Posted in theology, worship

Passion itself is not worship

By Elizabeth Prata

Oftentimes the method or expression of our response to preaching (i.e. ‘worship’) becomes an idol. Depending on denomination, geographic location, or even age of the believer, people express themselves in church service in various ways. That’s OK. The worrying part comes when, rather than focusing on the object of worship, the method of worship becomes the focus. Don’t let that happen. Continue reading “Passion itself is not worship”

Posted in theology, worship

Is your church a spectacle in the right way or the wrong way?

By Elizabeth Prata

Where are your eyes looking? What’s claiming your attention?


The church was the one institution whose mission depended on galvanizing attention; through its daily and weekly offices, as well as its sometimes central role in education, that is exactly what it managed to do. At the dawn of the attention industries, then, religion was still, in a very real sense, the incumbent operation, the only large-scale endeavor designed to capture attention and use it. ~Tim Wu: The Attention Merchants

These days there are competing operations, all vying for our attention.

For politics, power, war, sex, sports, social media, gaming, or entertainment the best spectacles grab mass attention. Our culture is no longer banded together by shared beliefs; it’s drawn together by shared spectacles. ~Tony Reinke, Competing Spectacles

If  culture is no longer banded together through shared beliefs but by shared spectacles, what of the church, where we’re supposed to be banded by beliefs but now share only spectacles? Woe!

Hopefully your church hasn’t sunk into the idea that maintaining a spectacle is the only way to capture a person’s attention. It’s our beliefs that unite us, with that three-fold cord not easily broken.

When a preacher lifts up Christ crucified, it is the premier spectacle that captures us, the doctrines around that cross are the only draw that holds us together. Not concerts or hot dog barbecues or revival extravaganzas. Those spectacles hold attention only for a moment. Just the preaching of Christ and Him crucified is the pivotal sight before our eyes.

I pray your Lord’s Day is filled with the Word, song, prayer, fellowship, and the saturation of the shared belief that sustains and nurtures our souls.


Posted in theology, worship

Songs of praise, looking up

By Elizabeth Prata

jerusalem from scopus

Jerusalem from Scopus

‎We have no means of knowing whether Joseph and Mary entered Jerusalem on their way to Bethlehem. They certainly passed in sight of the Holy City. Scopus, from which our view is taken, is to the north on the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We will assume that they saw Jerusalem from this point. It was not the same Jerusalem we saw for the last time, as we made our way to the north on May 2d, 1894, but Josephus has left on record a description of the city as it existed in the time of Herod, and it is possible for us to construct in imagination the city of that time.

The framework is the same to-day as it was in the year 5 B. C. The same hills are there: Zion, Moriah and Acra. The same valleys are there: Hinnom, Tyropeon and Jehoshphat. The Temple of Herod, which was eighty-three years in building, had been in course of erection for fourteen years. From Scopus where we are standing they could have seen the ground plan of the temple, within the same enclosure of thirty-five acres, where we now see in the distance the Mosque of Omar.

Source: Earthly Footsteps of The Man of Galilee, being three hundred and eighty-four… views and descriptions of the places connected with the earthly life of Our Lord and His Apostles … By Bishop J.H. Vincent, etc. – 1894. This striking photographic journey throughout the Holy Land illustrated with no less than 384 b/w photographs taken in 1894 by R. E. M. Bain in order to document the expedition to Palestine headed by clergyman James Wideman Lee.

You can see that Jerusalem sits atop the mount, and the road leading up to it ascends. That is likely why the Psalms between Psalm 120-134 are named Psalms of Ascents. Though no one is quite positive about this, it is believed that these particular Psalms are gathered into a little hymnbook inside the larger body of Psalms because they were meant to be sung as the Israelites ascended the road to Jerusalem in advance of the several feasts and celebrations they were required to attend under the Law. The previous bunch of Psalms are called the Hallel Psalms, hallel meaning songs of praise, you can see we get the word hallelujah from hallel.

