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Table of Contents
“God is eager to be known and experienced by all. …It is worship that causes all else that we do to become an act of worship. We experience God’s presence as a palpable reality when we worship.
As we worship we become increasingly sensitive and responsive to the Spirit’s presence so that we can do as Jesus did: “See what the Father is doing,” (John 5:19) and support His work with our lives.
The experience of God flowing out of a life of worship affects all aspects of our life so that all division between the secular and the sacred vanish.
…The Spirit distributes His gifts to us resulting in prophecy, prayer languages, healing, miracles and many other gifts as we joyfully experience His presence.”
“COME, LET US BOW DOWN IN WORSHIP, LET US KNEEL BEFORE THE LORD OUR MAKER; FOR HE IS OUR GOD....”
INTRODUCTION: THE EXPERIENCE OF WORSHIP
Have you ever attended a worship gathering in which you were moved to notice something unique during your experience?
As the musical part of the worship service began, you may have sensed anticipation in the congregation, like they were looking forward to what was about to happen. It’s possible the worship leader communicated a sense of closeness and familiarity with God in his or her prayers, and that the leader was eager for the congregation to experience God in worship.
As those gathered began to sing, you may also have observed the abandoned expression of love freely being offered by the worshippers, and the music taking on a secondary place. As the songs played on, you may have thought that the people in the room seemed to be aware of God being present with them – that worship was interactive.
You may have noted those gathered were having an encounter with God as they sang songs about loving Jesus. Words of adoration, thanksgiving, and confession may have been sung or spoken, in simple or poetic ways. You may have seen people all around you with hands raised, singing passionately, or on their knees in devotion.
As the leader started and finished each song, you might have observed an absence of hype or stirring up of emotion from the crowd. Maybe you sang for 20, 30, or even 45 minutes, moving in and out of songs with fluidity, as if they were prayers rather than just musical presentations.
Phrases like “the Kingdom of God,” “I love you,” and “Holy Spirit, come” may have been in the lyrics. After the message, as a time of prayer for individuals began, the band may have begun to play, accompanying a time of compassionate ministry.
If any part of what you just read is true of your experience, then you’ve probably already begun to taste the heart of experiencing God in worship.
In the following pages we’ll look briefly at who we worship, why we worship, and how we worship – with the Kingdom of God and our current citizenship in mind.
By the time you are finished, may you find your heart filled with a desire to express your love to God as He has expressed His love to you.
The heart is where worship always begins.
WHO DO WE WORSHIP?
Experiencing God In Worship
In many churches over the last 30-40 years, experiencing God in gathered worship has been a focal point in our modern liturgy. In this vein, the Vineyard movement has been said to be among the early influencers of the contemporary worship movements of today.
When the Vineyard movement was in its earliest years, John and Carol Wimber (John is regarded as the founding leader of the Vineyard) were meeting with a small gathering of worn-out leaders. They were all moved to deep repentance before God. As they spent time together worshipping and singing songs to God (rather than just about God), they experienced God’s presence in deeply profound and personal ways. It is here that a thread of our contemporary worship expression tapestry was born.
Songs of intimate worship became a primary language of prayer for these broken people in those early days, and that love for experiencing God through worship music is now part of the genetic code of contemporary worship expression.
A Life-Giving Interchange
In those early gatherings, singing to God in worship was personal, and had as much to do with the “broken and contrite heart” (Ps. 51:17) of the person worshipping as it did with any melody they were singing. Though John was a professional musician and known for his expertise as a producer, his understanding of worship always had to do first with God’s love, and our response to it. Simple worship songs seemed to help that life-giving interchange happen.
For that reason, many contemporary worship expressions have been primarily musical in nature, and intimate in posture. The music facilitates the real point of why we’ve gathered – to meet face to face with the God of the Scriptures.
Who We Worship
When we worship, we make Christ the central focus of our affection. We sense God’s presence with us, the Spirit of God touching us, and communicating to us the Father’s love. The Bible shows us the nature of the glorious God we worship:
We worship God as Creator (Gen. 1:1) – the Father, maker and sustainer of all life, who began all things, and will bring history to its consummation.
