Worshipping God like a junkie

They travel from church to church, going from one experience to the next. For some, it’s a liturgical experience. For others, it is contemporary. They are Calvinists, Arminians, and Openness. They chase the next spiritual high—from music to preaching to programming—is what it comes down to. 

The flavour of the month becomes the true spiritual experience. Attractional models, Bethel builds (a fancy name for a crescendo), and Stanley stylizations can become the sacred idols we chase. Or we go after the next greatest spiritual fad, from Taizé to whatever Francis Chan’s into that year.

In one church that I pastored in the youth would go to conference after conference, to whichever church or youth group had it going on. They were seeking experiences, spiritual highs, and emotionalism and had little want for the commitment of a relationship.

We say we are seeking God, but how we determine how something is good says it all. If a sermon was engaging, it is a good sermon, true, but we need content. If the worship music is played well, singing in key, has a rousing feel it’s excellent worship. Yes, musicality helps, but what about the direction of our worship. Is it pointing toward our needs and wants, or is it declaring who God is? If the atmosphere is right, then God’s presence is in the room, when really it’s the dim lights, smokey haze, and the Febreeze air freshener that is pumping through the ducts.

I am just as guilty. I am a part of the problem. I admit I like what feels good. I want a church service to feel good. Unfortunately, this too often becomes the drive of our pursuit. We seek a God whose one aim is to make us feel good—worshipping God like a junkie—trying to get our next fix. Leonard Sweet writes,

“God is already there. It’s not God who needs to show up for us; it’s us who need to show up for God.”

It’s us who need to show up, not God. When we choose to engage, you will be surprised how the mediocre music focused upon our king becomes uplifting. Or how teachings from the scripture, though not eloquent and creative, end up ministering, convicting, restoring, and compelling our heart toward Christ.

When it comes to healthy trees, the mighty oak stands head and shoulders above the rest. I want my spiritual life to be like the oak, standing strong and tall, with roots that grow deep and wide.

But too often we are like the pine tree. The pine tree is the only tree that changes the direction of its crown to reach toward the light. The pine chases the experience—the heat, the light. The problem is it’s reaching and chasing makes it weak. Out of all the conifer trees, it breaks the most. The wind blows, limbs bend and break. As the snow accumulates upon the branches, they fold and snap under the weight. Instead of using its energy to grow deep and wide, it has chosen to chase the sun.

When we chase experiences, we miss the depth of discipline, relationship, and consistency. We never form a healthy roots system, attached to others who are strong in the faith. We need good spiritual food, not to feed on the spiritual equivalent of Redbull and gummy bears.

If we want a spiritual life that stands, we must reject our junkie like mentalities, looking for an emotional and spiritual fix, and dig deep, spread wide and engage our hearts in the local Christ centred church that is pointing people to God.

Check out the resources used in this post

What’s wrong with worship?

My most favourite PODcast is 99% Invisible, which may make me a nerd, but I’ve learned to accept it. In this particular episode, Frozen, they rebroadcast part of an episode of a radio show called Sound Opinions, which is a rock and roll talk show. In this episode from 2006, they were interviewing musician, composer, and producer John Brion.

John spoke of how the record has changed the way we interacted with music. Now, because of the recording, there is “a version” of a song. It’s not that there is anything wrong with that. It’s just now we can like a tone of a guitar, drums, bass, or keyboard, thoroughly enjoying every minute, all the while some lyrics are meaningless and have an extremely simplistic melody, only revolving around three or four notes. Maybe it is a complicated melody like a Led Zeppelin song, to use John Brion’s example, but it turns out what you like about the piece is Led Zeppelin doing it—their skill, their chemistry, their expression.

John explained that he loves Led Zeppelin, but for the most part, their pieces were performances, not songs.

For example, John pointed out, Lithium by Nirvana is one of the greatest songs ever. Play that piece on a piano, and it will move you to tears! It is a beautiful chord progression, with rich lyrics, and it will leave you humming.

All of this caused me to think about the music we sing in church. 

To back this up a little, if you have been around the church worship music scene, there has been much debate about performance vs. congregational. This argument is valid and one to which I would like to touch on. However, the performance vs. congregational debate usually morphs into a contemporary vs. liturgical or hymns vs. choruses. While these are important to talk about, I believe that we need to explore the insight of John Brion and apply it to the songs we sing. 

