Serving God

To worship God means to serve him. Basically there are two ways to do it. One way is to do things for him that he needs to have done—run errands for him , carry messages for him, fight on his side, feed his lambs, and so on. The other way is to do things for him that you need to do—sing songs for him, create beautiful things for him, give things up for him, tell him what’s on your mind and in your heart, in general rejoice in him and make a fool of yourself for him the way lovers have always made fools of themselves for the one they love.

A Quaker Meeting, a Pontifical High Mass, the Family Service at First Presbyterian, a Holy Roller Happening—unless there is an element of joy and foolishness in the proceedings, the time would be better spent doing something useful.

—Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life, 182

The Chief End

So it may be said that the chief purpose of life, for any one of us, is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. And to do as we say in the GLORIA IN EXCELSIS: Laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te, gratias agimus tibi propter magnum gloriam tuam. We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendour.

—J.R.R. Tolkien, quoted in Joseph Pearce, Tolkien: Man and Myth, 211-12

God as the Center

In worship God gathers his people to himself as center: “The Lord reigns” (Ps. 93:1). Garyaal is a meeting at the center so that our lives are centered in God and not lived eccentrically. We worship so that we live in response to and from this center, the living God. Failure to worship consigns us to a life of spasms and jerks, at the mercy of every advertisement, every seduction, every siren. Without worship we live manipulated and manipulating lives. We move in either frightened panic or deluded lethargy as we are, in turn, alarmed by specters and soothed by placebos. If there is no center, there is no circumference. People who do not worship are swept into a vast restlessness, epidemic in the world, with no steady direction and no sustaining purpose.

—Eugene Peterson, Living the Message, 74

Essential Song

Music and song have not only accompanied all scriptural revivals, but are essential in deepening one’s spiritual life. Singing does at least as much as preaching to impress the Word of God on people’s minds. Ever since God called me, the importance of praise expressed in song has grown up in my heart.

—D. L. Moody, cited by David. Jeremiah

Primary Theology

I would argue that there is something of vital importance about what we do in the Sunday assembly. The reason it’s important is that it’s in our worship where we do our primary theology. The official compendia of denominational doctrine will not directly influence most people. Most will never do any basic theological study. Many will not even be exposed much to Scripture on their own. The vast majority will learn their theology from their experiences of worship.

—Ronald P. Byars, The Future of Protestant Worship, 73

Not Home

The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.

—C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Not Our Story

Biblically shaped worship is a powerful way to remind ourselves that although we are beloved by God, we’re not really the star of our own story. Only in union with Christ by the Spirit are we the children of God and brothers and sisters in the community of faith. 

—Robbie F. Castleman, Story Shaped Worship: Following Patterns from the Bible and History, 203-4

Michael Lindvall describes worship as “weekly practice at not being God.”

—Nathan Bierma, “Worshipful Service”

A Happy Medium?

There are dangers in both extreme ends of this authenticity-relevance continuum. The danger on the authenticity end  is that worship can become culturally irrelevant, out of touch, meaningless; on the other end of the spectrum, the relevance end, the danger is that worship can become captive to a given culture, isolated from the whole church of Christ, and, at the worst, syncretistic through becoming detached from Christian roots.

—S. Anita Stauffer, “Christian Worship: Toward Localization and Globalization,” in Gláucia Vasconcelos Wilkey, ed., Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland?, 40

A False Burden

It is very tempting to conceive of a worship leader as the spiritual engine that drives the worship train, or the highly-charged sideline coach who needs to keep her team fired up.

This puts all the focus on our agency, a vision that doesn’t square with the New Testament. In the New Testament, our agency as worshipers and leaders is intimately linked with what Jesus is doing as we worship and with what the Holy Spirit is doing as we worship. Remember these comforting words: “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Rom. 8:26).

In the past few years there has been a lot of attention drawn to the emotional engagement of up-front worship leaders. We hear and read things like “you cannot lead others in worship unless you are a worshiper,” or “how can you expect to lead people into the throne room of God if you haven’t been there yourself?”

I can see the appeal of these statements—the way they prophetically address those of us who simply go through the motions or those of us who stoically dismiss emotional engagement as unimportant. But they can also discourage and demoralize us in their exaggerated incompleteness. Your congregation’s worship is not ultimately mediated by your level of or capacity for emotional engagement but by the perfect mediating work of Jesus, effected through the Holy Spirit. Praise God! This can free you—and all of us—to engage emotionally, but without a sense of burden that it all depends on us.

—John Witvliet, Reformed Worship 116 (June 2015):45-46

Perfect Worship

Though we rightly desire to give God our best, God’s favor toward us does not depend on our reaching the threshold of excellence. On the contrary, God’s attitude toward our worship exemplifies grace and acceptance. As theologian James B. Torrance explains, our worship does not have to be perfect because it is perfected through Christ. 

—Debra and Ron Rienstra, Worship Words25

Another Comforter (6)

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy.

