"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

The Real Worship Wars Are The Battles Within Us

I once heard a worship leader pray during a corporate worship time: "These praises are for You, Lord. This worship is for You. Worship is not for us, it is for You. Our hearts are the offering.  This praise is for You. Great are You Lord!" The prayer was moving and from the heart, and in no way detracted from worship.

However, I've told the people who listen to me teach that nobody should accept what I say without searching the Scriptures to see if what they've heard from me is true. In a similar manner, we ought not to assume everything a worship leader says, even in his prayers, is based on truth. Though the worship leader was sincere, the premise of his prayer, in my opinion, is not based on biblical truth.

Our worship is never for God.

Let me explain.

God is the all-sufficient, infinite and resourceful Creator of the universe.  He needs nothing from me, including my worship. Doubt this is true? Listen to these verses:
"The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath." (Acts 17:24-25).  
Worship was never designed to give God anything. Why then does God seem to require praise and worship from us if He doesn't need it? C.S. Lewis answers this question in his amazing little book Reflections on the Psalms. Lewis confesses that he was once bothered by what he calls "God's incessant demand that we tell Him how good He is."  Listen to Lewis describe how reading the Psalms caused him to view God in an unfavorable light.
"We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence, or delightfulness. We despise still more the crowd of people around every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity who gratify that demand. This picture began to emerge in my mind of God that was ludicrous and horrible .... God says in the Psalms, "Whoever offers Me thanks and praise, he honors Me." It seemed to me like God was saying, "What I most want is to be told that I'm good and great." I found this extremely distressing. It made me think what I least wanted to think about God. Gratitude to God, reverence to Him, obedience to Him; I can understand that, but not this perpetually  eulogy."
Lewis was bothered because it seemed that God was demanding our praise and worship because God needed it; similar to an insecure person needing compliments. However, the more Lewis studied the Bible, the more he began to understand that his view of God was wrong. Lewis came to see the biblical truth that God was in need of nothing, even our praise. Lewis then reached the understanding that worship was designed to give us what we need. Listen to Lewis:
"In worship, it is God who gives, and it is we who receive. The miserable idea that God should in any sense need or crave for our worship like a vain woman our compliments or a vain author presenting his new books to people who never met or heard of him is implicitly answered by the words from Psalm 50:12: 'If I be hungry, I won't tell you.' Even if such an absurd deity could be conceived he would hardly come to us, the lowest of rational creatures to gratify his appetite.
C.S. Lewis, the incredible and talented writer of many books, then summarizes his argument that God is never in need of our worship with a vivid analogy that draws a mental picture that instantly causes me to see the silliness of saying God wants my worship because He needs my praise or that He needs my devotion.
I don't want my dog to bark approval of my books."
Bingo. Think of the implications to both your private and corporate worship if what Lewis is saying is true. If we don't come before God in worship for His sake, then for what reason do we worship?  If God is self-sufficient and cannot be served by human hands, then why do we worship God at all? Lewis reasons worship was never designed to give God approval, honor, or compliments, but it is an avenue through which our full hearts can burst out in love, praise and adoration of the One who infinitely and eternally loves us and gave Himself for us. The all-sufficient God doesn't need it; those who are inwardly bursting with joy do!
"The most obvious fact about praise, whether of God or anything, strangely had escaped me. I thought of praise as compliment, or approval, or giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise, unless shyness or the fear of boring others, is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise; lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game.... except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible."
"I had not noticed either just as men praised whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join us in praise it. Isn't she lovely? Wasn't it glorious? Don't you think that magnificent? The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about."
"I think we delight to praise what we enjoy, because the praise not merely expresses, but completes the enjoyment. Praise is joy's appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are, the delight is incomplete until it is expressed."
"If it were possible for a created soul fully to appreciate, that is to love and delight in the worthiest Object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, that soul would be in supreme be-attitude."
"Therefore, to see what this doctrine really means, we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God; drunk with, drowned in, dissolved by that delight, which far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression. Our joy no more separable from the praise in which it liberates and utters itself than the brightness a mirror receives is separable from the brightness it sheds."
The Westminster Confession says it best: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." What too few of us realize is that these two things (i.e. "glorifying God and enjoying Him") are actually the same thing, for they are the inseparable parts of real worship. ""Only when I truly enjoy God in my life will I ever really glorify God in my worship."  My enjoyment of God is never really complete unless there is an outlet through which I can praise God! Where there is no intense and personal joy from the continual discovery of God's great grace in Jesus, there will be no external and exuberant corporate expression of God's magnificent glory through worship.

