3 Ways to Worship God

Worship means different things to different people, but what’s important is that we do it

3 Ways to Worship GodSome churches call their Sunday meeting a worship service. This has always troubled me. Yes, I knew that singing to God was a form of worship, or at least it should be. And I understood the part about “worshiping God with our tithes and offerings,” even though I didn’t see God getting too much of what we dropped into the offering plate. But the sermon?

How could listening to a lecture, often a boring one, be a form of worshiping God? In truth, aside from a few songs and the collection, the bulk of most church services are either education or entertainment. Is that worship? I don’t think so. I hope not.

Here are three ways we can worship God. (And like a good three-point sermon, they all begin with the same letter.)

Singing: As I said, singing to God is a way to worship him. More broadly, music is a path to worship. That means we can sing or listen to music. Music can also involve movement, rather it be clapping our hands, raising our arms in praise, or dance (from rhythmic swaying to getting down like David, 2 Samuel 6:14).

Yes, singing can have a physical component. It can also involve senses. Sight: seeing others sing and dance (or watching a light show). Hearing: listening to those around us sing and hearing the instruments. Smell: incense or a smoke machine. Touch: holding hands with fellow worshipers as we sing. Taste: singing while we take communion. (For the record, I’ve experienced each of these sensory elements in worship at various church services, though not often.)

Unfortunately, I’m musically and rhythmically challenged, so I struggle to worship God through music and movement. But give me a strong beat with catchy lyrics behind it, and I can engage in song as a means of worship.

Serving: Helping others, both with our time and through our money, is a tangible form of worship. I enjoy the action of doing something for others, offering it as an act of service to them and as a form of worship to God.

Similarly I like being able to give money to causes I’m passionate about or to people in need as the Holy Spirit directs me. Both are ways to serve and both offer a path for worship. I relish the opportunity to worship God through these forms of service.

Silence: In our multitasking, always-on society, the hush of stillness is an anachronism to most, one that causes many people to squirm. Few people can tolerate silence for more than a few seconds.

Yet in our silence—along with its partner, solitude—we can quiet our racing minds and still our thumping hearts in order to connect with God. Psalm 46:10 says to “be still and know that I am God.” Yet, setting time aside to be still presents challenges. For most of us, meeting with God in silence doesn’t just happen; we must be intentional.

In my times of silence I connect more fully with God in worship, get deeper glimpses into his heart, and am best able to hear his gentle words of encouragement, correction, and mostly love. So good!

Just as I make it my practice to attend church, I have a parallel practice of giving to my community each week. I also (usually) block out one day out of seven to fast, and part of that time includes worshiping God through silence. All three are forms of worship, though for me, helping others is more practical and resting in God’s presence is more meaningful.

God has uniquely made us and gives us different ways to worship him. When it comes to worship, one size does not fit all. Find the one that fits you.

[This is from the February issue of Peter DeHaan‘s newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

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3 Lessons from the Early Church

Dr. Luke describes 3 characteristics of the Acts 4 church

3 Lessons from the Early ChurchThe book of Acts unfolds as an historical narrative of the early church, the activities of the first followers of Jesus and those who join them. For the most part, Acts simply describes what happens, with little commentary and few instructions for proper conduct.

While we can look to Acts as a possible model for church life, we would be in error to treat it as a requirement for right behavior. In this way Acts can inform us today, but it doesn’t command us. For example, if I wrote, “My church went to a baseball game after the service,” no one (I hope) would think I was saying that attending baseball games is prescriptive of church life. No. It was merely descriptive of what one church did one time. We would never build our theology on a statement like that.

So it is with the book of Acts. Yet we can learn from it. Luke writes three things about that church:

Unity: The Acts 4 church is of one heart and mind, just as Jesus prayed that we would be one (John 17:21). Their actions are consistent with Jesus’s prayer. Jesus prayed it, and the early church does it; I hope unity describes every one and every church.

Community Minded: In the Acts 4 church, no one claims their possessions as their own. It isn’t my things and your things; it is our things. They have a group mentality and act in the community’s best interest. While we might do well to hold our possessions loosely, notice that this isn’t a command; they just do it out of love.

Willing to Share: Last, the Acts 4 church shares everything they have. Not some things, not half, but all. This would be a hard thing for many in our first-world churches to do today but not so much in third-world congregations. Again, this isn’t a command (and later on Peter confirms that sharing resources is optional, Acts 5:4); it is just a practice that happens at this moment of time in the early church.

While these three characteristics should inspire us to think and behave differently, and can provide a model for church life, we need to remember that the Bible gives us no commands to pursue a communal-type church. We can, but it’s one option. Of the three only unity rises as an expectation because Jesus yearns for it to be so. That should give us plenty to do.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Acts 4, and today’s post is on Acts 4:32.]

