Who Needs the Anointing Anyway?
It shall come to pass in that day that his burden will be taken away from your shoulder, and his yoke from your neck, and the yoke will be destroyed because of the anointing oil. NKJV
In that day their burden will be lifted from your shoulders, their yoke from your neck; the yoke will be broken because you have grown so fat. NIV
Anything that is “fat-free” is better, right?
One day I re-encountered a treasured scripture that had been lost to me. “The anointing breaks the yoke” was a staple theology of Pentecostal/Charismatic life. By this my forbears meant that the proof of one’s ministry was found in the flow of God’s power. Opposition would be silenced by the obvious blessing of God upon the minister, the plan, or the method. This came from Isaiah 10:27 KJV:
And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing.
When my study of scripture grew beyond the King James Version, I lost this verse. In its place was a really ugly promise.
In that day their burden will be lifted from your shoulders, their yoke from your neck; the yoke will be broken because you have grown so fat. (Isaiah 10:27 NIV)
Yuck, yuck and double yuck! The jolting journey from the triumph of the power of the Holy Spirit to bursting one’s bonds because of obesity was a trip I didn’t want to take. So I didn’t. I limped along in ministry without the beloved verse. I had enough problems with fat without seeking it in the spirit-realm.
But, the word that is rendered (pun intended) “fat” in the modern translations is the word for oil, especially from the olive. (OT:8081 shemen) In most places in the Scripture it follows the word for anointing which refers to a gift. (OT:4888 mishchah) In this verse, the word for anointing is not present, leaving only the word for oil. Modern translators chose to interpret this as human fat rather than the fat of the olive. That’s too bad. I’m sticking with the olive oil (pun intended, again).
How does this apply to worship? Our worship can be “fat-free,” clean and crisp, well-prepared and tasty to the palette but devoid of the Spirit’s power. The post-modern world is on a rampage against fat. Concern for our national obesity has reached the White House and rightfully so. But spiritual leanness is poorly spoken of in the Bible. Here are two examples.
In that day it shall come to pass That the glory of Jacob will wane, and the fatness of his flesh grow lean. Isaiah 17:4 NKJV
My knees give way from fasting; my body is thin and gaunt. Ps 109:24 NIV
Spiritual health is depicted as fatness:
And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the LORD. Jeremiah 31:14 KJV
Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Isaiah 55:2 KJV
They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures. Psalms 36:8 KJV
The fat of the olive is also mentioned in the Word.
But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? Judges 9:9KJV
And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Romans 11:17 KJV
Don’t miss the irony here. While the current culture worships leanness of body, it craves fatness of spirit. Thinking biblically, this is not an unhealthy condition like obesity, but a robust spiritual health that sets us free to run the race with patience and endurance.
My brother likes to think of this verse in this way. Satan fashions a yoke for us that fits us just so. Then, as we tend the altars of worship in the Secret Place and in the Sanctuary, we grow healthy and strong. We grow so strong, we break the bonds Satan designed for us—the yoke is broken by the abundance of oil.
Back to you and me leading worship. Seek the anointing. The power of the Holy Spirit flows in True Worship—worship in Spirit and Truth. We need the truth of our excellence and truth of the Word of God in the songs we sing. We also need the complete focus of the inner musician—the spirit we each possess. But this is still not enough to break the yoke. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to rest upon our worship. When this happens we will see miracles, signs and wonders. There are so many kinds of yokes fashioned by hell to hinder the heart of man. There is only one remedy for them—the power of the Holy Spirit.
How do we have this power? The Anointing comes in specific ways:
The first is the repentant and humble heart. Jesus told the disciples that the world cannot receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (John 14:16-17) Worship leaders who are not believers cannot carry this oil. God still resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.
Focus on Jesus. Jesus said the ministry of the Spirit was about taking the things of Christ and delivering them to the believer. (John 14:26-27; 15:26; 16:14-15) When the content of our worship is all about Jesus, we are candidates for the anointing of the Spirit because we are trying to do what He wants to do—exalt Jesus and deliver His victory to His church.
Do our very best for Jesus. Personal excellence plays an important role in ministering with the Anointing. We should not be perfectionists—we should be excellentists! You cannot half-heartedly prepare and present worship and expect the Anointing of the Holy Spirit.
We need not settle for “fat-free” worship. No matter what tradition we operate in, if we are humble before the Lord, if we are full of truth about the Lord, and if we are ministering at the utmost level of our talent and energy, we can expect the power of the Holy Spirit to rest upon our leadership.