We worship God as King (Ps. 103:19) – the Lord and sovereign over the cosmos, the benevolent leader of His Kingdom, and the One extending His rule through people who love Him and obey His word.
We worship God as Trinity (Deut. 6:4) – One God expressing Himself in three Persons, dwelling in perfect harmony within the Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We worship God as Savior (Matt. 1:21) – the rescuing God who by Jesus’ life, death on a cross, and resurrection conquers sin and death, making us new creations in Christ.
All of these attributes of God inform our worship, from the way we prepare our hearts for the activity of worship, to the songs we write and choose for our set lists.
Worship is an end in itself – it is our opportunity to surrender ourselves again and again to our amazing God.
To use an analogy from the world of grammar, God is the Subject of our worship, who acts in love (the verb) toward us, the Object of His affection. We then respond in love, telling God how grateful we are to Him for all He has done, and is doing, in our lives.
As the adage says, we become like who or what we worship. We want to be like Jesus.
- Which attribute of God have you primarily identified with in worship?
- How can you begin focusing on other attributes of God in your worship?
- How do you think worship could make you become more like Jesus?
WHY DO WE WORSHIP?
We Are The Pursued
If you ask anyone who is attending church on a Sunday morning, “Why do we worship?” you’ll probably get a variety of answers.
A powerful answer to this question is found in one short passage in 1 John 4:19. Though it is translated in a few different ways, the NKJV says this:
“We love Him, because He first loved us.”
In those eight words we find not only the answer to why we worship, but also what it means to be God’s child.
We express our love to God in worship not because we started this love relationship – but because God did! From Genesis to Revelation, God reveals Himself to be the Pursuer of your heart and mine. It is He who first loved us and pursued us, and it is we who are the objects of His undying affection. Worship is a simple response to God’s unconditional love. We can complicate worship in a thousand ways, but we will always come back to this truth.
When we truly understand this reality, that God is the one who initiates the loving communion that is worship, it changes us. Rather than trying to gain God’s approval by fulfilling religious obligations and doing the “right things” in worship, we can rest in knowing that God loves us before we even do one thing! Worship creates an environment where we can let go of our striving, and fall into the loving arms of the Father.
Like a child being hugged by a parent, we hear the words, “I love you, not because of what you do, but because of who you are!” When the Samaritan woman asked Jesus to tell her exactly how to worship in a way that would please God (John 4:19-24), Jesus responds by telling her what kind of person God is seeking as a worshipper.
Like this woman, many today think about worship in relation to the externals – the musical styles and religious habits that we think please or displease God. But God is always looking at the heart, as it is in the heart that worship begins and ends.
When we are responding to God’s love, we are putting God in His rightful place as the Subject of our worship. We then, as God reveals His love to us by His Spirit, respond to Him with love! This cycle goes on forever.
Ways We Express Our Love
For this reason, worship is always intended to be interactive, as it has to do with both God and the people gathered. It is not personality-driven, by a superstar who takes up all the attention in the room. Rather, worship leaders must seek to cultivate humility and transparency even as they seek to lead effectively and with quality in the music.
This is why, in many worship settings, you will see people actively demonstrating their love for God by lifting their hands (like we’re receiving a gift), singing passionately (like someone expressing their love to another), or kneeling in thanks (like a person bowing to honor a King). God is our focus in worship. These expressions above, and more, are ways we can biblically respond to God’s love. As the Psalmist said, “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and bless the Lord” (Ps. 134:2); and “Shout to the Lord…” (Ps. 98:4-6). Musical intruments and more are involved in worship as they are all tools that can help us respond to God’s love.
Worship Songs Around The World
As an overflow of our response to God’s love, fresh, contemporary worship music from many groups has circled the globe for decades. Born in intimate communion with God in local churches, songs like 10,000 Reasons, Come, Now Is The Time To Worship, Beautiful Name, and This Is Amazing Grace (and thousands of others) have given the Body of Christ songs that say what we need to say to God.
There will never be too many songs of worship to our God – even into eternity.
- Reflect on how God’s love leads you to respond in worship.
- Are there expressions of worship that feel more comfortable to you? Why do you think that is?
- Are there expressions of worship that feel less comfortable to you? Why do you think that is?
HOW DO WE WORSHIP?
