In my first article in this series, I posed the question ‘what kind of church would Jesus attend?’ to perhaps motivate us to do some sort of spiritual audit of our approach to our local church Sunday services. I identified nine indicators of the presence of The Lord but made the point that these are also our responses to His presence in a church service. The first identifier is Reverent and Adoring Worship’, and in this article, I focus on just this factor.
In his book ‘Natural Church Development’ Christian Schwarz identified what he called ‘Inspiring Worship Service’ as one of eight characteristics of healthy growing churches. The word inspiration comes from a Latin word meaning ‘to breathe into’. John 20:22 records how the risen Lord Jesus met with his disciples ‘breathed on them and said, “receive the Holy Spirit’. Now the New Testament word for ‘spirit’ is pneuma and translates directly as breath or wind as well as spirit. Inspiration, in its truest sense, comes from the Holy Spirit and inspiring worship comes from people who are inspired by The Spirit and aware of His presence.
Reverent and Adoring
So why did I select the words ‘reverent and adoring’ to describe inspired worship? Well, to revere God is to regard and treat Him with deep respect, to hold Him in the highest regard, and to cherish and value the opportunity of being in His presence. Awe has similar meanings but includes a sense of wonder and appreciative astonishment. The phrase ‘the fear of the Lord’ that runs as a refrain through much of the Bible usually implies reverence and adoration. (Psalm 147:11 1 Peter 1:17).
Reverent adoration does not imply any particular style of worship, but it does qualify all true worship. Each element of a Sunday service, from praying and singing to preaching and sharing, should be characterised by reverent adoration. However, the major indicator of our attitude towards God and our corporate response to His presence is usually our singing.
Whether we sing old-fashioned hymns or modern spiritual songs isn’t the issue, and the body postures or actions we employ are merely expressions of our attitude and responses. The key issue is the question of ‘attitude’.
What we sing, to whom we sing, and how we sing in our church services flows from our attitude towards The Lord. I concede that there are times when we want to use songs as a means of reinforcing doctrine, as John Wesley often did during his remarkable ministry, or to affirm our blessed status as children of God. But most of the time our songs should reflect how we feel about God. So, let’s consider the following:
What do we sing?
What do the words of our songs convey? I had a look at the ranker.com list of best Christian songs for 2018. I don’t know how many of these are sung in church services and the only one I recognise as a corporate worship song is listed as number five. Perhaps this is indicative of my age and church experience and I don’t want to come across as a critical curmudgeon, but I believe that I can serve you best by bluntly stating my views. Anyway, here are the top five on the list:
- I just need you – TobyMac
- God only knows – for King and Country
- You say – Lauren Daigle
- What a friend – Matt Maher
- Who you say I am – Hillsong worship
Here is the link to the ranker.com list so that you can listen and evaluate for yourself, but all the top five are about how WE feel and how God helps US. Not one is about who God is or how we adore Him! So how about doing a reality check and audit the songs we sing most often in our church services – are they centred on Jesus or on us?
The irony of it all
Man-centred and self-centred songs are essentially self-defeating as a means of worshipping God, although they may have some therapeutic value for ourselves. We sing them to experience the pleasure of the music or we relate the lyrics to our pain, needs and hope. We were created to be worshippers, not worshipped. Intuitively we know that it’s neither real nor healthy to make ourselves the centre of our own attention. So we sing, and sway, and get goose bumps, and then we leave the church service often unchanged.
Have you ever wondered why God needs to be worshipped? Well, I don’t think He does. God’s love for us and His self-giving nature is so much more than we can comprehend. He knows that we are most whole and most satisfied when our lives are centred on Him… so He allows us to worship Him as a way of aligning our lives under His sovereignty, providence, authority, and love. The irony is that by worshipping Him in spirit and truth we truly become the recipients of peace, joy, and righteousness (Romans 14:17).
So, now let’s consider to whom and how we sing:
To whom do we sing?
Surely, if our songs convey reverent adoration then they should mostly be TO Jesus, not simply about Him, and certainly not about US? If a major component of our corporate time together is devoted to singing about how we feel about OURSELVES then we should not be surprised if we do not sense God’s presence among us. They might make us emotional and empathetic, but in what sense is that WORSHIP? Self-worship perhaps, but worship of the Lord Jesus?… I don’t think so.
How do we sing?
Holding up our arms towards Jesus is a natural and appropriate worshipful response to His presence. But what is it with all those folk who rush to the front to form a forest of hands waving towards the worship group? I have even seen church layouts where the ‘worshippers’ can crowd all around their musical idols. It is appropriate to clap in delight as we sing about God’s glory, but to ‘give the Lord an applause offering’ as the preacher bounds onto the stage is surely neither appropriate nor worshipful. And what is it with folk who lip-sync, check their smartphones, or even chat to the person next to them after the minister up front says, “Let us now sing hymn number 999”?!
If we could see Jesus
Perhaps a little dated now, but one of the songs I still greatly appreciate is Phil Driscoll’s ‘Open our eyes Lord’. Now imagine for a moment that the Holy Spirit answered that sung prayer and suddenly we could see the Lord Jesus standing right up front where the worship group is usually located. How would we respond? Perhaps we would fall down on our knees or even prostrate ourselves on the floor. Perhaps we would sing with greater passion and intensity than before, seeking to let Him know how we feel about Him. Or perhaps we would fall into awestruck silence. Whatever our responses, I am sure that no believer among us would be standing with hands in pockets, or muttering to his wife that the music was too loud, or making a mental note to talk to the pastor about the blatant emotionalism on display.
What can we do?
In 2005 George Barna wrote in his book ‘Revolution’ that eight out of every ten believers do not feel they have entered into the presence of God, or experienced a connection with Him, during the Sunday worship service. This must change! For our sake and for the church’s sake, this must change. But how? I can make a few suggestions:
- We can examine ourselves and evaluate our own contributions to corporate worship; repent if necessary and ask the Holy Spirit to inspire us once again.
- We can prepare our own hearts before attending the Sunday service and expect to meet with God in a meaningful way.
- We can start every service we attend with the silent prayer “Open my eyes Lord, I want to see Jesus.”
- If necessary we can speak respectfully and kindly to our church leaders.
- We can commit to God and to our leaders to participate enthusiastically in every aspect of the Sunday service.
The testimony of Mike Pilavach, the pastor of Soul Survivor church, in Watford, England back in the late 1990’s is a great encouragement to us. He became dissatisfied with the consumer mentality and self-centredness of the church worship so he decided to do away with the entire worship group and sound system for a season. The worship leader at that time was none other than Matt Redman who during this imposed ‘sabbatical’ composed the well-known song ‘The heart of worship’. The lyrics are: ‘When the music fades, all is stripped away, and I simply come / Longing just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless your heart… / I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about You, Jesus’. HERE is a link to a video of Matt leading a congregation in singing this song several years later.