And the anointing will break the yoke.
Who needs the anointing? We all do! Worship Leaders need the power of the Spirit and all worshipers needs the ministry of the Spirit.
You satisfy me more than the richest of foods. I will praise you with songs of joy.Ps 63:5 NLT
(Author’s note: I don’t normally post pieces as personal as this, but on this Monday morning a Facebook post from a friend brought this testimony to mind and I feel the need to share. I wrote this in March of 2009. Since that time, the Lord has provided a wonderful job for me and a challenging teaching position for Freeda. My writing is still hard work and requires discipline but my files of finished pieces have grown steadily since the times of trial reported on here.)
He Made Me Lie Down
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. Ps 23:1-3 NIV
I wouldn’t lie down. I couldn’t lie down. I had to make a living, to provide for my family and for my impending retirement. There was no time to lie down. There never had been time, not in 39 years of professional life. I had never really rested. I never ceased from activity: project after project, season after season, Sunday after Wednesday after Sunday, never in almost 40 years.
I had just experienced the desert, a 5-year trek through a hostile, dangerous desert where one dared not lie down. Even my dreams were of hostile pursuit through constantly shifting landscapes and terror-fill urban streets. The traveler does not lie down in the desert; he keeps going. If you have not yet experienced the desert in ministry, please know that you will survive. If you are there now, receive the poem I wrote in that desert as a path through shifting sands.*
Scorched from the desert trek, I did not feel the call to be a worship/music pastor again. I felt the approach of a long awaited dream—a life of teaching the next and current generation of worship leaders and lead worshipers. Rather than cast myself on the marketplace of churches looking for worship leaders, I would strike out on my own, looking for a classroom and for students.
From time to time I had often found temporary classrooms and students borrowed from colleges, seminaries and universities. God had always blessed these experiences in powerful ways whether the students were in the USA or in Europe or the Orient. It always felt so right. It was the obvious fruit of years of study and experience, the natural function of maturity and youth meeting at the Throne of God, together trembling at the Word, to use Isaiah’s phrase.
There was so much to write! I wanted to write one book in the mornings and another in the afternoons. There was a backlog of projects I never seemed to be able to get to because of the demands of the ministry. It seemed my church job was always interfering with my ministry. Now, there would be time. I had no plans to lie down. I never even thought about it.
Before I could get started, a former church called upon me to help with a transition in leadership on a one year contract. That work was demanding on many levels and was certainly no season of rest. My obsessive nature took over and I put everything into a ministry so familiar to me it was almost second nature. In this setting, beloved friends from a former life blessed us and hopefully we helped them. But it was all short term, simply a “Bethabara,” a “House of passage.” So we were in motion again, continuing our journey south to found The Worship Renewal Center.
If there were ever a place for “green pastures” it is Florida! Soon we had a part time job doing another interim. This meant more new relationships, more new songs and more new skills. But it did not mean lying down. I set to work trying to book myself and do my part to bring worship renewal to the church.
Then the economy went south, farther south even than Florida. For the first time in our lives my wife, Freeda, had trouble finding a teaching job. This job was vital to the plan of starting the Center. Pastors began to experience a downturn in giving and while they certainly wanted what I had to offer, it was also something they could do without. All the colleges in our denomination froze their hiring.
When Freeda finally got a teaching job, the interim position I had was over. I redoubled my efforts at finding work. There was much I could do: interim music director, interim pastor, guest speaker, guest worship leader, guest lecturer, arranger / orchestrator, consultant and writer. But I didn’t have a clue how to get the work. Everything cost money: a website, promotional materials, product to sell to extend the ministry. But money was scarcely to be found. Car payments and other such trivialities took precedent. Work trickled in, just enough to keep the gendarmes from the door and never enough to get the Center going.
Guilt over not providing, led to doubt about the Lord’s call to do this ministry. I tried to find a church, but we were committed to live where we were. For 35 years Freeda and I had gone wherever the work sent us but now we were committed to a place. We collided with the current youth craze in our denomination. Ironically, experience and education prove to be hindrances when possessed in abundance.
Had we missed the call of God? Second guessing our decision led to fear that God would not provide. I went through different anger spells: angry with the church, angry with myself, even anger at God.
Finally there was nothing to do but lie down.
And lie down I did. Writing, which had always been work but had never really been a struggle, became tortuous. I had no confidence that what I was writing was any good. I couldn’t lose myself in my writing so it became overly artful, even artificial and I hated it. So much for the “one book in the mornings and another in the afternoons” plan.
