It had to go.
Every night after work, I came home and turned on the television. In a new city, with few friends, TV characters became my companions. The noise drowned out the memories of failure, subduing the raw ache in my heart. I tuned in every night, trying to tune out reality, watching until I just couldn't keep my eyes open.
But the still small voice was persistent, finally breaking through. One night I realized how much I was missing, how much I wanted healing. And I knew the television had to go.
That was eight years ago, and the beginning of an incredible spiritual reawakening in my life. On this journey, I've discovered how powerful God really is, as He freed me from addiction. I've found deep, dear friendships in my local church, in a small group that I would sacrifice so much for. In unemployment, I've learned to trust in God's provision. I've found joy in serving at my local church. Through it all, I find myself living out these words: "God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him" (Philippians 2:13, NLT).
And you know what? It makes me want to worship this amazing God who has worked so deeply in me.
Indeed, on this journey, I've discovered the power of passionate corporate worship. Through the contemporary worship movement of the last decade I have found an environment where I encounter God regularly in profound experiences. Worshipping through rhythmic music, singing lyrics written in today's English, is a cleansing experience for me, one that I long for when I'm away from my home church. I feel closest to God when worshipping Him passionately with a group of believers.
After all, God created us as emotional beings. It's exciting to be at a football game, for example, in a huge crowd yelling at the top of our lungs to encourage the home team on. When we score, the stadium turns into a giant celebration. And when we come from behind to win in the final seconds—it's absolutely thrilling.
And absolutely meaningless.
Really, there are far more important things to cheer about. Like the alcoholic who finds Jesus and sobers up. Like the abused woman who finds healing and safety in the family of God. Like the son returning home after squandering the family inheritance. You know how that story of Jesus ends: His dad threw a party, a raucous bash so loud that the brother heard it from a distance when he "came near the house" (Luke 15:25).
That's why I believe Jesus loves passionate worship. I have seen that it is possible to be solemn while energetic, reverent while enthusiastic, holy while loud. I have experienced "a time to weep and a time to laugh...a time to be silent and a time to speak" (Ecclesiastes 3:4, 7b).
If anyone is worthy of applause, it's Jesus. He deserves a standing ovation, a boisterous, whoop-hollering cheer. You're the Rock, Jesus! I love you!
Acts of Worship
On my journey, I have also found that worship is far more than communing with God through music and song on Sabbath morning. As Paul wrote, "Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship" (Romans 12:1).
In other words, every act of obedience to God is an act of worship. That includes what I do in public—and behind closed doors. It transforms my secret thoughts. It affects what I watch on TV (or not) and how I use every minute and dollar.
During the last few months, I've become increasingly convicted that I'm not being obedient to Jesus' clear directives about serving the poor. I've begun to take steps toward being more obedient in some of the ways that Isaiah wrote about:
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
(Isaiah 58:6, 7)
Living in an affluent society, it is easy for me to forget some of the very fundamental ways that God wants me to worship. Like visiting someone in jail. Volunteering at the local homeless shelter, or drug recovery center. Mentoring a job training participant trying to re-enter the workforce. Working to pass legislation that removes historic inequities. Cheering at Special Olympics. Delivering a food basket to a recent widow. Working at blind camp. Giving financially to help orphans in developing countries. Leaving for church a little earlier to stop and pick up a couple of people who need rides.
In the words of Jesus Himself: "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40).
As I read the Three Angels Message, there are two fundamental acts that stand out: worship and obedience. Listen as the first angel shouts, "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water" (Revelation 14:7). The next two angels make it clear: this is all or nothing. Either worship the Creator completely and exclusively, or face a judgment going against you.
I want to be part of a community that pushes against the prevailing winds of society that blow me toward pampering myself instead of caring for others. I wish that by attending a typical Seventh-day Adventist Church I would find myself surrounded by people actively sacrificing themselves to serve the poor, the disabled, the marginalized of our society. I dream of a day when instead of local Adventist congregations moving out of neighborhoods filled with poverty, we are moving in.
Most of all, I long for the day when our churches are packed with new believers passionately worshipping God, filled with gratitude because of the freedom found when God worked through us to break chains of addiction, and financial bondage, and broken relationships.
Because that's something worth celebrating.
Unless otherwise noted, scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.