All the many ways we can get to know God are by way of analogy and metaphor and simile. His Being and activities are reflected to us through nature, in the same way the moon reflects the light of the sun. The moon has no light of its own, even though we say things like “moon light” and “moon-lighting.” God is our fortress, our rock, our fountain of living water. All these are analogies that reflect truth.
One analogy that we have is of God sitting on a throne, ruling and reigning over the universe, sending angels to do His will. This is certainly a biblical analogy that is quite revealing.
However, since all analogies limp, let’s look at this one and see how it can, at times, not be helpful. God, of course, has no body, so He cannot be literally sitting on a throne. There is also the fact that He is everywhere in the universe and not confined to one location, even heaven.
During worship, if we think of God as being on a throne, watching us sing and praise and even dance and raise our hands to Him, that puts Him in the passive position of the audience and we would be in the active position of the performers or worshipers. However, I believe honest worship is not an activity, but a response.
A better analogy is that we are the audience and God is the Performer, doing a million awesome things, all at the same time and all around the universe. He is birthing the doe’s calf in the forest, even while He is leading the whales to their winter feeding-grounds. He is sustaining the man who was fired, and encouraging the student to take a break and rest a bit. The list of things God is doing, day and night, just goes on and on. Jesus said, “My father works and I work.”
If we get a glimpse of His brilliance and power and kindness and gentleness and humility and love and wondrous deeds, our hearts will melt, our minds will be amazed and we will spontaneously respond with praise and adoration and thanksgiving. It will just be natural and genuine and real, not out of duty or obligation or commitment. We might just rise to our feet and applaud wildly.
We have all had many experiences of spontaneous outbursts of praise. “O, my God,” we might say when seeing a beautiful sunset. “Wow,” we might say when hearing a really lovely song or a bird singing at the bedroom window.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “We imagine the Divine as distant and inaccessible, whereas, in fact, we live steeped in its burning layers.” We are already living inside of God. We are surrounded by His Presence. He fills these temples we call “bodies.” We call Him “Emmanuel,” God with us. Jesus said, “I AM with you always.” There is now no separation and there cannot be any. We are very much like fish in the ocean, living in water and filled with water.
I believe the answer to consistently having genuine, honest, real, authentic worship is in the worldview that we engender and the theological worldview that we espouse. God really is working all things for good. The Holy Spirit really is bringing us into all truth, even if it is slowly. The New Jerusalem is descending upon the earth already. The earth is full of the glory of the Lord. The knowledge of the Lord is beginning to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. It really is “finished,” as Jesus said. The teachers and preachers who are building their messages and their worldviews on a few scriptures that appear to be negative and fearful, need to read further and study harder…or they need to be replaced. Perhaps they need to stop getting their news for the newspapers, and get their news for the Bible…it’s called “Good News.” God really is love and does everything out of love. He really is sustaining us and doing a great job. There really is, right here, a dimension much like a fifth dimension, Jesus called “The kingdom of God.” There really is a “heaven on earth.” Who started teaching we have to die to go to heaven? Why is that still being taught? Jesus came to bring heaven to earth. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, ON EARTH.” We are here to take possession of the earth, which, by the way, is full of the glory of the Lord.
Now we can speak of some practical things about worship services.
1. I always start with a prayer telling God about God. “Father, we are so thankful that You are our Father. You are a wonderful father, so kind, so gentle, so loving, so brilliant. You prepare things for us long before we arrive. You even think of the little things, like our favorite foods or favorite colors or what things we love to do. You are so strong You do a thousand things all at the same time. Why would I worry about anything at all, with You holding me in the palm of Your hand.” One can go on and on about the goodness of God. This prayer should not be more than a minute or two. It is to help people get their minds off themselves and onto their Father.
2. Song selection is so very important. This should be done by Wed. or Thurs. before the Sun. service. This will force the worship leader to ask God for help with selection of songs. Songs about us and our problems, or even our love, are to be avoided, if you want the people to be taken out of themselves. Perhaps the opening song could be a praise song in which we say awesome things about God, but the next two or three songs should to songs that are to God about God. That is all they sing about in the heavens. Look at all the songs in Revelation. Also, look for good melodies. The melody can capture the anointing. Just hum “Happy Birthday To You,” and you will know what I mean.
3. Song order is also very important. A three act play has three acts for a reason. Act one introduces the story and presents any potential conflicts and possible solutions. Act two is the heart of the play and advances things along. We begin to anticipate a resolution of some sort. Act three presents the climax or resolution, often, with a happy, satisfying conclusion. One should never put act one after act three, or vice versa. Once we get to songs that address God directly, we need to stay with that kind of song for at least three songs. Songs like “You Are My Hiding Place,” “I Love Your Presence,” “I Exalt Thee,” “Come To Me,” “All Honor, All Glory” and “You Are My All In All” are just a few of the many good ones. Songs to us about God are never as uplifting as songs to God about God. Worship is expressing God’s worth, not ours. Finally, you can end with a celebration song about us, if you like. It will help bring us back to earth and get us ready for the sermon and taking up the collection.
4. Getting ready takes all week. If you, as the worship leader, do not sing and play during the week, eventually, you will need to resign. You will know you are a phony and so will the people, at some level. A real worship leader actually worships long before he or she leads. And we are not doing this just to get ready for the next service. We are worshiping because we love to worship God, Who is so amazing and brilliant and faithful. You might find yourself even worshiping at home AFTER the Sunday service. AND, we are not leading worship so that someday we can get a full-time job leading worship, or get an offer to lead worship at a larger church for a larger paycheck. We are leading worship because we love to worship and God has just chosen us to do this job. This is not a job you want to take on if you have not been commissioned by God to do it. It comes with many trials and tests.
I would like to suggest we put the worship band back in the audience, since they are really part of the audience, God being the Performer. They could be off to the side or down front, facing the stage. The band does not really need to be placed in a situation where the people are watching them worship. Watching tennis players play tennis is not actually us playing tennis. Of course, the people still need something to focus on during the times of worship. Perhaps the lyrics on the screen would be just the thing to help them to actually think about the words they are singing.
I have been known to tell people that when I die I want to go to earth. I see God here, “peaking through the lattice,” riding on the clouds, playing with the baby elephants, causing the tomatoes to ripen, smiling through my wife’s eyes, laughing with my grand children. I hear His voice in the running streams and the birds’ nest near my window. I see His designs in the flying geese and the stream in my yard that runs to the river. Worship begins in the mind. My Rachel, in one of her songs, sings, “If your mind is good, your whole body will be full of light,” quoting Jesus. If our worldview is truly biblical, the praise and worship will be rising within us all week…in the shower, in the car, at work, during lunch and even, thank God, during Sunday service.