by Jason Hills
My 8-year-old son Graham loves to play the piano. He’s pretty good, as a matter of fact. Anytime he hears a song that catches his ear he can’t wait to get his fingers on the ivory to pluck out the melody. He can figure out tunes he heard a week ago on the radio, or at school, or church. But one song has begun to haunt us.
The year was 1985. I was styling with my oversized plastic framed glasses, MacGyver haircut, and high-topped Reeboks. I was mesmerized as I stared at the TV screen, my blistered fingers franctically working the game controller in my hand. I felt unstoppable. I was Super Mario, blasting Koopas with my fireball spit and saving Princess Toadstool from the evil Bowser. The electronic notes coming out of the 2-inch speakers in our Zenith console TV were my theme song. Little did I know 27 years later the same melody would again become my daily theme song.
Like Father, Like Son
Thanks to our Nintendo Wii, Graham has developed a love for Mario like I had as a kid. He and his brother Gibson own Mario toys, games, and clothes. But the one thing Graham loves the most is the theme song from the game. He plays it over and over. He received a synthesizer for Christmas so now I’ve heard it played on the piano, organ, steel drum, and sitar, just to name a few. He’s trained himself to play the song so well he doesn’t have to think about it.
I’ve heard the song so often it has become meaningless—just notes on a keyboard to a song—a song I go to sleep humming and dream about. Sometimes it frustrates me to hear it. At other times I don’t even realize it’s being played. A song that brought me so much joy as a kid now brings my son joy, but has turned into an issue for me.
There’s a song playing right now and for some it represents joy, for others frustration, and for others complacency. This song is the musical worship of our Lord. This song is played on street corners, in villages, around campfires, in large churches and small. The results are the same: joy, frustration, and complacency. How have we gotten ourselves to this place, and what can we who were created to worship do to remedy the issue? How can we make worship less about us and more about God?
A Time to Train
When the apostle Paul challenged Christians to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2), he knew the impact it would have if we fully committed our lives to this pursuit. Part of our renewal includes training. Even if we don’t realize it, we are training ourselves for something. Each time we think or perform an action repeatedly we are conditioning ourselves to make that thought or action a part of our routine.
How have you trained yourself to think about musical worship? Are your thoughts complacent or critical? Are you so consumed by the moment of worship that you lose focus on who or why you are worshiping? When our personal comfort or opinions interfere with our worship, we are taking from God what is rightfully his—our authentic praise.
It’s not difficult to feel moved by a worship experience, to be affected by the songs we sing and the Scriptures we consider. We leave having had an encounter with God. But when was the last time you walked into a worship service anticipating God?
One way I train myself to prepare for worship is to anticipate God before I join the worship gathering. God promises that he will be present when we gather together; we just have to be willing to pay attention to him. When I take a moment that is supposed to be about God and make it about my likes and dislikes, it’s no longer about him. It’s about me. I’ve taken him out of the picture. I’m capable of being moved by a moment intended for God without paying attention to him at all.
A Time to Pray
When I enter into worship I should be ready to give God my all. One way to do this is to learn to pray through worship. If you have trouble worshiping, pray for the people who are around you. Pray for the worship leaders and musicians. Ask God to move in the people who are connecting to him through the songs. Ask God to open your heart to authentic worship so that you may worship him in spirit and truth. When I have struggled in worship and prayed like this, I have experienced growth. When we pray through worship our focus shifts from ourselves to God. This can be a challenge, but challenge is part of the training.
A Time to Focus
I’ve become increasingly burdened over the past few years by our ability to take things God intended as holy reminders of who he is and make them about us.
We do this with music. Sometimes we make worship more about our likes and dislikes without considering what God has to say. Training ourselves to think more like God allows us to approach worship more authentically.
Musical preferences are subjective. A certain style of music may not work for you, but it may just be what the person next to you loves. I used to think God was tone deaf, that it didn’t matter what our praise sounded like as long as we brought our offerings authentically. I believe differently today. I believe God hears every note, every nuance of the songs we bring. The songs that are the sweetest to his ears are the ones we have trained and struggled to produce—the ones we’ve made more about him and less about us.
I’m proud of Graham for the training he has put into his music. Practicing melodies over and over again will allow his life to be filled with music. It’s a natural extension of who God has created him to be. We are created to be worshipers. Train hard so the songs you have trained and struggled over are sweet to his ears.
Jason Hills is worship minister at SouthBrook Christian Church in Centerville, Ohio.
Prepare Yourself for Worship
Ask yourself the questions Jason poses in the article:
“Are you so consumed by the moment of worship that you lose focus on who or why you are worshiping?”
• That question is hard-hitting. At times we can be either distracted or drawn in by certain elements of worship without truly focusing on God, the one we worship.
• Evaluate your words, actions, and thoughts to see if they are centered on glorifying and honoring God during a worship gathering.
“When was the last time you walked into a worship service anticipating God?”
As Jason notes, it helps to prepare ourselves before we join corporate worship time.
• Expect God to teach you something or reveal a truth about himself through something in the service. Look for it. Listen.
• Pray: before you go and while you are there—not just during prayer times, but during songs and readings and specials.