I was sitting in an old downtown bluegrass venue in Hartwell, Georgia when God showed me my need for authentic worship.
My brother, my dad, and I have this gift for finding the most redneck, hole-in-the-wall places in the entire world; it’s an art really. One night, as we drove into Hartwell, Georgia, we stumbled across this place called the Bluegrass Express. This was one of those places.
The old wooden floorboards creaked under the weight of my feet as we made our way to three of the only empty seats in the whole room. The entire room was packed with what could have been the Georgia militia, and we looked as out of place as a brown M&M in a bag of skittles. Walking into this bluegrass venue was like stepping back in time almost thirty years. The walls consisted of red bricks with rounded corners, now slightly green from years of aging, and dull gray mortar. “On the Air” flashed in red letters across a small oblong sign hanging above the stage, because the night’s program was being broadcast live on a local radio station. The owner/ host, clad in a once red, but now faded to orange shirt with a bright green sequined tie and matching pants added to the vintage atmosphere, as he told corny jokes and introduced performers.
This was an unusual place, but as I sat in utter amazement of its cosmetic and cultural enigmas, I soon noticed that the setting was not the only thing that I found to be peculiar. I noticed that during the middle of a song, the entire audience would begin to applaud, seemingly for no reason. But then I recognized why they were clapping. About four rows in front of me I observed one man who would always initiate the clapping, and the others would soon follow. Most of the people didn’t know why they were clapping or who they were clapping for, they just followed this man’s lead. I caught onto this plot and thought that I would try it for myself. I elbowed my brother and said, “watch this,” as I began to clap. Soon after, the entire audience was ignorantly clapping, for what or whom they did not know.
So often we enter into worship of our Creator like ignorant admirers. We don’t really know what or why we are worshiping. Sadly, we don’t even know who. We are ignorant and blinded to the fact that God created us to worship and put a desire to worship in the heart of every man. We are oblivious to the fact that our God is the living God, Jehovah, Yahweh; the God of the Old Testament, the disciples, the early Church, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He created us in His image and in Him we have life and our very being. Often we worship simply because we are standing in a place designated for worship, and we happen to be there at the appointed time. We worship because we are told to.
We put on a façade, and imitate the atmosphere around us. Just as the “clappers” ignorantly followed the lead of the “head clapper,” many times we are just following along as well. Someone will raise their hand in worship, spurring on others to do the same. Or maybe one authentic worshiper will fall to his knees in brokenness, offering both his strengths and his weaknesses to his Father, and soon after others imitate the act, perhaps to gain attention or prestige among the crowd.
We should continue to worship God corporately, but we need to stop faking it just to appease our obligations. We should never cease to worship our Creator, and our prayers should go beyond “amen.” Our lives should be living prayers. When we follow the crowd and worship just because we are at a “worship service,” we are in danger of dividing our lives into portions. We esteem the sacred portions, which are often few, but we forget that we submitted our whole life to Christ, not just the moments we consider sacred.
Have you ever “faked” worship? Have you ever raised your hand or closed your eyes just because others were doing the same? I have. It’s time to take off the pious facade of worship, to seek the truth behind our attitudes of worship, and expose our spiritual ugliness. It’s time to personally seek God for who He is, and experience worship in spirit and in truth.
When will we start to seek God and ignore the crowd? When will we stop worshiping God in order to appease our guilt, and start worshiping God with our hearts, pouring out the desire of our being to our Holy Creator? When will we start to pursue God with reckless abandonment and passionately explore the frontier of worship that He created us for?
“The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men” (Isaiah 29:11).
Joshua Burdette is a student at a small liberal arts college in Anderson, SC. He is still trying to know what it means to “live worship” and to “pray without ceasing.”