3 Keys to Improved Worship

Have you ever thought about ways to improve worship? Much has been written on the subject recently. Allow me to share a few thoughts I’ve gleaned from my study over the last few years.

3 Keys to Improved Worship

1. God is the audience. When you hear the word audience associated with worship, what comes to mind? Do you picture the preacher, the praise team, the choir, the organist, the pianist, and various soloists on stage at different points with the congregation looking on as the audience? This is what comes to mind for many, but it is not a biblical model.

In biblical worship, the audience is God!

In biblical worship, the audience is God! The person seated on the back row of the balcony is “on stage” in God’s eyes just as much as the soloist and the preacher. God watches all of us as we worship Him. Those in the congregation must understand that those on stage are not there to please them; they are there to please God!

2. Every Christian should prepare for worship. Through the years, I have taught that we should come to the services “prepared” to worship God. We can’t worship if we’re worn out or hung over from a late Saturday night. We can’t place God first on Sunday if we haven’t given Him a second-thought during the week. Worship is a seven-day-a-week proposition and it takes special preparation to be ready for Sunday worship. Many get nothing out of worship because they’ve put nothing into worship during the week.

We can’t place God first on Sunday if we haven’t given Him a second-thought during the week.

3. Preaching is a two-way street. Every week I look out and see a plethora of reactions to my preaching. I see some on the edge of their seats, making mental notes and often taking written notes. Sitting near them, I often see someone fighting back sleep. Now I realize that some people have medical issues that cause them to sleep any time they get still for a minute or two, but I suspect that some are just dulled to the message because of their lifestyle. My preaching would improve in their eyes if they would improve the way they live.

Challenge:  I challenge you to a little experiment. Spend one entire week preparing for worship on Sunday. Read your Bible and pray every day. Ask the Lord to help your pastor to hear His voice as He shows him what to say. Go to bed early on Saturday and get to church a little early on Sunday so you won’t feel rushed. During the service, remember that God hears your expressions of praise and knows your heart. I am confident that worship will “come alive” for us like never before when we make it a true priority in our lives.

5 Keys to Being Healthy During a Crisis

At times I have struggled emotionally with the situation and outlook caused by the Covid-19 epidemic. This crisis is unprecedented in our lifetime and we’re all trying to respond well. Pastors face a unique challenge trying to minister to their congregation when they cannot meet in person or on a restricted basis. Since challenges are a normal part of life, how can we stay grounded and healthy during a crisis?

5 Keys to Being Healthy During a Crisis

1.  Love God. Regardless of what is happening in life, nothing will substitute for loving God. According to Jesus, this is the highest commandment on which all the other commandments stand (Matthew 22:37). Just like in marriage, loving God requires discipline and focus. Practicing spiritual disciplines like Bible intake and prayer help to fan the flame in our relationship with God. We will have ups and downs during a crisis, but we should work hard to keep our relationship with the Lord fresh and strong.

2.  Love your family. God created the family before He created the church. Pastors and spiritual leaders often neglect their family in order to serve the church, but that does not please the Lord. I’ve certainly been guilty of this. It’s challenging at times to have the proper balance in this area, but it’s vital that we do. Covid-19 social distancing requirements have temporarily changed the way we gather as a church, but the priority God places on family remains the same.

3.  Love people. No, they’re not perfect. Yes, they will disappoint you. Yes, you will disappoint them! But, make your mind up to love the people that the Lord places in your life. Pray that you will love them like Jesus. Love those who agree with you and those who don’t. Love those you enjoy being around and those you do not like. God will bless a person who loves others as we are instructed (Matthew 22:39).

4.  Love the Bible. Many of us say we have a “high view of Scripture,” but we do not give the Scriptures a high priority in our lives. We don’t read the Bible regularly and we don’t communicate the Bible accurately. We should make this one of the marks of our ministry. When people look back on my ministry, I want them to say “he always preached God’s Word with passion and accuracy! He was committed to the Word of God!”

5.  Love yourself. I’m not suggesting that we become weak in the knees when we look at ourselves in the mirror. I’m simply suggesting that we take care of ourselves spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Not only should we practice spiritual disciplines, we should practice physical and emotional disciplines as well. Follow the Covid-19 guidelines that are recommended. Eat right, exercise, sleep, rest, recharge, etc. It’s so easy to neglect this area of life when we’re under pressure, but we will not be fully effective in the other areas if we do. Truthfully, we may inadvertently shorten our life as a result which also shortens the years we have to serve the Lord here on this earth! That would be a tragedy because it would mean that we were bad stewards of the life God gave us.

5 Mistakes During Conflict

We are increasingly seeing conflict in society in general and in our local churches specifically. In their book entitled Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care, Tara Klena Barthel and David V. Edling did a great job defining conflict and uncovering what the Bible says we should do when conflict arises. In the first chapter, they shared five mistakes that most people make when conflict happens. These mistakes are the beginning of a tragic downward spiral.

5 Mistakes People Make During Conflict

1. We think OUR evaluation of the situation is always right. I’ve made this mistake and you have as well. It’s easy and natural to do, but it’s not best to do. In order to resolve conflict, we must be open to listen to the “other side” and be willing to consider that we are not totally right on the issue.

