If you missed last week’s post, you may want to go back and catch up!
As we become distracted from the main thing and lose sight of Jesus, there is a wind of the enemy blowing to threaten our faith. The Devil is looking for a way in. He wants us to lose our footing and begin sinking. Before we know it, we can go days, weeks, months, or even years without meaningful engagement with the Holy Spirit. We can do all the religious things around Jesus and miss him altogether.
What I want to shed light here on 2 primary ways the enemy has captured our attention as we’ve allowed it to drift from Jesus. Satan wants to keep us stuck in the activities of religion without the power of the relationship. This deceptive strategy has targeted our worship and is affecting our ability to experience the freedom that God has for us.
We have a choice about distractions and all the things that take us away from our first love, but to understand the enemy’s strategy, we need a deeper encounter with truth. Basically, if we aren’t acting like free people (does church look “free” to you?), then what we really lack is an encounter with truth. In John 8:32 Jesus says “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
THE WOOL OVER OUR EYES
True or False: Worship looks like what I see and experience on Sunday morning.
I would say yes, it can be, but let’s challenge the status quo for a minute and say it largely does NOT reflect true, biblical worship.
Hang with me and let’s explore that a bit.
Most of us walk into church every week and assume whatever happens during the Sunday service is right worship. Because our church environments look and sound like us, we readily agree that what we are doing is good, right and godly. We think “if I am comfortable and pleased with worship (whatever it looks like for me) then everything is just fine.”
The problem is that we’ve bought into the lie that homogeneity equates to right worship. In other words, we worship the way we think it “ought to be done” with people who think the same way and then close ourselves off to other expressions of worship.
We’ve tried to make this a theological issue (i.e., reverence for God means I should be still and serious in worship). but the real issue is that we want a comfort-focused experience. So we seek conformity within our churches and shun any expression that doesn’t conform (i.e., we’re not a “hand-raising” church). We tend to primarily embrace a denominational or cultural identity instead of a biblical identity. Of course, it is natural for us to want to blend in. It’s our nature to seek out like-minded individuals to do life with, but that’s the point – it’s our nature we are leaning on, not God’s. Further, we need to ask what exactly is driving that desire for homogeneity and does that really result in freedom?
So in this human-centered view of right worship our desire for homogeneity then becomes the measure by which we evaluate the success or failure of a worship service. This allows us to then criticize things that don’t conform to our “standard” and say that they are not good for worship.
This skewed perception and subsequent evaluation of the success of our worship is strangling true worship.
We really need to see how damaging this is. It is keeping us from encountering the presence and power of God in a transformational way because God’s power and presence comes after our comfort. It is saying to God “stay out of this worship thing; we know how this should go.”
We are reaching out to steady the ark, and good things don’t follow when we try to control the presence of God.
Since I live in the music world, an easy example of this is song selection. Let’s say someone values modern songs that have few lyrics, are easy to sing, and have catchy choruses – those are plentiful. Then one Sunday the worship team leads a couple of hymns. Said person who favors more modern songs can then criticize that and say “I didn’t like those hymns. That archaic language was distracting. I just can’t worship that way.”
Of course, this happens the other way around as well. The hymn-lovers criticize the simple modern songs with repetitive choruses. All of this is generalization and can be argued until we are blue in the face. What I’ve learned over the years is that setting this kind of standard for our worship is just a hamster wheel of never-ending opinions that get us nowhere. Nobody ever wins.
The bottom line is that we continually buy in to the idea that our worship should be measured by our preferences regarding anything from musical style to instrumentation to lights and colors in the room to what the preacher is wearing.
We must see how insular this is. We must begin to see how much this is holding us back and is pushing God out. This doesn’t mean there aren’t standards to measure by, but we need to be measuring by the right standard – the word of God. My likes and dislikes are poor substitutes for the measure of biblical truth that should inform my worship.
THE DEMONIC STRATEGY OVER WORSHIP
So how does the enemy get involved here?
Simple. The spirit of religion comes and reinforces that need for conformity and rule-following. This is what the Pharisees did. They made complex systems of rules and regulations around worship and the Sabbath that condemned anyone who didn’t conform. They even went so far as to criticize Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. They prescribed religious constraint in the name of piety and then criticized anything that didn’t stay clearly within their man-made lines. Jesus said they were leading people, but they were leading the wrong direction!
At the same time, the fear of man comes in and says we need to make everyone happy and keep people pleased so they’ll keep coming and giving money to support what we’ve built. If keeping people comfortable and pleased about worship is the primary goal, then there is no freedom to follow the leading of the Spirit because He’s not the central focus. I can tell you from my experience that this is a constant struggle in church leadership. We must begin freeing our pastors and leaders to follow God’s leading with abandon!
The religious spirit and fear also work together to tell us that how we act while we are in worship should look and feel a certain way, again to conform to a societal or cultural norm. Certain behaviors and expressions are okay, but not others. We spiritualize this by saying “well, we’re this denomination or that denomination” or “that’s distracting to my worship” and more. But we are still measuring by something other than a biblical standard.
The byproduct of that kind of cultural expectation for proper “behavior” is that we miss out on the experience of real, authentic community as worshipers because we are, in essence, told that we are not free to be ourselves. Therefore, free expression of worship from a biblical perspective is rarely seen. That is called religious performance and it is the goal of the religious spirit.
The religious spirit is a controlling spirit that says “you can’t be yourself. You have to act like everybody else and this is how we act here.” We come into agreement by embracing the thought that we have to act a certain way and express ourselves a certain way in order to fit in and worship like the other people around us. I believe this is one of the reasons many young people are leaving our churches once they become young adults. There is little to no room for individuality at a time in life where exploring that is paramount.
This is not freedom, folks. This is bondage and we need to wake up to it.
WE NEED REAL FREEDOM
So we have fear and a religious spirit dominating much of our church activity and it is choking God out. We are learning about God, but we are not experiencing God. We are not walking away with transformative encounters with the Holy Spirit. In many of our church circles, those encounters are the exception when they should be the rule. Do you realize that you can have plenty of knowledge about God and not be transformed? Transformation requires the Spirit, and having the Spirit present for that kind of work requires freedom. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. But a church ruled by a religious spirit is not going to see a lot of Holy Spirit freedom happening. It’s time we change that.
How? A number of things (and this is just the start):
- Repent and return to a biblical standard for worship. Stop demanding conformity (for yourself or anyone else).
- Pray for and receive a Revelation 7 reality in the church. Every tribe, tongue, and nation.
- Stop allowing a denomination to become your identity.
- Die to self and stop allowing worship to be about personal preferences
- Get hungry for the presence and power of God above all else
- Be at Jesus’ feet more often than we are doing things around Him (this would truly turn our churches upside down!)
- Passionately pursue a personal revival. Fire spreads.
JOIN ME IN THE PURSUIT
Personal revival is the beginning of what we are talking about here. I want to see true worship and the presence of God restored to the Church! If you want to join me in the pursuit of personal and corporate revival, then subscribe below! God is looking for builders who will build a house of worship that is fit for Him to dwell in (Isaiah 66:1).
Next week, we will look at 4 houses that we all build. Whether or not those are houses of worship is up to us. If you subscribe, I’ll send you a personal note about new posts as I release them! There is so much more on the way.