This article recently appeared in the Fall edition of the OasNet 8 x 10 magazine. By request, I posted it on my blog as well. I hope you enjoy.
The Password of Praiseby Lucas Miles
As a kid, my parents taught us a secret family word that was only to be used in case of emergencies. For instance, if something happened to my parents and they had to send someone in their stead to pick us up after school, they would tell the person the password, so that we kids would know that the stranger wasn’t a kidnapper or connected with Al Qaida, or something. The only way we were getting in the car with them was if we heard “the password.” (Though I’m tempted to tell you our hilarious family password, for the sake of my family’s continued security, I must decline. You just never know when we might need it!)
Later, during my freshmen year of high school, I attended a Christ in Youth conference with my youth group on the campus of a small university in Manchester, Indiana. As my friends and I holed up that week in the large corner room, we were certain that we were the coolest things ever to hit campus; much cooler, in fact, than even the other guys in our youth group, whom we didn’t really like so well. Now, we were sure they had to be aware that we didn’t like them, yet they still wanted to hang out with us, and began constantly knocking on our door. As a remedy to this, my friends and I thought it wise to invent our very own secret knock, so that while we were in our room hanging out, if someone knocked on our door without using the “secret” knock, we simply wouldn’t answer it. I can still remember it to this day; knock, knock, slide…, knock. It was our secret handshake—our password.
You see, passwords make entrance easy. In fact, without knowing a password entrance is next to impossible. For example, I could try to log onto your email all day, but without your password, short of randomly stumbling upon it, my attempts would never be successful. The same would be true for safes, garage doors, or bank vaults. But with the use of a simple code, (a password), entrance is automatic.
So what do passwords have to do with worship, you ask? Everything. Have you ever had an intense emotional time during worship, only to be disappointed when the same thing doesn’t happen during the next service? Have you ever been a part of a worship service that felt one sided, one dimensional, flat, and lifeless? Have you ever looked around to see people worshiping and dancing, but for whatever reason, not feel like you are able to enter into that place with the Lord again? If you have, it probably felt hauntingly similar to being kept out of a dorm room, because you didn’t know the secret knock—like Jesus and all of his friends were inside throwing a party, but you couldn’t come in, because you just didn’t know the password.
The good news is that worship doesn’t have to be something that just happens to us. Fortunately, God isn’t like my friends and I. He isn’t purposely keeping anyone out of his presence. Instead, he’s waiting for us to use the password. The Message says in Psalm 89:15; “Blessed are the people who know the passwords of praise”. So what’s the secret knock that enters us into His presence? What’s the password to enter into life-changing worship? In a word; praise. Psalm 100:4(NIV) says this, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.” I used to always read that verse as a thing of reverence, as in, “When you enter into the throne room of God, make sure to put on a spirit of worship.” In actuality, what the Bible is literally saying is, “You enter into the gates and courts of God through praise.” Praise ushers you into His presence. As Psalm 22:3 says, “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” Praise sets the stage for God to interact with you, to bless you, to lift you up out of your situation and circumstance into the courts of His love. Thanksgiving and praise cause doors to open up so that we can directly experience God. The key is for us to initiate the encounter through uttering praise to Him.
Before I understood this, God’s presence just seemed to arbitrarily manifest during times of worship. I would walk into a worship service totally unsure of whether or not I would experience the Lord that day. For many of us, consistency seems to be lacking. Some days worship is spirit-filled, other times, we deem it “not anointed” and leave dissatisfied. We’ve all heard comments like, “Worship just wasn’t very good this morning,” but I think we need to be more specific. It might be true that the band wasn’t good, or the volume was too loud or too soft; or maybe even the lighting was too dark or too bright, and it’s true that those things can affect your ability to worship, but they aren’t worship in and of themselves. Worship is the process by which your heart and mouth work together in unison to give praise unto the Lord, and the only way this can be “bad” is if you don’t open your mouth. Your participation is necessary.