Phil Johnson explains it all here, in The Song of a Truly Blessed Man:

The position in the canon is significant, I think. They are grouped with Psalm 119 and the hallel Psalms. Most commentators nowadays believe these 15 psalms were sung by groups of pilgrims as they made their way to Jerusalem for those three pilgrim festivals—the same holy convocations where the Hallel psalms were sung.

So it’s my conviction that the “Psalm[s] of Ascents” were songs for the journey. These are songs for pilgrims as they ascend to a higher place. You know that Jerusalem is situated on a high elevation. The Temple was built at the very top of Mount Zion, and the city itself was the highest populated place in Israel. So no matter where you were coming from, it was always up to Jerusalem. Every journey to Jerusalem was a pilgrimage to a higher place—and those annual pilgrimages therefore made a perfect metaphor for spiritual growth.

Whether your church is up a mount or down a valley or on even ground, sing praises as you look UP today to the highest of the High, the exalted and lifted up Jesus.

By common confession, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was proclaimed among the nations, was believed in throughout the world, was taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)

May your Lord’s Day be blessed.

Posted in church, contemporary music, encouragement, music, worship

Is Music Worship? Do singers "lead worship"?

The selection of music in churches is important and is not based simply on preferences. Do not pooh-pooh the music by marginalizing it to a second tier of concerns and assigning it as simply a “preference.” Music is doctrine, sacred music is unique to the redeemed because it is our response to His redeeming work, and it is either reflective of the culture or it is reflective of the worshipful heart.

EPrata photo

First, let’s talk about what music in church is NOT. These are taken from John MacArthur’s recent sermon “Is Music Worship?” based on the verses at Ephesians 5:18-20.

  • Music is not worship. Music is a means to express worship, but it is not worship.
  • Secondly, a misconception is that music motivates worship, music induces worship. That’s not true either. … [T]he motive for all of our songs is not a sound, it’s a truth.
  • Another misconception is that when people have trouble worshiping, music will create worship, music will create the mood for worship. Worship is not a mood experience.

What true worship IS, is-

a permanent attitude. John 4, “We worship in spirit and truth.” That’s who we are. … The music of the redeemed is different. We live in a different world. We are citizens of a different kingdom. The music of the redeemed is alien to the music of the world. The music of the redeemed is reflective of that which is most lofty, most elevated, most exalted, most noble: the truth of God – it never changes. So our music doesn’t ride the culture. Music doesn’t ride the culture among the redeemed, it simply reveals the truth, and the truth never changes. (Source)

I encourage you to listen to the sermon. The explanation about music and its place in worship among the redeemed is stupendously explained, especially when you arrive at the powerful ending.

Meanwhile, I’d read Gladys Aylward’s autobiography and was struck by something described at the end of the book. The following is my retelling of Aylward’s event.

Unsplash photo- free to use

There is a great story in China Missionary Gladys Aylward’s autobiographical book “The Little Woman.” This occurred in the mid-1930s. She is trying to escape the invading Japanese, because they had put a price on her head. So she walked in a direction no Chinese went, over some mountains where the map was blank. She was with one other missionary. At dusk, seeing no human, no town, no habitation at all, they were debating whether to go back. The man told Aylward to sit on this nearby stump and he would go ahead a bit and see what’s what. Alone, Gladys began to sing hymns.

Soon the man came back and said, no luck. They might freeze out there or if they go back they might be killed. Just then a Lama (Buddhist Monk) came up. He said, come with me, we will take you to our lamastery. No people were EVER invited into a lamastery. But the duo believed it was an ordained appointment. I mean, what were the odds, right? So they went. They were led up the side of the mountain high up to a lamastery carved into the rock. They were greeted happily and warmly and fed and made comfortable.

She asked the head Lama the next day why they had been so cordially welcomed to such a private and mysterious place. Lama said that 7 years ago they brought to town their licorice that they pick and sell. They heard a lone man in the square saying that there is a God who loves them and salvation is free, if they believe- come to this building tonight to hear more. They were astounded that such a doctrine existed. There is a God? He loves? They accepted the tract the man was handing out, simply the verse at John 3:16 and the address, nothing more.

