In continuation of my long-but-slow running series on Worship (“Don’t say anything unless it’s worth taking a long time to say” – Treebeard, Lord of the Rings – my paraphrase), I wanted to put up a blog on the subject of Extravagant Worship.
That Treebeard quote above wasn’t serious by the way.
In these days of post-modern, “post-mission” (tosh), everything-church thinking (cafe-church internet-church bornagain-church purposedriven-church deconstructed-church) you pretty much have to define everything again before you can talk about it, as is the case, sadly, in most areas of western life.
This can be a bit of a bore, but if we are asking ourselves “what is worship?” again, which we do all need to do for ourselves anyway, I believe this aspect is just as important as those I have already covered (see Worship 1-3 blogs).
In fact I believe this aspect of worship could really revolutionise our worship services, if we and our congregations all knew how to pick up on it and really run with it. Indeed I can say that churches I know of which HAVE grasped this, have something about them that is really DIFFERENT.
People, I find, can either be generally passive when it comes to singing some songs in church, or if passionate, can still be afraid of expressing it too much, there is always a measure of reserve.
Why there is reserve, I don’t know. He’s awesome.
But to get over this obviously we don’t beat people over the head with a Bible and say “Be passionate!” – we model it by example from our hearts, in love. So what are we meant to be modelling?
David knew the meaning of worship, through and through. I know, he’s the classic one, but let’s pick him up again, as we have so much to learn from this great man who God said had a heart after His own.
We find him worshiping in different ways. In writing the Psalms. In playing the harp. Probably on the hillside when he wasn’t nutting bears and lions to save his sheep. Later in life, when he was setting up the tabernacle, he was establishing a whole worship ministry if you like, to carry on 24/7!
But the example I want to pick up on for this subject takes us to 2 Samuel 6, where David is bringing the ark back to Jerusalem. It has been a tough time for them, as the ark has been the possession of the Philistines for some time. Then, when they got it back, they forgot to read the manual and work out how it was meant to be carried, instead letting oxen do the job. If you haven’t heard about Uzzah, who reached out to steady the ark when the oxen stumbled, then you’ve missed out.
He got fried.
So, after an interim, David finds out the priests are supposed to carry it, and proceeds to see it brought back to Jerusalem.
In doing so, he orders that sacrifices be made every 6 paces all the way back from Obed-Edom’s house (where it had been staying) to Jerusalem. I don’t know the exact measurement, but that’s a lot of sacrifice! Furthermore, and this is the main thing (which is why I have been only skimming over the details) David really expressed his worship by stripping down to JUST a linen ephod (embarrassing if not slightly scary to behold) and dances before the Lord – the Bible says, with ALL his MIGHT. That means, all of his strength and energy went into that dance.
Now, I don’t know what it looked like, but I can get an idea. He could have been an amazing dancer, we don’t know, but chances are that when someone dances spontaneously, without announcement, wearing just a linen ephod, while every six paces following the guys who are killing animals and spilling blood everywhere – chances are I would think this guy SLIGHTLY strange. I’d probably wonder what he was doing leading my country, but I guess I wouldn’t be able to question that. I certainly could get offended easily.
This, I believe, is the kind of worship God loves. I think I’ll just leave that to be pondered on for a little while.
Well, what about New Testament worship? Okay. Here’s Mary in Mark 14 and John 12, coming and breaking the cultural and social barriers of the day, bringing an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard, breaking it and pouring out the whole lot on Jesus, all over His head, and using it to anoint His feet and wipe them with her hair. Now to us this might at least appear alarming, but to the folk of that day, to whom women were a subordinate race (effectively), this would have been outrageous, and a great cause for offense.
There were rational arguments at that table as to why this was a crazy thing for this woman to do. The perfume she just wasted would have been worth a year’s wages. Wherever she got the money from, it’s all just been completely used up in one go, being poured all over Jesus! And so often, in church, you will find people who think it reasonable and right to call anything ‘extreme’ and ‘radical’ into question for the sake of other people, for the poor, for some outwardly-compassionate reason. There are other occasions when what appeared to be outward compassion was contrary to the purpose of God (such as the disciples ‘compassionately’ desiring to send the 5000 away when Jesus had plans for a bit of bread and fish!).
But despite all the rational, seemingly-compassionate arguments (which really had no compassion on this woman at all), Jesus loves it, and testifies that her testimony will go down permanently in history. On a similar occasion recorded in Luke 7, He also released the woman of her sins, because she worshipped Him in this way.
Notice that on both occasions, the expression of love for the Lord was something visibly, outwardly, expressively radical, involving a lot of the outward involvement in worship. Our attitude these days of ‘the heart’ is good (I have written about it!) but we must COMPLETE the picture by understanding that what goes on in my heart, if it is truly there, WILL have an outward manifestation and expression, which if it is love for the good God we have, will probably be extravagant!
Notice also that on both occasions there was opportunity for offense, and it was taken each time – by Michal in the case of David, and by those reclining at the table in the case of Mary. If you are offended at something – check yourself! It may be God!
Notice also God’s love for the worshipper – His declaration that David had a heart after His own, and His declaration that Mary’s story will never be forgotten. There was an immortalisation of the name of each worshipper!
Here’s the ultimate thing: He is a very, very, very good God. And when, in the world, we see something great, we celebrate it. We laugh at a funny movie. We cheer (and scream and jump) when our team wins. We cheer louder (and scream louder and jump higher) at a music concert we’ve waited ages for.
And yet, for some reason, we come to church, and get all sleepy, or are afraid to sing too loud, or are afraid to get up and dance, for fear of what people will think of us, or something….SOMETHING is holding us back, and has stunted the worship life of the church, where the world is able to excel and increase. There are celebrities and stars taking glory all the time, and God is getting hardly any in comparison! We are perhaps afraid that our expressions will somehow be irreverent, or unworthy, but if these Biblical examples are anything to go by, that’s not true.
“God loves a cheerful giver.” But, Paul, it’s all about the heart. Yes, I know, but, God loves someone who knows how to outwardly express what’s in their heart, cheerfully! I guess that put’s together the heart “cheerful”, and the action “giver”. There. Now we have no excuse! 😉
One final anecdote, just to really drive the point home. I once heard a guy preaching, and saying how he’d been at some football games, cheering on his team, but at the same time wrestling with the idea that all this cheering and shouting was just extreme idolatrous worship, and that this was what God was saying about it. So he would find himself “coming against this spirit of idolatry.” But one time, the Lord surprised him by saying, “I like it.”
“What?!” this guy responded back. God proceeded to tell him, that He liked it a lot. Because He saw in it the potential, that when all these football crowds got saved, or when all the screaming music fans got saved, and came into the church and saw God doing awesome things in our midst, that they would be the ones who really knew how to worship Him and thank Him for it, who would give Him the kind of offering He’s looking for.
Wow. This is what I’m after. A church that will worship God more than the world will worship their idols of music, or sport, or anything else that they give so much time, attention, voice, expression and even (dare I say!) money too! Because He’s so worth all of it!