What do I mean by abandonment? I don't mean that each and everyone goes their own way, doing their own thing, playing up their own strengths and showing off - that is chaos, even if it's only musical chaos. What I mean is the ability to be the best and giving the best in worship. There's always this feeling, this atmosphere of holding back, of waiting, of... I'm not sure if you can call it shyness, but something akin to it, in the midst of worship. It's as if we dare not go further, we dare not expose our hearts and souls and emotions to God - or maybe to the people around us?
Because of that, there is no life in our worship. Praise isn't so similarly affected. People (sort of) expect praise songs to be exuberant, loud, joyful. And it is so... but only in a very marginal sort of way. It's as if (and I seem to be using this term a lot) people, even the worship team - or is that especially? - seem to believe that there is this rote form, this style to the worship session. It becomes just that - a form or procedure. It's time to sing. Raise your hands. Sit down now. Stand up now. I'll enjoy the songs (or not). Or maybe I'll criticise the worship leader (or not). And everything seems to hinge on the worship leader.
"Oh, he chose lousy songs." Or "he chose songs I didn't know. I couldn't worship." So what? Maybe you weren't so comfortable with the words or the melody. Maybe you didn't know the song at all. Even so, your heart can still worship even if your lips stumble over the words. It doesn't mean that you then pull back. (On the other hand, not knowing the song is not a good excuse for the worship team. How can you lead people in worship when you yourself do not know what you're singing?)
And because there is no life, no abandonment and no passion, worship is pushed aside as unimportant. It's just the prelude to the Word. Or is it because it is considered unimportant that no one bothers to inject the life of God into it? Yes, there is an emphasis on the word during the service - which is good, and which is right, I am not denying that - but this does not and should not negate the importance of corporate worship in song. (As an aside, considering that generally the word 'worship' is associated with singing, why then is the church service called a "Worship Celebration" when the worship is barely alive, and hardly celebratory?)
Yes, the recently popular catchphrase is that "worship is a lifestyle". It's not just about the songs we sing. It's more than the conventional "singing part of church service". Yet in saying that, we then place no importance at all in the power of corporate worship to change and transform. People may claim that it's only an 'emotional' thing. True - most of it may affect our emotional being more than our mental will or physical being - and yet we ARE emotional beings. Our decisions are coloured by our emotions, and when our emotions are in line with our mental or spiritual will, it is much, much easier to obey and follow God. It doesn't rest on emotions alone, but it is still a very important factor in our total well-being and decision-making.
Another point on emotions - we always talk of the Christian faith as a relationship with God. What is a relationship if there are no emotions involved? How would you express love and devotion, hopes and dreams and fears? Aren't these part of emotions? Isn't part of love really an emotional feeling as well? Worship - whether corporate or private - in song is a way to express this. You know how we criticise those people on Malaysian Idol / American Idol who are so wooden / expressionless in their singing? Someone may have a perfectly good voice, but just because they do not seem to 'express' the song or 'feel' the song, we say that their performance lacks power, lacks presence... there is just something missing, no matter how nice it sounds. This is the same in the worship team. No, it's not a performance, and yet it cannot be dead. It cannot! Worship is an expression. It needs to express. It cannot be hidden or smothered, or made pretty. If it is, it's not worship. It's not praise. It's just... performance, and probably a very bad one at that.
But coming back to the power of corporate worship - if this isn't important, if there is nothing to this, why indeed did Paul urge the Ephesians in Eph 5:19 to "(speak) to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord"? Why are there 150 Psalms (songs) recorded in the middle of the Bible? Remember - Paul and Silas were singing in the prison when God sent an earthquake to shake the foundations of the prison and release them. What did Joshua have the priests do at the walls of Jericho? They were blowing the trumpets before the Lord.
But, if we rank mission over worship or worship over mission, we end up sabotaging both; worship and mission are equally and intrinsically linked. If worship is merely the thing that makes us feel good, feel “full” so we can go and do the important, active stuff, we lose. On the other hand, if mission is the thing that’s flippantly tacked onto our faith, we lose. Either way, our definitions of worship and mission are sickly and insufficient. We are missing the engaging, challenging, and courageous call of the Church to enact both.
(Your Worship Isn't Enough; Trevor & Bonnie McMaken; Relevant Magazine)
There's more to this whole worship thing that we haven't even touched base with. We don't even know what's there to be discovered. Our definition of worship is definitely lacking. And most times, we don't even realise that. We don't feel the ceiling that's over our heads, we don't understand the importance of it, and we don't even see that there is something wanting.
Today, the songs were well chosen. There was flow, there was easy transition, there was a sense that we were moving in a direction, that maybe this would be more than the usual set of songs, that maybe we would really touch God. And then when it could have gone on, when we could have pushed, when we could have built, when it could have peaked, we fell flat again. We hit that invisible ceiling and we plateaued, and we hardly even realised it.
You know what I realised I've been missing? The loud roar of prayer, of singing in tongues, the exuberance of God's people singing and praying at the top of their lungs right in the midst of worship; that wall of praise and the wail of the shofa in Metro Tabernacle. It took some getting used to, but you take it away with you and everything else seems so mousy.