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When worship becomes an addiction

By David Walker

I’m a worship leader in a church that immensely values the musical expression of worship. I love music that connects and gives people an opportunity to respond to God. With all that is in me, I feel this is a good thing.

But what happens when this musical expression becomes the central focus, instead of the King who it is for? As worship gatherings happen all over the world week in and week out, how much time is the church actually spending worshipping the King of Glory, and how often are people instead worshipping worship itself?

From what I have seen and experienced, this addiction to worship is a common problem. So how do we break out of worshipping worship? Maybe a story will help.

***

A few years ago, before my wife and I had kids in our house, I actually had a room in our home that was mine. It was my little quiet place to do songwriting, study, and read. (Disclaimer: I wouldn’t trade my kids to get this room back.) One particular evening I was lying on the floor reading through Psalm 149 as worship music played in this room. When I got to the verse that read, “Let them praise His name with dancing,” I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to begin to dance.

Well, my first reaction was not to dance. I didn’t want to feel stupid. I didn’t want to feel embarrassed. So I didn’t dance.

I read on into Psalm 150, where I came across another verse, “Praise Him with the tambourine and dancing.” Again I felt a prompting in my spirit to respond by dancing. Now at this point, my face was turning red. I’m embarrassed to tell you that I responded in such a way to the Lord, but I did.

Finally, I gave in and began to dance like a little 3-year-old kid in this room, where it was just the Lord and I. At first I felt awkward and weird, but as I began to focus more on the Lord and less on myself, something changed in my mind and heart. I realized that the breakthrough I wanted to see corporately as a worship leader must first happen in my own life. Private breakthrough in worship always precedes corporate breakthrough.

In that small room, while I was alone, this monumental moment with the Lord took place, and I was forever changed. I discovered that worship isn’t about how I feel like responding but rather about simply being obedient to what I was created to do – to worship. It is the natural response for disciples as they relate upward to God.

***

I share this story because I think the church has perhaps forgotten the “wonder” of simply responding to a King who is worthy. Perhaps the Church is being trained to respond in worship only when seeing the right lighting cue, hearing the right song, or resonating with someone else’s passion for Jesus expressed on a platform. This is worshipping worship, and it’s addictive because it’s so emotional.

But this addiction to the feeling of worship is a major problem. We have to ask a question: Have we lost the art of cultivating sincere worship when there is no platform, no lighting, no band?

I don’t know about you, but I can’t live like this. I can’t maintain the demand of a worship addiction that grows as I go to more and more church gatherings, more camps, more retreats, more worship. There must be more to worshipping as a disciple of Jesus.

In my opinion, a piece of the “something more” is the saints realizing Jesus is available to be worshipped all the time – not just when the band is ready to roll and the lights are pretty. These things can help us worship, but they are not required for worship.

The relationship Jesus intends us to have with Him should look far more like a marriage than an affair we carry on gathering to gathering. In a marriage there are ups and downs, highs and lows. In this kind of relationship, we recognize that He is worth our devotion all the time, not just when it feels good to worship. The encounters we have with Him can and should drive our devotion even when no one else is around.

When it comes to worship, does your life look more like an affair with moments of emotion but no sustainable discipleship? Or does it look like a marriage relationship that persists no matter what the level of emotion is?

***

I’m reminded of John 4 when Jesus encountered the woman at the well. In the dialogue with Jesus, the woman mentioned the Samaritans’ claims of where it was proper to worship. In verse 20 she says, “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim the place we must worship is found in Jerusalem.”

Jesus responded in verse 23, “A time is coming and has now come that the true worshippers will worship in Spirit and in Truth, for these are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.”

We can be these kinds of worshippers and disciples.

So wherever we find ourselves, may we choose to let our worship be defined by who Jesus is instead of by how we feel. May we choose to let our daily encounters with Him drive our devotion for Him. May we choose to let corporate worship be an inspiration that helps us follow instead of the climactic moment of our lives with Jesus.

And in doing these things, may we choose to break the worship addiction and instead worship in spirit and truth.

What ways have you found to overcome the addiction to worship personally? What about with the people you lead? Share your ideas in the comments so that we can learn along with you.