A Life Surrendered To God
One of the most quoted passages in the Bible, related to worship, is Romans 12:1. It says:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.”
If there was one thing that Paul (the writer of Romans) and the people of his time understood, it was that sacrifices are dead. In other words, when he talks about our lives being “living sacrifices” of worship, he is literally saying, “As dead as a dead sacrifice is, that is how living your life offering to God is to be – a complete and a done deal!”
This passage is telling us, through a metaphor, that the worship God seeks involves our entire life, offered as a response to His great love. From the way we speak to our spouse, to the way we handle our money, love our neighbor, and work at our jobs, worship is an all-encompassing act. An old Latin phrase, coram Deo, sums up this kind of life. It means to “live before the face of God,” or to “live in the presence of God.”
When we gather to worship in almost any context, we see it as a time of encounter, of refreshing, of empowering in the presence of God. That encounter touches us in the deepest places of our hearts, where God’s love can begin to change us from the inside out. We find courage to live, and strength to face our greatest challenges. Because we believe that everything we do flows out of our love relationship with Jesus, we seek to create ample space in our worship settings for people to get beyond the words and music to actually sing to God and experience His manifest presence.
People who are desperately in love with Jesus are in a constant state of active and ongoing repentance from their sins. They overcome their insecurites and join God in His work of touching lives all around them. They let God lead in their lives, and it affects how they treat their co-workers, raise their children, and give their resources with generosity.
Deep in the theology of many churches is the commitment to the Kingdom of God being in our midst, as Jesus taught. The Kingdom of God is where God’s rule and reign is active, and as we worship, we are yielding ourselves to become vessels through which our King can impact the world He so loves (Jn. 3:16).
Our worship practices are rooted in our theology of the Kingdom of God. Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God in two distinct ways. Sometimes, it seemed like the Kingdom of God was something that was already present in his ministry. This is the Kingdom “Now.” Sometimes, it seemed like the Kingdom of God was something that was yet to come. This is the Kingdom “Not Yet.”
Given the example of Jesus, it can be believed that healthy Kingdom worship recognizes this tension. At times, we experience the Kingdom as a present reality. The sick are healed. Justice comes for the oppressed. People struggling with mental illness are set free. At other times, the Kingdom does not come fully in the present. But we believe that one day, Jesus will return to make all things new – and in that day, all of our prayers for healing will be fully answered.
The Now And Not Yet In Worship
How does this view of God’s Kingdom being “Now” and “Not Yet” influence how we worship? Many songs we sing today reflect this theological tension we see in the teaching of Jesus. In worship gatherings across the globe, we may sing songs that celebrate God’s Kingdom being here, now, and breaking into our midst. These songs are filled with faith, joy, and celebration of God’s present, miraculous, saving work among us. God heals. God delivers. God reigns. These kinds of lyrics are in many of our songs, and are true.
In other worship songs, however, you will notice a different tone. These songs are also filled with faith, yet they give space for our longing for God in a broken world to be expressed. We live in this reality – some people are prayed for, and are not healed. Devastation occurs due to earthquakes, disease, suicide – and our hearts break. Our own sin sometimes gets the better of us, and we must turn our hearts to repentance.
Many worship songwriters care for this side of the Kingdom “Not Yet” being expressed in their lyrics and their approaches to worship. Among thousands of songs are lyrics like “Come, let us sing for joy!” as well as “Broken, I run to You, for Your arms are open wide….” These kinds of songs stand side by side, reflecting both of these realities of the Kingdom.
All are songs of worship, reflecting the diversity of the book of Psalms with its exuberant words of praise and contrasting cries of desperation. Some songs give us permission to shout with rambunctious joy at all God is doing in the world. Other songs give us permission to express longing, offer Jesus our pain, repent of sin, surrender our hardened heart, and to cry out to God for the oil of His mercy to comfort us.
While this tension can be difficult to navigate, the example of Scripture and the encouragement of the Spirit is to hold the “radical middle” – as we worship a God who is present among us, in times of both joy and sorrow.
Worship Stirs Worship
- Outside of a church context, how do you worship God?
- What does the phrase “Kingdom Worship” mean to you?