Could it be that the reason contemporary worship has become a performance is that the songs we are selecting for corporate worship are, in fact, not songs but performance pieces?

Churches all over the world try and emulate the synth effect on the latest Young and Free or copy the guitar riff on the newest Elevation Worship track. Speaking as a musician, learning these songs can be fun and playing them with a tight band can be exhilarating. The congregation appreciates the cover. Their worship is heightened with each crescendo. What we often don’t like to admit is that the congregations have become audiences, as our worship services become sets. I believe much of this is due to us moving away from the worship song to performance pieces.

Just like Brion and his love for Led Zeppelin, so I love much of the Hillsong, Elevation, Bethel, or whichever worship band you might be listening to at the moment (my favourite is Citipointe). Pastors, worship leaders, and congregations need to learn the subtle art of differentiating between the performance and the congregational piece. 

If we genuinely want to teach our churches what worship is about, we must find the songs to which both music and lyrics—melodies and poetry—work together to speak to the soul and direct our hearts to worship at the throne of our Eternal Father.

It’s not wrong to have a performance piece. I can be stirred to enter the presence of God with a rousing Ode To Joy as much as Never Lost by Elevation.

Leonard Sweet points out,

You don’t attend worship; you attend a concert. You participate in worship. You contribute to worship. Yet we count attendance, not participation.

We need to count participation, but the fact that our congregations have become audience has little to do with them and more to do with how we have conditioned them with our ambience, smoke, riffs, pads, and hooks.

As Matt Redman lamented about his heart of worship,

When the music fades, and all is stripped away, and I simply come.
Longing just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless your heart.
I’ll bring you more than a song, for a song in its self is not what you have required.
You search much deeper within through the way things appear.
I’m coming back to Your heart.

Heart of Worship

I don’t know your context. What I do know is that there is a shift in our worship music that has left many of those in and out of the churches wanting. There are so many amazing congregational worship songs, both old and new, Hillsong to Charles Wesley. Let’s stop, think, and pray and ask ourselves a few questions. Is the melody pleasing? Can it be stripped down to work in a house church? What do the lyrics teach us about God?

I encourage you to check out 99 PI’s episode Frozen https://99percentinvisible.org/?s=56.

Check out the resources used in this blog

Hidden Faces – The Playlist

Those who know me know I love music. Those who have read my book have probably noted the same. Throughout Hidden Faces: Discovering our True Identity in Christ I reference and quote many songs to convey my point. There are also numerous others songs that speak the message of identity, as well as the other issues we tackle.

That is why I created a playlist. You can stream it on your device of choice!

To sample the songs check out the files below. https://music.apple.com/ca/playlist/hidden-faces-discovering-our-true-identity-in-christ/pl.u-XkD00ZrUaLam4 

For a list of the chapters with the songs for them check out below. I’ve also included some music videos of select songs.

Preface

Side – Travis

Intro

Captain – Hillsong UNITED

Ch 1 – The First Step

Lord, save me from myself – Jon Foreman

come home running – Chris Tomlin

give me Jesus – Bethel Music & Matt Stitton

Ch 2 – Echoes of The Past

On the Road to beautiful – Charlie Hall

Ch 3 – Glory Days

13 – Allan Rayman

Hey There Delilah – The Plain White T’s

The Reason – Urban Rescue

Ch 4 – So Jealous 

Jealous – Nick Jonas

Ch 5 – Bitter Isn’t Better

Frail – Jars of Clay

As long as you love me – Back Street Boys

Ch 6 – No Need to Race

in the air – Phil Collins

Strength and Beauty – Citizens

Ch 7 –  The Call Becomes God

The calling – The Benjamin Gate

Ch 8 – Regret

Stand in your love – Bethel Music & Josh Baldwin

Broken – Lifehouse

Ch 9 – Anger Times

The Orphan – Newsboys

Lord, I need you – Matt Maher

Ch 10 – Spirit & Truth

look up child – Lauren Daigle

hookers & robbers – Charlie Hall

Elohim – Hillsong Worship

Conclusion

so will I – Hillsong UNITED

Have it all – Bethel Music & Brian Johnson

My life is in your hands – God’s Property