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Freedom in Worship (Devotion)

Freedom in Worship (Devotion)

By George Lim on January 14, 2013

I’m in an unfamiliar season in my life.  My family and I recently transitioned out of a fellowship where we served for several years in the worship ministry.  As some may be able to relate, when you are accustomed to “leading worship” every week and then go solely to a congregant being led in worship, it changes things.  I’d like to be transparent for a moment with hopes of ministering to some.

Most of us lead worship with an attitude of excellence, pouring our hearts into selecting, arranging, and executing the songs, desiring to see the people we love enter into genuine Spirit-filled worship.  Through prayer, private devotional time, and practice, we walk into church ready to engage with God.  And maybe it was unique to me, but there were many times when I led worship and it seemed like no one was engaging. 

This is when discouragement, bitterness, and pride set in (Again, I’m attempting to be honest with my personal experiences.).  Thoughts of, “What’s wrong with this church” or “These people don’t know how to worship” would run rampant in my mind.  The Elijah-complex would rise up and I began feeling like the only spiritual one in the room.  Sure, there were other times of wonderful praise, but these less active moments quickly erased the aforementioned.  I would leave church puzzled at this.

Now fast-forward to the present.  As I now participate in worship from a congregant standpoint, I myself am having a difficult time engaging.  It has truly been a real battle. 

At the core, it has to do with my own inner struggles and growing process, but it brings up a question that I may not have been considering previously.  “What if, when I led worship, those who appeared to be spectators instead of worshipers, were going through the very same struggles I currently am?”  Now struggles don’t excuse us from participating, for we know God is worthy of our worship and we have a responsibility to respond to Him.  It is wonderful when are able to easily enter into this; but, as none of us have this perfected, we must admit there are seasons, for whatever reason, when this is harder to accomplish than others.  I was and still am in one of those seasons.

I thought I had solved the problem a few weeks ago.  In my systematic theology class we began to study the aspect of musical worship in the church.  We considered Heb 4:16.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.

In our studies, we used this verse to remind us that because of Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross, we have bold, uninhibited access to the throne of God; something no person had prior to Calvary.  I coupled this with one of my favorite verses, Ps 122:1.

I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the house of the LORD!

My thought process went something like this.  “Wow, David was so excited to worship and he wasn’t allowed into the throne room.”  By the blood of Jesus I can worship in a place David couldn’t.  If David was excited and able to engage from a distance, how much more should I be able to?”  So I applied this along with the other points we studied (which I have no room for) and the following Sunday my worship time was sweet! 

Here’s the thing, it didn’t work the following week.  That next week I tried to muster up all my worship theology and could not bring myself to the same level.  Was there something wrong with what I had studied?  Absolutely not!  All those things are true: God is worthy, we have amazing access under the new covenant, and we have the privilege and responsibility to offer worship to God.  So, what happened?  While I believe it was necessary for me to learn and experience those principles, I also believe God is not into gimmicks.

As I’ve been internally wrestling through the worship time in church I’ve felt alone, unworthy, a failure, and judged.  The negative adjectives could go on.  In clarification, these feelings had nothing to do with the amazing and loving body I am currently a part of; they were my own personal struggles.  If I didn’t feel my heart breaking, an overflowing joy, or I didn’t lift my hands (and I’m a hand-lifter), I felt like there was something spiritually wrong with me. 

Then I said to myself, “I wish I could just worship however I wanted.”  Now, I am in no way saying that theologically, but more in regards to expression.  I wished I didn’t feel obligated to respond to preconceived manners I had in my head.  I wanted to sit at the feet of Jesus and adore Him without the pressures of “expression”.  I wanted to be free.  Then it hit me:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. – 2Cor 3:17

God wasn’t expecting me to respond in a certain way, so why was I expecting myself to?  The freedom I longed for I already had.  No one was judging me, if anything, there were probably other people fighting the very same battle!  I was doing this to myself.   

When I realized I was free to worship however I wanted, my heart overflowed.  Then it dawned on me, nothing genuine comes out of obligation.  Liberty births love.  Is not this one of the essences of the plan of redemption? 

God, in His foreknowledge, saw the fall; yet, He went through with creating man with liberties.  Despite knowing Adam would sin as a result of those liberties and not wanting to create obedient robot-like humans, He became the “Lamb that was slain before the foundations of the Earth,” preserving our ability of choice.  The love that God sought was a love of choice, not of obligation. 

If that were true with salvation, why wouldn’t it be with praise and worship?  Therefore, freedom is crucial to genuine worship.  People must be free to choose if we are to foster an atmosphere and a culture of pure worship. Our fellowships must become places operating from the overflow of our heart, rather than the obligation of expression.

As a former worship leader, I think about how I have been guilty of judging people’s “expressions” when God was looking at their heart.  I’m all for exhorting and teaching our fellowships how to worship.  I believe it is something that can be developed, but we also need to facilitate freedom.  Let’s take away any man-made expectations and invite people to come freely.

Worshiper, you are free to express glorifying God however you choose, whether you sit, sing, dance, or lift your hands.  As long as you are engaging in genuine worship, you are blessing the God who loves you with an everlasting love.  I pray we can remember that, as worship leaders and as worshipers.

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George Lim

George Lim (Guest Writer)

George has been involved in worship and youth ministries for the past 6 years. He is currently finishing up his Bachelor's in Biblical Studies and plans to enter a Graduate Theology program next year. He and his wife, Janelle, have three sons: George, Kade, and Nole. They recently moved to Escondido, CA where they attend Cross Connection Escondido. They are also planning on church planting but are waiting on the Lord's timing.

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