God Deserves Our First, Our Best, and Our Most

How much time we spend on our activities reveals our priorities

God Deserves Our First, Our Best, and Our MostKing David longs to build a temple for God, but God says this is not to be. Another, a descendant of David, will attend to its construction. Instead David must content himself with the temple’s planning and in accumulating its building materials. Then he dies, having never seen the temple he desired to build.

Solomon succeeds his father, David, as king of Israel. Solomon oversees the construction of the temple. A grand edifice, it takes seven years to build, a fitting effort for God’s earthly dwelling and the center of Jewish worship and life.

However, in a telling aside, the Bible indicates that Solomon spends almost twice as much time building his own residence. This seems out of balance: seven years for the house of God and thirteen years for a house for Solomon. What does that say about Solomon’s priorities? The temple is for all the people, as well as for God; the palace is for Solomon. Yes, the palace must be a structure worthy of a king, but spending over a decade on its building may be a bit much, especially given that it consumes almost one third of Solomon’s forty-year reign.

Yet I wonder how often we effectively do the same thing, placing greater emphasis on the things we do for ourselves than the things we do for God, the time we spend with him, and the offerings we give. We need to not only put him first, but he also deserves our best and our most. I fear we too often fall short in those areas.

We must truly make God our priority.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Kings 5-7, and today’s post is on 1 Kings 6:38-7:1.]

The Art of Giving to God

By giving to God we demonstrate our love to him

The Art of Giving to GodJesus says to give “to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,” Luke 20:25, NIV. While the context of this relates to paying taxes, the ramifications go beyond money. The Roman government, in general, and its ruler (Caesar), specifically, have an array of expectations that go beyond tax revenue. Caesar proclaims himself as god, and we see the far-reaching implications. Caesar wants for himself what the Jewish people reserve for God.

Many critics of today’s church claim “the church is only after your money,” and in doing so they imply God only values us for our bank account. While this is sadly true at too many church institutions, it’s not what Jesus intends for us and is far from God’s heart.

Yes, God wants us to give ourselves to him. As we seek to put this into practice, however, giving to God becomes more art than rule. Here are some considerations:

  • Money: When most people think of giving to God, they only think of money. Yet, we can’t actually write a check and hand it to God – and what would he do with it anyway? We give our money to God by using it to bless others and support causes that align with God’s heart, according to his Holy Spirit direction in our hearts. This may or may not be the local church. It could be a parachurch organization, to address a pressing social issue, or to help our neighbor in need. Regardless, when we give cheerfully as God directs us, we in effect give to God.
  • Time: We spend time with people we value: family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and so forth. The people we ignore must not be important to us. The same applies with God. Again, this may or may not happen at church. We spend time with God when we fast, pray, study the Bible, and practice silence and solitude. We also spend time with him when we sing to him and talk with others about him. And when we invite him to join in our gatherings, we spend time with him, because he is there.
  • Worship: In singing songs at church about God and to God, we give to him. We can worship him in other ways, too, such as prayers of praise, sharing with others our stories of his goodness, and enjoying his creation. I often worship him when I write.
  • Love: Perhaps the most misused, most misunderstood word in English is love: I love my wife, and I love to watch movies. I love nature, and I love the color blue. I love spring, and I love to write. And I love God. If our love of God means anything, we show it by how we use the money he blesses us with, how we invest our time, and how we worship him. Our love for him is a fitting response to his love for us (see 1 John 4:19).
  • Devotion: The act of devotion encompasses the first four items, but our zeal for God also goes beyond them. We set aside other pursuits to focus on God; we put him first, not in word but by our deeds. Devotion involves sacrifice and focused attention, as though nothing else matters, because nothing else truly does.

Giving to God is a lifelong, fulltime pursuit. As our maker, liberator, and friend, he deserves nothing less.

How do you give to God? What other ways are there?

How Do We Give to God?

The Bible says to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.

How Do We Give to God?While there is no biblical command to give 10 percent of our income to the local church, that doesn’t mean we should ignore giving.

Jesus’s detractors try to trick him into saying something condemnable about paying taxes. They figure they can use his words against him regardless of how he responds. If he tells them to pay taxes, then they can accuse him of putting the Roman government over God (of literally worshiping Caesar instead of God). And if he tells them not to pay taxes to the ungodly Romans, then they can turn him over to the authorities for treason or even insurrection. Either way they win.

Jesus responds wisely. He tells them to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (Luke 20:22-25). Once again Jesus foils their seemingly foolproof plan to discredit him.

But how exactly do we give to God?

