“And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their vestments with trumpets, and the Levite sons of Asaph with their cymbals, to praise the Lord, after the order of David king of Israel. They sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, saying, ‘For He is good, for His mercy and loving-kindness endure forever toward Israel.’ And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid! But many of the priests and Levites and heads of father’s houses, old men who had seen the first house (Solomon’s temple), when the foundation was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice, though many shouted for joy.” Ezra 3:10-12

Many years ago, my wife and I were extremely blessed to be a part of a genuine and sovereign visitation of God that was taking place in two particular churches in our area. We realize now that what we experienced in those days was the exception and not the norm for most local congregations.

As we gathered to worship the Lord during those exciting days, there was such a sense of expectation and a tangible awareness of God’s presence. Many times we would be so overwhelmed by His presence that we could only respond by falling to our knees, or lying completely prostrate in an attitude of deep reverence. Often the pastor would be compelled to set aside his sermon and we would worship... sometimes for as long as two hours! The goal of our worship was to touch God’s heart; to connect with Him in such a way that He would, in turn, respond to us, individually and corporately. We understood that we were coming together to meet with God, to “commune” with Him. It wasn’t at all about us, it wasn’t about the songs or the band. It was all about Him. The prevailing attitude of the congregation during those unforgettable times of corporate worship was one of profound reverence, wonder and awe. I have often said over the years that once you have experienced such times of corporate worship, you can never be satisfied with anything less.

What did I learn during those times of glorious worship?

I think the main thing I learned is to treasure God’s presence. A healthy reverence for Him and for His presence was deeply ingrained into my spirit. I also learned that, far from being my “buddy”, God is absolutely and wholly “Other”, transcendent, and far beyond my comprehension. The early church fathers knew that much about God is shrouded in mystery. They called this mystery the mysterium tremendum, or “awesome mystery.” Theologians Stanley Grenz and Roger Olsen explain it this way: “God is immanent within human experience as the transcendent mystery that cannot be comprehended in spite of its absolute nearness.”

In those days I also learned that worship is not a one-way communication, from us to Him. True worship is a divine exchange with the Living God, where we enter into holy dialogue with Him. As we express our love to Him, He in turn desires to express something from His heart to ours. But how often do fail to leave no room in our corporate worship for God to speak to us? Matt Redman in his insightful book Facedown says, “Our culture in general has little time for quietness, and when faced with moments of stillness, many of us rush in to fill the space not knowing how to handle it.” Often there comes a time in our corporate worship gatherings where it is appropriate to do nothing but, as the psalmist says, “be still and know He is God.” And those in leadership must always be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. A.W. Tozer says that in some instances, absolute silence might well become our greatest act of worship! I agree, because it is in those appropriate moments of silence, as we are simply “beholding” Him, that He could speak just one word to our hearts that would leave us forever changed.

I also learned that, just as there is a protocol in approaching an earthly king, so there is a divine protocol in approaching our God. And it goes far beyond just the songs we sing. Yes, we are encountering our loving Father, but we are also encountering a mysterious, awesome and holy God.