Rhythm is a dancer, it’s a soul companion; you can feel it everywhere.
These lyrics by the famed German group Snap from decades ago immediately transport me back in time, perhaps even to a particular moment. The relationship between music and memory is powerful, and new research suggests how these memories can positively work even for therapeutic effect. Given my father’s musical background, music was deeply ingrained in me; however, the gift of music took on greater meaning after my conversion in 2004.
On a Whim?
I still remember that late evening as I waited for my husband to return from work. A friend had gifted me Don Moen’s live concert CD featuring the famous “God will make a way”.
Being an atheist at the time, Gospel music meant nothing more than just pleasant musical accompaniments. However, that evening, quite unfamiliar to me, I felt a great tug in my soul for something deeper and reached out to play my friend’s CD. As I watched the live choir resound in praise, I also watched a teary congregation lost in something that seemed like deep peace, something so foreign to me at the time.
Though my soul was so lost, I couldn’t deny the beckoning of God before me. His presence was so real, so palpable that I began to weep, not knowing why. As much as I resisted, I knew I was in the presence of Someone greater than myself.
Overtaken with awe, I began to sing and inadvertently even raised my hands, experiencing a rich pleasure I had never tasted before, something I ardently longed for all those years. That was 15 years ago, and the rich pleasure of worship only continues to sweeten over the years.
The Altar of Our Hearts
The Greek word often translated for “worship” is proskunesis, meaning “to kiss, to prostrate or make obeisance”.
Worship, then, can be literally perceived as ‘worthship’; giving God His rightful place. This revelation is crucial to our rightful disposition of worship, because how we see God will determine how we respond to Him. However, when Jesus presented God as Father, this revelation took on greater meaning, offering us the unique opportunity of intimacy in worship, teaching us that worship is first and foremost a matter of the heart. It is relationship. It is a call to adore God.
But who can adore God apart from grace? It is impossible to worship in “spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24), without accepting the great love God has for us and the power of His grace with which He moves us toward Him.
“Make an altar of your heart,” says Saint Peter Chrysologus. But in order for our heart to become an altar, we need to do more than just give things; we need to give ourselves. In my experience, I know that I am tempted so often to create an atmosphere, or set the stage for worship. Sadly I end up putting so much emphasis on creating the ambiance that I forget that my very presence is a gift for God. He longs for my worship and waits to sing over my troubled heart.
A Broken and Contrite Heart
How do we retain the integrity of worship when it’s easy to reduce worship to an experience rather than a way of life?
Ever since the Fall, man has a natural propensity towards self. Modern tones and glamorous screens, however helpful, can lose relevance if all we have to offer is a place to be entertained rather than be edified. The Great Commission places on us an urgency to win souls. But we must ask—to win them to what? Because at the heart of worship, the world needs to hear not, “Come and have a good time,” but rather “Come and follow me.” The intent of worship is always discipleship. It is always sainthood.
I started my journey as a worship leader, but it has taken some painful lessons over the years to learn the difference between being the gifted and becoming the anointed of God. A gift can take us places, but it is the anointing of God that sustains faith; a gift can entertain a crowd, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke. In all these years of leading, I can painfully say that this “self” so often gets in the way, looking for every opportunity to steal the spotlight, waiting to rob God of His true “worthship”.
Turned Toward Him
To worship from a contrite heart is nothing less than brokenness. The prophet Isaiah was broken in the presence of God (Isaiah 6). But this brokenness was not to destroy him, it was meant to strip him of “self” so that he could be set apart for God. There have been numerous experiences at conferences when worship has invoked a deep need for repentance, bringing to the surface of my heart attitudes and actions that had clearly offended the Heart of God. In my pursuit for perfection, I have often forgotten to bring the most valuable instrument my Father desires—my heart. In my pursuit to elevate “self” I have sought the applause of people rather than the affection of my Father.
God desires a broken and contrite heart; this is an ongoing lesson in worship. I am grateful for the many delays and disappointments of life; they have taught me that I have some long overdue work to be done in my heart. I am equally grateful that God’s hand of discipline is never without His Hand of tenderness.
Broken Chords, Mended Hearts
Two years ago I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. After weeks of diagnosis, I finally found myself sitting in front of a specialist who began to relay the condition of this ailment as one that had no known cure. It was a terrifying moment that lasted several weeks. Would this condition ever be healed? What if this condition leaves me immobile and hampers my dreams? For weeks, the perfectionist in me began to search the internet for tangible signs of certainty and alternate therapies; I was longing for peace, but also wanting control.
Singing through a situation like this was like singing through broken chords. It was not until I yielded my heart in worship that I began to learn that I may not have all the theological answers I need, but I always have a choice as a worshipper. I can choose to sing, even in this.
God has been teaching me in this season how my suffering can produce fruits like endurance, character, and hope that others can come and feast on when they face their own songs in the night. Worship isn’t a place to forget our circumstances; it is a place to bring those in. There are an incredible amount of lonely, hurting, and wounded people in this world who need our songs to point them to the hope of a greater reality. Our songs can become powerful stories when we allow God to shape us through suffering.
One thing that God is still teaching me through this uncertainty is that as a worship leader, as a mentor, I am replaceable; but as a daughter of God, I am indispensable and irreplaceable. There will never be another me. My song is unique and so is my story.
My Heart, His Throne
What is your story sister? How have you found strength to worship in the midst of pain? You may not have a stage to sing, but you have a voice to render. You may not be at the front of a platform, but you have a posture. When words fail and it’s hard to sing, my prayer for you is that you will remember that you are made for worship.
How consoling is the truth that the God who draws near to the brokenhearted is not removed from human pain but has borne under it, in the flesh in Jesus Christ? If every human lament is a love-song, then Jesus is the embodied hope that God is first singing over us; reminding us that grief is not the end of the story, but latent with a promise that one day as all will be made new, we will gather with people from every nation, language and tribe, to worship before the throne of the victorious Lamb, joining with angelic choirs, and singing the salvation song that changed all of history, beginning first with our own.
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Michelle Karen D’Silva is a Catholic speaker based in the small little peninsula of Qatar. With an immense passion for discipleship and youth, she finds herself most at home when laughing and conversing with young people over karak and hummus. She is a huge (almost stalker-level) fan of Pope Benedict XVI who constantly inspires her to live out the “call to greatness” as a woman in ministry, wife to a doting hubby, and mama to two constantly hungry sheep. Find out more about her here.