I was shocked! That shirt! Who in their right mind let him lead worship wearing that hideous shirt! Tatty and faded that shirt had seen to many summer days. It should have been thrown out long ago, but there it was, up front and heralding the call to worship. All my thinking became absorbed in the fact that the worship leader wasn’t meeting my perceived minimum standards for appropriate attire. That is until the penny dropped. And it dropped hard. You hypocrite!
When had I become so judgemental? When had the clothing of the worship leader become an important part of my worship? Thinking back I can see that it must have happened slowly. Through several years at my church I became so immersed in the familiar worship style that I had formed an expectation of what worship should look and feel like for it to be acceptable in my eyes.
My church had set the standard high. Wealthy in talent and finances the church had it all. Amazing singers and musicians who overflowed with passion and charisma when leading. They were matched with state of the art facilities and equipment along with tech guru’s to create an all round 10 out of 10 worship experience. Immersed in this style of worship it had become my minimum standard. So slowly had the change progressed that I didn’t notice until confronted with a worship experience that was in my eyes, mediocre.
The truth is that I had brought my own worship expectations with me. An unspoken set of criteria that I needed fulfilled to feel like I was worshiping. A pleasing appearance of the worship team. The songs I like, sung the way I like. Pitch perfect in all aspects. In that moment as I stood for worship in the unfamiliar church it became apparent to me; I had made worship all about me.
I turned to the bible to realign my focus in worship. There I found two accounts of worship that melted my judgemental heart. A woman’s extravagant disposal of a bottle of perfume and a woman who had almost nothing to offer were shining examples of the true heart of worship.
A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them…
She just poured the whole bottle of perfume on Jesus’ feet! The whole bottle. Not just a little puff of fragrance and then save the rest for later, no, the whole bottle. Just like some of the disciples who witnessed the event, my initial reaction was to question the worth of this outrageous extravagance. Couldn’t the value of the perfume have been better spent on a worthy cause?
But Jesus wasn’t critical of the woman. Quite the opposite, he praised her for her extravagant act of worship and criticised the host. A person who although had invited Jesus into his home, to be close to him and learn from him, had failed to worship him. He had neglected to treat Jesus with any special significance, as someone who is worthy of praise. Essentially, he had come to church but only to indulge in himself.
In steep contrast to the Pharisee was the woman. She poured out her tears and her wealth and laid them lavishly at Jesus feet. The woman was more focused on Jesus than on her own reputation, her own comfort, and her own personal cost. So what can we draw on from her example of heartfelt worship? Was Jesus particularly pleased with the expensive bottle of perfume? Or was it something else he had seen in the woman? To dig deeper into the heart of worship we need the worship example of another woman who brought Jesus very little.
As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Two “very” small copper coins. I highlight the word “very” in this passage because it underscores just how insignificant this woman’s gift was, in a financial sense. And yet her gift was the one that Jesus singled out as the greatest of everyone who came to church that day. A poor window whose worship so struck Jesus that her story is recorded in the Bible to teach generations of Christians for centuries to come. What did she do that was so great in Jesus eyes?
It wasn’t the gift she gave. In this realisation we also come to know that the worship of the first woman was not in the gift of expensive perfume either. Now it must be said that there was nothing wrong with the gift of perfume, but it was just not Jesus priority. Even though the women in these two passages are vastly different in wealth, Jesus proclaims that their worship is equally extravagant, equally lavish, and equally beautiful in His eyes.
Putting these two passages together we learn that Jesus sees straight through the pretence of those who come to Him. Straight through their gifts, their words, and their appearance. He peers deep into the hearts of those who come to worship, for true worship comes from the depths of our heart. The true heart of worship is not something we experience on the outside, but on the inside. It is to drop all pretences, to let go of all our expectations, to forget what we want and to let our hearts beat for what Jesus wants. It is simply to come and worship Him.
Where do you fit in these passages? If you are like me you might feel like the Pharisee whose expectations got in the way of truly worshiping Jesus. Similarly, you may feel like the other givers who went to church but who gave with a lacklustre heart. Exposed by the shining example of worship from the two women, we are confronted with the realisation that our hearts have drifted far from the true heart of worship.
Realising the true heart of worship in our life places Jesus at the centre. He is to be the focus of our worship experience. It is not about appearances, the songs we like, our friends or the facility in which we meet. It is about coming to meet Him. He is not looking for you to provide a perfect 10 out of 10 worship experience. He is looking for your heart to be turned toward Him. He is the true heart of our worship.
There is a beautiful song by Matt Redman that can help us to refocus on the true heart of worship. Let the words resonate with your heart today.
“I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about you, it’s all about you Jesus. I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it, when it’s all about you, it’s all about you Jesus”
K.W. Recommended Reads In Worship
What is Worship? Interview with John Piper; Desiring God.
Do You Worship Your Worship Experience? by Andrea Lucado; Relevant Magazine.