Worship, the act of freely giving love to God, forms
and informs every activity of the Christians life.
Many people who visit Vineyard Christian Fellowships around the country remark on the depth and rich quality of our worship. This has not come about by chance; we have a well thought out philosophy that guides why and how we worship God. In this article I will communicate that philosophy.
To understand how we worship God, it is helpful to learn about our fellowships history, which goes back to 1977. At that time my wife, Carol, was leading a small group of people in a home meeting that evolved into the Anaheim Vineyard. Ill let her describe what happened at that time.
"We began worship with nothing but a sense of calling from the Lord to a deeper relationship with Him. Before we started meeting in a small home church setting in 1977, the Holy Spirit had been working in my heart, creating a tremendous hunger for God.
"One day as I was praying, the word "worship" appeared in my mind like a newspaper headline. I had never thought much about that word before. As an evangelical Christian I had always assumed the entire Sunday morning gathering was "worship" and, in a sense, I was correct. But in a different sense there were particular elements of the service that were especially devoted to worship and not to teaching, announcements, musical presentations, and all the other activities that are part of a typical Sunday morning gathering. I had to admit that I wasnt sure which part of the service was supposes to be worship.
"After we started to meet in our home gathering, I noticed times during the meeting usually when we sang in which I experienced God deeply. We sang songs, but mostly songs about worship or testimonies from one Christian to another. But occasionally we sang a song personally and intimately to Jesus, with lyrics like "Jesus, I love you." Those types of songs both stirred and fed the hunger for God within me.
"About this time I began asking our music leader why some songs seemed to spark something in us and others didnt. As we talked about worship, we realized that often we would sing about worship yet we never actually worshiped except when we accidentally stumbled onto intimate songs like "I love you, Lord, and I lift my voice." Thus we began to see a difference between songs about Jesus and songs to Jesus.
"Now, during this time when we were stumbling around corporately in worship, many of us were also worshiping at home alone. During these solitary times we were not necessarily singing, but we were bowing down, kneeling, lifting hands, and praying spontaneously in the Spirit sometimes with spoken prayers, sometimes with non-verbalized prayers, and even prayers without words at all. We noticed that as our individual worship life deepened, when we came together there was a greater hunger toward God. So we learned that what happens when we are alone with the Lord determines how intimate and deep the worship will be when we come together.
"About that time we realized our worship blessed God, that it was for God alone and not just a vehicle of preparation for the pastors sermon. This was an exciting revelation. After learning about the central place of worship in our meetings, there were many instances in which all we did was worship God for an hour or two.
"At this time we also discovered that singing was not the only way to worship God. Because the word worship means literally to bow down, it is important that our bodies are involved in what our spirits are saying. In Scripture this is accomplished through bowing our heads, lifting our hands, kneeling, and even lying prostrate before God.
"A result of our worshiping and blessing God is being blessed by Him. We dont worship God in order to get blessed, but we are blessed as we worship Him. He visits His people with manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
"Thus worship has a twofold aspect: communication with God through the basic means of singing and praying, and communication from God through teaching and preaching the word, prophecy, exhortation, etc. We lift Him up and exalt Him, and as a result are drawn into His presence where He speaks to us."
Definition of Worship
Probably the most significant lesson that Carol and the early Vineyard Fellowship learned was that worship is the act of freely giving love to God. Indeed, in Psalm 18:1 we read, "I love you, O Lord, my strength." Worship is also an expression of awe, submission, and respect toward God: Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song (Ps. 95:1-2). Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise His name; proclaim His salvation day after day. Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples (Ps. 96:1-3). Our hearts desire should be to worship God; we have been designed by God for this purpose. If we dont worship God well worship something or someone else.
But how should we worship God? There are various ways described in the Old and New Testaments:
Adoration: praising God simply for who He is Lord of the universe.
Thanksgiving: giving thanks to God for what He has done, especially for His works of creation and salvation.
Confession: the acknowledgment of sin and guilt to a holy and righteous God.
As Carol pointed out, worship involves not only our thought and intellect, but also our body. Seen throughout the Bible are such forms of prayer and praise as singing, playing musical instruments, dancing, kneeling, bowing down, lifting hands, and so on.
A key passage for understanding worship is found in John 4:23, 24 where Jesus said: "the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."
Jesus was saying worship must be in keeping with Gods nature, which is spirit, and it must be rooted in truth, which is found in Christ. In the New Testament we find several important elements of worship that are not found in the Old Testament. First and most important, we worship the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ. Our worship is Christ-centered. Singing is Christ-centered: to Him and about Him. Second, Jesus commanded us to remember and worship Him through the Lords Supper. Third, the Holy Spirit leads our worship (1 Cor. 14), speaking to us through prophecies and tongues and interpretation (see Acts 13 and 14).
Phases in the heart
Not only is it helpful to understand why and how we worship God, it is also helpful to understand what happens when we worship God. In the Vineyard we see five basic phases of worship, phases through which leaders attempt to lead the congregation. Understanding these phases is helpful in our experience of God. Keep in mind that as we pass through these phases we are headed toward one goal: intimacy with God. I define intimacy as belonging to or revealing ones deepest nature to another (in this case to God), and it is marked by close association, presence, and contact (I will describe these phases as they apply to corporate worship, but they may just as easily be applied to our private practice of worship).