Lying down finally broke the Sunday-to-Wednesday-to-Sunday inertia that had carried my life forward and seemed an unstoppable force. More than lying down, I drifted onto a shoal of inactivity like a beached vessel.
In that exposed position a strange thing started happening to me. With no demands on my creativity and therefore nothing to be obsessive over, I began to obsess over traumas from my past, from high school, college and the ministry. One by one these traumas captured my mind. I was lying down and reliving traumas that I had never really had the time to process. Since my desert trek, my dreams had been quiet, even peaceful and enjoyable. Now past traumas robbed me of sleep and invaded my dreams when I did sleep.
The old adage, “An idle mind is the Devil’s workshop” was proving true. I gave in to the temptation to be prayerless, so another layer of guilt and a steady spiritual weakening were added to my stress. I often heard my Jr High School teachers’ report of “Steve is not working up to potential” and my father’s declaration that I was lazy. I had no defense for either charge.
Each recalled trauma brought with it a temptation to contact characters in these past melodramas. It is easy to find people from your past. I am glad to report victory over this temptation but it was this final temptation to bring those people out of the past and into today’s story that caused me to deal with these issues on some internal level beyond the reach of words. When I did not yield to temptation, the remembered trauma broke like a wave on the sand and withdrew.
One evening, just this week, I was sitting in the backyard swing praying the evening service and I came to Psalm 23. How many times in a man’s life who is pushing 60 years of age and has been reading the Bible since he learned to read, has that man read Psalm 23? But, for the first time I saw the strength of the Shepherd.
“He makes me lie down in green pastures.”
I would never lie down on my own; He had to make me.
On a pleasant March evening in central Florida, I knew the Shepherd had led me to green pastures and still waters and He had made me lie down. There was work for me to do that could only be done from a prone position. When I was prayerless, he was disappointed, but He was not angry. When I railed against life, He listened patiently to my rant. When I pointed my anger at Him, wondering where His covenant promises were for us, He took the blows of my faithless fists.
All the while the grass was thick, the breeze friendly and the waters still and deep.
Had my calendar been full, my previous life-style of obsessive ministry preparation and presentation would have continued unabated. Past traumas would remain buried beneath the surface of my spirituality.
Far from forgetting His covenant promises to me, The Good Shepherd was comforting me in my discomfort with His rod and staff.
I write all of this without a teaching position and a nearly empty calendar. I also have a confidence in my Lord, my shepherd.
I shall not be in want.
Steve Phifer, 4:32 A.M. March 26, 2009, Bartow, FL
(Author’s note: These two poems form a sort of before and after of the 5 year desert experience and the Psalm 23 experience.
Candles in the Desert
I light my candles day and night, each flame a prayer and my soul the burning wick.
Lord, let my weakness melt away and only strength collect beneath the candlestick.
Of what use is the candle’s glow in the light of the desert sun?
Can the candle’s feeble flame withstand the wasting desert wind?
Can the tiny warmth of a candle break the chill of the wide desert night?
I woke up in this desert, comforted somehow, by
The bleak desolation,
The trackless dunes,
The seditious sands,
The blinding winds,
The focused sun, and,
The menacing dark.
I thought I was lost, abandoned, forgotten, trudging along in a random, uncaring world.
But I am only in the desert, lured here by Your lovingkindness.
I will light my candles in this desert.
They will not add much light to the sun.
They will not, by themselves, survive the violent winds.
They will not greatly warm the frigid desert darkness.
But my candles will light my path.
I will shelter their slender flames from the ceaseless winds.
And I will sing my night songs in their light.
You lured me here to this desert so that I may remember that even here,
You are Lord.
Steve Phifer, June 17, 2006, IWS, Orange Park, FL
“But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her out into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. Hos2:14NLT
Pastures Green and Waters Still
You, who led me through the desert, brought me here.
The breeze is soft. The sky is high and blue.
We sat together, not speaking.
You were not offended or hurt that I did not speak.
Silence was the order of the day.
You heard me thinking.
You knew my questions, my doubts, my fears.
You easily weathered the storm of my anger.
You waited patiently for my reason to return to me.
I had followed you from city to city, from frenzy to frenzy,
never resting for long.
Then you led me here.
I had sung for you in many a hall, never hesitating.
Then you led me to silence.
When I ignored you in the morning,
you did not abandon me through the day.
When the evening found us still not speaking,
you kept your watch through the night.
When I refused to graze on the green grass you led me to,
you held my weakened heart in your warm hands.
