Sunday, January 21, 2007

Carson on Excellence in Worship

This quote hit me hard from “Worship by the Book” by D.A. Carson.
“Although there are things that can be done to enhance corporate worship, there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself. Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God. As a brother put it to me, it’s a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset.” (p.31)
Music is a craft that demands skill. The problem is, highly trained musicians can create excellent musical worship services. I am concerned that too many worship leaders (myself included) underestimate the value of a worshiping heart that is connected intimately with its creator. Music, programming, lights, and transitions are all tangible means within a worship service, so we tend to spend most of our energies planning for, producing, and evaluating services based upon the success or failure of these elements. This is not a bad thing; however, the far less “measurable” and yet far more essential element of worship is our connection with our creator God.


Anonymous said...

Worshipping worship or worshipping God. One is the heart that sees worship as a gig, as a vehicle to use one's giftedness. The other is the heart that sees the giftedness as a way to serve God. I believe both hearts love what they do and want to do the best they can. Only God truly knows the difference. But, you can get a tiny glimpse into the hearts by looking at the faces of the congregation when you are finished. Jboats.

scooterpastor said...

Good words Jboats. I seldom have the opportunity to see faces after an opening set of music because I am putting away my guitar, grabbing the podium, etc... One thing for sure, when I get the chance, I am always encouraged to see people whose entire countenance is glowing in the wake of God exalting worship.

John Carlson said...

How can one tell by looking at the faces? What are the signs? Is someone who appears all emotional, tears rolling down their face, hands in the air, moving around - any more evidence of true worship than someone with their head down, eyes closed, and hands in their back pocket? (usually me!) I'm not sure I buy into that.

- John

scooterpastor said...

John, I agree that it is impossible to judge the motives of the heart based upon the way someone looks. I have resolved to be encouraged by those who are obviously enjoying God through their countenance, but to not allow myself to be discouraged by those who do not.

John Carlson said...

This is certainly a great quote from Carson and I obviously agree.

However I fear it's also easy to take this statement, sound lofty, godly, and reverent by saying it, and yet, also miss the point that one can ALSO pursue God by pursuing excellent worship (or excellence in one’s craft in or out of church) and all that goes into it. Run with me here for a second and bear with me:

As humans, and in our modern American society, we constantly find the need to build measuring rods of "how we're doing" at each and every level. How am I doing in my skills? How am I doing in "my walk"? Was that "good worship" or "bad worship"? I get overwhelmed these days with those thoughts and, after multiple times trying to figure this all out this morning - I'm left with this thought:

I think us humans make this all out to be SO much harder and difficult than it is. We put more pressure on ourselves than necessary to conform and live up to what's expected from us in our relationship with God in such an academic style. We pressure ourselves to have a quiet time each morning - and if we don't, we've failed. We pressure ourselves to be in a disciplined Bible study. We pressure ourselves to know deep theology. We pressure ourselves to serve. We pressure ourselves to have "great worship" and a great "church." On and on and on and on. In the end, I think God sometimes must shake his head and laugh. I hear Him saying "My children . . . it's so NOT about all that. It's about a SIMPLE relationship with me, holding my hand, taking a walk, having a conversation, and delighting yourself in me and the world I've given you. I NEVER meant to make it so hard for you. I never meant to create pressure for you. I never meant for you to measure yourself in how you live up to Me. I meant for this to be a simple loving, grace filled relationship between you and I. "Delight yourself in Me, and I will give you the desires of your heart."

I find a statement like Carson's can tend to make me feel guilty or wrong for perhaps the VERY THING God specifically created me to do and "delight myself" in. I believe I was TOTALLY created to be the musician I am - for His Glory. I was created to perfect my craft, skill, and art - for His Glory. I was created to create excellence in music - for His glory. I was created to serve my teams and inspire them - for His glory. I was created with an eye for detail and critique - for His glory. And God smiles with joy when I use those gifts to their fullest potential and put all my effort into those. And many times, more than anything else – THAT’S when I feel the CLOSEST connection to God of all. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that IS when I feel the closest connection. Because I'm doing EXACTLY what He created me to do for His glory.

But while I see where Carson does state that all of that is not bad, I fear in our humanness and tendency to feel guilt and pressure to conform to some “ideal connection to God” - it’s too easy to take away from this and similar articles/statements that there's some other kind of more "lofty/holy/biblical" way of connecting with God. Such as we're supposed to read our Bible more, or spend more time in prayer . . . the typical ways one assumes we're supposed to feel more "connected" to God in our heart. Carson never really comes out and says that. But one is only to assume that’s the kind of thing he’s talking about, or that we perceive as the option. My guess if you’re like me, that’s probably what most of us take away.

