Take away from Me the noise of your songs, For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. 24 But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream. (Amos 5:23-24 NKJV)
There are moments in time — I call them open soul moments — where something so significant happens; it feels as though heaven itself is peering into your soul, depositing something of eternity. Time stands still as you absorb the backdrop of details surrounding the moment. These details are etched into the fabric of lives often to be retrieved by a single thread of memory at a later time: the recollection of a feeling, sighting an item of clothing worn on that day, seeing the same landmark or the familiar scent in the air. Even the change in season can bring back a rush of memories that draws you back to a specific moment in time.
One of these open soul moments happened for me in January 2008. Newly married, my husband and I ventured off to South Ballina on the East Coast of Australia to camp with some friends.
At the time, my husband and I were leading the worship team in our local church, and as a team, our hearts were set on bringing God something of worth. We were writing songs, spending time in free worship and devoting time to sharpen our skills. The problem was I’d come to the point where I had a growing suspicion that ‘worship’ had little to do with music and songs.
While the boys went off for a surf, I set up under a tree to begin my devotions. As I came across this verse in Amos, it was glaringly obvious that my suspicions were correct.
The Message makes it even clearer.
“I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image-making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.”
As someone currently investing hours each week building a team to lead people in worship, I felt we were wasting our time. Potentially we were wasting the time of our team and potentially the time of our church too.
How did we get so misguided? Spending so much time offering God what we thought He wanted when biblically He didn’t seem too fussed on songs. Should we stop singing and start helping people practically instead? Was this real worship?
The revelation sunk in like a pebble dropping in a still lake. Each ripple brought up more questions.
What did God want from us?
Could it be possible that we were giving our lives for something that didn’t matter?
What are we all doing week in and week out?! And Why had I not seen this before?
Since the first night, I’d encountered the presence of God I was consumed with worship. The growth of the team spiritually and practically was my constant muse. Yet here on this humidly hot summer day, I was confronted by the fact that potentially I was building something that God wasn’t interested in.
Gut-wrenching repentance overwhelmed me—sorrow for getting it so wrong.
The passage revealed a chasm between our words and our actions. How could we say we loved Jesus yet ignored humanity? What we were doing was not ‘worship.’ But what was worship? What should we be doing instead? Should we cancel worship on Sunday? Based on this passage, it didn’t seem like God was interested in our songs. I allowed my imagination to pose some ideas.
Perhaps it was more of a redefining of worship? Instead of cancelling worship perhaps when the worship leader welcomed people and explained we were going to ‘enter a time of worship’ they could ‘lead worship’ by putting on a high visibility vest, gloves and work gear getting ready to go out serve the community. The congregation would follow by getting themselves ready, and together they would leave the church building to do something worthwhile: helping people, showing the love of Christ, being the hands and feet of Jesus.
The time of ‘worship’ would be a time for practical acts of service. Gardening for the elderly, painting, being kind, visiting the sick, reaching those who didn’t know Jesus yet while expecting nothing in return. After this ‘time of worship,’ the congregation would return to the church building, take off their high vis jackets and settle in to hear the preaching of the Word. This would be a service where we didn’t ‘waste time’ singing songs and instead brought true worship to God. Based on the passage in Amos, this seemed like a more accurate ‘time of worship.’
My limited years of leadership told me this wouldn’t last long. This kind of worship wouldn’t appeal to the masses. Singing a few songs every Sunday seems more convenient, less costly. Could it be that we were singing songs for our benefit and not for God’s?
As I wrestled this out, as I suggest you do, while I was open to getting rid of songs forever, I realised the power of a song in reviving the heart. To send people out to be the hands and feet of Jesus without them first coming before Him face to face would leave them burnt out, discouraged, and likely to give up. On the other hand, to have people singing songs each week, beholding His magnificence without ever seeking to love others would see them becoming ‘fat Christians.’ Self-seeking people caught up in a bubble of misguided truth.
It was a tension to manage. We cannot have worship without justice, and we cannot have justice without worship.
To worship in ‘spirit and in truth’ is a whole-body experience. If our daily lives are not reflecting our love for others, then as we sing, we do not carry this revelation. Whatever happens in our unseen life of worship overflows in our congregational worship.
The first step is searching for truth. The second is allowing that truth to permeate your life, your actions matching up with what you believe, bringing congruency and authenticity in your worship and thus the overflow of the offering you bring.
This open soul moment was one that drove me to search for the meaning of true biblical worship. During that camping trip in 2008, I wrote down for the first time what I believed about worship.
Without an accurate idea of what we believe now, we cannot chart our course forward. As we pause here, I’d encourage you to take stock of what you currently believe about worship.
What is worship and where did this concept come from?
8 He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?
New King James Version (NKJV)