When we speak of worship, what initially comes to mind for many is the corporate time of worship in our Sunday morning gatherings, which usually includes music. Or, within some more traditional contexts, worship would involve the whole ‘service’, including the sharing of communion, the preaching of the Word, and a handful of other activities that could take place.
But I think many a people are starting to realise that such is a bit of a reductionist understanding to specifically pinpoint worship as either 1) the church’s gathered time of singing or 2) the activities of the one, or one and a half, hour gathering on a Sunday morning. No one would negate the importance of such, or at least I hope they would not. But, over the past few decades (or longer), our view of worship has become enlarged. Our minds are beginning to be transformed with a more holistic view of worship.
But, still, the tug comes at many a hearts to envision worship as mainly centred around songs. I think a lot of this understanding is focused in and around a text in Revelation 4. It would be good if one read the whole chapter, as it is only 11 verses. But I simply quote a few verses below:
4Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. 5From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, 6and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. 8And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:4-8)
Michael Patton’s recent post over at Parchment & Pen in regards to the prevailing wrong understanding that many have of heaven, or the age to come, got some of these things stirring in me. From such a passage (and, of course, a few others), we have developed this idea that heaven is simply an eternal sing-a-long. Either we keep singing the same song (possibly Amazing Grace or How Great Thou Art) over and over. Or we sing a plethora of songs day and night, to quote vs8 above. Either way, to believe that heaven is an eternal sing-a-long is quite unhealthy. But I’ll come on to that in a moment, lest someone start picking up stones.
First, let me go ahead and say that I believe the gathered church in its corporate worship is a very, very important aspect. Not only that, but the church’s corporate time of worship in song is also of utmost value. As our main ‘song-book’ to be found in the Scriptures, the Psalms point to the importance of worship in song (don’t forget the Psalms were probably meant to be sung, not so much read, but that’s another matter).
As coming from a charismatic background, I know of the potential of the saints in their gathering before God. Not only that, but I have witnessed some things in the gathering of the saints that both humbles and excites me. When 50, 100, 200 or however many of God’s people, who are already walking with Him on a regular basis, gather together to express their praise, their worship, their love for their Father, you can imagine what is available in our midst by the Spirit.
Still, I am very aware that to limit worship to such (and, yes, it is limiting it) will become detrimental to what God intended. And this is coming from a charismatic.
First of all, why do I believe it is limiting to conceive of worship simply as our gathered time in song?
Well, I go back to Eden. As far as we know, there were no instruments. No organs, no pianos, no guitars, no drums, and not even any PowerPoint (nor MediaShout for our experienced music and techy teams).
But I believe that the love-worship relationship between Adam and Eve and our Father was being worked out as designed. Those walks in the ‘cool of the day’ would have consisted of greater intimacy than we have probably yet experienced.
No music, maybe even no songs. But worship was taking place.
We turn to Genesis 22 and the famous passage of Isaac’s sacrifice (or, so, we thought he was going to be sacrificed). And in vs5 we read these words:
Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.
Interesting. Again, no guitars, no keyboards, no drums, no Matt Redman, no Tim Hughes, none of that stuff. But worship was taking place. Why? Because sacrifice was taking place. Behind this word sacrifice, even though there were no songs and no music, we find worship unfolding before our very eyes.
Let me flesh this out a little. What I mean is that there is a giving of oneself. This isn’t about you or me or anyone else. It’s about the One we are giving to. That is sacrifice. That is worship. And nobody has to play one musical chord. No one has to sing one melodious note.
That is worship in its holistic sense.
So, though I am very much up for our gatherings to be filled with songs of praise. I am even up for us to join in songs in the age to come in the new earth of righteousness, I must confess that I am not up for this all the time. To be completely honest, such would be absolutely boring! And I think our Father would agree on that.
Some might now mark me out as unspiritual, maybe even unscriptural. But, when I actually read Scripture and ponder the worship relationship God has called us into, I know it neither begins nor ends with music and song. Again, these are an integral parts. But they are not the start or finish line of worship.
Thus, worship should be of utmost importance to the people of God. It is absolutely integral to the life of the saints. We are reminded of such from these words of provocation from John Piper:
‘Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.’ (Let The Nations Be Glad)
Yes, worship supersedes even mission! But worship finds its true, authentic place as one gives himself or herself sacrificially to the One who sacrificed Himself on the cross. This is not limited to our Sunday gatherings nor other special times of song. Rather, the challenge is that we view every word, every action, every thought, even every breath as an opportunity of developing the worship relationship our Father has called us into.