As a small kid I connected our church’s offering ritual with Jacob’s ladder in the Bible (aka the stairway to heaven, Genesis 28:12). The ushers passed the plates and walked the collection up the aisle to the minister. I assumed that on Monday he would climb Jacob’s ladder to heaven and actually give our gifts directly to God. It made sense to me then. And it made giving gifts to God so easy.

So the question remains, how do we give our gifts to God? Since I can’t actually make out a check to God and hand it to him, what am I to do?

Again, Jesus has the answer. In a parable he teaches that whatever we do to help the less fortunate, we effectively do for God (Matthew 25:40).

So we give to God by helping the poor. We can help them tangibly address their physical struggles and we can help them eternally by meeting their spiritual needs.

We can do this directly through our own actions, and we can do this indirectly when we support organizations that help those in need as they point them to Jesus. If your local church can do this most effectively, then give to them. But check their budget first. For most churches only a very small fraction of the money donated is actually used to help those outside the church.

If another organization has less overhead and uses a higher percentage of donations to help others, then give to them.

Remember, we are to be wise stewards of the money God entrusts to us. We want to hear the words “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21) and not “You wicked, lazy servant!” (Matthew 25:26). May we use our money wisely to advance God’s kingdom and hear his approval.

How do you give money to God? How do you ensure you are a wise steward with the money God assigns to you? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Another Way to Give to God

What are the ramifications when we are kind to the poor?

Another Way to Give to GodThe book of Proverbs, most of which is written by King Solomon, reels off a list of pithy one-liners. Such is the passage for today’s reading. One that captured my attention is “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,” (Proverbs 19:17).

We know we should help the poor, and sometimes we do. When we wisely give to them – be it through our time, our possessions, or our money – we benefit them. We also gain because we do so as an act of obedience and an expression of love. And when we are generous in the name of Jesus, he is subtly celebrated. But there is one more thing.

According to Solomon when we give to the poor, we effectively extend a loan to God. In essence, giving to the poor is giving to God. But Solomon calls it a loan. Does that mean that God then owes us? Don’t go there, because we already owe him so much more than we can ever repay.

Jesus also encourages us to help the poor. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, the king (emblematic of God) says to his righteous followers: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” (Matthew 25:40).

Giving to the poor is giving to God.

What is a way you have helped the poor? What are your thoughts about lending to God? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Proverbs 18-21, and today’s post focuses on Proverbs 19:17.]

How Do You Affect Others?

We have an effect on everyone we meet. We can touch them in a positive way and leave them better off for whatever time we spend with them, or our interactions can have a negative impact and produce the opposite results. This might be at the store, how we drive, with our neighbors, during work, and when we’re at church. This happens through our actions, our words, and even our nonverbal communications. It’s in person, on the phone, via text, and using email.

How Do You Affect Others?

We have many opportunities to affect others. We can help them, encourage them, guide them, and pray for them. Or we can irritate them, cause them distress, criticize them, and discourage them. We can make their day a bit brighter or a tad duller. We can subtly point them to Jesus or turn them off.

Though I want to live my life with intention and have a positive effect on everyone all the time, I fear I fall short more often than not. Here’s what I recently learned about this:

We Don’t Always Know the Effect We Have On Others: A few weeks ago I was at a writers conference. I attend it every year to learn and to share. Three people surprised me by individually taking time to thank me for something I said or did for them the year before. Who would have known?

We Need to Thank People When They Impact Us: Another person thanked me for the writing newsletter I send out each week. She told me how helpful it is for her and that she looks forward to it. I thanked her for her encouragement. What I didn’t tell her was that I was quite discouraged with the newsletter: for the time it takes to do each week and my assumption that no one really cared. She refueled me to press on.

Sometimes God Leads Us to People When They Need it the Most: I also led a couple of breakout sessions at the conference. The second one did not go well. Though I know I shared useful information and provided value, I also feared I caused just as much confusion. I do know I didn’t communicate clearly: talking too fast and stumbling over my spew of words. When it was over the phrase “train wreck” kept popping into my mind.

Then our enemy, the father of lies, began his attack. My mind quickly spiraled out of control. Within an hour I had retreated to the bathroom to wallow in despair. I couldn’t think clearly and didn’t know what to do. Prayer eluded me.

When I emerged from my seclusion a friend’s gaze caught my attention. I don’t know if she beckoned me or if I was drawn to her. She thanked me for my presentation, the information I shared, and the value I provided.

She couldn’t be talking about me; surely she must be confused. But no, she had sat in the back row during my session. She was there for my train wreck but didn’t see it that way.

I thanked her profusely and told her just how much I needed to hear her words. My eyes misted over, and I gave her a hug of appreciation. Her words rejuvenated me, and the rest of the conference went great – thanks to one person willing to follow God’s prompting to search me out. She had a positive effect on me just when I needed it the most.

