My friend had asked me to lead worship at a new mid-week service he had started. I had never done this before in a public setting. Anytime I had led worship, it was privately, among a small group of friends. I agreed, because I sensed God somehow wanted me to do this. Then the thoughts began.
“Who do you think you are…you can’t sing…you’ll make a fool of yourself. everybody will wonder why you are trying to do what, clearly, you are incapable of doing….”
The thoughts grew like a rising wave, as my insecurities multiplied. My fears began to invade my mind, and my emotions. What was I thinking? It was in this groundswell of anxiety and insecurity that another Voice surfaced. This Voice seemed much more kind and wise. Here is what He said.
“Bob, the opposite of worship is self-consciousness”
In that moment my fear surrendered to Perfect Love and my anxiety to Peace. I have no idea if “I” was any good that night. I had become keenly and pervasively aware of Someone else.
Years ago, the religious culture went through this shift about how we worship. At least that is what we called it. We debated about the lifting of hands, and the style of music. We debated about less structured services versus the more traditional hymnal driven service. Isn’t it funny how so much of that debate was really about self-consciousness?
If you were in the midst of that, you might have had these thoughts.
“If I raise my hands, will people think I am weird?” or “I feel more comfortable with being still”, or “I really prefer a more reverent stance.” or even worse, “what are those people doing…they are just drawing attention to themselves!”
Do you see how everyone of those thoughts is an expression of self-consciousness? The irony is that we all believed we were discussing worship.
Most often, when the Bible refers to “worship”, music isn’t even a part of the reference. The word literally means to bow, or prostrate yourself. Keep in mind that if you are bowing, or laying down, and thinking the whole time about how others might think, or even about what a good worshipper you are, you are still SELF-conscious. The bowing may not even refer to your physical body, but to your SELF. To reduce your focus on yourself, and heighten your focus on God. Now this is worship.
If this is true, you can worship at any moment in any situation, whether or not your iPod is near. If your stereo is broken, or you cannot find your favorite worship CD, you can change what it is you are paying attention to. You can lay down your mind, your emotions, or your will and turn your eyes and heart toward the One who is the Origin and End of your life.
Sunday morning arrived and I was in pain. Over the years a variety of injuries had left my back and shoulders completely out of alignment. I saw friends, and gathered my family to our seats, but the whole time, my back was screaming at me for attention. When I got to my seat the pain began to dominate my focus. Sharp, stabbing pain driving into my neck, and under my skull. This was a bad day, I began to ask God to take my pain away.
The song service began and we were singing a song, written by a friend. The lyrics were Psalm 103.
Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits —
3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases…
I was aware that some of the language was about healing, and I began to ask even more fervently, “God please heal my pain…” My thoughts, my attention all my focus was on my pain. Then I heard that familiar Voice again.
Here is what I heard,”You are focusing on the wrong part of the Psalm, stop focusing on healing and right now tell your pain to praise me:
I was so surprised. I did not know until that moment how much I was focused on myself. Pain will do that you know. Remember, whatever you seek first, whatever you focus on gains power in your life. And I had heard people to say “Praise God for your trials, or for your suffering” but this was different. God was telling me, to tell my soul, the pain itself to praise Him.
I shifted. I immediately told my pain to praise the Source of all that is. I stopped letting it tell me what to focus on, and I told it Who to focus on. Immediately the pain subsided. Or should I say submitted. In that moment pain ceased to occupy a place of worship in my life. Before, I had bowed to it. Now, my pain began to take its rightful place in worship of the Alpha and the Omega. And pain did what anything and everything does when God is given His rightful place. It surrendered. Relief was immediate.
This is not a post about healing. It is a post about worship. The greatest obstacle to our true worship is our concern with ourselves. The greates obstacle to God’s work in our lives is also our concern for our lives. Whether we are overly pleased with ourselves, or ashamed of ourselves, either way, the posture that will restore the rule of God in your experience is when our posture gives way to His presence.
Look up, instead of around. You will not be able to stop yourself from thinking differently.