When I would not drink from the deep, still water,
you bathed me in an unseen mist called Grace.
Into this repose of pastures green and waters still, you invited beasts of the night:
You left me alone (I thought) to do battle with my dreams, these predators from my past.
One by one they circled, threatening.
One by one they smiled, tempting.
One by one they went away, resisted.
Then I heard the ancient song.
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.”
You loved me so much, you made me lie down.
Steve Phifer, 5:00Am March 26, 2009, Bartow, FL
 This is what the LORD says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the LORD. “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word. Isa 66:1-2 NIV
How a Paradigm Shift in Worship is Robbing the Local Church
We are being robbed! A grand theft is in progress in churches across America. Strangely enough, there are no villains in this robbery, just good-hearted people who want to exalt the Lord Jesus and win their communities for Christ. Nonetheless, many churches have lost a valuable asset that helps them do those very things: honor the Lord and reach the community. The object lost as a result of these unintended consequences is the church orchestra.
Why does the church need an orchestra?
If I told you that you could develop and maintain a ministry organization that would express more fully the wonder of who God really is as we worship Him, would you be interested? If I assured you that this same organization could involve both youth and adults in the ministry of worship with excellence, side by side, while continually passing the torch to each new generation of worshipers as they grow up in the house of God, would that sound like something that needs doing?
Even if it has been forgotten, overlooked, underestimated, judged out of style, not at all photogenic, expensive and demanding, the worship orchestra still holds an indispensable place in the worship ministry of the local church. Let’s explore the two reasons listed above.
1. The worship we lead should represent the One we are worshiping.
God is a being of unlimited wisdom and beauty. He cannot be fully represented by a single set of musical sounds. The church must engage every timbre available to express every emotion in the human heart and every facet of the character of God. Just as we have so many scales, octaves, chords and rhythms, we must also have more than a rhythm section. If we set our hearts to “give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name,” as Psalm 29 commands, we need brass, woodwinds, strings, rhythm, percussion and synthesizers to approach a level of glory that is worthy of Him. Today we need a rebirth of the desire expressed by the original worship leaders, the Old Covenant psalmists, to use every family of instruments to reflect the multifaceted glory of God. We need to take Psalm 150 literally as we use as many styles, beats, meters, harmonies, melodies, countermelodies, and instrumentations as we can muster to adequately express the “manifold wisdom of God.” (Eph.3:10)
2. The worship ministries we build must be discipleship ministries.
Like spirituality, music must be hand-delivered from one generation to the next. Every one of us making music in the church can do so because when we were young somebody let us play in church. Church orchestras keep this essential process going by countering the church trends of the last several decades. For several generations, leaders have been dividing the family of God by age, separating the generations from each other for worship and ministry. The church orchestra is one of the few inter-generational ministries left where young people and adults minister side by side and share equal responsibilities. As a conductor of a church orchestra, I need the parts covered and that can be done either by a sixteen year old or a sixty year old.
If the orchestra is so important, why is it in jeopardy in so many churches?
Reason Number One: The Rules Have Changed.
Mega churches which were built on TV ministry in the 1970’s through the early 1990’s are now live-streaming their services on the internet instead. This is a major shift in paradigms. The televised worship service had a set of rules based in the local sanctuary. We could call this the Sanctuary Paradigm. Video streaming of live worship services operates by a set of rules based on concert and video production. This could be called the Video/Concert Paradigm. The contrast between the two is sharp:
- The Sanctuary Paradigm. When TV cameras were brought in to video tape the local church service, the viewer was looking for a church to attend. Pastors in suits, choirs in robes, an orchestra reading music on music stands, choir lofts, grand pianos, and organs were the standard viewer expectations. Lights were for illumination of the whole sanctuary, not for special effects and smoke was a sign of trouble, not an atmosphere enhancement.
- The Video/Concert Paradigm. In a video musical presentation, nothing is seen by the audience except what the director wants to be seen. There is no wall-to-wall lighting. Random colors, large images, and revolving lights signal to the viewer a contemporary setting that excites the eye and attracts the interest of the viewer. Darkness surrounds everything so that attention may be more easily focused on the performer. An intimacy, real or imagined, is created between the performer and the viewer.
It is difficult to imagine two more different paradigms. The orchestra (along with the robed choir) fits the first but has little place in the second. In the first, cameras were brought into the sanctuary to record a worship service. In the second, a video/concert setting is used as a worship service.