Am I making any sense?

Perhaps I can put it this way: God created our precious Sheltie, Murphy. This little dog is one of God's creatures. Yet he has no way to worship God. He has no way to read the Bible. He has no way study theology. He has no understanding of any of that or a relationship to God that I’m aware of. But God created Him to RUN. God created this dog to just fly down our hill as if on wings. This dog LIVES to run and play and herd and jump and prance and chase – and this dog will do it all day long if we let him. And I believe God SMILES, laughs, and takes pride in His creation when Murphy does all that. And THAT alone is a worship offering to God right there. God watching His creation do what He created it to do and saying "This is good." And I can worship God watching Murphy knowing that God created this little fur ball.

When we do the same in our own life - doing what we love the most and feel we were created to do - uninhibited by the many different pressures we put upon ourselves from the church world, worship world, academic world, book world, blog world, people world, and "Us" world - I believe some of us may just find the truest closest connection of all to God. Whether that is singing, playing, cutting wood, painting, teaching, serving, studying, theologizing, or merely holding and comforting a child. When we DO WHAT WE WERE CREATED TO DO and delight ourselves in it and do it for the Lord, we can’t help be SO connected to God. Perhaps we just need permission to acknowledge that and accept it as true, OK and ENOUGH?

Eric Liddell expressed it well in the movie “Chariots Of Fire” when he said, “When I run, I feel His pleasure.”

We may make it all to hard and complicated . . . much too hard.

- John Carlson

scooterpastor said...

John, I certainly think you've got some great points and don't feel that Christians should be slaves to legalism. I suggest you read Carson's chapter to get a fuller grip on where he is going, though I don't expect you or even me to fully agree with everything he (or any author for that matter) says. As you know, I am an eternal optimist, so I am always looking for the good in every quote and am not inclined to think critically. As you well know this is both a strength and weakness of mine. ☺

The issue you raise about feeling pressure to conform to a certain spiritual practice is a good one. Have you read Ortberg’s “The Life You’ve Always Wanted”? His book has some good insights on balancing the pressure to grow in faith (and the disciplines of faith) with the pressure enjoy your relationship with God.

I think ultimately, Carson is actually taking the pressure off us with his quote. He is saying we shouldn’t be so driven to excellence without first enjoying that intimate and life transforming relationship God wants us all to have. Relationship above performance is the key.

Also, you are 100 percent right that we should enjoy serving him with our gifts. That’s what he made them for and personally speaking, that is what comes easiest and most naturally for most of us. I just want to make sure we don’t neglect the relationship with our creator which, since the fall, is one of the least natural things for us to do.

John Carlson said...

Ya - I'm not fully sure what I'm getting at - but I sense a tendency for all of us to jump into "Yes that's nice to have that, but there must also be this to balance it in how we view our relationship with God.

I want a the kind of relationship with God, or at least the chance to have at first, that is free from all of the "should dos, have tos, ought to dos, supposed to dos" etc. What was it like to have a relationship with God BEFORE the written word? Before Hymns? Before Christian worship music? Before the church? Suppose you were dropped on a deserted island with nothing other than a Bible - you have no knowledge of God or modern "Christianity" - and you come to believe in God and the Bible you have - what is that relationship with God like without the modern trappings of what we've pronounced as a "proper relationship" with God? Is it any less authentic or real? These are the things I ponder. (As you ask "WHAT is he smoking!)

A child who is merely 2 years old is not quite yet at that concious stage of "should do/suppose to do" with their relationship with their parents. Yet there is a close/eternal/trusting relationship between the child and the mother and father already with no books having been read by the child, no instructions, no study, etc. And what are the things the parent delights most in at that point? The play of the child. The innocent exploration of their world. The tug on a finger. The open hug and kiss. I want that kind of child like relationship with God. I feel perhaps we grow closer to that real closer/profound/authentic relationship with God the closer DOWN we grow, than up sometimes. But that's just me and I do realize that everyone has different relationship/love/God languages too.

Could just be my rebel/jazz roots showing through as well and that I just don't like being told what and how to do it! :-)

scooterpastor said...

When my kids "tug on my finger" they never know what they're going to get.... Sorry to ruin the illustration. Thanks for clarifying John.

John Carlson said...

You know, I totally HESITATED to use that as I KNEW you (or Coates) would make that comparison and say something naughty like that.