After returning from Dallas, TX, where we were privileged to be part of a fabulous church 10-year anniversary celebration, God reminded us of a great truth!
Many of their members hail from Nigeria, Benin, Ghana and other African nations, and most of the guest ministers/artists were African-born or raised. It was a real treat! It felt like we were over in Africa, with only a 90-minute flight there & back!
We were so blessed with not only the privilege of leading everyone in worship but also to experience their worship and presentations of traditional African dances and songs. It has truly stirred our hearts for the beautiful people of Africa.
God is such an artist! He has creatively fashioned each one of us in His image with unique characteristics and scattered us throughout the whole world. The heart, humility and joy of our friends in Dallas opened our eyes once again to the Lord's incredible versatility in His creation, as well as in worship styles.
In our culture we have embraced a style of worship that is comfortable and acceptable for us, however other cultures' expressions of worship can be very different.
I first realized this on a trip to India when I was asked to travel to a small village and minister to a very poor congregation. As we entered the village, to my surprise the joyful assembly greeted us with tambourines and hand made drums as they danced and praised God, escorting us into their little church (which was literally a hut with a thatched roof and beads hanging down the entryways).
As I entered, the place was jam packed with people and many more outside listening as they continued to sing and dance. They brought me to the front where I sat on the ground and closed my eyes to pray. I was overwhelmed with how different this worship was than anything I had ever experienced, yet how clearly I sensed the wonderful presence of Jesus.
That taught me a lesson, which I embrace to this day:I am never to judge or criticize a worship style, because you just never know what's going on in the heart of the worshipper.
Jesus was asked a question about worship from a Samaritan woman:
So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped? John 4:20
She was basically asking a question that I've been asked many times: "What is the right way to worship God? Is it here or there? Is it this way or that way? Is it fast or slow? Is it this song or that song?" etc.
I just LOVE the way Jesus answered her.He went straight to the heart of the matter:
Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the One you worship, while we Jews know all about Him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming-indeed it's here now-when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship Him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in Truth. John 4:21-24
Basically Jesus tells us that it's not the outward location or even traditions of worship that makes a difference, but it's worshipping God in Spirit and in Truth. That's what the Father seeks. He seeks for people who will worship Him with all their heart, soul and mind, and as I wrote in a song,...and All That Is Within Me.
Jesus said that some people worship Him with their lips but their hearts are far from Him. So even loud and awesome singing can be in vain if the heart is not connected. (Matthew 15:8-9)
The bottom line is, God is not so concerned about our musical styles nor our outward expressions of worship. He is interested in whatâ€™s going on in our hearts.
God doesn't see as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance
but God looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7
Too often I think we can fall into judging other cultures even in our own cities as being too emotional. Or to the other extreme, being too stoic and unemotional in their outward worship experience (many times labeled "dead churches").
Who are we to judge?
Even in my own experience, there have been times when I have danced, jumped and shouted with joy in praise to the Lord. At other times I have just stood with my eyes closed (or even opened) and not moved a muscle as my heart engaged in deep, earnest fellowship with the Lord. It's not the outward that counts but the inward experience.
Different cultures express joy and intimacy in different ways, and that is a beautiful thing.
Bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His Holy Name.
Let's learn to appreciate and celebrate our diversities in worship and in culture.
God will take our end and birth a new beginning!
Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. John 11:25
Giving thanks among the nations,
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I wrote a song several years ago about Jesus' encounter with Mary & Martha from Luke 10:38-42 titled Listen to His Heart. I can reme...
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