For five years they sought to learn more but were unable. Every time they went to town to sell their licorice they asked everyone about where to find “the God who loves.” No one else could tell them. Then one day a man was there and he did say yes, go to the China Inland Mission over there and they will tell you. A Mission house had been established.

They went to the Mission house and received New Testament bibles and tracts, which they brought back to the lamastery and read eagerly. They delighted in the notion that there was a “God who loves” but there was much in the book they did not understand. Still, they read, and they came to the verse where Christ had said of his apostles, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel.” And the monks believed that one day a person would come and preach to them them, because it said so in the book.

And three years later when they heard singing, they knew the person had come, because as the Monk said, “Only people who know God will sing.” And the person was Gladys and her companion. They rejoiced, knowing they were about to learn more. So she and the other missionary told all the monks about Jesus and then they left the next day, not knowing if the lamas were saved or became saved, but trusting that some would, sometime.


I had never thought about it before, but no other major religion really sings. Of course anything other than biblical Christianity is a false religion. In these false religions, there are chants, but no hymns. No singing. On that cold, dusky night, Gladys was recognized by Buddhists because she sang. Our music IS unique and we are eternally identified with it. It is not simply a preference. Toward the end of his sermon, John MacArthur said this:

And by the way, Christians are the only religion that sing. Muslims don’t sing, Buddhists don’t sing, Hindus don’t sing. They don’t sing. Some chant in a minor key; Christians sing. But when the Reformation came, music was reintroduced to the church; and you sing a hymn written by Martin Luther who launched the Reformation: A Mighty Fortress is our God. Five-hundred years after that, we’re still singing that hymn.

We sing because we have been redeemed. We sing a new song, one that the world does not hear. We sing because-

He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:2-3)

Posted in encouragement, praise, scripture photo, worship

Scripture photo: Love unmerited; and a praise to the Lord

I attended a church service today that was so sweet, so fresh, so fine, it sparked my thirst for seeing Jesus face to face all the more. Heaven’s worship is going to be so wonderful, I can hardly think on it!

The service began with five baptisms at the middle service. The pastor said there were several baptisms at the early service and several more would be conducted at the later service. Upon stating their desire for baptism, the prospective baptizees must complete a four week ‘new member’ course prior to being immersed. Baptism at this church is a serious thing, being a weighty ordinance of the Lord, and it is not undertaken casually. Therefore, knowing this, I celebrated their obedience into the faith all the more! I always tear up at baptisms, and this one was so beautiful I did have many more tears than usual. The elderly lady sitting next to me put her arm around me and said “Is one of them yours?” I said “No, but yes, they all are, now. They are my family.”

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

What a blessing to see new believers step forward and openly declare their intent to follow Jesus. Some of the baptizees were adults, some were college aged, some were younger. One man was an exchange student from China. What a wondrous display of the Holy Spirit’s move, to bring a person here to be baptized into the faith and when his school term ends, will return to plant his own seeds.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6)

After some good music, “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God almighty…” the pastor said that next Sunday the congregation will come together to vote on purchasing a house and 4-acre parcel adjacent to the existing 16-acre campus, it will complete their long-term vision. They believe they are meant to be in that spot, stay in that spot, and to grow disciples who in turn go out and plant churches in the neighborhood, county, state, nation, and the world. And they are doing this. They are committed to this biblical model, and it is a joy to see their obedience to it and the Spirit’s working through them in it.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

The sermon was at once Jesus-exalting and personally humbling as the pastor exposited the word of God and gravely and lovingly explained a parable from Matthew. What a balm to receive the word from a mature preacher who understands the scripture and is eager and sober in explaining it to his flock.