- Reflect on how you can worship God in times of sorrow, celebration, in the good and the bad.
OUR VALUES IN WORSHIP
Jesus Himself noted that the very roots of His people would be found in a life of worship. Our vision of the fulfilled life is found in John 4:23-24, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” If God is always seeking honesty and authenticity, what “in truth” may mean in the passage above, then there is no aspect of life – no struggle, no victory, no challenge – that He will not use to open our hearts to His love.
The High Priority Of Worship
Worship has traditionally been a high priority in the Church at large. John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard Movement, said it like this, “We in the Vineyard have, from the very outset of our ministry, made worship our highest priority, believing that it is God’s desire that we become, first, worshippers of God.” In other words, we can value a vision of worship that permeates every aspect of lives, as well as the gathered worship experiences that energize us and empower us as we say, “I love you, O Lord, my strength” (Ps. 81:1) in song. In order to create worship environments that open the heart to God’s love in a give-and-receive posture, certain values can shape our approach to gathered worship. Here are just a few:
We value intimacy with God, believing that making ourselves vulnerable to God’s Spirit as He has made Himself vulnerable to us is (Phil. 2:5-11) is vital to knowing God as He desires to be known.
We value accessibility in our worship environments, seeking to create an open path for every person, of every age and background, to meet with God.
We value integrity in our worship lifestyle, desiring for our lives to match the lyrics we sing – whether they be about caring for the poor, loving our neighbor, or joining God in His work.
We value cultural connection in our worship styles, appreciating that sounds and forms of music provide a “bridge for the heart” for different generations and people groups.
We value Kingdom expectation in our approach to worship leadership, believing that as we respond to God in song, His Spirit is with us to heal, deliver, and set us free – in the midst of worship.
These and other values shape both the content and style of countless worship times in local churches. Value for spiritual gifts, creativity, diversity, healing, prophecy, caring for the poor, and other themes all impact the way we worship and are uniquely expressed in churches around the world.
Worship Overflows In Mission
Scripture is clear that we are to be committed to equipping the saints for the work of ministry in all arenas of society (Eph. 4:12-16), therefore we see our worship experiences taking us beyond our church services.
Worship, flourishing at the heart of the Gospel, is to overflow in mission. We are committed to an understanding of worship that recognizes that we meet with God within the four walls of our churches to remember our calling, be healed in His presence, and to offer God the praise that is due Him. Yet that experience also trains our hearts to express Jesus’ love to a waiting world.
To use an analogy, we breathe in God’s presence as we yield to Him in worship, then we breathe out in fruitful work that heals individuals and society at large. For this reason, you may hear many leaders talking about worship in a way that goes beyond what happens when we gather to sing.
You will hear about worship being expressed through the giving of substance from our resources, caring for the poor, serving those in distress, praying for those in our workplaces, planting churches, administering justice, furthering the life of the mind in scholarship, and extending the Kingdom of God in every nation and people group.
To be a worshipping people, for many, is to experience the love of God – then to carry that love with us into a desperate world.
A Fresh Wind Of Courage
To be worshippers of God means that we are learning to love what God loves, and to hate what God hates. God loves people, and so we serve others as an act of worship.
When we experience Christ’s reality in worship, we are healed by God’s love, refreshed by God’s presence, and empowered by God’s Spirit. Strengthened by God in worship, week after week after week, we receive a fresh wind of courage to go into all the world “making disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).
God Is Eager To Be Experienced
Worship has always been one of the hallmarks of the Church. Many people describe their first movement toward trusting Jesus as being a moment in which they encountered God through intimate worship singing.
Worshipping and experiencing God goes far beyond singing. In every moment of our lives, we seek to live in the presence of the Lord. At the same time, corporate singing is a precious part of what it means for us to be the people of the Kingdom. In these times the Kingdom of God breaks in, and we, in the presence of Jesus Himself, are changed.
Bless you as you experience God’s presence in worship. May the reality of His love for you renew you, restore you, and compel you to join His Kingdom mission.
- Reflect on what intimacy, accessibility, integrity, cultural connection, and expectation mean to you in worship?
- How can we honor these values of worship in our corporate setting?
- Reflect on how worship overflows into mission for you? For the church?
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