[This is from Peter DeHaan‘s October newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.” Do you want to receive his complete newsletter each month?]

Do You Excel at the Grace of Giving?

There is a curious phrase in the Bible: “grace of giving.” It occurs only in Paul’s second letter to his friends at the church in Corinth. Without it appearing elsewhere in the Bible, there are no other verses we can use to grasp a better understanding of this curious phrase.

In considering it, the “grace of giving” could imply we are to give graciously. The opposite is to give begrudgingly, and that’s not good. A gift given resentfully is hardly a gift at all. Gracious giving is the goal.

Alternately, “grace of giving” could suggest generosity. We give what others need and then give more. Or we give what we can and then make sacrifices to give more. We give “above and beyond” expectations. This, too, may be the grace of giving.

While there is value in both these considerations, I think there is an even better one. God gives his grace to us; we should give a bit of that grace to others. This could be money, or it could be kindness, tolerance, acceptance, or any number of the amazing gifts God has given us, his undeserving followers.

Regardless of how we understand the phrase “grace of giving” and what it precisely means, the key is to give. We are to give to others.

[2 Corinthians 8:7]

The Truth about Tithing

We’re supposed to tithe to the local church, to give 10 percent of our income, right? Hold on. Not so fast.

The Bible talks a lot about tithing, of giving one tenth of what we have to God. However, there are multiple tithes mandated in the Old Testament. Bible scholars say that when these are added up, they average out to 23 percent a year (one tithe is given every three years). That’s close to one quarter, far more than one tenth.

These Old Testament tithes were commanded by God to support the religious institution of the day: the temple, the Levites, and the priests. To equate the Old Testament temple and its priests with the modern day church and its ministers is a misapplication. When Jesus fulfilled the law, he replaced both, turning us – you and me – into priests and making us into his temple.

Instead, Jesus talked about helping those in need and being good stewards. The early church in Acts shared all they had with each other; that’s 100 percent. And being a good steward of all God has blessed us with also implies 100 percent. We are to use every penny in the best way possible.

Whenever the New Testament mentions tithing, it always refers to the Old Testament practice. Nowhere do New Testament writers tell us to give 10 percent to the local church, yet that is precisely what many ministers preach. Rather, we see commands and examples to use the money God blesses us with to cover our needs (not our wants), help others, and advance God’s kingdom.

If you feel being a good steward of God’s money is to support your local church, then by all means, do so. However, if you thinks it’s better used somewhere else, then donate it to that cause, but don’t be misled by preachers who claim something the Bible doesn’t say.

[Acts 2:44-45 and Acts 4:32]

“Can You Spare Some Change?” – Following Jesus’ Example to Help Others

For years, I’d drive to my urban office. After parking my car, the area’s homeless would often accost me. My goal was avoidance. And when that didn’t work, to minimize contact.

“Can you spare some change?”

I’d shake my head as I made a beeline to the safety of my work. Sometimes, they’d follow.

“It’s for food,” they’d say when I’d scowl at the brown paper bag in their hand or withdraw from the stench of alcohol or body odor.

“I don’t have any money.” On some days, that was true, but most times, it was a lie. I’d have a couple bucks – and I planned to keep it for myself. Plus, I didn’t want to enable their habit or perpetuate their lifestyle.

But one day, I felt the disapproval of Jesus. Surely, he would not shrink away. Surely, he would engage. If I was truly his follower, I had to do the same.

So, I began offering to buy them a meal at the local MacDonald’s. Usually – for various lame reasons – that wasn’t to their liking. Only once did someone accept my offer. I bought his meal, wished him a good day, and retreated with a smile. My smug satisfaction, however, didn’t last long when I realized I hadn’t considered him as a person. I met his request, but likely didn’t provide what he needed. I could have sat with him, listened to his story, even asked his name. I should have, but didn’t.

In the years that followed, I attempted to do better. Desiring to be a good steward of the money God gave me, I’d talk with them, seeking to distinguish need from greed, to help when needed, while not letting them take advantage of me.

I did some foolish things along the way: giving rides to questionable characters, flashing my wallet, and giving out my phone number. Thankfully, God kept me safe from my naiveté. Usually their con fell apart as I pressed into their story. But occasionally it didn’t, and I’d buy a meal, a bus ticket, or a bag of groceries. Twice, I couldn’t escape their fast-talking hustle, handing over money just to get them out of my car. They accepted my pittance because my probing was wearing them down and they knew it was the best they could do.

Even with the care I took, I suspect most of the time, they took advantage of me. Yet I did my best to exercise good judgement, so I’m okay if a few of them conned me.

However, the counterpart to being a good steward of the money God has provided is to give to anyone who asks. It’s a balance I haven’t figured out yet, but I’ll never stop trying.