That's why worship in many churches is either on life support or dead. It has nothing to do with Saint guitars versus Steinway pianos, videos versus violins, or any other differences in style. Though many call the disagreements over 'contemporary' and 'traditional' styles of worship 'wars,' in reality, the real war in worship is the internal battle in me. God calls me to rest in Him, to enjoy Him, to be so captivated and enraptured by His love and grace for me, that I will burst unless I actively worship God and give expression to what's happening in my soul.

Worship is inner health made audible. If there is no soul-tingling, mind-bending, emotion-touching, will-transforming enjoyment of God, then there is no soul-tingling, mind-bending, emotion-touching, will-transforming worship of God! Worship of God is non-existent when enjoyment of God is non-existent. Sure, I can sing songs, play music, and 'do church,' but if there is no understanding of what it means to be fully satisfied in God,  then there will be no desiring to publicly express my praise and gratitude in real worship of God.

When I was discussing this issue with Rachelle she asked me about Matt Redman's popular song entitled We Are Here for You. The title seems to indicate the song is built on the false premise that God needs our worship. However, when you read the words of the song, you realize Matt Redman is saying "We Are Here for God," like one would say "I'm going to Braum's for ice cream," or "I'm going to the store for milk."  There is something in worship that I need. I'm going to worship because I must express how great God or my heart will burst! I am so captivated by who He is to me, that I must tell others about Him and encourage others to rest in Him and worship Him. If I can't worship, then I'm not happy! I must worship! I need worship!

Worship is for me!

The real worship war taking place every Sunday morning is the same battle that takes place within you every day. It is the fight to learn what it means to enjoy God and His love and grace for you, and rest in Him and not your own performance or lack of it. Worship is designed to be the consummate expression of those who are bursting with love for God!

It's okay for people not to sing in corporate worship. There are times I don't feel like worshipping. That doesn't affect God. It just shows me I'm losing the internal battle. My soul isn't healthy.

So, back to where we started this post. When a worship leader says, "These praises are for you, God" as if God needs my worship, I cringe. I am the one who needs worship and praise, or if I'm not into worship and praise, my thoughts should be on what's going on inside of me! Why am I not delighting in God and His love for me? For a better understanding of this profound principle, I would encourage you to watch my friend Sam Storms as he beautifully and verbally articulates this doctrine via video.

It will change the way you worship.


Addendum: In the comment stream of this post, an excellent question is asked that serves as a great illustration of this principle.

Question: - "But isn't it possible to say "These praises are for You, God," and mean something other than "You need our praises?" If we look at the praises as gifts of love, then "These praises are for You, God," is like saying, "These flowers are for you, honey." The point is not so much what is given, as the fact that something is given. Even if she doesn't like those kind of flowers, a wife will appreciate the love that prompted them. Even so, I think, does God.

My Response: - "I understand what you are saying, but it is precisely the opposite of what I am proposing as truth. God appreciates, loves, cares, guides, protects, embraces, delights in, and sings over His people whether we give him beautiful flowers, ugly flowers, or NO FLOWERS at all. He doesn't need our worship to feel loved or to respond to us in appreciation. God's love is not drawn out by our loveliness, but  eternally flows from within Himself like an artesian spring. Therefore, my worship is but an expression of my understanding of His unknowable and unconditional love for me (see Ephesians 3:14-21). Worship bursts forth from me as my consummate delight of God! He loves me whether I worship or not. :) When I don't worship, I'm losing the battle of enjoying God and His love! This will take a while to digest. If you ever see it and believe it you will be genuinely set free, for the truth always sets one free."

A Foster Parent's Love Can Heal a Broken Heart: The Story of John Rowlands, a.k.a. Henry Stanley

St. Asaph's Workhouse, Wales, United Kingdom
The boy never knew his birth mother. She never came to visit.  He would one day discover she had been eighteen and out of wedlock when he was born.  Illegitimate children in 19th century Wales carried the scars of social stigma, including being branded 'a bastard.'   This boy was called a bastard child. Some whispered that the boy's mother made a living prostituting herself. The bastard's grandfather, they said, was only caring for the boy to atone for his daughter's shame.

John Rowlands was the boy's name. Nobody knew the name of the boy's father. His mother refused to give her last name to her illegitimate son. The boy's maternal grandfather, Moses Parry, took care of John as best he could, but when the boy was just five and a half years old, grandpa Moses fell over dead in his potato field. He was seventy-five.