And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. (Jeremiah 3:15)

After the sermon we had the privilege of praying over and commissioning a couple with their baby who are finishing their furlough and are returning to their mission field into East Asia. Anyone who wanted to pray aloud for this humble and obedient couple was invited forward to do so. Hands were laid upon them, tears were shed, and hope was ignited that many living in darkness would hear the Gospel and be saved.

And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. (Mark 5:19-20)

I know the state of the visible church and it is not good. But the gates of Hades will not prevail against the church that Jesus is building and where there IS a solid visible congregation, it is a beautiful thing.

Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20-22)

The worship of the Holy head of our church, Jesus Christ, no matter where you are, is a life-affirming, sobering, joyful, glad thing, and something we have privilege to do each day for all eternity when we arrive en masse at New Jerusalem at the rapture. O blessed day.

Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. (Psalm 111:1)

Posted in church, worship

Is your worship exciting? I’m sorry


Before I was saved I’d attended many concerts and comedy shows. Before the main act appeared, there was always an opening act or as it is known, a “warm-up act”. The intent is to whip up the audience into an excitement. Wikipedia explains,

An opening act, warm-up act, or supporting act is an entertainment act (musical, comedic, or otherwise), that performs at a concert before the featured act, or “headliner”. … The opening act’s performance serves to “warm up” the audience, making it appropriately excited and enthusiastic for the headliner.

When we were at a taping of the Johnny Carson Show (Jay Leno had taken over when we were there) someone came out before the taping began and warmed up the audience. Wikipedia explains the comedy warm-up:

A warm-up comedian or crowd warmer is a stand-up comedian who performs at a comedy club or before the filming of a television comedy in front of studio audience to get the crowd into the mood ready for the show or main act. Their role is to make the audience feel integral to the show and encourage reactions during the show. They usually work alone and perform a comedy routine while also possibly explaining aspects of the show. They will also perform during commercial breaks.

This was the case with us. I don’t remember who the warm-up comedian was, but by the time Jay Leno came out through the curtains with the intro music blaring and asked, “Are you excited?” we could enthusiastically applaud and yell “YES!” The crowd went wild.

There are many praise bands whose intent is to do the same. By the time the main act arrives on stage (pastor climbing the pulpit) he often asks, “Are you warmed up excited?” Or if the congregation looks a little serious he might say “You all look so serious. We’re in church! Smile! Isn’t it exciting!?”

Is church exciting? Is that the only proper emotion one should express in church? Excitement? What is church worship and how should we express it?

John MacArthur’s series “True Worship” has a definition:

Worship Defined 

What is worship? Let me give you a definition: Worship is “honor paid to a superior being.” It means “to give homage, honor, reverence, respect, adoration, praise, or glory to a superior being.” In Scripture, the word is used indiscriminately to refer to the homage given to idols, material things, or to the true God. So the word in itself is not a holy word, it only describes honor given to a superior being. 

The common New Testament word for worship is proskuneo, which means “to kiss toward, to kiss the hand, to bow down, to prostrate oneself.” The idea of worship is that one prostrates himself before a superior being with a sense of respect, awe, reverence, honor, and homage. In a Christian context, we simply apply this to God and prostrate ourselves before Him in respect and honor, paying Him the glory due His superior character.

Essentially, then, worship is giving – giving honor and respect to God. That is why we, as Christians, gather together on Sunday. We don’t gather to give respect to the preacher or those in the choir, we gather to give honor to God. 

When some people attend church and they look serious it’s for a reason. We are there to pay homage to the supreme Being of the Universe, Yahweh. Did the Temple priests go dancing and prancing into the Temple hooting and hollering? Shouting “Come on, ya’all, bring on the sacrifices, it’s a great day to be in the Temple today!!!” Can’t picture it? That’s for a reason.

Here is Worship Matters on How Exciting Should Our Sunday Meetings Be?

Getting the Goal Right

But our lives aren’t an unending string of exclamation points. Our meetings shouldn’t be either. (Neither should our emails, but that’s another topic).

