What does genuine worship look like? When we attend a “worship service,” how do we know that what we are doing is the real deal and not an exercise in hypocrisy or a meaningless ritual? I believe that Psalm 33 can help us answer that question, specifically with regard to the singing of hymns.
First and foremost, true worship is directed toward God. I’m stating the obvious, but please take note: the anonymous writer of Psalm 33 thought it important enough to include these self-evident instructions in the opening lines of this great hymn.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous;
it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the LORD with the harp;
make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully and shout for joy.
I find it most significant that the psalmist not only repeats the familiar command to “Praise the LORD” by immediately tell us to also “praise him,” but on three occasions he emphasizes that God must be the object of our praise by using the preposition “to.” We are to sing joyfully to the LORD. We are to make music to Him. And again he reiterates that we are to sing to Him.
When you are engaged in the act of worshipping in song, individually or corporately, who is the object of your attention? I think this is especially critical when we are in corporate worship, for the temptations of distraction can abound.
The couple sitting behind me is having a conversation. Or John and Mary, who normally sit in the row in front of me, aren’t here. Where are they? A baby nearby is throwing a temper tantrum. The worship leader opened with a joke rather than a call to worship. Any number of things can happen in a worship service to get in way of our sincere attempt to focus on King Jesus.
And then there is the ongoing battle that rages in the hidden recesses of our mind. “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the One I love.” That can be true at any given moment, and it can even happen when we gather for the express purpose of praising our Creator on Sunday morning.
I have experienced this countless times: the song is over, and as I reflect on what was just happening in my own heart, I can hardly call it worship. I find myself repenting of my sin of a wandering mind and vow to become more engaged during the next song.
What can the owner of a restless spirit do?
Here are three practical tips:
- I find that closing my eyes can help, assuming I know the words to the song. If I block out the visual distractions, that can help me focus on the task at hand, or should I say, on the Person seated on the throne.
- I sit as close to the front of the room as possible. There is a sad irony here: I do this to minimize the distractions caused by my inability to block out the distractions caused by the other worshippers in the room. I must be brutally honest, but sometimes the presence of other believers gets in the way of my attempt to focus on God.
- I’m convinced that this is the most important thing I can do to have a meaningful, distraction-free worship experience on Sunday morning: be sure to engage in genuine individual worship during the week. A.W. Tozer says it well: “If you do not worship God seven days a week, you do not worship Him on one day a week. There is no such thing known in heaven as Sunday worship unless it is accompanied by Monday worship and Tuesday worship and so on.”
This has certainly been true for me. The more I worship God during the week, the easier it is to worship Him on Sunday, no matter what is going on in the sanctuary.
How about you? Do you sometimes find it difficult to actually worship during a worship service? If so, you are not alone. May we seek His help in this matter, and take our desire to experience a more meaningful worship experience to Him in prayer during the week.