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The message this morning at Christian Challenge was all about worship. It was really good… and it is making me re-think a couple of things.

I came out of a manipulative church where people were judged by externals. Worship & altar ministry were super-emotional, super-hyped-up experiences. It wasn’t unusual for the leaders to ‘whip things up’ and give directions during the worship time. (For example, when they say stuff like “Everyone raise your hands,” “Let me hear you shout,” or “Get out into the aisles and dance.”) In a manipulative church, if you didn’t follow the directions, look happy enough, shout loud enough, jump high enough, etc, you were in rebellion or (at least) on a lower level spiritually than those who did. So now, even when the direction given isn’t nearly as extreme and the environment isn’t nearly as judgmental, there’s a part of me that gets very defensive / suspicious whenever any directions like that are given. I just cringe.

But I’m not in a place like that now. I trust my pastor, and I know that he wouldn’t try to manipulate our emotions. Yet I have to admit that this morning when he taught about worship, I was still a little uncomfortable when he told the congregation to lift our hands. I understood that he was giving more of a gentle suggestion than a judgmental direction (he even said, “if you’re comfortable, lift your hands…”), but it still felt a little awkward to me at first. I hesitated, but I did lift my hands — and even tho I was “following directions,” it was also an appropriate response in that situation (singing about surrender) and it wound up being a positive thing. When I began to participate physically (by lifting my hands), it helped me focus on what I was doing and why… and the worship was actually more real to me.

So why was this morning “real” while many past experiences seemed so plastic and fake?

First… I think the teaching helped. Everyone comes to church with their own concept of what “good worship” should look like. Those ideas are colored by past experience and style preferences… things that usually have nothing at all to do with the true definition of worship. Clearing out all that clutter helps a lot. To be perfectly honest, the style of worship at my church is not my first preference… and sometimes I have used that as an excuse to be more of an observer than a participant. The message this morning challenged that mindset.

Second… I truly understood that while I was being challenged to do some specific things, there would be no penalty for NOT doing them. If I had just stood there and NOT raised my hands, NOT clapped – even if I didn’t sing a single note – there would be no disapproving glances or warnings that I needed to shape up. It is much easier be genuine when you know you’re not being judged… and worship should never be about putting on a show for someone else’s benefit. It’s about you & God.

Third… there is a difference between giving advice and making demands. Because I’ve had bad experiences in the past, I tend to see all worship-related direction as a demand… but now I’m learning to see it more like advice or encouragement. And I say “learning” because I know that I still have a long way to go :)

And there’s still plenty more for me to chew on from this morning :) There might be another blog post coming…

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