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'Whoever offers praise glorifies me!' says the Lord (Psalm 50:23). Worship and praise are the ceaseless, joyous occupation of heaven. The angels, seraphs and cherubim cry, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts... You are worthy O Lord to receive glory and honour and power.' In worship we are not asking God to give himself to us so much as giving ourselves to him. And the wonder of it all is that the Almighty, Immortal, Invisible God will accept our adoration and praise and thanksgiving. The God who needs nothing delights to receive our adoration. What incredible grace!
The Christians at Antioch were 'serving the Lord' and fasting when the Holy Spirit spoke to them (Acts 13:2). 'Serving the Lord' is worship; worship is serving the Lord - it is nothing else. So phrases like 'Worship Service' or 'Service of Worship' are tautologies. To worship God is to serve him. () (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: a Theological ABC, London: Collins, 1973, p.97).
Worship, for a Christian, is everything we do for the glory of God (Romans 12:1,2; 1 Corinthians 10:31), waking or sleeping (or, for that matter, dreaming), in work and leis- ure, in the gathered community of the Lord's people and scattered in the world. When we gather in local churches for worship, we bring into focus in God's presence all we do; it's something like an aircraft getting a 'fine-tune'. We do not 'come to worship' to 'withdraw from the world'; rather we bring all we do in the world into the presence of the Lord as an offering to him.
The focus is on the Lord, so let's get the attention off ourselves. We worship him because it is our duty to do so, and in response to all he has done for us. And worship - serving the Lord - is much more than 'going to preaching'. (The most common question asked by someone who 'missed church' in Western countries: 'what did he say?'). Would you describe your church's worship as service of the Lord? Is that its main orientation?
Wesley described the essence of worship in one of his hymns as being 'lost in wonder, love and praise'. It's interesting that when I ask Christians how often they are lost in wonder love and praise in their worship they look bemused or sad: it's a rare experience for most of them (less rare, interestingly, for those at the liturgical or the charismatic ends of the worship-spectrum: these two groups, broadly speaking, have captured the grandeur of Christian tradition on the one hand and the beauty of freedom in worship on the other).'
It is very important that the worship leader should be worshipping too. Sometimes worship-leaders think that by scolding ('C'mon, get with it! You can sing better than that!') they are facilitating worship: the reverse is most probably true. The leader ought not to shuffle papers, or peer over the hymnbook to see who's present or absent while the people of God are singing a serious hymn of praise! As I travel from church to church, I find the more filled up with God the people are, the less prompting is needed from 'up front'. 'The demeanour of the worship leader and the congregation should transmit the message that here is a meeting of extraordinary importance. When it comes to leading worship the unforgivable sin is to be flippant or sloppy.' (Stan Stewart, 'Q: When is Worship Good for Children? A: When it's Good for Everyone,' On Being, March 1984, p.22). J.S.Whale warned, 'Instead of putting off our shoes because the place whereon we stand is holy ground, we like to take nice photographs of the burning bush from suitable angles.' ()(Quoted in many places, including Ken Manley, 'Worship - changes or not?', The Australian Baptist, date unknown).
This reminds me of something I heard Lyle Schaller say: 'Always remember, when adults are worshipping, there are children taking notes. The most critical formative factor in children's coming to faith is their perception that what the Big People are doing in their worship and learning experiences is vital, alive, enjoyable, and very, very important.'
So for the pastor and or worship-leader, the key question is not 'what can I do before these people that will be judged by them as excellent?' It is 'How can I enable them to do high business with God?' These are utterly different agendas. It's the difference in being a coach and being the star player. 'If you go to worship and all you leave with are certain evaluations of how the worship leaders have performed, you have missed the main point of that enterprise.' () (John Claypool, 'The challenge of ministry today', unpublished transcript of an address given to a pastor's conference at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, June 25, 1974)
Discuss one or more of the following: (1) Read Isaiah 6:1-9 and Psalm 8:3-9. Describe how the worshipper feels in each instance. What prompted, and what was significant about his response? (2) Read through Psalm 96. Notice how worship is recognizing the greatness and power of God (v8); worship expressed in different ways - singing (v1), preaching: telling others about God (v2), giving (v8), and prayer: the whole posalm is a prayer. Notice the reverence, 'honour' we give to God (v4), but we are not afraid of him, because he will treat us with justice and mercy (v13). (3) Look at Isaiah 1:10-17 and Micah 6:6-8. What do these Scriptures indicate about God's displeasure with worship divorced from justice? (4) How should the psalms be used in Christian worship - particularly the ones that extol war and retribution? (5) Compare and contrast these two hymns: 'And now, O Father mindful of the love' and 'I come to the garden alone'.
Further Reading: Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1978, chapter 11 'Worship'; William Willimon & Robert L. Wilson, Preaching and Worship in the Small Church, Nashville: Abingdon, 1980; James F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship, Nashville: Abingdon, 1980; John Gunstone, A People for his Praise, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1978.