Lessons From David on Unfiltered Worship

Nathan Lain, Co-Host of People Of Freedom

Nathan Lain, Co-Host of People Of Freedom

I'm reading through Psalm 5 from my Read Scripture app and I'm zoned in on verse 7 which reads, "But I, by your great love, can come into your house; in reverence I bow to your holy temple." It's a simple but powerful truth reminding us that He is the one who initiates our worship and guides our hearts to his presence.

What I love most about Psalms like this is the way that David weaves thoughts of praise with real questions, frustrations, and sometimes outright curses. If you were to translate this to today it'd be like a worship service where the leaders are singing, "I hate those guys! It's so annoying! I wish they'd all just go away!" combined with "Holy, Holy, Holy" and "My heart will sing no other name" ...it's kind of awesome, becasue this is exactly how our lives can be.

Even so, I don't think I've been in very many worship services like that. It's actually really hard for me to think of any examples of this kind of open prayer and worship. What we can learn from David is that true worship emerges from absolute vulnerability. It's only when we come to the Lord exactly as we are and give our burdens and pains to him we find total freedom.

Two Thumbs Up!

I'm not condemning optimism and I'm not turning away joyfulness, yet I can't deny that we are broken people with real hurts and struggles. If we approach prayer or worship with two thumbs up and a big smile we filter out all of our deeper needs and thoughts or experiences. I don't believe that God ever expects us to just "grin and bear it" rather I believe His intent was a communal relationship where he engages with us in all of our life experiences. This is exactly why he sent his Holy Spirit, to be with us and to reveal his kingdom inside our hearts.

Transfer that to worship. So what does this filter look like? Well, have you ever been in a worship service - whether leading or participating - and experienced a kind of tug from the Lord toward vulnerability or surrender that resulted with a push back from your heart? I can find myself asking the question, "Is this appropriate right now?" or "Am I going to bring people down with this?" That right there is the filter holding us back from true worship.

There is such a fine line in this discussion. I've seen the opposite happen where worship becomes consumed by self-centered lyrics. The focus turns to our need for the Lord and how broken we are and it never moves to the triumph of the cross and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Staying in that filter is equally unhelpful.

Worship as a Process of Overcoming

Jesus declared in John that "he has overcome the world." This is a message that we are called to engage in. Perhaps we look at verses like this and forget that worship is truly communing with God's presence, being face to face, so that the process of breakthrough begins. I believe that God does miracles in a moment, but I also believe in the process of renewal and have come to love this process. There is nothing more liberating than experiencing the power of Christ overcoming the sin and brokenness in my heart.

Seriously. You know exactly what I'm talking about. Its surrender.

God is so patient with us. He gives us the gift of Emmanuel. Instead of choosing to *poof* - eliminate all our needs overnight, he opts to be present in each moment of growth. As we look back on seasons of struggle, his presence is a testimony of his faithfulness. The more we live in this way of surrender, the more aware we are of his goodness, the more we desire to be Holy like he is.

This is the simple process that David found himself in. It reminds me of some lyrics I wrote in a song about surrender.

The more I come to know you
The more I want to show you
Your perfect love has made its home in me.

So take me by your Spirit
Oh, Lord I want to feel it
Your fire that ignites all that's in me.

Unfiltered - His Way

So we read the Psalms with all of their honesty and vulnerability and it becomes an example for us. Each word of praise from David is rich with genuine faith. This is precisely because David was unwilling to ignore his own pains and needs just to fake praise. He was often nearly demanding that God deal with him justly. He was not outside of God's presence just stomping his feet like an impatient toddler, rather he was living in a process where he allowed God to overcome his need and transform his heart. He trusted God because he was convinced of the Lord's goodness and faithfulness.

In a way, holding back a portion of our heavier emotions or experiences in worship communicates to the Lord and to our own hearts that we do not truly believe His power is greater than our need. If our worship experience is dependent on us then we definitely have a need for optimism (its not helpful to just point all the attention on our needs in worship and stay there). However, if our worship is dependent on God's great love, as David writes in Psalm 5:7, then we must allow for the Holy Spirit's work in our hearts as we worship.

When it comes to worshipping in community, we need to build models of vulnerable worship. We know that breakthrough is just on the other side of surrender. Some of the sweetest moments of worship are those characterized by the process of God overcoming. These are the moments where our desire to trust God with our hearts transforms into a total experience of freedom. Suddenly, it becomes our joy to say to the Lord, "I need you."

Nathan Lain
Co-Host of People Of Freedom

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