I suppose the best-known trademark of who we are as Pentecostals is the way we worship God openly and vocally and actively. It’s the most immediate indication that something unique is going on with these congregations, but what is the reason for it? Are these folks who just have fewer inhibitions, like the guy at the ball game who just won’t sit down and be quiet? Do they disregard the sacred, quiet moments of reverently approaching God and just “blow right past” the benefits of calm, peaceful singing and quietly listening to the preaching?
Having been part of the more traditional style of congregational service, where an “amen” was an event, those who know my background and choice for these last twenty-plus years could easily assume that the worship services I encountered when visiting the Pentecostal church initially were the reason I’d wanted to change in the beginning, or at least a big part of it. In actuality, not much could be further from the truth. I remember, in fact, being somewhat concerned about that before going for the first time; as the service got underway, and the lady I knew who attended there, (and who I was sitting beside!), began to vocally express herself, I recall my thoughts of “Well, God, you’ve sat me down by the loudest one here!” I was not at all attracted by the individual involvement in their expressing their thanks, praise and the openness with their voices, raised hands and standing to their feet at times, but I did feel respectful of their choice to do so.
The ability to let my voice be heard, to physically engage in worship that was obvious to those around me, and to let tears flow freely when the Lord moved that way was something that came over time. It’s still a choice: to push through the things that pull against the mind and compete for the attention, to press in to where God is moving and is waiting to be worshipped and his presence enjoyed. Does the expression that’s put into our praising God in this way automatically bring something different into a service, or is there more to it than that?
What is worship, anyway? Is there a difference in worship and praise? Psalm 65:4 says, “Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts…” This begins to show a separation, a pulling away from the generality of all the world — of all creation that can praise God (Psalm 148:7) — to draw near to him for more than the act of praising him. “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” II Corinthians 6:17-18. “I will receive you” shows an action on God’s part, a choice he makes based on actions of people seeking him. If praise is an action on the part of all creation, of “everything that hath breath” (Psalm 150:6) — the only appropriate response to the glorious acts of the God of love, mercy and truth, who is the source of every good and perfect gift, who causes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust– then isn’t worship an interaction of those who’ve approached God in the way that he’s pleased with and the One who they were approaching? A receiving of their sacrifice of praise?
In our church, there’s a precious “just learning to walk” baby boy, who I’ve had the opportunity to spend time around the past months. There were a few times I got the opportunity to play with him, or help him off to sleep with his bottle for a much-needed nap. Without any coaxing or encouragement on my part, for whatever reason, he began to bond with me to such a degree that he would see me walk by at church and begin to protest loudly until I came over and held him a few minutes. When he later began to reach for me from the arms of one of his favorite aunts or cousins, my heart did absolute flip-flops! Keeping all this in perspective, of course, and knowing it will be a passing thing, I still can’t help feeling there’s a parallel to what God feels when we choose him over other things that compete for our attention. Could I have somehow forced or required the child to come to me in those circumstances? Probably not (it would have been sick to try to force that), but even if that could have been done, that could never compare to the joy of having been chosen by him for that moment!
What does God get out of our worship? Could it be that the degree to which we choose to separate ourselves from the world, to obey his word, to attend to the things of our lives in order to insure they’re in accordance with what matters to him, before we come into his house to worship him, has more to do with how he responds than what we do when we’re there? A godly, repented life filled with prayer daily for God’s wisdom and guidance and power or overcome sin and the flesh and the pull of the world show a holy God we’re serious about worshipping him when we show up in a service designed for that purpose. Obeying the initial message of salvation in Acts 2:38, and then receiving the admonition to “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14) are the beginning. It matters to God that we make choices not to look at, listen to or be a part of things that are “not of the Father, but…of the world.” (1 John 2:16). We can’t fake that when we come into his presence. We can repent when we’ve failed him in some area, but we can’t hide if we’ve willfully chosen the things of the world and wish to continue to do so. (Beware of those who say they have some “lively” form of worship, but their teachings and practices tolerate wilful sin and ungodliness.)
So what kind of worship moves God? Worship that springs from a heart that’s chosen him in every area of life, and that shows admiration for him in ways that are not compatible with pride. Now we’re getting into why our worship looks and sounds so different from the “mainstream”. Are the people who leaping to their feet, dancing for joy, raising their voices and their hands somehow trying to be noticed by others or to have the distinction of being the most animated in the service? Not likely; in fact if you were to get inside their hearts and minds, there’s actually a humility that has to accompany that type of worship: a sense of “God, you’re worth my pride being ‘busted’ to show you how awesome I believe you are.” David experienced this conflict when dancing before the Ark of the Covenant when it was returning to Jerusalem; his wife, Michal chastised him for laying aside his kingly garments in worship “as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself.” David removed her from her role of honor in his kingdom, and she had no child for all her days, as his demonstration of how strongly he felt about her condemnation of his worship, but more importantly, how deeply he held his conviction to worship God openly, physically and with his own self abased, saying, “And I will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight…” (2 Samuel 6:12-23)
Do we worship this way because we have to or feel it’s required? No, but because we can. Because coming to God with a heart that has been kept for him, with a will to lay aside any semblance of fleshly pride and press into his presence, brings his response: the glory of God moving into a service or a personal time of prayer. People begin to weep or to shout with joy, and God’s work is done in the hearts and lives of those present. They know they have truly been where God is. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of the worship that moves God?
If you’d like to see more about it, come visit us at:
First Pentecostal Church of Jesus Christ
Bay Springs, MS
By the grace of God, we’re getting to experience a taste of
Church the way it was meant to be…
and glad to know there’s more where that came from!