Holy Spirit, powerful Consoler, sacred Bond of the Father and the Son, Hope of the afflicted, descend into my heart and establish in it your loving dominion. Enkindle in my tepid soul the fire of your Love so that I may be wholly subject to you. We believe that when you dwell in us, you also prepare a dwelling for the Father and the Son. Deign, therefore, to come to me, Consoler of abandoned souls, and Protector of the needy. Help the afflicted, strengthen the weak, and support the wavering. Come and purify me. Let no evil desire take possession of me. You love the humble and resist the proud. Come to me, glory of the living, and hope of the dying. Lead me by your grace that I may always be pleasing to you.

—prayers attributed to St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430)

Another Comforter (5)

The Spirit makes known the personal presence in and with the Christian and the church of the risen, reigning Saviour, the Jesus of history, who is the Christ of faith. Scripture shows . . . that since the Pentecost of Acts 2 this, essentially, is what the Spirit is doing all the time as he empowers, enables, purges, and leads generation after generation of sinners to face the reality of God. And he does it in order that Christ may be known, loved, trusted, honored and praised, which is the Spirit’s aim and purpose throughout as it is the aim and purpose of God the Father, too. This is what, in the last analysis, the Spirit’s new covenant ministry is all about. . . . The distinctive, constant, basic ministry of the Holy Spirit under the new covenant is so to mediate Christ’s presence to believers—that is, to give them the knowledge of his presence with them as their Saviour, Lord, and God—that three things keep happening.

First, personal fellowship with Jesus . . . becomes a reality of experience, even though Jesus is now not here on earth in bodily form, but is enthroned in heaven’s glory.

Second, personal transformation of character into Jesus’ likeness starts to take place as, looking to Jesus, their model, for strength, believers worship and adore him and learn to lay out and, indeed, lay down their lives for him and for others.

Third, the Spirit-given certainty of being loved, redeemed, and adopted through Christ into the Father’s family, so as to be “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), makes gratitude, delight, hope, and confidence–in a word, assurance–blossom in believers’ hearts.

By these phenomena of experience, Spirit-given knowledge of Christ’s presence . . . shows itself.

—J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, 47,49

Another Comforter (4)

We need a recovery of the doctrine of the Priestly ministry of the Spirit. Christ as the One Mediator alone represents God to man and man to God. The Spirit as the Spirit of Christ is SPEAKING SPIRIT and INTERCEDING SPIRIT (Romans ch. 8). As speaking Spirit He mediates God’s Word to men and summons us to faith and obedience. As interceding Spirit, He lifts us up into heavenly places in Christ. He puts the prayer of Jesus into our lips—”Abba, Father.” He intercedes for us, helping our infirmities. God draws near to us in Christ through the Spirit, and we are drawn near to God through the blood of Christ by the Spirit. Perhaps in Presbyterianism we have emphasised speaking Spirit at the expense of the interceding Spirit. At the heart of all worship lies the doctrine of the Third Person of the Trinity—that our Ascended Lord, by His Spirit poured out upon His Church at Pentecost, lifts us up into His life of praise and communion with the Father—so that we know we are “lifted out of ourselves” into an objective world of worship and praise and prayer in communion with all saints.

—James B. Torrance, “Covenant or Contract? A Study in the Theological Background of
Worship in Seventeenth-Century Scotland,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970):75-76

Another Comforter (3)

“I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:7)

We’ve seen in the sermon that the ascension means that Jesus is truly absent from us. He has been glorified and exalted into heaven, He has gone to the Father, He has gone away. As His disciples, we are called to witness faithfully, in the face of bullying and persecution, in His absence, in hope that we will meet Him when we are cast out of the synagogues.

But the ascension should never be detached from Pentecost. Jesus goes away, but in going away, He promises to send His Spirit. Jesus goes away, but at the same time assures His disciples that they will not be left orphans. He goes away, but says that He will come to us and be with us through His Spirit.

In 16:7, Jesus says it is for our good that He goes away, because unless He goes away the Spirit, the Paraklete, will not come. And it’s good for the Spirit to come, because through the Spirit Jesus’ disciples do greater works than He did. Because Jesus goes away, things are going to happen that could not happen when He was present.

During Jesus’ lifetime, He ate and drank frequently with the Twelve. He fed 5000 people on one occasion, and 4000 on another occasion. He had other meals and feasts throughout His ministry. But the sum total of people who ate and drank with Jesus during His lifetime would be somewhere in the thousands.

Now He has gone away, and the Spirit has come. Now Jesus is absent in the flesh, but present in the Spirit.  . . . Throughout the world, today, there are millions eating and drinking with Jesus, drawn from every tribe and tongue and nation. Jesus never did that. That could only be done when Jesus went away to His Father, and sent the Helper to be with us.

—Peter Leithart, “Eucharistic Meditation on John 16:7

Another Comforter (2)

Babel did not last forever, nor need it persist with us. It remained for Pentecost to set things right, for Babel is inverted Pentecost and Pentecost is Babel turned right side up. It is so because God takes the initiative and does his building from his throne, at whose right hand the risen and ascended Christ is seated. I think it safe to say that at Pentecost stylistic singularity went out the window and a thousand tongues turned out not to suffice. 

—Harold Best, Unceasing Worship: Perspectives on Worship and the Arts, 170