Reason Number Two: The Unseen Orchestra
As essential as orchestras are to modern and postmodern expression, we have grown used to hearing them, but not seeing them. Except for the occasional story or show that features the orchestra, the invisible orchestra is a part of every film, TV show, and musical presentation we see. In film and dramatic television narratives, the unseen orchestra does its primary work: expressing every possible human emotion in sound. Coupled with dialogue, action, and the actors’ faces, the unseen orchestra tells the viewer when to be afraid, to be excited, to be joyful, to be sad, and when to feel any other emotion called for in the story. The unseen orchestra is such an integral part of visual storytelling that even stories with no orchestral references at all benefit from the amazing power and expressiveness of the orchestra. Think of John Williams’ score for the Star Wars films. The choice of the 19th century romantic symphonic orchestra to underscore action that happened “long ago in a galaxy far, far away” tells us something important about the culture we want to reach with the gospel. If the film story is big enough, we expect a huge unseen orchestra with grand symphonic themes and treatments. The effect would have been ruined with an onscreen orchestra. Can you imagine the climactic scenes of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” with a guy with a huge, 36 inch bell grand tuba on camera with a music stand playing the sound track we hear when earth people are able to communicate with the mother ship? It would be funny beyond all reason. But the sound of the unseen tuba is perfect for the voice of the aliens. Many worship planners want the effect without the visual—they have been trained to think that the unseen orchestra is natural.
This is an illusion; it is not reality. If your presentation requires a live orchestra, you will get the optics as well as the sound. The truth is, musicians playing music from music stands have never looked good on camera. Today, through technology, first with soundtracks and now with stem tracks, we can add recorded music to live music with ease. If technical substitutions are used when competent musicians are available in the church, the robbery has taken place and the orchestra is driven deeper into the darkness. This decision is the scene of the crime.
In this drastic paradigm shift, more has changed than the lighting; the role of the worship/video producer/planner has trumped the role of the pastoral artist. Under the sanctuary paradigm, the worship leader was equal parts pastor and producer. The job description was to produce great worship events and to produce great worshipers! When the pastoral role is slighted, production values rise and people values fall. Orchestra players are not recordings and their instruments and stands are not simply technical devices. Orchestras are composed of people—worshipers, players, students, professionals, amateurs, brothers and sisters, and children of God. They sometimes get sick, or depressed, or find themselves in trouble. They have family events like weddings and funerals. They need more than good arrangements and music stand lights. They need love and guidance, fellowship and discipleship, leadership and opportunity. They need a pastoral artist, someone who is both an orchestral musician and a sensitive pastor of artists. The biblical term for this office is “The Chief Musician.” In short, the pastoral care of singers and players will be more work than a producer-oriented leader wants to do. The technology-driven unseen orchestra or the hired professional will be the producer’s preference. Week by week the service may indeed be excellent, but on the long term the church will be robbed of another generation of musicians.
The Skill Gap
Orchestras are in trouble in the church because they require musical skills many contemporary worship leaders have never developed:
- The use of precise notation and
- Knowledge of how to rehearse instrumentalists trained in school bands and orchestras.
The best friend of the church music leader in this country is the music education system in our schools. The wise and skillful worship leader learns how to function in this world and deliberately becomes a part of this community of teachers and players. Like community bands and orchestras, church orchestras are the final link in the music education chain. Students learn to play instruments in middle school, play them in high school and college and many of them continue to play the rest of their lives. Instrumentalists love to play their instruments! All they need is a place to play, some good music, and a leader who knows how to prepare them. A church of 300 in attendance probably has an orchestra sitting in the pews, uninvolved in the ministry. As worship leaders we have something powerful, unique and eternal to offer the music community in our towns and cities—a spiritual understanding of music. I tell young players this: “Your private teacher can teach you to play your instrument. Your school director can teach you how to play in an ensemble, but you will only learn how to worship God with your instrument in a program like ours.” Adults and students who play well or want to play well are looking for a reason to make their music. As worship leaders we have the best reason of all.
How can the worship orchestra fit in the “unseen orchestra” paradigm?
To prevent this robbery from stealing your instrumentalists away and limiting your ability to adequately reflect the many-faceted glory of God in the worship you lead, there are three answers to this three-fold problem.
1. A Spiritual Solution.
As with all things in the ministry of worship, spiritual solutions must precede the musical and technical ones. Leaders need to enter into a time of expansion. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to expand our vision for the ministry beyond the sound of a single song or even a song set to the long term. Developing young musicians needs to be as pressing a goal as next Sunday’s services. The grandeur and holiness of God needs to be reflected in our liturgies as well as the intimacy we have with Him. The more centered on the will of God, the revelation of who Jesus is, and the importance of what we do is to the world, the more we will make room in our hearts for the complete work of God.
