In my last post, I discussed the concept of “virtual worship”: something that on the outside looks real, but at its heart is more about satisfying our own desires than actually approaching, submitting to, and experiencing God.

Real worship engages our emotions, mind, body, and being, but most importantly produces the fruit of a changed life— filled with God’s love and grace, fully available and responsive to His promptings every day.

Just as we can’t be made right with God by our own efforts (see Isaiah 64:6), it is essential that we realize we can’t “do” worship on our own. We can only worship God by first acknowledging and asking Him to “ teach us how to pray” then allowing Him to empower us to worship in His Spirit and in Truth. All real worship is centered on God the Father, through the person of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. When we finally come to understand and experience worship as an every-moment, all-encompassing relationship with God, we move past mere religious observances into the realm of life-changing expressions of our love and surrender to His presence and kingdom work in and through us.

As God continues to transform us each day more, He also sheds light on areas that we need to unlearn and relinquish to Him. I am taking golf lessons right now, and have found that many techniques I learned and habits I formed over the years were incorrect and were actually hurting my game. Chad, my professional golf coach, is helping me re-learn and establish a new way of approaching the game and my swing. My part in these lessons is to allow him to help me, even when this involves correcting me and showing me new steps. I am slowly seeing results as I let go of old ways and adopt new habits.

Many of us have, consciously or not, learned religious behaviors that may be good but have become self-righteous activities that actually dampen or harm or worship of God. Here’s one example: I grew up in a religious tradition in which fasting was mandated during certain times of the year. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with fasting: Our Lord Jesus was led to fast, and fasting can be a vibrant and authentic expression of worship. However, fasting doesn’t earn us salvation, as Jesus’ saving work on the cross fully accomplished that on our behalf. As a young student, I somehow learned and accepted that I needed to fast in order to be in good standing with God. When I stepped into a new, redeemed and transformed relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ, God pointed out my religious observances were pointless in the light of what Christ had already done for me. As I grew in God’s Word and Presence, I was able to let go of the old ways and move forward in my new relationship with Him. Since that time, there have been times when God has LED me to a fast—not to earn His favor but to experience Him even more profoundly and discern His will and plan for my life. Through His Word, God has also taught me a broader understanding of fasting as an expression of a life given over to Him in worship:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.”

Isaiah 58:6-8

God-ordained fasting involves putting others ahead of our self-centered desires. Authentic worship becomes real as we become attentive and obedient to the needs of people who are:

  •  Enslaved or falsely imprisoned
  • Oppressed or in some form of bondage
  • Victims of injustice
  • Heavily burdened and yoked
  • Hungry
  • Homeless
  • In need of practical help

When we are in love with God, we will give up (fast from) our earthly desires so that others can experience God’s grace. Finally, God-led fasting includes taking care of our own family’s needs, not turning away from them.

Worship, like faith, is alive and authentic when it is expressed in practical and tangible ways. The writer James wrote this in the New Testament:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has
no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”

James 2:14-18

Authentic worship includes selfless giving to other people that God puts in our path. When we express our worship of God through responding to others in need, His light glows brightly in and through us.

God bless you!

Chris Atkins