2. We treat people differently than God treats US. God treats us with love and grace. He forgives us when we don’t deserve it. During conflict, we often treat the other person with contempt and disrespect which leads us to disdain their perspective.

3. We assume that God is on OUR side. Although we may accept that those on the other side of the conflict are believers, we believe that we uniquely have God’s attention, care, and blessing more than our opponents do.

4. We become DEFENSIVE. As soon as we become defensive, we become closed and narrow. We believe that God takes our side on the issue and condemns those on the other side of the conflict in the same way that we do.

5. We are marked by PRIDE and selfishness. These characteristics are not from the Lord. Instead, Christ wants us to be marked by humility and love which leads toward reconciliation.

Conflict is a normal part of life. No one is exempt! But, as believers, God calls us to respond differently than the world and to DO OUR BEST to resolve the conflict.

If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Romans 12:18 (NKJV)

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3 Ways to Respond to a Challenge

Did you know that only one miracle is mentioned in all four Gospels? Do you know which miracle it is? It is the miracle where Jesus fed a large group of people by exponentially multiplying the lunch of a small boy. I have often wondered why this miracle is so important that the Lord included it as many times as He did.

One day in preparing to preach from John’s account, it hit me that Jesus described how three different people responded to His challenging question, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (John 6:5).

3 Responses to Jesus’ Challenge

1.  The response of Philip. How did Philip respond? He took out his iPhone and fired up his food preparation app and did the math. The story tells us that 5,000 men were present, so the number was probably 10,000+ when the women and children were included. Philip answered, “Two hundred denarii (8 months wages) worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little” (John 6:7). Then notice what Philip did next. He dismissed the challenge immediately. He gave up without trying. And, he didn’t even consider God in the equation.

2. The response of Andrew. Andrew’s reaction was an improvement, but not much of an improvement. He inventoried available resources and said “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” (John 6:9). After that he dismissed the challenge and he seemed to also leave God out of the equation.

3. The response of the little boy. Interestingly, the little boy is almost invisible in the story. We know nothing about him or his family. We don’t even know his name. All we know is that he was willing to share what he had. I don’t believe for a minute that he was the only person there with food. You mean to tell me that no one had a PB & J? A can of Vienna Sausages or Beenie Weenies? A bologna sandwich? A granola bar? Or a Snickers? Surely others had food, but he is the only one in the story who shared it with the disciples. God took his small gift and used it in a marvelous, miraculous way to feed everyone who was present that day.

Are you facing a challenge? How about your church? If so, then you’re normal. We all face challenges on a regular basis. This is earth, not Heaven. We have not arrived yet. How will you and I respond to the challenge we currently face? Will we respond like Philip and dismiss the challenge immediately? Will we respond like Andrew and take an inventory of what we can do? Or will we respond like the little boy and give what we have to the Lord and trust Him for the results?

Prayer: “Lord, please help me to respond like the little boy in the story with the challenges I face!

2 Ways to Eliminate Hurry

Speed Limit.25One of the great books on spiritual disciplines is John Ortberg’s book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted:  Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People.  You can read my review of the book by clicking here.

One of the spiritual disciplines he talks about in the book is the practice of “slowing.”  Have you ever thought about “slowing” as a spiritual practice?  One of his mentors told him that if he wanted to grow spiritually that he must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from his life.  Listen to a great quote from his book:

Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day.  Hurry can destroy our souls.  Hurry can keep us from living well….Again and again, as we pursue spiritual life, we must do battle with hurry.  For many of us the great danger is not that we renounce our faith.  It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it.  We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.

Most of us battle the hurry sickness, but how can we treat it–how can we cure it?  There are two main practices that can help us swim against our culture’s current of hurry.

2 Ways to Eliminate Hurry from Our Lives

1.  Slowing.  Slowing involves cultivating patience by deliberately choosing to place ourselves in positions where we simply have to wait.  Slowing will seem like such a “waste of time,” but it is invaluable.  Here are some examples.  Deliberately drive in the slow lane.  Chew your food slowly.  Get in the longest check-out line at the grocery store.  Go through an entire week without wearing a watch.  Read each sentence slowly–then read it again even more slowly.

2.  Solitude.  Solitude is a more traditional spiritual practice.  I’m not saying that we should take it to the extreme and join a monastery.  I’m just saying that solitude is the one place where we can gain freedom from the forces of society that will otherwise relentlessly mold us.  When we’re “alone” with God–He molds us!

We need some small measures of solitude every day.  A walk, a run, a short drive, working in the yard, sitting in the car before going into the office, a quiet time–all these serve as moments of solitude.  On occasion, we need longer periods of solitude.  Take an afternoon to yourself or even an entire day.  Go to a place where you will be uninterrupted and alone.  Spend the day relaxing, reading, walking, napping, etc.

Both of these practices have been vital to my spiritual growth and to my ability to hear from God.  By the way, if you haven’t read John Ortberg’s book on spiritual disciplines, you must do so.  Here’s a link to Amazon where you can purchase the book and get started.  I wish I had read this book as a new Christian and learned about the practice of “slowing” and many of the other spiritual disciplines that have helped me to grow in recent years.