Expanding our Worship Palate

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”          John 4:24 (NIV)

For a short season of my life, when I was about 3 years old, I only wanted to eat mashed potatoes.

(This is not a memory that has been stored in my memory banks. I learned of my antics from family members.)

As it has been reported to me, I would come to the dinner table every evening and ask what was on the menu.

When my mom described the menu, I allegedly voiced my displeasure if mashed potatoes weren’t being offered.

“Give me mashed potatoes or give me…well, just give me mashed potatoes!”

I’m sure I was a absolute pleasure to dine with.

Thankfully, for me and those around me, I expanded my palate. I gained a taste for a variety of foods. In time, I could go to a restaurant, look at the menu and choose from a variety of offerings. I had choices!

So where am I going with this?

Here’s something I’m finding among some of God’s people: they have extremely limited worship palates.

They believe that they can only worship God in a particular type of service or by means of specific style of music.

And when they aren’t served according to those particulars and specifications, they refuse to participate…and in some cases become vocal about their preferences.

Which I find really sad.

I mean, has God boiled down the type of worship He will receive into a singular format or style?

If so, just who has a corner on the worship market? And how can we know for sure?

Just to be clear, I’m not an advocate of “whatever goes,” free-form worship. I do believe there are scriptural principles to apply as we seek to honor God.

But if I can only really appreciate one style of worship…and have a hard time with all the others…I would have to surmise that I am missing out on a lot of good stuff.

Imagine going to another country where they sing in a different language, with different instruments and in different rhythms. Is it our job to tell them that they’re missing the boat because they don’t worship according to our proclivities and sensibilities?

No, I think it’s quite the opposite. I think our challenge is to find a way to worship along with them. To appreciate their heart and enjoy their style.

Remember, these are the people we will be spending an eternity with. So, it seems to make sense that we figure out how to celebrate our worship diversity rather than be divided by it.

For centuries, people have been looking for fresh expressions of an ancient faith.

They’ve looked for new ways to communicate the transformation that’s occurred in their heart.

As the Psalmist wrote:

He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him. ~ Psalm 40:3 (NIV)

We can appreciate the songs and liturgies of the past.

They remind us of our spiritual legacy.

They hold great meaning for us.

But may we never come to believe that the methodologies and songs of our day represent the entire canon of worship style.

As he has done for every generation, God will keep writing new expressions upon the hearts of those who sincerely want to worship Him.

How about you? Has your approach to worship resembled something like my attitude towards mashed potatoes?

Are you in a rut? Are you too comfortable? Are you putting limits on the ways worship can be expressed?

Maybe it’s time to ask God to help us expand our worship palate.

And even if we still find it hard to wrap our minds around a particular form or style of worship, may we at least rejoice in the fact that others desire to give God glory.

Hobby Horses

The dictionary offers two definitions for the term hobby horse:

  1. A toy made from a long stick, with a shape like a horse’s head at one end, that a child can pretend to ride.
  2. A subject that someone often talks about, usually for a long time; a preoccupation; a favorite topic.

The hobby horses described in the first definition are great for kids.

The hobby horse described in the second can really have a negative effect on a person’s ministry.

Through the years I’ve encountered people who began to take their ministry work into a particular direction that either leaves their work imbalanced or without a solid foundation.

Why did this happen? Because the person discovered a hobby horse topic, and it caused them to become myopic. They became so spellbound by a new doctrine or practice, they became disengaged from the elementary things that are designed to keep us grounded.

When this happens, a couple of things can happen.

  1. So much time goes into thinking/talking about the pet subject, that other critical ministry areas do not get proper attention
  2. The person begins to forget about the true core of ministry, making their “new infatuation” central to most of what they do.

To keep from falling into such a trap, I think we have to put effort into three things:

  1. Keep things simple
  2. Keep things balanced
  3. Keep things foundational

When Paul spent time preaching and church building in Corinth, he later described his deliberate effort to “keep the main thing the main thing.”

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. ~ 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 (NIV)

There will always be that new thing that comes down the road, tempting us to pour a lot of our time and energy into it.

But we already have the basics of Christianity laid out for us in the Word.

God didn’t forget anything or leave anything out.

Meaning, we have plenty to work with without having to chase after an emerging fad.

Sure, we may make some adjustments to our ministry with the current culture in mind.

And we never want to be closed off from learning some new things in our study of the Word.

The danger arises when we feel the desire to reinvent the wheel.

May we never forfeit the fundamental for the peripheral.

When Paul wrote to Timothy, his apprentice in the faith, he firmly advised him with these words:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:  Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. ~ 1 Timothy 4:1-5 (NIV)

This passage of scripture tells me that both preacher and listener can be tempted to stray away from the basics.

But if we fall into the trap of hobby horse preaching/ministry, we go from feeding people well to feeding them spiritual junk food. It may taste good, but offers little in the way of nutrition.

Bottom line, we ought not stray from the central elements of the faith.

That new, shiny ministry technique or that seemingly deep theological thought may be the very thing that keeps us from doing what God has called us to do.




The Spiritual Life

For some, the idea of having a “spiritual life” means that there is something dynamic happening in their life at all times. Thus, these people are often in pursuit of experiences that could be described as exciting and exhilarating. It might be said that their mantra is, “Never a dull moment!”

And it is true; there are times when God works things out in ways  that are pretty amazing.

Yet, I must admit that I hold a degree of skepticism about always measuring God’s work in our lives in regard to a steady flow of the fantastical.

In fact, I’m more inclined to think that God is more concerned about us learning to live out our spirituality within the daily grind of life.

Paul wrote the following in Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV):

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Not an eye-catching list of spiritual activity, but powerful nonetheless!

When I think about our culture, it is marked by things like anger, arguing, selfishness, coarseness, and violence.

Because of such cultural chaos, the TV news is almost unbearable to watch.

But in the midst of all the pain and strife, God says that the Holy Spirit that indwells every believer has the ability to produce in us attitudes and actions that defy the culture.

Where there is discord, the Spirit can sow peace.

Where there is sadness, the Spirit can produce joy.

Where there is harshness, the Spirit can bring about self-control.

When I look at Paul’s list of Holy Spirit fruit, I see these things as world-changing. They have the potential to soften hearts, change minds, repair relationships and heal culture.

Which means, they are pretty amazing. And worthy of pursuing.

And imagine the power of witness such fruit can bring about!

Who doesn’t want to live in a world marked by more peace, joy, kindness and gentleness?

Imagine how culture would be impacted by more demonstrations of love and the all-to-rare practice of self-control?

And yet, how many of us as followers of Jesus are in pursuit of seeing such fruit produced in us?

How often do we realize that the fruit of the Spirit represents some of God’s highest values?

I sometimes wonder what God thinks about our desire for a spirituality marked by words such as amazing and exciting, when what He already offers to us has the power to turn the world upside down.

Paul’s list of Holy Spirit fruit from Galatians 5 may not seem like fireworks, but in reality, if more of us Christians sought to allow the Spirit to bear Galatians 5 fruit in our lives, the impact would be both amazing and exciting.