Category Archives: Worship

New songs and your supernatural goals

new-beginningsThere are two kinds of new songs: re-treads and originals. Which one is your soul singing?

Psalm 149:1 exhorts us: “Sing to the Lord a new song” but what exactly does that mean? Does it mean learning the latest Hillsong or Bethel tunes, or finding a contemporary way to sing the old hymns, or is it something more?

It’s okay to sing re-treads. It is good and helpful to re-package classic hymns for a new generation, and it can always be helpful to revisit the songs that sustained our soul in the past; however, those songs aren’t original. They aren’t truly new.

A new song is a song that flows out of a new encounter with God; new songs follow the fulfillment of our supernatural goals.

This month at Grace Church we are setting some supernatural goals—we are asking God to do some things in our lives that are beyond our natural ability to accomplish. We fully intend to change our lives via the strength and ability of our humanness, but we are also looking for something much greater than that. We want some new encounters with God that generate new songs and new expressions of praise.

Remembering the past is a crucial part of the Christian life. God constantly reminds us of yesterday to encourage us for today, but He is not stuck in our yesterday. Yesterday’s faithfulness is following us into today, and it will still be waiting for us tomorrow.

I wish I knew what new songs you will be singing at the end of 2017. They probably haven’t been written yet, but they will be. Whether your supernatural goals occur exactly as you want or not, there will be new things worth celebrating and singing about.

Worth-ship: understanding true worship

WorshipWhy worship? Why does the Bible so frequently tell us to engage in the art and practice of worship? Why is worship such an important arrangement between God and His followers?

And while we’re asking questions, what is worship? Is it singing? Shouting? Kneeling? Meditating? What does it mean to truly worship God? Is worship something that we do at church, or is it something we should be doing on our own? Do we do it for a few minutes during private devotional moments, or can we do it all throughout our days?

Why is worship such a big deal?

Three thoughts: first, of all worship at its simplest level can be defined as worth-ship, the ascription of worth. When we worship—whether we’re worshipping at church, a concert, a basketball game, in nature, or elsewhere—we are ascribing worth to the object that has captivated our soul. This leads to the second thought: we worship because we were created to worship; we are worshippers in the depths of our being.

Worship isn’t a church thing; it’s a human thing. Whether you are religious or not, worship is a part of your life. There is always something in our lives to which we ascribe ultimate worth or value. It can be a relationship, an object, our God, or even ourselves, but regardless of what it is we worship it. We prioritize it and ascribe ultimate worth to it.

Third, God asks us to worship Him because it is the healthiest, most logical thing for worshippers to do. Since we are worshippers innately, God asks us to direct that worship at the most life-giving of sources, Him. He’s not an egotist; He doesn’t need our worship. He’s not up in heaven hearing our praise songs and saying, “Tell me more!” Worship connects us to our purpose—remember we are worshippers—and it connects us to God, the ultimate source of worth. Thus postured—worshippers worshipping the ultimate source of worth—we begin to touch true life.

The Audience or the Conductor?

symphonyWhose eye does an elite orchestral musician most want to catch, the audience’s or the conductor’s?

For a brilliant symphony musician, audience applause is a desired outcome, but it is not the central aim. The focus is on following the conductor’s lead. What would happen to a violinist or a cellist who gazed at the crowd while missing the conductor’s cue? Were that to become a common occurrence their career would undoubtedly be short-lived.

Musicians hope for applause but they follow the maestro regardless of how the audience responds. If the house is silent they keep playing as they’re led, and if ovations become deafening they do the same.

For followers of Jesus our mindset should match that of the orchestral musicians. We want to win and draw and move as many people as possible, but our ultimate goal is to please the one who called us.

The love, favor, and acclaim of men and women can be wonderfully fun and affirming, but it can never replace God’s “Well done good and faithful servant.”

Whose applause are we working for? Whose “well done” do we crave? Is our gaze fixed upward toward an audience of one or are we looking to every passing face to find our approval and worth?

It isn’t easy to secure this kind of focused devotion, but it is worth the effort. When heaven affirms you its effects will touch and heal the deepest recesses of your soul.

How to have a spiritual retreat

spiritual retreatJesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray.” (Luke 5:16)

If Jesus did it shouldn’t we?

If the Lord Himself “often” withdrew for prolonged seasons of connecting with God through prayer then shouldn’t those of us who follow Him make time for spiritual retreats too?

If you’ve ever done it—if you’ve ever carved out an afternoon or a day (or longer) for the sole purpose of focused worship, Bible meditation, and prayer—then you know how healing, centering, and inspiring those times can be.

Focused times of spiritual engagement can restore our perspective, clarify our purpose, and reconnect us with the presence of God.

I want you to experience this. At Grace Church this year, we are going to set a goal to have every member of our congregation experience a personal spiritual retreat.

