Based on a series spoken on Radio Rhema, Canberra, Australia, 1995. This series of short presentations expresses my concern that much of what we call Praise & Worship is neither.
Part 1: What do these words mean to you?
Part 2: When the Lord made His presence known.
Part 3: Worship in the right spirit.
Part 4: By royal invitation.
Part 5: Worshipping in truth.
Part One: What do these words mean to you?
Jesus told us that true worshippers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. (John 4:23)
When I became a Christian most of the songs we sang were hymns. Many of them I loved ,and still do - their theology was rich and helped to produce Christian maturity in those who meditated on them.
However, we must admit that many of them - and a great number of the choruses we sang, were quite poor, both theologically and musically. The advent of choruses that were more Biblical during the '70s' came as a breath of fresh air, and today, you can hardly find a church where they do not have a time of "Praise & Worship".
"Praise & Worship" - what do these words mean to you? I once attended a two day seminar on "Praise & Worship" but became confused with the teacher's meaning whenever he mentioned 'worship'. Realising that my confusion was probably due to semantics - a different understanding of the words used, I asked him to define his terms for me.
I was amazed when he said that he had never tried to define these words. No wonder, I, and others present, were confused by his teaching.
I shall be defining these words in this way: PRAISE is the sum of those actions we take to express God's attributes. This would primarily be directed to others and would include songs of testimony and proclamation. It is essentially 'horizontal'.
WORSHIP is man's response to his awareness of the presence of God. This would include songs of adoration and thanksgiving but it is expressed to God Himself and is essentially, 'vertical'. It would also include expressions of dance and moments of silence.
The Scriptures teach us that the Lord Himself is present in the gathering of His people. Do we believe that? If we did, would we present our worship to Him in the same way as we currently do? I suggest that much of our so-called worship would change considerably with the realisation of this truth.
God is still seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth!
Part Two: When the Lord made His presence known!
Les had recently come to the Lord. As his knowledge of the faith was very limited he invited me to his home - to answer his many questions. On arriving, I found that he had also invited ten others, all believers. I was given the "lazyboy" chair and sat with my feet up answering their many questions.
"Pastor, teach me how to pray" said Les. I began to talk about prayer being conversation with God, our heavenly Father. Then I stopped and asked them: "Do you believe that the Lord is here at this moment?"
They all replied in the affirmative. "Yes, the Holy Spirit is here, but it is hard for us to conceive just what a spirit is like".
"You all know that God became a man two thousand years ago, so that we might understand something of His love. Well, let us consider the Holy Spirit as a man, the Christ, seated here among us this evening".
With those words, I pulled an empty chair alongside me and said, "Imagine that the Lord Himself is sitting on this chair". It was meant to be just a teaching illustration, but little did I know that the Lord had others plans for us that evening. It was not until later that we realised that bringing the chair in had closed the circle.
I also began to chuckle as I realised that I had sat up from my "lazyboy" position, as I looked at the chair. "See", I said, with a grin, "even our body language speaks when we pray. I'm sure I would not have remained slouched in the chair if the Queen had come into the room - but then, a far greater than she has promised to be here!"
Turning to the chair, I spoke to the 'imagined' man present, expressing my love to Him and thanking Him for my salvation. I invited Les to speak to the 'chair' as an exercise to understand the fundamental simplicity of prayer. He began to speak, thanking the Lord for visiting his home and for giving him salvation, even though, for many years, he had turned his back on the Saviour. Others followed Les in addressing the 'chair' - but something wonderful was happening.
We all began to feel a presence filling the room, and we realised that this was no idle exercise. The Lord Himself was present with us in reality. Tears filled every eye, flowing down unhindered onto shirt fronts and blouses. An awesome silence lingered after the last guest had spoken. We had met the Lord!
Things were different in our church after that. The next morning Les prayed his first public prayer in our morning service and everyone present knew that Les was in communion with his God. Those present that wonderful evening became the core of our Praise & Worship group and the church began to experience a deep sense of His presence among us each time we came to corporate worship.
Worship in spirit and in truth is only possible to those who know an intimacy with the Lord who is in our midst. I believe it sadly true, that more often than not, we ignore Him as He is seated among us.
Like Bro. Lawrence of old, we must learn to practice the presence of God.
Part Three: Worship in the right spirit.
I was singing as loud as I could but was unable to hear my own voice. there were almost 50 000 others singing with me in that great choir. Several had their hands in the air as we sang the wonderful hymns of the faithfulness of God and the work of the cross and tears flowed freely down many a face.