Strictly speaking, God never says the goal of the church gathering is excitement. It’s edification for God’s glory. We meet to stir up one another to love and good works, not simply to have an emotionally electrifying time. We meet to behold God’s glory in Christ through his Word, responding in ways appropriate to his self-revelation (Heb. 10:24; 2 Cor. 3:18).

That doesn’t mean gathering as the church isn’t meant to be a soul stirring event. We have every reason when we’re together to be excited about what God has done for us in Christ. But that’s not the same as aiming for adrenaline-pumping, professionally produced, high energy, exciting gatherings alone. That approach leaves little room to engage in expressions normal for elect exiles on our way to a new home (1 Pet. 1:1-2). Expressions like disorientation (Ps. 42:1-5). Sorrow for sin (Ps. 38:1-8). Grief (Rom. 12:15). A humble awareness of our creatureliness before our Creator (Ps. 95:6-7). Not to mention reverence and awe (Heb. 12:28).

Our greatest need when we gather is not simply to feel excited, but to encounter God: to engage with the certainty of his sovereignty, the reality of his authority, the comfort of his mercy in Christ, and the promise of his grace. We need to be strengthened for the battles against the world, our flesh, and the devil that will confront us the moment we wake up Monday morning, if not before. Mere emotional excitement, however it might be produced, won’t be sufficient. 

We need God’s Word clearly expounded, God’s gospel clearly presented, and God’s presence clearly experienced. We need well crafted, intentional liturgies that cultivate God-honoring, Christ-exalting thoughts and desires (See Rhythms of Grace and Christ-Centered Worship for more on that). Our efforts to make our meetings exciting can actually end up obscuring what our congregations need the most.

Some people when they go to church are excited in a way that’s more soberly mindful of the gravitas of the situation than the outward hyperactive excitement some churches seem to want or enjoy. Church is profound. We come before our Holy God to repent of sins, to call others to repent, and to praise and worship our eternal Savior. It is awe-inspiring, and yes, exciting, but not in the foot-stomping, hand waving, fervent excitement that some plea for and yes, even demand. Insistence on demonstrating our “excitement” at being present before God and the Assembly in one particular way is not at all liberating, in fact, it’s inhibiting.

The Bible on worship:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:19–25:)

We should aim for a more profound excitement. Here is Worship Matters again:

Towards a More Profound Excitement

The alternative to making our meetings more “exciting” isn’t trying to bore people. But Sunday mornings aren’t New Year’s Eve celebrations. They aren’t rock concerts. They aren’t pep rallies. They aren’t World Cup finals. They’re something much more mundane, and at the same time something much more eternally and cosmically significant. Our plans, lights, smooth transitions, technology, videos, sound systems, visual effects, and creativity don’t make it so. Christ dwelling in the midst of his people through his Holy Spirit makes it so. That’s why if we understand what’s going on, sharing the bread and cup during communion can be one of the highlights of our week, transcending the greatest of world championship sports rivalries in its effect on us.

What a great word. Transcendent. Our worship emanates from a sinful but justified heart, upward through three heavens to arrive at the throne of God.

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57:15).

This is the most exciting thing in the universe, our Holy Spirit in us, dwelling in our very body that is a Temple. I am hugely “excited” over this. Church leaders that insist on a enthusiasm exhibited a certain way, OR produce stage-effects designed to manipulate the congregation into exhibiting the desired enthusiastic exhibitions, should take heed of the 2 articles above.

Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. (Psalm 95:6-7)


Further Reading

Dude, Where’s your Gravitas?

Posted in abraham, abram, encouragement, worship

The first worship in the Land

Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12:7)

“By this act, Abram made an open confession of his religion, established worship of the true God, and declared his faith in God’s promise. This was the first true place of worship ever erected in the Promised Land.” ~MacArthur Commentary

“The March of Abraham” József Molnár – 1880

The first true worship in the Land… a worship of a worthy Lord which will never end. We are privileged to proclaim His excellencies forever and ever, in that marvelous Light of the eternal heavens.

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (1 Peter 2:9)