Not only is your participation necessary for worship, the level to which you participate can affect your worship experience. The NIV states Psalm 89:15 this way; “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you.” For most of us, the thought of worship being learned seems foreign. As pastors, we expect for it to be intuitive and instinctual. We beat ourselves up when our congregations don’t respond with thanksgiving and praise, or if they leave without having had a life-changing experience. If I had a nickel every time a pastor uttered the phrase, “I just don’t understand why the people aren’t into worship. I mean they’re just standing there lifeless.” We need to realize that contrary to popular belief, it’s not a conspiracy. No one has organized an anti-worship demonstration during your Sunday morning service. The people (more than likely) need to learn worship’s secret password.
Most Christians I’ve witnessed wait until they feel something, (a holy goose bump, a chill of excitement down their spine), before they begin to praise. Sadly, when these feelings don’t come, their countenance deflates, and they leave the time of worship feeling either critical or condemned. On the contrary, the psalmists say to open your mouth, proclaim praise to God, and you’ll quickly find yourself caught up in the courts of His love. It’s important to note, God is always present during your worship experience and He invites you to join Him where He is.
Once during a worship service, a friend of mine leaned over to me and said, “God’s just not here tonight”. That’s just plain bad theology. God lives in me. If I’m in the room, then so is God. The same is true for all those who are in Christ. Through relationship with Christ, we are allowed to enter into God’s presence. And when I’m offering up praise to God, it aligns my heart with His perspective, elevating me to a high place, and allowing me to see things from His vantage point. God has chosen to include us in the worship experience and He gives us the password out of relationship, not our works.
So if you want to experience worship as alive, spectacularly intimate and vivaciously freeing, you have to open your mouth. If you do, you’ll never leave church again feeling critical or condemned. The whole sound system could blow up and as long as you are uttering praises to God, you’ll be blessed. Each of us has a choice, to set aside our self, and to elevate Jesus Christ.
You might be saying, “I know, I know. It’s not about me, it’s about Him.” But that’s not your experience, is it? If worship were truly all about Jesus, then no one would ever say (or feel), “Worship wasn’t that good today.” Because, truly, if it really was, ALL about Jesus, as long as someone uttered praise, sang a song, or read some scripture to God, wouldn’t our experience be different? In actuality, worship is about Him and us.
I used to have nightmares about heaven, and me sitting on a cloud for eternity singing “How Great Thou Art”, while God arrogantly absorbs His much overdue praise for being the Alpha and the Omega. For some traditionalists, that picture isn’t really too far off from their theology. Yet that’s not the nature of God we see in scripture. Instead Jesus says, “I’m going to prepare a place for you.” For me? But I thought this worship thing was all about God? It’s both. You see, God, the picture of selflessness, has chosen to pour out all the blessings of Heaven onto us. It’s like some weird birthday party where you bring a gift, but shortly after arriving, you realize the guest of honor got you something infinitely better – and it’s not even your birthday.
I think we understand that we’ve all received an invitation to worship, it’s just that sometimes we feel like we’re either at the wrong house, or worse yet, we showed up, but God didn’t open the door to receive us. Unsure, we leave worship feeling either critical, (critical of the band, the lighting, the vocalists, etc.), or condemned, (condemned, because we’re unsure of God’s feelings toward us.)
So what’s the key to offering up reverent honor and homage to God and receiving all that He has to offer during worship? Again, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name” (Psalm 100:4, NIV). “But what exactly am I supposed to say”, you ask? “How do I praise and give thanks?” Practically speaking, just tell Him how you feel about Him and what He means to you. Read scripture back to Him. For me, my Bible is an integral part of my worship. It gives me words to say and psalms to sing back to Him. Others might simply sing “Jesus, Jesus”, there’s not just one right way. (Notice, however, that these examples are all based upon opening our mouths and hearts to issue praise toward God.) The result—God says, “Hey thanks for coming. I know this is my party and all, but I just couldn’t help myself. I got you a few presents. You do like peace, love, joy, healing, and eternal life don’t you?”