David Walker is the worship leader at City Church in Greenville, South Carolina. He has also led worship at each year of Wayfarer Camp. You can find out more about David and his music at www.davidwalkeronline.com and follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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5 Responses to When worship becomes an addiction

  1. Richard Moore 2012/04/30 at 6:46 pm #

    I have experienced Church music in almost every genre possible and I have seen how it can become the icon that we worship. However, music is a means to an end; and worship is that end. We do not have music every Sunday in whatever style fits us for our own enjoyment. That is when it can become abused. Our music must be for the enjoyment and praise of HIS glory. I have been an outspoken proponent of that, but I have learned recently that it does not matter whether I like the music or not from week to week in church. I must worship and give him glory and honor because HE is worthy not because the music is worthy. I could not sing loud enough, dance hard enough, lift my hands high enough, clap loud enough, or bow low enough to give him the honor that is due Him. I have been convicted lately by “O clap your hands, all peoples; Shout to God with the voice of joy. For the LORD Most High is to be feared, A great King over all the earth. (emphasis mine)(Psalm 47:1, 2 NASB) If it is I who don’t like clapping and shouting to God in worship and say “it’s not my personality” maybe my personality needs to change, and be conformed to how scripture would have us worship (This has nothing to do with style of music). We are commanded to kneel, lay prostrate, dance, shout, clap, raise hands, bow. These several commands display to us that there is a definite posture of worship. It is tough to do it all on Sunday but our hearts must be willing! If they are not willing then we need to look at our love/affection that we have for Him. If I was never affectionate with my wife (which I do struggle with) we would have a pretty loveless relationship. So I need to practice affection with her. How much more then should I practice affection in worship with the Most High God! I have found when that truly, really, honestly happens it is hard not to idolize the certain musical style because you find that certain style of music helps you connect with God, and tell Him how great He is. The Gospel should be holding us together, and worship should be gospel immersed and if that is the case we will have a posture of worship that fits and fills up the gospel in our hearts. I am recently just noticing in my own life my tendency to withhold from the King of Kings what rightfully belongs to him, namely my bodily adoration of Him! Which I am finding is the worst type of sin. Lord help us worship you in spirit and truth with a glad heart, never ever idolizing the music that helps us find worth in you!

  2. Steve Keyes 2012/05/01 at 1:07 pm #

    David… this is probably the best post you have ever written – POWERFUL truth – the comparison between an “affair” and “marriage” is just… GOLD!

    It is a joy and honor work alongside you and to see you grow in wisdom and maturity – spiritual acceleration for sure…. Thank for this important reminder of WHO we worship and WHY!

  3. Rich W 2012/05/01 at 11:32 pm #

    I have overcome worship addiction through the use of time-tested, ancient worship practices: liturgy. It is like a marriage or family– don’t we all have little rituals we do at home with spouse and children. Don’t we frequently say, “I love you” even when we don’t necessarily feel loving? Sometimes liturgy is boring, or even feels dumb– but so too with our family lives. But our little family rituals always, no matter if their exciting, normal or boring, point us back to the love that binds us together. So does ancient liturgy: boring or thrilling, it ALWAYS points us to the Trinity, and helps us enter into the eternal love, joy and strength of the Trinity. That same-ness so many find boring in liturgical worship is also the thing that keeps us properly centered– just like that silly thing your kids and my kids insist that you and I do for them every night (a song or funny face or whatever it is)! Saying “I love you” every day is sometimes full of emotion, sometimes devoid of it– but it is ALWAYS a powerful symbol and icon pointing us to the truth that holds life together. So with liturgy.

  4. David 2012/05/02 at 10:22 am #

    You hit it on the head. So much of our time with the Lord is based on who WE are at the moment instead of who HE is perpetually. Often times I believe we define the Father based on what the current status of our hearts is instead of standing in the center of who we know him to be and allowing his nature to change our circumstance. I like your line, “So wherever we find ourselves, may we choose to let our worship be defined by who Jesus is instead of by how we feel.” We in some ways have become fair-weather-worshipers. Like you said, we have approached worship much like you would define a ‘romantic evening’ with your spouse: mood, setting, perfect meal=encounter. Just like in marriage our character is revealed in the practicality of life, not how well we act on a date with our spouse. We must allow God to come and rend the veil in our lives that has segregated ‘holy’ and ‘profane’, and in doing so live a worshipful life that occasionally has windows of time set aside for worship as it pertains to an event. The truth of who the Father is will only be manifested in our lives when we stand and declare who he is and not who we are.

    Great post.

  5. Michael Warden 2012/05/03 at 11:30 am #

    Beautifully said, David. And deeply insightful. It takes sharp discernment to see how a genuine lifestyle of worship can get co-opted by a craving for an emotional rush, which becomes in itself an idol that competes with God for our affections. Thanks for putting this out there!