There was nobody left who wanted to care for the bastard child.

The boy's missing mother had a couple of well-to-do brothers who took John in for a few days after their father's funeral, but they soon shipped the little boy to a neighbor family and promised "to pay for his keep." After six months, the money stopped coming. The uncles refused to take the boy back, so the neighbor family asked their oldest son, a twenty-seven-year old named Richard, to get the six-year-old John Rowlands ready for a journey.

It's best to let Richard's own words describe what happened next:
"My parents and I told John he was going on a trip to see his relatives. I requested mother to dress the little boy....Then taking his little hands over my shoulders, I carried him down through the town passing the houses of his well-to-do relatives... The boy was anxious and often asked "Where are we going, Dick? Where are we going?" I told him we were going to see his aunt Mary. We walked eight miles to the St. Asaph Workhouse. When we arrived, I set the little boy on the porch and rang the bell. I told John to stay there and I turned to leave. He asked me "Where are you going, Dick?" I told him, "I'm going to buy cakes for you." I left John at St. Asaph's and never returned." ((South Wales Daily News, 14 May, 1904: Interview with Richard Price):
Six-year-old John Rowlands would spend the next ten years in the St. Asaph's Workhouse for the poor and abandoned. He would later write, "the false cajolings and treacherous endearments on that eight mile journey to St. Asaph's will live forever in my memory. It would have been far better for me if Dick, being stronger than I, had employed compulsion, instead of shattering my confidence and planting seeds of distrust in a child's heart."

Nobody is quite sure if the cruelty at St. Asaph's was as bad as John would later recount in his autobiography. All new arrivals, whether abandoned children or pauper adults, were stripped, shaved of all hair, and given drab, uniform clothing to wear. John claimed he was often beaten, and he dreamed every night of running away. Four years after arriving at St. Asaph's, the warden pointed out a woman and asked John if he knew her. "No sir," John replied. "What? Do you not know your own mother?"

John's mother and her next two illegitimate children had been sent to St. Asaph's Workhouse due to their abject poverty. Though she'd been told by the warden John was her son, she never made any attempt to speak to her boy. "I expected to feel tenderness towards her, but her expression was so chilling that the valves of my heart closed as with a snap." (Source: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer, Tim Jeal).

Escape from St. Asaphs

Liverpool Shipyards (1860's)
After ten years of closed-in walls, drab clothing, and the mundane routine of institutional living, John Rowlands escaped the poorhouse. Though the details of how he freed himself from St. Asaph's at the age of sixteen vary, John Rowlands would eventually make his way thirty-five miles northeast to the big city of Liverpool. He found a job making deliveries to the ships that docked from far away places. One day, after delivering meat to an American packing ship called The Windermere, the captain invited seventeen-year-old John Rowlands into his cabin and offered him money to serve as 'cabin boy' for the next trans-Atlantic trip to New Orleans. John knew his only hope for a brighter future was to accept. What John didn't know was that 'cabin boy' meant 'ship slave,' and the awful abuse boys his age endured on similar journeys often led them to jump ship without waiting to be paid. In December 1858, at the age of seventeen, John Rowlands left Wales and sailed for America.

The trans-Atlantic trip to New Orleans took two months, and upon arriving in New Orleans, John 'jumped ship,' having experienced what other 'cabin boys' had endured in similar circumstances.

What happened next is nothing short of amazing.

An American family took the boy John Rowlands into their home. He met this foster family the first day he jumped ship, while walking the docks of New Orleans. This American family owned a business that traded in goods shipped up and down Mississippi and its tributaries. John saw a sign in the shop window that said, "Need a boy" and he went in and applied to be a shop hand. The family took John in as one of their own, not only giving this teenager a place to live, but showing him with affection that he'd been lacking his entire life. John, for the first time , experienced 'familial love.'

This family was the equivalent of a modern foster family.

John Rowlands Makes a Name for Himself

According to John, his new American 'father' would eventually get him established in a trading business of his own on the Little Red River,  a tributary of the White River and Mississippi River, about 50 miles north of Little Rock. John took the skills he learned in New Orleans with his foster family and put them into effect as a young adult in Arkansas. It was during this time that, according to John Rowlands, he changed his name to honor his American 'foster father" - Henry Stanley.

