“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.
Hebrews 10: 22 says that we may “boldly” approach God’s Throne of Grace. But Psalm 24 maps out for us the divine protocol, which enables us to approach His throne boldly: “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His Holy Place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart. . .” But how often do we rush into God’s presence, unprepared and with no forethought as to the true condition of our heart? God’s Word makes it very clear that if we regard iniquity in our heart, the Lord will not hear our prayers...or our praise.
Another very important lesson I learned is that worship is a response to a revelation of God. Matt Redman says it well: “It’s only as we breathe in more of the wonders of God that we can breathe out a fuller response to Him.” A.W. Tozer adds this: “If the Holy Spirit should again come upon us as in earlier times, visiting church congregations with the sweet but fiery breath of Pentecost, we would all be greater poets and greater artists and greater lovers of God and His universe.” We will never worship God, either individually or corporately, at any deeper level than our revelation of Him.
Today I am like one of those described in Ezra, chapter 3, who were “weeping with a loud voice” because of what I see happening in so many churches. I’ve tasted and experienced in those former days what I perceive to be a much deeper level of corporate worship. And I know how glorious it can be. No doubt, there are congregations across America today that are experiencing deeper levels of worship. But I “weep” because these congregations are the exception and not the norm.
George Barna, Christian author and director of The Barna Group, has conducted a survey of churches across America and has found that half of all believers say they do not feel they have entered into God’s presence, or experienced a connection with Him, during their corporate worship times in the last year. Eight out of ten believers do not feel they have ever sensed God’s presence, or experienced a connection with Him, during their church’s worship gatherings!
Over the past 20 years I have had the opportunity to participate in the worship services of a wide variety of congregations across America. Sadly, in many of these congregations the common denominator has often been a general lack of reverence for the One to Whom we have gathered to worship. Instead, I have often witnessed an alarming and flippant, “God-is-my-buddy” casualness. In contrast, A. W. Tozer says, “No one who knows Him intimately can ever be flippant in His presence.”
With the explosion of contemporary worship music during the last twenty years, there has been a tendency for the focus of our worship to shift from the character and greatness of God and who He is to an “it’s-all-about-me” mentality. As writers of contemporary worship music, we need more songs that focus on His character and greatness, His transcendence and majesty. . .songs that shift the focus off of ourselves and onto Him.
Thankfully, my “weeping” is only temporary because I wholeheartedly believe what God has promised in Haggai 2: 9, “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts” The former days I experienced in corporate worship will pale in comparison to those that are coming upon the Church, as Jesus continues to prepare His Bride, a Bride that will be passionately in love with Him and totally set apart, consecrated unto Him.My constant prayer is that God will cause us to hunger for more of Him and His presence to such an extent that He will have no choice but to respond with a mighty visitation of His presence and power that will be unparalleled in history.
I ask you to please prayerfully consider the following questions:
- What is the goal and what are your personal expectations in corporate worship?
- Is there an “ascending” that takes place in corporate worship, or do we just remain on a level plane?
- Do you expect a response from God in worship?
- Do you sense God’s presence in your corporate worship times?
- In your congregation’s worship times together is there a prevailing attitude of reverence, wonder and awe?
May our God continually move us ever deeper and higher than we presently are, both in our personal relationship with Him and in our life together as the Body of Christ.
Kirk Dearman is a psalmist, worship leader and songwriter who, together with his wife Deby, has pioneered in worship and the arts for the past thirty years. With several recordings to their credit, many of their songs have been published and recorded, including such popular classics as “We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise”, “All Creation Worships You”, and “Instruments Of Your Peace.” The Dearmans live in Nashville, TN. Please visit their website at: www.cometothequiet.com