What does hunger for God in worship look like?
We could play a video from Bethel, with people passionately worshipping and crying out, and say ‘That’s hunger’; or we could play a video from a Pentecostal/Gospel church with people dancing in the aisles and say ‘That’s hunger’; or we could play a video from a prayer conference with people on the floor interceding passionately and say ‘That’s hunger’. All those things are outward expressions of hunger, but hunger itself is an inward motivation.
We could easily say hunger looks like this or that, or requires this or that expression or ritual, but those are all just ‘things’.
In Matthew 22 the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus to find out what was the most important thing they did, and He said that none of things they did mattered when love was not present.
But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40, NKJV
All the law hinged and rested on loving God with all your heart, soul and strength, and loving others. Nothing we ‘do’ – regardless of their biblical reference or denominational tradition – will cause us to be hungry for God, only what we choose inside. We can very easily find ourselves placing great value on the ‘things’ we do – and the heart of religion is to make that happen as much as possible – and forget or drift away from the underlying motivation that inspired that action in the first place.
Connected to eternity
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He also has planted eternity in men’s hearts and minds [a divinely implanted sense of a purpose working through the ages which nothing under the sun but God alone can satisfy], yet so that men cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11, AMP
We all have a yearning inside of us, because we are all made in God’s image. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says God has planted eternity in our hearts – we have a connection to something beyond this physical world that we see. CS Lewis wrote:
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1952
Start in the heart, consume the whole
We are body, soul and spirit, as Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NKJV):
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Psalm 42 – the writers (the sons of Korah) speak to all three parts of who we are throughout the Psalm. The physical afflictions being experienced – people ridiculing and condemning us; our soulish response to those experiences – we are cast down, distraught, reminiscent of times that we’ve walked away from; and our heart commands the direction we should take, that we should hope in God, declare praises to Him, not be dictated to by our soul.
“As the hart pants and longs for the water brooks, so I pant and long for You, O God.
My inner self thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, Where is your God?
These things I [earnestly] remember and pour myself out within me: how I went slowly before the throng and led them in procession to the house of God [like a bandmaster before his band, timing the steps to the sound of music and the chant of song], with the voice of shouting and praise, a throng keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my inner self? And why should you moan over me and be disquieted within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall yet praise Him, my Help and my God.
O my God, my life is cast down upon me [and I find the burden more than I can bear]; therefore will I [earnestly] remember You from the land of the Jordan [River] and the [summits of Mount] Hermon, from the little mountain Mizar.
[Roaring] deep calls to [roaring] deep at the thunder of Your waterspouts; all Your breakers and Your rolling waves have gone over me.
Yet the Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
I will say to God my Rock, Why have You forgotten me? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
As with a sword [crushing] in my bones, my enemies taunt and reproach me, while they say continually to me, Where is your God?
Why are you cast down, O my inner self? And why should you moan over me and be disquieted within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall yet praise Him, Who is the help of my countenance, and my God.”
Psalm 42, AMP
Horatio Spafford, whose daughters were lost to the sea in a shipping accident in the mid-Atlantic in the 1860s, made that the theme of his hymn It is well with my soul – in the midst of both peace and sorrow, blessing and hardship, my soul is well because it is led by my heart whose trust and hope is in God alone.
To be hungry for God in worship is to first allow our heart to be ‘in command’ – this is where our connection with eternity resides, this is where our desire and need for God begins. Our heart commands our soul, not the other way round (which is how it more often is because our soul is more dominant), our our body outworks that expression through the physical acts described in the Bible: dancing, clapping, singing, shouting, raising hands, serving others. Too often we start by trying to command the acts first, by saying that it in doing so we are obeying God. But like He hated what the Pharisees stood for in their religious acts, God isn’t touched by our acts alone, no matter how demonstrative or biblically-based they are.
Our worship starts in the heart and engages our whole being – Psalm 63:8 (AMP) says ‘my whole being follows hard after You’.
Real unity in worship
But congregational worship is more than just our individual expression of worship, it is a unified declaration and enthroning of our God and King. When there is unity, there is blessing:
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” Psalm 133:1, NKJV
AW Tozer wrote:
“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.” AW Tozer (early 20th century), The Pursuit of God, 1948
We can try to strive for unity but it’ll never properly happen until it start when we set ourselves first to hunger after God and allow that hunger throughout our whole being. But when it does, the presence of God upon us as a people becomes tangible – 2 Chronicles 5:11-14 describes that unity that came about at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple.
“And it came to pass when the priests came out of the Most Holy Place (for all the priests who were present had sanctified themselves, without keeping to their divisions), and the Levites who were the singers, all those of Asaph and Heman and Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, stood at the east end of the altar, clothed in white linen, having cymbals, stringed instruments and harps, and with them one hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets—indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying: “For He is good, for His mercy endures forever,” that the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.” 2 Chronicles 5:11-14, NKJV
And from that day the presence of God was a prominent and tangible aspect of the life of the temple, noticed by people all over the world so much that they would travel miles to experience it.
Don’t wait to start at church
We can’t make unity happen, it is a (super)natural result of when we each choose to allow our whole beings to be founded and directed by a hunger for God. When we worship it shouldn’t be according to a tradition or style, or because that’s what we’re used to doing. Our worship shouldn’t wait to start when the band kicks off the first song, it should be before we even leave for church – we should start releasing the desire and hunger in our inner self and allowing it to command our soul, in the midst of our circumstances, to hope in God, and our bodies to be ever praising Him.