The Revd Paul Smith gives four talks exploring the theme “The Lamb of God.”
A weekend of Bible exposition, encouraging worship and prayer, great fellowship and wonderful hospitality. Come for the weekend or for a day.
This article concentrates on the first of these elements. I offer the following reflections from the perspective of someone who is a circuit minister and part of the Easter People leadership team, with the opportunities for leading worship which both those roles provide.
Graham Kendrick tells of a small boy's first visit to church, accompanied by his mother. As they entered the church he thought at first that it was empty, but then noticed here and there a hat, the back of a head, a pair of hunched shoulders. His mother led him into a pew and as they slid along its length she immediately knelt and bowed her head and he instinctively copied her. After a few moments of silence, the question which had been forming in his mind could be contained no longer and he burst out in a shrill voice which rang loud and clear through the ancient arches: 'Mummy, who are we all hiding from?'
Our Calling reminds us that our worship should evoke precisely the opposite reaction to that of the young boy. Rather the Church exists: 'To increase awareness of God's presence and to celebrate God's love'
If our worship is to accomplish this aim then I think that there are certain key things which we should bear in mind, whether we are responsible for the preparation and conduct of worship or whether we are part of a worshipping congregation. Worship needs to be:
Too often our worship reveals a confusion about who it is for. Is it for the person who is leading the service - giving them a platform for their particular angle on things? Is it for the congregation - to meet their expect-ations and preferences? Is it for the individual - to satisfy the needs with which they have come to worship? Who is worship for? Confusion is bound to persist until we resolve this question. As long as the focus is on us and our needs and preferences, worship is misdirected. It is only when we recognise that worship is for God that it will be acceptable to him.
The Westminster Confession affirms that our 'chief end' is 'to glorify God and enjoy him for ever'. In this there is an echo of the statement from Our Calling quoted above. It is also underlined by the exhortation of Paul, writing to the Romans: Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1)
Our vision must be for worship that is offered to God and which is for his benefit. He is worthy of our praise and our worship should bless him and give him glory. Anything which we may gain is secondary to that and flows out from it. Our chief end is to glorify God. Our priority is to offer ourselves as living sacrifices of worship, which will please him.
Christian worship is offered to God through Jesus Christ. There is some-times a little nervousness about this concept because it is thought that Jesus pointed away from himself to the Father, and that it is therefore inappropriate to offer worship directly to him. However, the doctrine of the Trinity affirms that Jesus is one of the three persons of the Godhead, and therefore an appropriate recipient of worship. Jesus spoke of himself using language that would lead people to assume his divinity and was not reluctant to accept worship. Anyone who identified himself as I AM was inviting worship (John 8:58). Jesus did not refuse the worship of Thomas (John 20:28).
We need to be careful about trying to drive a wedge between the persons of the Godhead. It is a similar false dichotomy which some have recently been proposing to undermine the force of John 14:6, and to suggest that Jesus may be the way to the Father but that there may be other ways to God. Jesus often uses the words 'God' and 'Father' interchangeably (Jn 4: 21-24 for example).
Our vision for worship must be one in which our love for Jesus overflows so much from our inner being that he is the object of real, passionate adoration and praise:
Jesus is the name we honour;
Jesus is the name we praise.
Majestic name above all other names,
the highest heaven and earth proclaim that Jesus is our God.
(Phil Lawson Johnston)
3. Spirit-led & Bible-based
Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman resulted in his offering a vital principle for Christian worship. We are to worship in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:24). We need both the presence of the Holy Spirit in our worship and his guidance in its planning and preparation. We need to allow the Spirit to dictate how worship happens and to guide its flow. We must actively seek, and leave space for, the gifts of the Spirit in our worship. For some of us there may be a lot of junk around in our worship which needs jettisoning if the Spirit is to be able to move freely.
But our worship must always reflect the truth of scripture. That is not just to say that there should be a good deal of scriptural content in our worship, but also that our approach to worship and its planning and conduct should be according to scriptural principles.
Our vision for worship should seek to unite these two aspects.
We have often allowed worship to become formal and lifeless. Our attempts to preserve a sense of awe have sometimes put God at a distance. One of the Greek words for worship suggests a much greater degree of intimacy: Proskuneo means 'to approach with a kiss'. We come to God to kiss his outstretched hand. Our worship needs to become more often a setting in which our hearts touch the father-heart of God. Complaints that some of our worship songs are too personal are unfounded. We need to regain a sense of intimacy in worship. Listen to the Personal Worship album by Stuart Townend, or read many of Matt Redman's lyrics to capture a sense of the call to intimacy which the Spirit is bringing to the church today.
Our vision of worship must be one in which we can get intimate with God. That is very different from saying 'God is my mate'. It is about allowing worship to help us develop an intimacy of relationship with the Father.
If worship is for God, why is it often assumed that he likes us to address him in the language of previous generations? Why does it often seem that the church is endeavouring to be a preservation society rather than a community of faith offering worship relevant to the present day?
If we are seeking to be biblical in our approach to worship there seems to be no justification for living in the past. The fact that the New Testament was written in the Greek of the market place should give us a clue. Old-fashioned modes of worship and old-fashioned language merely perpetuate the perception that the idea of God is an old-fashioned notion.
Controversially maybe, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that hymns have had their day. Don't get me wrong; in personal devotion their words provide rich wells from which to draw. Hymns have been my staple diet in worship for 45 years and I love them dearly. But for public worship they represent a genre, and use language, which is increasingly irrelevant to a modern generation. The songs being given by the Spirit today use language and musical forms which speak to modern people and enable them to express their worship in a natural way.
Our vision must be for worship that enables today's generation to engage with God in meaningful ways. Our calling is to invite the Spirit of truth to blow through our worship and increase an awareness of God's presence. It is to celebrate God's love in Christ and offer worship which is marked by intimacy and reality.
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, all about you, Jesus.