more online. We don't want to compromise on the church we attend. We're looking for a place that understands exactly what we think, and some of us get quite offended when that changes or isn't quite what we think it should be. Some of us have grown up in one church and never left, so that's what feels right to us. It's hard to worship another way.

The beauty of the Kingdom is that God sees the heart. God exists outside of time, so He knew from the creation of the world that some people would sing worship songs that sound like rock n' roll. God knew midieval Christians would chant, some would sing hymns, some would use instruments, and some would not. I can't imagine He's offended that the music we use in one generation is different from the music used in another. There are probably lyrics He enjoys more than others, but it's the heart of the worshipper that honors Him. Is it more holy to sing the old hymn, "A mighty fortress is our God; a bulwark never failing" than the new praise song, "Hail, hail, Lion of Judah; let the Lion roar"? What IS a bulwark anyway?

Smoke, lights, fancy clothes, and ceremony are the building blocks of our worship. God knows how to put on a good show! The bread in the Temple was called "the show bread". Is it more holy to sing in front of someone directing the congregation like a choir in an acapella hymn than someone pausing from playing guitar to shout into a microphone and raise a hand in worship?

We can have a heart of worship, no matter what type of service we're in. If it's not your style, look for unexpected ways that you can experience God anyway. I grew up in a non-denominational, Charismatic church where things changed regularly. We often visited my grandparents traditional, Mennonite church though, so I learned hymns too. My grandmother always sang hymns while she worked, and I loved to hear her. When I got my first "real" job working for the United Methodists, I was pleasantly surprised to find great beauty in their liturgy. I learned that what I'd always thought to be boring repetition was actually rich with meaning and well-thought out expressions of worship.

I'm convinced that God loves a heart of worship more than any tradition. You can let your heart soar in praise to Him, even in worship environments that are different from what you prefer (as long as they're grounded in God's basic truth from Scripture). If that's really hard for you because of a tradition you grew up in or something you were taught, you can pray and ask God to show you His heart for worship. He can set you free from legalism and fear.

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