Worship is . . .

Worship is the response of the redeemed life (Rom. 12:1) to the glory of God in all its facets (Rom. 11:36), as revealed in His works (Deut. 5:24; Rom. 1:19-20), His written Word (Ps. 150:2), and preeminently in His incarnate Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:14,18).

True worship is Word-informed (John 4:23), heart-grounded (John 4:23; Mark 7:6-7), God-centered (Rev. 22:9), Christ-exalting (Rev. 5:12) and Spirit-empowered (Phil. 3:3).

“Worship is the supreme and only indispensable activity of the Christian Church” (William Nicholls), the ultimate goal of the Church (John Piper), and as such should be the final trajectory of all life and ministry. “The purpose of theology is doxology; we study in order to praise.” (J. I. Packer)

Worship has as its root unchanging biblical principles applied and played out in a rich diversity of culturally inflected manifestations. Worship should simultaneously be transcultural, contextual, cross-cultural and counter-cultural (Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture).

—Ron Man, from a grant proposal to the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship on behalf of the International Council of Ethnodoxologists, 2005

How shall I sing that majesty?

How shall I sing that majesty
Which angels do admire?
Let dust, in dust and silence lie:
sing, sing, ye heavenly choir.

Thousands of thousands stand around
Thy throne, O God most high;
Ten thousand times ten thousand sound
Thy praise; but who am I?

They sing because Thou art their Sun;
Lord, send a beam on me;
For where heaven is but once begun
There alleluyas be.

I shall, I fear, be dark and cold,
With all my fore and light;
Yet when Thou dost accept their gold,
Lord, treasure up my mite.

Enlighten with faith’s light my heart,
Inflame it with love’s fire;
Than shall I sing and bear a part
With the celestial choir.

—John Mason (17th-century hymnwriter)

Faith in and of Christ

Regarded merely in itself, however, as Calvin used to say, faith is an empty vessel, for in faith it is upon the faithfulness of Christ that we rest and even the way in which we rest on him is sustained and undergirded by his unfailing faithfulness. Thus the very faith which we confess is the faith of Christ Jesus who loved us and gave himself for us in a life and death of utter trust and belief in God the Father. Our faith is altogether grounded in him who is “author and finisher,” on whom faith depends from start to finish.

—Thomas Torrance, “The Mediation of Christ in Our Human Response” in The Mediation of Christ, 94

Revelation and Response (8)

Haven’t I led in meetings when, after every celebration song, my mind gets out the “clap-o-meter” to check if we’re on course? (After all, if people clap at the end of each up-tempo song, that means we’re in for a good night, doesn’t it?!) Don’t I sometimes find myself subconsciously scanning the congregational horizon for any sign of life? Some outstretched hands, perhaps? (That definitely means “it’s working”!) Next, as we move into intimate reverence don’t I sometimes squint through my half-closed eyes to see what other responses are happening—hoping to see at least one person on their knees?

Of course I’m exaggerating in all of these examples, but I hope my point is clear. Too often when I lead worship I´m driven by getting a good response out of the people. I want to see results. Now, all of these things are potentially good things—dancing, lifting up holy hands, clapping, and kneeling. But rather than being so desperate to see these things happen (or, God forbid, even trying to make them happen) I should be far more interested with what lies behind these responses (or the lack of them.) It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one for the mindset of any lead worshipper.

And that takes us right back to the “revelation” side of things. Before we get consumed with how people are responding, it’s good to be mindful of what they’re responding to. As worship leaders and songwriters, we need to pay more attention to the reasons for God´s worth in our writing and leading. What aspects of His wonders and splendour are we presenting for people to get their hearts into? How are we reminding hearts, minds and souls of the merciful acts that have been done for them, and the amazing grace that has been won for them? Now, of course, this isn’t just our responsibility—everyone involved in the service plays a part. But we must take our part of the role seriously. Instead of ever trying to work people up (however subtly) to some sort of response, let’s take a different approach. Let us bring songs so full of our glorious Jesus that they ignite a fresh fire and a heart-filled response from those who sing them. If we can somehow help usher people into a fresh revelation of Jesus during our worship times, I’m convinced the response will take care of itself. We will not be able to stand in the way of a passionate room of dancing, shouting, bowing, adoring lovers of God.

William Temple once wrote,
“Worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God,
To feed the mind with the truth of God,
To purge the imagination by the beauty of God,
To devote the will to the purpose of God.”

Notice how much of his definition of worship is centred around “revelation”. Here’s a man that knew that if we could somehow get people involved in the holiness, truth and beauty of God, it would result in the devotion of the will to the purpose of God. Our whole lives poured out in worship. And that, in the end, is the ultimate response of any true worshipper.

—Matt Redman, “Revelation and Response” in The Heart of Worship Files

Revelation and Response (7)

The main point here is the priority given, in Christian worship, to the Bible. The Bible is not simply read aloud in order to convey information, to teach doctrine or ethics or whatever, though of course it does that too. It is read aloud as the effective sign that all that we do is done as a response to God’s living and active word, the word which, as Isaiah says, accomplishes God’s purpose in the world, abiding for ever while all flesh withers like the grass. The place of scripture in Christian worship means that both in structure and content God’s initiative remains primary and all that we do remains a matter of response.

—N. T. Wright, “Freedom and Framework, Spirit and Truth: Recovering Biblical Worship,” Studia Liturgica 2002, 32, 186