The first phase is the call to worship, which is a message directed toward the people or toward God. It is an invitation to worship. This might be accomplished through a song like, "Come, Let Us Worship and Bow Down." Or it may be jubilant, such as through the song, "Dont You Know Its Time to Praise the Lord?"
The underlying thought of the call to worship is "Lets do it, lets worship now." Song selection for the call to worship is quite important, for this sets the tome for the gathering and directs people to God. Is it the first night of a conference when many people may be unfamiliar with the songs and with others in attendance? Or is it the last night, after momentum has been building all week? If this is a Sunday morning worship time, has the church been doing the works of God all week? Or has the church been in the doldrums? If the church has been doing well, Sunday worship rides on the crest of a wave. All these thoughts are reflected in the call to worship. The ideal is that each member of the congregation be conscious of these concerns, and praying that the appropriate tone be set in the call to worship.
The second phase is the engagement, which is the electrifying dynamic of connection to God and to each other. Expressions of love, adoration, praise, jubilation, intercession, petition all of the dynamics of prayer are interlocked with worship come forth from ones heart. In the engagement phase we praise God for who He is through music as well as prayer. An individual may have moments like these in his or her private worship at home, but when the church comes together the manifest presence of God is magnified and multiplied.
Expressing Gods love
As we move further in the engagement phase, we move more and more into loving and intimate language. Being in Gods presence excites our hearts and minds and we want to praise Him for the deeds He has done, for how He has moved in history, for His character and attributes. Jubilation is that heart swell within us in which we want to exalt Him. The heart of worship is to be united with our Creator and with the church universal and historic. Remember, worship is going on all the time in heaven, and when we worship we are joining that which is already happening, what has been called the communion of the saints. Thus there is a powerful corporate dynamic.
Often this intimacy causes us to meditate, even as we are singing, on our relationship with the Lord. Sometimes we recall vows we have made before our God. God might call to our minds disharmony or failure in our lives, thus confession of sins is involved. Tears may flow as we see our disharmony but His harmony; our limitations but His unlimited possibilities. This phase in which we have been awakened to His presence is called expression.
Physical and emotional expression in worship can result in dance and body movement. This is an appropriate response to God if the church is on that crest. It is inappropriate if it is whipped up or if the focal point is on the dance rather than on true jubilation in the Lord.
I have been in some congregations where people try to create the jubilation level without doing the works of God, especially the works of salvation and restoration. But inevitably they fall short of true jubilation, because Gods works elicit the jubilation. The former worship expression is fabricated, the latter genuine. If we do not exalt God in our private lives, jubilation becomes a phony exercise in corporate worship.
Expression then moves to a zenith, a climactic point, not unlike physical lovemaking (doesnt Solomon use the same analogy in the Song of Songs?). We have expressed what is in our hearts and minds and bodies, and now it is time to wait for God to respond. Stop talking and wait for Him to speak, to move. I call this, the fourth phase, visitation: the almighty God visits His people.
His visitation is a byproduct of worship. We dont worship in order to gain His presence. He is worthy to be worshiped whether or not He visits us. But God "dwells in the praises of His people." So we should always come to worship prepared for an audience with the King.
The church must be quickened to the fact that the God of the universe will visit us if we but worship Him in spirit and in truth. Much of the time when Christians come together they dont expect God to do much. But God is like an anxious bridegroom outside the brides door. And we, as the bride, frequently forget what we are there for because we are scattered in our thoughts or preoccupied with concerns.
We should expect the Spirit of God to work among us. He moves in different ways sometimes for salvation, sometimes for deliverances, sometimes for sanctification or healings. God also visits through the prophetic gifts. Often the genuine prophets in the church are too timid to speak up. The Lord needs to deepen us in the prophetic gifts. He visits us also through Spirit-inspired scripture reading which has a prophetic meaning for that moment. Exhortation that is, a word of encouragement can be given this way. We need to learn to wait on the Lord and let Him speak.
The fifth phase of worship is the giving of substance. The church knows so little about giving, yet the Bible exhorts us to give to God. It is pathetic to see people preparing for ministry who dont know how to give. That is like an athlete entering a race, yet he doesnt know how to run. If we havent learned to give money, we havent learned anything. Ministry is a life of giving. We give our whole lives; God should have ownership of everything. Remember, whatever we give God control of He can multiply and bless, not so we can amass goods, but so we can be more involved in His enterprise.
Whatever I need to give, God inevitably first calls me to give it when I dont have any of it whether it is money, love, hospitality, or information. Whatever God wants to give through us He first has to do to us. We are the first partaker of the fruit. But we are not to eat the seed, we are to sow it, to give it away.
The underlying premise is that whatever we are is multiplied, for good or for bad. Whatever we have on our tree is what we are going to get in our orchard.
As we experience these phases of worship, we experience intimacy with God, the highest and most fulfilling calling men and women may know.
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