Thursday, March 27, 2014

One thing remains.

Lights, sound, action!! There is a roar as the music starts. The musicians wear this very intense focused look, gazing down at their instruments. The lead singer prances about the stage encouraging the audience to join in and connect with what is happening on the stage.
It’s really good on so many levels – the musicians, sound quality, enthusiasm on the part of the audience etc etc are top quality.  There is great participation, a sense of oneness. Everybody seems happy and are enjoying themselves. But one thing remains!!

What I have just described has now become the ‘normal experience” of what a charismatic church meeting  may look like every Sunday morning. Yup!! I was not describing a rock concert, just in case you thought I was!!

Before I make enemies with my music/worship band fraternity let me explain. I am not passing judgment or criticizing on this form of worship. Also, this is not an exhaustive study on what worship is but a reflection on just a few aspects. A whole blog series would be needed to cover all the aspects of worship.

I have been a musician since the age of 7 and been a part of several worship bands (but mostly with the local church that I have been a part of) since the age of 11 spanning a little over three decades.  I have been a part of a Methodist church in the early years of my life. So I have seen the transition from church organs, to tambourines and guitars to full -fledged bands with grunge pedals, smoke machines , lights and all the other trappings; from clergy –laity divide to the priesthood of all believers upheld and celebrated. So please don’t get me wrong.

It’s not the form of worship that is in question or is a problem. Not at all!! Societies go through change - from one decade to another. Technology is making huge advances and pervades all of our lives. So it is only natural that some of it will spill into ecclesiastical quarters as well. The style of worship therefore will reflect the culture in which it is practiced and it should in order to be culturally relevant (though biblical sound at all times). In fact history shows that church music and art was the fore runner of the Arts influencing the other expressions of art in society.

I have, and continue love the grand old hymns and The Handle’s Messiah as much as I love Matt Redman and his contemporaries. What then is the point of this reflection? What is on my mind? What am I getting at?

As I said earlier, one thing remains. Let’s think about it. Come reflect with me if you may.
I have often paused to ask these questions to myself and the worship team I have the privilege of leading.  If we don’t remind ourselves to keep the main thing the main thing we will quickly be reduced to but an empty shell – a form lacking content.
So what is this “main thing? “ .  

So here are some questions I ask myself and those I mentor.

1. Who is worship for? Jesus made it very clear, “Love the Lord your God and worship Him only”. Therefore worship needs to be God ward. Songs need to be song primarily “to” God and not just “about God”. We need to praise His attributes which are so many. We need to declare truth that is found in scripture. We sing about His love, his faithfulness, power, sacrifice, who He is, his return etc.

2.  What is worship? Today there are many songs being written, the object of which is unclear because there is no reference to the person of Jesus or the cross. They could be sung to anyone or any God. We need to be careful. It’s the content of the songs, the lyrics that make song worship to Jesus or not. We need to be careful that we are not engaging in singing “something”, but are engaged in worship to the living God.

3. Presence – This I believe is the main thing. It’s sad to see worship being reduced to a performance of some random selection of Christian “pop hits” “blockbusters’ “chart busters” that have no focus or purpose.

The greatest privilege we as Christians enjoy is to be called a people of His presence. God dwells in our hearts and when two or three are gathered, His presence is with us and goes with us wherever we go. We are the only people on the planet who can boldly and confidently say that God we can speak to God and He hears us but more amazingly He speaks to us too.

In the OT when the Levites worshipped, God’s presence came down and filled the temple and the people fell face down in worship.
This is it!! This is the essence of worship: that God is glorified and exalted and He comes to us with his tangible presence. It’s his presence that distinguished us from every other people group on this earth. When people encounter His presence, they are changed forever because they have encountered the living God. This is what happened to Abraham. Moses, Jacob, Joshua, the disciples, Paul and you and I.

When people come together to worship we want to engage their whole being, not just their emotions where it becomes soulish and self centered rather than God centered. Too often songs are sung about our longings and desires, and the whole worship revolves around our needs rather than our God who is worthy of honour, praise, thanksgiving and worship. We can worship the desire to worship singing endless songs asking for His presence and the Holy Spirit rather this presence.

 I don’t think we are to dwell too much on asking the Holy Spirit to fill us because the Holy Spirit Himself always points to Jesus and wants Him glorified.( Having said that we are to ask Jesus to keep filling us with the Holy spirit. So "waiting on" and being  filled with the Holy Spirit continually is a good thing).As we glorify Jesus we are filled with the Spirit. When Paul and Silas were in jail they were exalting God and praising Him and look what happened – the place shook, there was an earthquake and they were set free. That should tell us something about the power or praise and exalting Jesus name!

Random repetitions of one liners of “come Holy Spirit” etc is not worship. It is only an expression of a desire to worship therefore one must not dwell on it too much but press into actual exaltation of a wonderful Lord.

When worship is in Spirit and in truth where the lyrics are solid, sound, biblical and full of rich doctrine, faith begins to arise in one’s heart and we begin to truly worship. It is no longer an emotional experience but a spiritual journey where we encounter the living God , experience His presence, hear his voice speak to us through the various gifts of the Spirit that begin to operate through the worshiper And yes our hearts are touched and filled with joy and gratitude.

Worship of Jesus also releases the prophetic and people go way with the certainty that God was in the place and that they met with God. Even the unbeliever begins to testify to the presence of God. This is what they take away with them rather than “the music was good, didn't she sing so well” etc.

I have always encouraged our team to continually seek His presence in worship.  And as we have done this week after week people tell us of how they met with God in the worship, how they were comforted, some physically healed in the worship etc etc.

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