Here are a few practical pointers to get you started:

  1. Start small and build from there. Don’t start with a week-long silent retreat at a monastery—start with an afternoon at the beach or in the desert, and branch out from there.
  2. Choose a setting that you find peaceful, beautiful, and calming.
  3. Don’t fast. Hunger pangs will distract you from what you’re there to do. Fast on a different day.
  4. Start with worship. As you walk along the beach or a mountain path, sing along with some worship songs on your iPod. Worship restores perspective, heals emotions, and invites a closer sense of the Lord’s presence.
  5. Pray the Scriptures. Pick a few psalms and use them as a road map for a time of focused prayer. Slow, thoughtful prayers through a handful of psalms can easily fill an hour of time.
  6. Pray about everything that’s weighing on you. Make sure everything on your various prayer lists gets off loaded onto God.
  7. Get ready to listen. As you pray, prepare to journal the thoughts, impressions, and insights that come your way.
  8. Don’t read spiritual books—stick with the Bible. Skip the latest spiritual bestseller and instead read multiple Bible passages or an entire book of the Bible, recording your major observations or anything that you sense could be a “word” for you from the Lord.
  9. Don’t be disappointed if nothing dramatic happens. Sometimes a spiritual retreat is a simple discipline without a lot of immediate fruit. However…
  10. Don’t be surprised if God changes your life. Your time away with God could quite possible become a holy moment like when Moses saw a fiery bush, turned aside to see, and was forever and completely changed. (Exodus 3:1-6)

Nothing good happens after midnight (unless it’s this)

streetlightA parenting coach once remarked about curfews: “Nothing good happens after midnight.”

It’s probably good advice since most deviant behavior occurs in the late night hours when shops are closed, streets are empty, and everything is cast in shadow. However, what do you do when it isn’t a curfew you’re discussing but your life? What do you do when you’re in a midnight season of life and no matter how much you look for it you can’t find any evidence of a sunrise?

That’s the state of many people in our country today. From economic woes to international crises to general feelings of instability, a bleak outlook on the future seems to be the norm.

It’s hard to see a lot of good after midnight…unless it’s something like this.

In Acts 16 Paul and Silas found themselves locked in the inner cell of a prison with their feet painfully chained up in the stocks, and in verse 25 it says: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.”

That’s a powerful sentence: “About midnight they were praying and singing to God.”

The safest, most powerful place to be at midnight is in the place of worship and prayer. That’s where locked doors burst open, inhibiting chains fall apart, and the darkness of midnight gives way to the morning sun.

Midnight prayer and worship sessions always end with a sunrise.

Curing poor I-sight

VisionLasik eye surgery in 1997 corrected my inherited nearsightedness, but according to Max Lucado, there is another malady affecting people’s vision today. It’s not a problem with natural eyesight but with “I-sight”—one’s view and perception of him or herself.

The two extreme lenses through which we humans sometimes view ourselves are self-loving and self-loathing. We either think too much or too little of ourselves. We have inflated egos or deflated souls. However, in between the extremes of “I can do everything” and “I can’t do anything” lie the Apostle Paul’s words, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).[1]

A pulsing laser in 1997 re-shaped my cornea and restored clarity to my natural eyesight, but what is the answer for distorted “I-sight”? According to Lucado, it’s worship.

Worship, he says, lifts ones eyes off self and sets them on God. Worship properly positions the worshipper, both humbling the smug and lifting the deflated. Worship adjusts us by lowering the chin of the haughty and straightening the back of the burdened. Worship shifts our gaze to the one who is inherently worthy.[2]

Moreover, worship is certainly not limited to a handful of songs or prayers on a Sunday morning at church. Worship happens anywhere that we lift our eyes beyond ourselves and set our affection and attention on God. It can indeed happen in a worshipping community, but it can just as easily happen in a workspace or on a weekend.

We were made to worship—we are worshippers at our core—and God deserves our worship. As Lucado said, we can “cure any flare-up of commonness by setting our eyes on our uncommon King.”[3]



Summer Reading Program: The Cure for the Common Life Chapter Eight “Applaud God loud and often.”

[1] Max Lucado, The Cure for the Common Life (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN: 2005): 72.

[2] Ibid., 74-75.

[3] Ibid., 75.

What’s your “style” for connecting with God?

Did you know you have a worship “style” that helps you connect more easily with God?pathways

Some people don’t realize that. They think that we all must approach God the same way, using the same prayers, disciplines, and postures of worship. In reality, each of us has a worship “style” that is as unique as our own personality.

In his book, Sacred Pathways, Gary Thomas identifies nine pathways that people use to draw near to God.

  • Naturalists love God outside in nature
  • Sensates love God with their senses and appreciation of beauty
  • Traditionalist love God through rituals, symbols, liturgies, and structure
  • Ascetics love God in solitude and simplicity
  • Activists love God through confronting evil and working towards a great cause
  • Caregivers love God by serving others and meeting practical needs
  • Enthusiasts love God with mystery and celebration
  • Contemplatives love God through adoration
  • Intellectuals love God through study with the mind

Which ones resonate with you?

Rather than attempting a one-size-fits-all approach to worship, it is essential for the wellbeing of our soul to identify and implement our preferred worship “style.”

If you’re a sensate, quit limiting yourself to structured liturgies and forms. If you’re a caregiver, don’t feel that your service is less spiritual than a formal “devotional time.” God created you with your uniqueness, and when you follow your unique worship style your acts of spiritual discipline will never be unsatisfying or dry. They will be rich, life-giving, and vibrant.

God created you to know Him, so get busy knowing Him through the distinctives of how He created you.

Reference: Gary Thomas, Sacred Pathways (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI: 1996)