Worship! Part 1

I guess the best way to start out is that I have always been a music lover. I was one of those kids who would listen to the radio endlessly. In middle school I would record my favorite songs playing on the radio with my tape recorder. Then I would play back the songs and try to decipher the lyrics. I enjoyed journaling song lyrics and would often sit and ponder the meaning behind the song. When I was in high school I was one of those kids who would have my music blaring loudly in my car with the windows open, singing as if no one could hear me. I have blown out a few car speakers in my time. I love music, I love loud music, and most of the time I love the hidden meaning of the words.

The first time I entered into an Evangelical church was at the age of 37. I remember walking into the building feeling really nervous. I had a rock in the pit of my stomach. I found refuge at a table just outside the worship auditorium. The beat of the music was like a rock concert. The music was loud. I couldn’t go in. It was too overwhelming. My husband and I sat outside of the room until the music was over, then we ventured in. Yup, I wouldn’t even go into the room until the music was over. It was just too much for me. You might find it peculiar that a music lover would avoid music. It wasn’t necessarily the music that bothered me, it was what was going on in the audience that made me uncomfortable. See, worship is an experience, an immersion, it creates an atmosphere and a presence that was intimidating to me. I had never experienced anything like it in church. Seeing people worship with their hands in the air, singing loudly was so big that it seemed to threaten to consume my very being. And that’s what worship is, it is the all consuming surrender of a believer in thanks and praise to our God and Father.

It took a couple of weeks for me to at least stand in the room during worship. The good news is that I actually ventured into the room. Over time I started to sing quietly. I cried a lot in those first few years. I was in a deep process of healing and conviction, so crying during worship was a release of some kind. About a year later, after receiving a lot of healing, I got some breakthrough in my understanding of worship. The tears lessened and I got the urge to raise a hand. I remember hearing someone talk about how we worship and praise God with our hands. I wanted to raise a hand but I was afraid. It sounds silly but I was afraid of what people would think of me if I raised my arms and hands. But after hearing my friend talking about how our hands are used to praise God, I stuck an arm up in the air. Victory!

I am here to say that it’s okay if you have a hard time worshiping the Lord freely. It is okay if that big room with loud music and raised hands is foreign to you. It’s okay if going into that room is too much for you. Take it easy on yourself. Maybe like me your first victory is actually standing in the midst of the atmosphere of worship. Understand, as you grow and mature in your faith, the urge worship will grow in you. It’s definitely okay to cry during worship, sometimes we purge negative stuff through our tears and come out healed. Sometimes a song can make you feel overwhelming gratitude for what God is doing in your life or reveal more of what Jesus did on the cross for us and the only expression you have are your tears. Just let it flow. It is safe to worship with your tears. You don’t have to be a super Christian (not that anyone is, it just looks that way sometimes). Take it slow and let God do the work inside of you to come into a place where you can worship freely. But for now, just let it grow and maybe raise a hand. See what happens…it might just change you.

 

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The Peace that Transcends

When I met Jesus, I lacked peace. I had a lot of anger inside of me. I believed that everything was designed to work against me. Living in the constant tension of the world made me believe that the only way I could have peace is through solitude. I recall saying many times that if I had to do my life all over again, I’d become a monk in Tibet. I am glad to say, I no longer desire to become a Tibetan monk. I learned that I have peace because Jesus gives me peace. Peace lives inside of me.

The first scripture that grabbed my attention about peace was Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT): “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” The Amplified Bible explains this peace as “that peace which reassures the heart”, it transcends our understanding, it stands guard over our hearts and it is a gift from Jesus. How is it a gift from Jesus? John 14:27 (AMP) Jesus says to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; My [perfect] peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, nor let it be afraid. [Let my perfect peace calm you in every circumstance and give you courage and strength for every challenge.] Jesus left with us his peace so that we can endure the troubles of life.

So how did Jesus leave peace with us? By the power of the Holy Spirit that lives in us. That is how I know that peace lives inside. Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:22 (AMP) says, “But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Another indication that peace is inside of us is that Jesus tells us we will have trouble in our lives. A sign of His peace is that these troubles do not shake us into worry, anxiety, or fear but that in our troubles we stay focused on Him who keeps us in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3). God tells us not to fear because He’s got this! He is ours and we are His. He protects us. We can stay in peace in the midst of terrible circumstances.

Isaiah 9:3 states the names of Jesus as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, Jesus is the embodiment of peace. He gave it to us as a gift to withstand the things that happen on the outside of us. He will keep us in perfect peace as our thoughts stay on Him.

A prayer for peace…

Thank you God that your son Jesus is the Prince of Peace. I thank you that Jesus gave me peace as a gift to help endure living in this world where there is trouble. I thank you that by the power of the Holy Spirit, peace lives inside of me and when I feel afraid, I can access peace anytime. I thank you God that peace can never be taken away, that it is always with me. I thank you and praise you that I have peace. Amen.

Prayer

All I had ever known about prayer is what I call canned prayers. Generic prayers from a book and repeated around me in a Catholic mass. Prayer was also penance. To me penance was punishment for confessed sin. You can imagine that prayer wasn’t a positive thing to me and I sure didn’t believe that prayer was something that I should do outside of church or as penance. When you don’t understand what you are doing and why you are doing it, there is little joy in the practice. However, prayer is a huge part of the Christian life, and I have come to find great joy in it.

One of the things that I am very thankful for is that I was blessed to be able to quit my job in the early days of my walk with Jesus. That first year is when I built my foundation. I grew my understanding, my faith and established a process toward healing and wholeness. Not having to work gave me time to pray. I had a rocking chair and a side table in the front room of our home and that is where I sat for hours upon hours a day praying, seeking God, and doing Bible study. I was ravenous. I wanted everything that was promised to me and I believed that what I asked for would be honored. I cherished this time. This is when and how everything changed.

So how do you pray? Pour your heart out to God, believe he is listening, and know you will be answered. My first prayers were very simple. A crying out for what I desired my life to look like. Bless my husband. Thank you for my children. Thank you for the people in my life who have been examples and blessings to me. My favorite prayer, even today, is “Jesus, help!” I journal a lot of my prayers. The featured photo is of my prayer journals and Bibles. I write prayers in my Bible (yes, you can write in your Bible!). In the first year, I intentionally wrote all my prayers down. The cool thing is that I can go back and see where God answered with a yes and Amen.

My prayers began to transition as I studied the Bible. I started praying scripture for myself and others in my life. I connected quickly with Philippians 4:6-7 (MSG): “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” I had a lot of worry and concern in my life; it is what drove me for years! Praying about it brought peace.

Eventually your life becomes a living prayer. That probably sounds weird. Life must go on, right? So prayer happened in the car, while exercising, at work, out loud immediately when asked for by a friend. Prayer is a constant, thanksgiving is a constant. In the restaurant, at school, in front of your kids, in front of your unbelieving family, and around your church family. Stand in the strength of your faith and pray! Let everyday life shape what you pray for. A circumstance in your own life, a homeless person on the street, a car crash, an unhappy cashier at the grocery store. It’s all prayer-worthy! Prayer is what transforms your life and the lives of others. It is what brings Jesus into the room, into the space that surrounds you to bring good. It is the power to change the atmosphere.