Worshiping Through Transition, Difficulties and Discomfort

Worship is: our response, both personal and corporate, to God – for who He is and what He has done; expressed in and by the things we say and the way we live.

                                                              -Louie Giglio

Giglio provides a clear and concise definition of worship – a topic that the church frequently misunderstands.  Though the idea may seem simple, our corporate singing often reveals how we can get off track so easily with worship, especially when life isn’t going the way we want.  In those times, we tend to narrowly define it based on our preferred way to worship (anyone heard of “worship wars”?), and we have a tendency to assign degrees of quality to worship based on how we emotionally respond to it.  We attend a worship service and might say something like, “Wow, that song really spoke to me,” or “I wasn’t really feeling the worship today.”  What we’re forgetting when in those moments is that worship isn’t for us!  

Experiencing emotions as we offer worship to God – gratitude, contrition, joy, sorrow, or wonder – is a good thing, but the emotional response itself isn’t the purpose of worship.  We can allow our emotional response to our circumstances distract us from the true reason we worship. We must remember that worship is a response to the unchanging truths of who God isand to what He does – not to our ever-changing circumstances or preferences.

In John 4:23-24 Jesus addresses these issues as he talks with the woman at the well. After alluding to the petty differences in how and where to worship that have kept Jews and Samaritans in conflict for generations, He tells them what really matters: 

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

Jesus declares that in our hearts, true worship that pleases God comes from holding fast to the Spirit of God and the truth of His Word, even amidst conflict, confusion or changing circumstances.  

 Yet even in light of these truths, we still struggle to worship when we are going through difficulties or transitions in life.  My family and I experienced many life-altering challenges in a three-and-a-half-year period I (now) jokingly refer to as “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”

In 2005 I moved to Phoenix after a difficult divorce and spent the next two years rebuilding my life with my daughter, Reanna.  In 2007 I became engaged to Adam, and about 5 weeks before our wedding, Reanna (who is now 16) was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. 

In January of 2008, just as Reanna finished chemotherapy (that saved her life, praise God), my husband lost his mortgage job and several subsequent jobs due to the market crash.  My grandfather died that spring, and to cap off the year, we lost our house that fall. 

In 2010, my husband was still out of consistent work and we ended up living with my parents for the summer, during which time my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Later that year we moved in with my in-laws and stayed there 10 months.

By 2011, when I started working at North Ridge, my daughter and mom were both healthy and things began to turn around after a very rough three-and-a-half years.  In all of this, we saw God working and moving in incredible ways.  He truly was our one and only constant when so many things fell out from underneath us.  I can’t help remembering God’s overwhelming faithfulness and goodness to me in the crises when I start to get worried over my circumstances.  My thankfulness for His deliverance in the past has shaped my heart to be obedient and worshipful in current life situations.

But last August, after nearly 8 years on staff with North Ridge Community Church, I was hit with something I never expected — a potential merger with Scottsdale Bible Church.  It wasn’t immediately apparent what would happen to me or my job.  Many people were worried about me and asking what I would do. At first, my answer was, “Nothing.” I knew that I could do nothing until several decisions were made which were beyond my control.  However, after a few weeks of processing and praying, my answer became, “Whatever.”  My personal response to God for who He is and what He has done in my life was to pray the prayer of, “Whatever, God.  Whatever You want me to do.  Wherever You want me to go.”  I know worshiping God is not tied to my circumstances because I do not cling to them, or to a church, a 5-year plan, or my own preferences.  I cling to Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, and today and forever.  He transcends our circumstances, our preferences and our emotions.  

            As Paul wrote in Romans 12:1, we are to present ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is our true and proper worship.  By worshipping through changes, challenges, and in spite of preferences, we are offering a living sacrifice.  We are telling God  “You are worthy of my worship even when my life isn’t what I want it to be.  You are holy even when my sin or the sin of others keeps me from feeling close to You, and You are faithful even when my circumstances have shaken me.”  And as we worship through challenge and change our lives have a sanctifying effect on others – we are the manifestation of Christ’s love and spirit to the world!

The way we respond to change, adversity and discomfort puts our lives in the spotlight, especially if we are leaders within our spheres of influence. When others hear that something challenges arise in our lives, whether that’s a tragedy (as in my daughter’s cancer diagnosis), a challenge (such as a job loss), or a change in circumstances (such as the merger between SBC and North Ridge), people are watching us to see what we’ll do and listening to hear what we’ll say.  Our response has an impact bigger than we are.  How we respond to these things is critical to our witness of the gospel.  This isn’t to say that we can’t express our emotions in these situations, but that our faith in Jesus Christ and our trust in God’s faithfulness through all generations guides us and shapes our emotional response into a sacrifice of praise.  And this kind of response is what God can use in our lives to influence those around us for Christ. 

We can and should worship God when we’re angry or afraid.  We can and should worship Him when we are grieving or struggling with the unknown, and we can and should worship Him when we’re waiting for answers.  The apostle Paul’s entire Christian ministry was a series of unfortunate events, but He fixed his eyes not on his circumstances, but on Christ. 

God calls us  to make a conscious decision to sacrifice our feelings about our circumstances, our preferences, or our agendas in order to choose the worship of our unchanging God.  Perhaps this call means praying for God to tear down your stubbornness regarding the type of music you like to hear sung in church services.   Maybe you need to surrender your worries and anxiety to God in lament because you don’t understand your circumstances.  It could even be as simple as raising your hands in worship or praying aloud for a friend, even though you feel self-conscious.  But ultimately God calls us to trust Him because He has been faithful, and as we do so that trust produces thankfulness, obedience, and praise from our hearts.

My heart has been thankful in this season of transition with my church and career. I haven’t ignored God’s track record in my life, which has given me strength to obey Him.  I have been able to worship God through all my varied emotions as I’ve worked to help merge the congregation of North Ridge with that of Scottsdale Bible Church.  I’ve definitely felt fear, sadness, doubt, insecurity, excitement, frustration and uncertainty! Yet regardless of what transitions, difficulties or discomforts we may be experiencing, He is worthy to be worshiped.

 What does it look like to worship through transitions, difficulties and discomfort? It looks like allowing God to guide and shape our emotional response, to trust in God’s faithfulness in our lives and to have a heart of gratitude that leads to obedience.  Through this kind of worship, God can be glorified and our lives can be a fragrant offering that leads others into closer relationship with Jesus Christ.

Laura Westrope