It was a most moving experience! The enemy would surely be put in disarray by this demonstration of our unity! Then the referee blew his whistle and the rugby game got under way.
I was at Cardiff Arms park, home of Welsh rugby and the singing was part of the tradition for which the Welsh are known. Many a visiting rugby team player has commented that the hymn singing before the game was worth five points to the home team as the visitors felt the awe of that moment.
But was it worship? I think not!
It was certainly the fruit of community and identity as Welshmen; it certainly was birthed in the deep passions of the heart and was certainly a tonic to the soul - but it was the carnal, human spirit that was the source, not the quickened spirits of redeemed men.
How often we too are guilty of mistaking singing, however passionate, with true worship. Feeling good about our singing doesn't make it worship! In true worship, there may be times of no singing - just a silence as we are "lost in wonder, love and praise".
It was A W Tozer who said that "we have lost the art of ineffable worship. Whenever, there is a time of meditative silence in our services, we feel we must fill it with singing!" I'm a Welshman and I love singing, but Oh, for times of awesome silence in His presence!
I have had my fill of hearing people say that they had had a wonderful Praise & Worship time when what they really mean is that the music team were great and the singing wonderful - just like a secular pop concert.
I'm not against Christian concerts or music groups - my concern is that we may substitute the emotions of those moments with true worship.
The Father is still seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth!
Part Four: By royal invitation.
I was very excited as I had been invited to the palace to have a meal with the King. With the other guests I was ushered into the great hallway, by the king's servant. He began to tell us of the wonders of this great kingdom and to describe some of the beautiful things we would soon see.
He opened one of the many doors leading off the hallway and we were led into a large room decorated with many fine paintings. There were landscapes showing the most beautiful scenes from around the kingdom, but the ones that pleased me the most were portraits of the king himself from the time when He was small prince until the present time when He was displayed in regal glory.
After we had expressed our praise of His beauty we were led back into the hallway to enter another door. This room contained magnificent armour belonging to the king and his warriors. There were swords and shields of great strength, breastplates and helmets that would stand any amount of beating from an enemy. "Any soldier would be proud to wear such armour," I thought as we were once again led into the hallway.
A door stood slightly ajar as we crossed the hall so I glanced in. There stood the King Himself, behind a banquet table laden with magnificent food. He saw me and beckoned for me to enter, but at that moment, our guide pushed the door closed and led us into another room. This was also full of magnificent treasures belonging to the King - but I had lost interest as I had seen the King Himself and nothing else would satisfy.
After a few more visits to other rooms we were led back out of the palace. Others were thrilled by what they had seen but I knew what they had not seen and I was saddened.
How often I have joined in the singing of Praises that have been just like my story. We sang about the King and His beauty; we proclaimed His power to overcome in Spiritual warfare; we gave testimony of what He has done in our lives but we never came into His presence to worship Him! How sad!
The Lord is still seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth.
Part Five: Worshipping in truth.
The visiting preacher was causing me much concern. He had a pleasant manner and the congregation were listening with interest to his message but my concern was due to the things he was saying. He was urging them to become more committed in the Christian disciplines of prayer and Bible study. That was OK but he was also threatening them that they could lose their salvation if they were not so committed.
"Be very careful that the Lord does not remove His Spirit from you," he warned. I glanced at the elders of our church and saw that they were also concerned at what we considered to be heresy. Hadn't the Lord declared that He would "never leave us nor forsake us"? Didn't we preach that our salvation depended on the finished work of the cross and not on our own efforts?
Isn't it the Lord's responsibility to keep us and His Spirit's to guide us? Did this preacher really believe that we could lose our salvation because of an undisciplined prayer life or inconsistent Bible study? I was about to step forward to quietly ask him to close when he came to the end of his message.
I was relieved as the worship team stepped forward to lead us in Praise & Worship. We started to sing the first song, - one I loved well until I heard myself singing "Cast me not away from Thy presence O Lord. Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me ..."
These words from the Psalmist David, might well express his sentiments at a time when the Holy Spirit came upon the people of God and then might leave again. However that is not the promise of the New testament when the Spirit has come to dwell within the believer - not upon him.
I began to consider other songs we sing and was surprised to find how often we sing bad theology. We permit things to be sung in praise that we would never allow to be said as doctrine! Yet our songs are the only doctrine that many believers know today.
Instead of our pastors being the ones who teach us, our new theologians are the song writers, many of whom are babes in the faith. How can it be worship when it is based on errors of doctrine. We need to be far more careful in the selection of the songs we sing.
God is still seeking those who will worship Him in Spirit and in truth.