John Rowlands - a.k.a. Henry Stanley
John Rowlands, aka. Henry Stanley, a Welshman with no American papers, would join the Confederate Army after the Civil War broke out in April 1861. He didn't particularly desire to fight, but all 'the boys his age" were joining the cause, and he was too afraid of being called a coward not to join. His Arkansas regiment would be sent to Corinth, Mississippi where Henry Stanley would fight in the Battle of Shiloh.  Henry Stanley's Arkansas 6th Regiment engaged the Union's Illinois 9th Regiment in the pitched battle in a 'half-mile square of woodland' that killed General Albert Sydney Johnston and my wife's (Rachelle Burleson) great-great-uncle, wounding Rachelle's great-great grandfather as well. During that battle, Henry Stanley escaped death, but was captured by the Union army and taken to near Chicago, where he was imprisoned. The United States government later released Henry Stanley after he pledged to fight for the Union. Stanly joined the Union army, but abandoned his post. He wanted nothing to do anymore with hand-to-hand combat. He'd been shocked at Shiloh "that the human form we made so much of should now be mutilated, hacked, and outraged; and that life, hitherto guarded as a sacred thing... should be so easily given up to death." He added the middle name "Morton" to avoid detection as a deserter, and just prior to the end of the Civil War (1865), Henry Morton Stanley joined the Union navy

While in the navy, Henry used his skills at reading and writing, honed as a boy at St. Asaph's Workhouse, to record the ship's logs. After the war, Henry Stanley traveled to St. Louis, Missouri and applied for a job as a 'reporter' with the St. Louis Democrat Daily, using his experience in the navy as a reference. He was hired, and it was on a special assignment with the St. Louis Democrat in Indian Territory, that Henry Stanley began making a name for himself. He was the only reporter at the infamous Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867 in Indian Territory, the first treaty between the United States government and Plainsmen Indians.

Newspapers from all over the country reported on the astonishing treaty signed by the government with the Plainsmen Indians, a treaty that confined the roaming Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache Indians to reservations in "Indian Territory" (Oklahoma). This infamous treaty ensured Manifest Destiny - the ability of the United States to link both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts via railroad without threat of Indian attacks. Henry Morton Stanley's colorful reporting of the Medicine Lodge Treaty led the owners of the largest newspaper in America, the New York Herald, to offer H.M. Stanley a job.

It was James Gordon Bennett, Jr. owner of the New York Herald, who sent his young reporter in early 1871 to Africa to find the long-lost missionary Dr. David Livingstone. On November 10, 1871, after an excruciating difficult journey into the heartland of Africa, New York Herald reporter Henry Morton Stanley met the oft-presumed dead, but still living Livingstone, and greeted him with the famous words:
"Dr. Livingstone, I presume."
Henry Morton Stanley would go on to become the greatest explorer the continent of Africa has ever seen.  His discoveries and explorations of the Dark Continent are legendary. The Queen of England knighted him. He became a member of British Parliament. He became the recipient of the Royal Geographical Society's gold medal. His life  is a long legacy of exploration, discovery and ultimate recognition.

A great deal of credit to the man H. M. Stanley became goes to the love of an American foster family.

My son and his wife took into their home this week a little girl, a foster child whom they believe God's given them to love. I write this post to encourage them and thousands of other foster families that take in children, both young and old, who for circumstances beyond their control no longer experience the love of a family. A foster parent's love can heal a broken heart and set a child on a future course that could change the world.

By the way, the building where John Rowlands stayed for ten years as a destitute orphan, known as St. Asaph's Workhouse in St. Asaph, Wales, United Kingdom, still exists.

It's now the H.M. Stanley General Hospital.

The love of a foster family can make a difference.

Knowing God's Love And Being More Loving

This morning I found myself reflecting on W.H. Auden's famous couplet "If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me." I am in the unfortunate position of seeing many marriages, friendships and relationships break apart because of unequal affection. As I reflected on how to be the one loving more in the face of unrequited affection, I felt inspired to add two additional verses to Auden's famous stanza from The More Loving One. I trust you will be encouraged through these words to rest in the incredible depths of God's love for you, and to realize that knowing His great love is the only way to persevere in unrequited love (Ephesians 3:14-21).

                No Greater Love
How should we like it were the stars to burn
With a passion for us, we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
If I think this only brings pain,
I’ve yet to learn love’s true gain.
For when I give without any pull,
It’s a sign my heart is already full.

This is the reason I bow my knee
And ask to know God’s love for me.
If your affection ever turns cold,
My love for you will never grow old.
W.H. Auden and W.W. Burleson (2014)