by Major Danielle
Have you ever been in a situation where you
think you’ve got it, but you don’t? You did everything right,
according to plan, the way you’ve always done it. It has
always worked—but this time, it doesn’t. Now what?
I’ve discovered that these moments offer us
an incredible opportunity. When an outcome is different than
our expectations, it forces us to stop and ask some important
questions: What are we doing? Why are we doing it?
Recently, I’ve been asking a lot of
questions about worship. How we can live out the kind of
worship the Lord says he requires from us in Isaiah 58? How
can we shift from a posture of “receiving” to a posture of
“giving” while we worship? After I preach, I’ve been asking
people for a tangible response—to consider giving financially
to help children escape extreme poverty, through child
In my line of work, I’ve come to realize
that we need to reach children or we have no hope of slowing
the violent trajectory of poverty that leads to systemic
injustice, such as human trafficking (the world’s
fastest-growing crime). Sending a girl to school reduces her
chances of being trafficked by 80 percent.
But getting people to respond has been
harder than I expected. I’m used to asking people to respond
to what I preach, but it’s almost always to receive something.
The difference with this kind of preaching is that it requires
something of the people listening. Few of us are used to being
asked to give something in worship.
I fear we have come to believe that worship
is a receiving act, a place we come to draw near to God. And
that’s true, but not the whole truth. Worship is more like
breathing than shopping. The rhythm of God’s coming kingdom is
receiving and giving—freely we receive, freely we give, Jesus
said. So I’ve been shocked at how hard it is to do the asking.
To be truthful, I’ve also been confused about the smallness of
Worship is more like breathing than shopping
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled that
more children in need are going to receive support. I know
many people are already giving sacrificially to other worthy
places, people and organizations (at least that’s what I tell
myself to get to sleep at night) and it’s hard to contribute
to another “good cause.” But I’m wondering about the cost to
all of us when we worship only to receive. And how it might be
robbing the church of the opportunity to encounter the God of
Isaiah 58 is about God telling his people
why they weren’t feeling his presence in their lives. He says
that his answers to their prayers are held back by their
refusal to respond to injustice and the poor. He says that
offering elaborate displays of worship while refusing to
engage with the needs of our fellow humans is unfaithfulness.
It means we’ve somehow disengaged our hearts from the pain of
the poor, and, in so doing, have moved far from him.
No matter how high we raise our hands, or
how amazing the singing, or how high-tech the lighting, the
Spirit of the Lord is far from us because we are far from the
I know that seems harsh, maybe even
judgmental. Take it up with Isaiah, or Amos, or Jesus, for
that matter. Or the early church, or the epistles of Paul or
James, or Revelation. The fact that it’s awkward to talk about
the God of the Bible linking our worship of him with our care
for the poor suggests that we are guilty of missing it. Why
else would it be awkward? Why else would it be a difficult
part of the meeting? Why else would you be secretly rooting
for me to back down and change my tone? What’s the deal?
Here are a few things that I believe need a
seismic shift as we learn to worship the God of the Bible:
From self-focused worship to a radical act
of surrender. We shouldn’t come to worship for ourselves, for
our needs or preferences. We should come to offer ourselves to
God (see Romans 12). Worship realigns our posture—from
focusing on ourselves to focusing on the sovereignty of God.
From receiving a blessing to blessing God.
This is the crux of the problem. Too often, we come to worship
to receive a blessing, when worship is supposed to be about us
blessing God. The question we should be asking in worship is
not, “How will God bless me?” but, “How can I bless God?” In
the history of God’s people, the best examples of worship were
always accompanied by extravagant giving.
From emotional responses to responsive
obedience to God’s Word. We’ve been fed a steady self-help
diet that says the primary aim of our lives should be to feel
good. But the peculiar truth never seems to dawn on us—that
when our feelings are the driving force of our lives, when we
have an insatiable thirst for self-fulfilment, we feel less
and less gratitude and compassion, and more and more
emptiness. The Bible equates our love not with warm fuzzies,
but with radical obedience to God. That’s what it says.
Obedience equals love.
Here’s the part where I remind you that God
loves you no matter what and will be with you no matter what.
God’s love is pure and holy and available, but I’m afraid that
what we’ve taken as God’s love is just an imitation of it. A
self-focused, materialistic and fickle love that comes and
goes with the quality of the performer.
I know—it’s hard. But what if it’s true?
I’m asking God to shift my posture. To
realign my life according to his values. To respond with
obedience. To draw near to bless him, instead of demanding a
blessing for myself. To pray for his presence to help me stay
fully engaged with the pain and injustice of the world, so
that I can help, somehow. That’s the worship he’s been waiting