WHEN DOES GOD GET TO SPEAK IN WORSHIP?
Christmas has reminded us again of the coming of Christ. We sang it and declared it in numerous ways, “Our God is with us!” Emmanuel has come. The miracle of Christian worship is wrapped in this truth that the God we worship meets with us. We know the scriptures well that remind us of that very truth. Here are just a few scriptural reminders and assurances; “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matt 18:20) “God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24) “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)
When we are given responsibility to direct Christian worship through music or preaching there is an inherent temptation to work so hard at the parts of a service where we ourselves will sing, lead, or speak that we risk feeling like good worship is up to us. Without intending such a thing, we can far too easily allow the worship venue to become a platform for our own performance. Technology and theatrics seem to only add to this temptation in our showbiz culture. Another theological danger is that worship can become focused only in one direction, whereby we lead people to think worship is only what we proclaim toward God and other people. If we are not careful we can leave people sensing that God is a passive observer waiting for us to do something in worship that pleases Him. One of the challenges that we have when worship planning is not guided by prescription is to be certain that components needed in our engagement with God are not missing. In these settings extra burden is placed on singing and on intermittent prayers and readings to carry the proverbial water of the worship communication. It should surely be obvious that worship must not only leave room, but in fact actively seek and embrace the ongoing intervention of the Lord. One problem in this regard is that a preaching pastor may feel that the only “Thus saith the Lord” occurs in his sermon. Such a view tends to severely limit participation by worshipers, and stifles other scripture readings, songs, and/or prayers that may convey a word from the Lord.
One way that I commend that all worship leadership, whether music or preaching or planning and facilitating through some other means, is to spend time reviewing Christian worship history. Such study includes the shape as well as the detail of historic liturgy. Obviously major changes in Church History have significantly changed the trajectory of worship. I am not suggesting we attempt return to some imaginary point in time when worship was done “right,” as if this will automatically correct our ills. Our human condition pushes us toward excesses of all kinds, and thus the importance of surrendering our worship to the finished work of our High Priest cannot be overstated.
I was reviewing a traditional protestant worship liturgy for Epiphany and could not help but note how often worshipers are invited to hear God’s voice based on the activities in the liturgy. Theologian – author – liturgist, John Witvliet is credited with formatting the liturgy, which is used as a sample in Robert Webber’s encyclopedic work, The Complete Library of Christian Worship, Vol 5. In his commentary notes he states that the form and headings could well be used in any service of Christian worship, which seems clear given the nature of Epiphany that declares the manifestation of Christ as Savior of the world, and encourages us to allow His work to take root in us. The liturgy provides for God’s voice as reflected even in its headings, “God’s Word of Greeting,” “God’s Word of Pardon,” “God’s Word of Life,” “God’s Gift of the Sacrament,” and His “Dispersal Into the World.”
Not long ago I consulted with a believer who was dissatisfied in his church and was giving consideration to beginning another church. In our conversation I asked simply, “What are important components that you believe are missing from your present church that you feel are crucial to Christian worship and witness?” His answer saddened me deeply. He said there was no sense of grace in the present situation. Indeed, it is grace that is the proper basis of worship, and that message must come from God Himself. Robert Wenz reminds us of the words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians in this regard:“he chose us….to be holy and blameless” (Eph 1:4) “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons” (1:4) “in him we have redemption” (1:7) “to bring all things…together under one head” (1:10) “you also were included in Christ” (1:13) “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him” (2:6) “you who were once far away have been brought near” (2:13) “you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens” (2:19)
As we plan and lead out in Christian worship let us be certain that there is plenty of opportunity for God to speak, for such is a true grace gift. What a profound blessing to hear “The Word of God for the People of God.” Let us respond, “Thanks be to God!”Explore posts in the same categories: Choir Ministry, Church keyboard players, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship