Divine Worship - Part III
The Heart of Worship
... be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ ... Ephesians 5:18-b-20 (NIV)
One of the things I like about being Presbyterian and our liturgical tradition is that I, like you, am a participant drawn into the worship of God and my role remains that. I am not here to perform for you. I am here to help direct our common offering to God.
In his book Purity of Heart, Soren Kierkegaard was concerned about this very subject in the mid-19th century. He wrote that the people of the churches of his day in Denmark had forgotten the main thing in worship. They had come to view the minister and choir, organist, and soloists as the actors in worship. Those in the congregation were the audience.
He wrote that in fact all those in worship were a part of a drama performed as an offering to God. Each person was an actor who sought to provide a pleasing performance to God. The leaders of the drama-the minister, musicians, and others-were there as prompters in the drama, giving cues to the congregation on how to perform and what to say.
When you attend worship on Sunday, do you view your participation as that of a consumer? Are you seeking to be entertained by the paid leaders? Or do you come offering yourself as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God? Rather than being told what to say, it is the work of the congregation to find its voice. The congregation's voice is the voice of testimony, praise, and prayer, rising from the lives and hearts of its individual members.
The story behind one of my all-time favorite praise songs from the late 1990s - The Heart of Worship - speaks to this very point. The song, written by Matt Redman, was born from a period of apathy within Matt's home church in Watford, England. Despite the country's overall contribution to the current worship revival, Redman's congregation was struggling to find meaning in its music at the time.
"There was a dynamic missing," recalls Redman, "so the pastor did a pretty brave thing. He decided to get rid of the sound system and band for a season, and we gathered together with just our voices. His point was that we had lost our way in worship, and the way to get back to the heart would be to strip everything away."
Reminding his church family to be producers in worship, not just consumers, the pastor asked, "When you come through the doors on Sunday, what are you bringing as your offering to God?" Matt says the question initially led to some embarrassing silence, but eventually worshippers began encountering God in a fresh way. "Before long, we had gained a new perspective that worship is about Jesus and commands a response in the depths of our souls."
So, how does a congregation find its voice? It is the voice heard and shared when the members pray together, share a meal together, cry and rejoice together; it is the voice heard and shared when a congregation works out its differences, blesses its children, buries its saints, and sings songs of love and hope. It is a voice found first by listening, then by joining in the singing, the praying, and the fellowship. In their hearts, in the soul of the congregation, the members find their common voice in worship.