Earlier this year, I was in Brazil, co-leading a group of students on a 2 month outreach. We went to multiple parts of Brazil and there was good ministry happening. 10 women giving their lives to Jesus in a prison, sharing about intimacy with God with the youth inside churches, amazing testimonies! But I was getting tired. I was feeling distant from God. I wasn’t hearing Him. I didn’t know what He was saying over me. I started to feel insecure as a leader and as a person. If you saw me or heard me during this time, you may have thought to yourself, “This guy really loves God,” or “This guy is really connected.” You would’ve thought that because I used all the right Christain lingo. I worshipped loudly. I read my Bible. I listened to podcasts and had all these thoughts about evangelism, miracles, revival. I had all the strategies for how to make this stuff happen. Yet, my heart felt heavy. Unsatisfied.
ALL JESUS WANTED WAS MY HEART
One day, I had the opportunity to take an evening off while the rest of my team went out to do ministry. As soon as they left, I went and grabbed our team guitar out of its case and started to play. As usual, I started to strum really fast and started to sing and pray even louder than the sound of the guitar. I did this all while pacing back and forth through the living room in the house we were staying in. Going back and forth between singing different Christain songs to singing different names of God like “Abba,” “Lord,” to singing the more popular phrases, “you’re everything I need,” “you’re all I want,” “holy, holy, holy.” When suddenly, I heard God speak. “Eric, stop playing the guitar.” I stopped with a confused look on my face but nevertheless, I put the guitar down. I took a deep breath. And then continued to pace and pray loudly and zealously.
Without the guitar in my hands, now I was picking up some impressive speed with my pacing, going from one wall to another in this living room until I heard God speak to me again. “Eric, sit down.” I felt frustrated but didn’t question too much. I sat down. I took a deep breath. I thought to myself, with all the energy I was putting into walking, surely enough I could use this to “really” pray now. I was going for it! Big, powerful, voracious, sounding prayers came out of me left and right. Until I heard Him speak to me again. “Eric, use your normal voice.” It stopped me in my tracks. It disarmed me. I didn’t know what to do even. I realized how the tone of my voice sounded and the way I was talking didn’t sound like me at all.
To be honest, I tried to start praying like that again and God told me a second time. “Eric, use your normal voice. I want to hear your normal voice. I want to hear you.” I got silent again and started to cry. Teary-eyed, I said, “God, I need your help..” After I said that, I heard God speaking to me clearer than I had heard Him for the past 3 months. “I love you Eric,” He said. “That’s so good son. Ooooh now you’re worshipping me Eric. Now you’re praying to me. I know it’s been hard.” I continued to cry and talk and listen. I was finally talking to Him with my voice. With my thoughts, opinions, feelings. With my heart. It’s all He wanted. It’s all He wants.
I hope this is making sense as it feels like a hard thing to explain. “Hearing God,” can sound really out there sometimes. Even the name “Jesus,” can bring so many different mental images or feelings for people. It can sound “cheesy” to someone who grew up in Sunday school. It can bring up anger for people who have been hurt by the church. For me, not growing up in the church, it just sounded spiritual and confusing. But, it’s so different. He’s so different. Jesus is personal and down-to-earth.
This moment led me to see is Jesus Himself is the point. Following Jesus. Knowing Jesus. He is central to it all. He disarmed my spiritual lingo, my ministry strategies, my prayer agendas, even my spiritual-sounding voice all to just get me to look at Him again. All He wanted was for me to look at Him. To remember Him. To love Him. To know that I don’t have to fake it but I can share everything with Him.
IN SCRIPTURE, THERE IS A FAMILIAR PATTERN WHERE WE CAN MAKE IT ABOUT OTHER THINGS
“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 based on merely human rules they have been taught.”Isaiah 29:13:
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”John 5:39-40
IN SCRIPTURE, YOU CAN ALSO SEE A PATTERN, WHERE JESUS IS PROVOKING HEARTS TO COME TO HIM
Jeremiah 29:13-14 states, “’You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,‘ declares the Lord.” He wants us to be wholehearted in our relationship with Him and He wants to be found by us.
“Today, if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”Hebrews 3:15
The whole story of the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35: You see Jesus asking these two disciples questions that He knows the answers to just to hear their heart. It says He “explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Showing them it’s all about Him. Then, my favorite part, near the end of the walk it says, “He acted as if he were going farther.” He acted! He pretended to walk further to see if the disciples would ask Him to stay. I think He does the same with us. He looks to see who will invite Him in. Who will notice when He walks ahead.
JESUS IS THE HEART OF WORSHIP
I got asked to write this blog with our current theme here in mind: heart of worship. Which is why I shared this story with you because this was a time when I forgot what the heart of worship was. I forgot about Him. Now, overtime, I have been coming to understand that the heart of worship is Jesus. It’s so simple but He is so enough. He’s the reason we pray. He’s the reason we sing. We evangelize to tell people about Him so that they can know Him, not our strategies and plans. It’s not about getting people to heaven because what is heaven without Jesus? Even in heaven, they’re all fixed and focused on Him.
I believe when Jesus becomes the main thing and the priority, He sets us free to worship Him with our whole life and our whole person. That we will start seeing Him, hearing Him, being with Him everywhere because He becomes our focus. He is wild and real! My friends and I have heard Jesus speak to us through secular songs, secular movies, art, through each other, people we see and meet throughout the day, work, rest, our cup of the coffee in the morning, the morning itself, listening to the birds outside, making and eating dinner with people you love, a Bon Iver album, and so much more. We begin to live out the verse, “He never leaves us or forsakes us.” If we really believe that, then it means Jesus is with us 24/7. What else would we do with that? He is here and real! We get to live our whole life in relationship with Jesus. More than having a “prayer life” or a “worship night.” We get to live a life of worship. Our lives become praying lives. Living with the heart of worship is living with Jesus Himself.
TO END, I WANT TO LEAVE YOU WITH A QUOTE FROM MICHAEL MILLER WHO LAYS THIS ALL OUT NICELY:
“He’s the point. He’s the end. People ask well what about souls? I’m telling you He cares much more about souls than our strategies and plans. People ask what about revival? When He comes we have a revival. We can just list off all the things we can make it about and yet Jesus isn’t a means to any of those things. Jesus isn’t a means to your destiny. Jesus isn’t a means to your purpose. Jesus isn’t a means to you finding your spouse. Jesus isn’t a means to community. Jesus isn’t a means to fill in the blank. Jesus is a means to Jesus. And all those things are found in Him but as soon as they get exalted above Him things get sideways. In Jesus you have Jesus.”