2. A Musical Solution.
Worship leaders should learn as much as they can about instrumental music beyond the rhythm section. There are Christian music teachers in public schools and Christian schools who are schooled in the band and orchestra. Learn from them. The things you need to know are not overwhelming; they are just different from the things you need to know to prepare singers and rhythm players. And what’s more, it is fun to know more about how God’s music is made. Music/Worship leaders in the church should not be hostile toward musical notation. It is a gift from God and should be esteemed as such. At the same time, improvisation with chords and words needs to be respected by the band/orchestra trained players as a legitimate way of playing worship music. The leader can allow both to happen at once simply by giving two sets of directions:
- Word cues for singers and “band” members and
- Measure numbers for orchestra players.
This is really not difficult to do if your heart is big enough to see beyond next Sunday.
3. A Technical Solution.
The place for the orchestra on the video/concert stage is a harder problem to solve. I believe both the needs of the players and the artistic desires of the planners can be compatible.
- Visual Considerations. While chairs and stands do not provide “contemporary” visuals, they are necessary and should be accommodated by the worship setting. Dressing the orchestra in black and placing them to one side should not interfere with the spacing of the singers and rhythm players. Music stand lights deemphasize the utilitarian appearance of the stands and illuminate the faces of the players. Different sections of the orchestra can be placed in different places on the stage and perhaps changed from week to week. It is also fun to use a single section of the orchestra in a service when the theme of the service coincides with the musical function of that section: brass for a regal set; woodwinds for a joyful set; strings for a lush or classical set and percussion for a Latin set.
- Instrumental Considerations. Band and orchestra players need to hear the primary rhythm instrument to stay in tune and in time. Monitors can supply this need. Hearing each other is important so they can match pitch and style. They also need to see the leader, especially when getting started, playing through transitions, and ending the songs. Since each musician is not supplied with the words, he or she needs to know when the first measure happens so they can count their block rests accurately.
Planners need to make room in their hearts and on the stage for the worship orchestra. Orchestra players need to be willing to play in unconventional formations and places to assist in presenting a less-than-traditional setting.
It seems we are not that far apart! I think the robbery of the church can be avoided. Whew! That was close! Now we can get on with the exciting business of giving the Lord the glory due His name and raising up another generation of worshiping musicians!
The Jesus Story
Dr. Robert E. Webber (He insisted we call him, “just plain Bob.”) was the first to tell me about the “meta-narrative.” This is, simply put, the Big Story of a people. Bob believed in the Big Story so much his final book is called “Who Gets to Narrate the World?” As believers in Jesus, we are a people of The Jesus Story. This is the truth that binds us together across the divides of our other theologies. Whatever we believe about church polity or our interpretation of the Lord’s Table or water Baptism or the Gifts of the Spirit, we hold in common the story of redemption. This narrative tells us who we are and who God is and how we relate together.
Well, who is this Jesus whose story we tell?
One of the lines of tension we walk as worship leaders in the one between
God’s Immanence (“God with Us,” His nearness, His friendship with us as the “lover of our souls)
and God’s Transcendence (“Creator God,” His “otherness,” His majesty, sovereignty and power.)
While most of us come from traditions bent toward one or the other, the trend in contemporary worship songs has been toward intimacy with God. Songs are very personal and most often spoken directly to Immanuel using personal pronouns like “you” and “I.” Our musical ensembles follow this trend as we dismiss choirs and orchestras in favor of rhythm sections and small vocal groups.
What is happening?
Our story is getting smaller—it is mostly about Jesus and us. The Christmas story survives this shrinkage because it is such an intimate story:
- Mary and her baby,
- Mary and Joseph,
- poor lonely shepherds on a hillside, and
- a trio of wise men from the East.
But when we come to part two of The Jesus Story—Easter—we struggle. Suddenly the story is too big for our songs and our ensembles. There are some small personal moments but for the most part Redemption is a Big Story. If we attempt to express the grandeur of the story we have to scramble to find an orchestra, (or simulate one with tracks or digital sequencing) recruit more singers and get those microphones out of our hands. A sadder choice is to limit the grandeur of the story to the elements our meager musical forces can express. It is as if we are singing,
“Jesus rose from the dead and came to me and I love Him so. I’m gonna praise Him today because He loves me.”
Let us tell the whole story, the Big Story. The postmodern world is ready to hear it.
- Jesus conquered evil!
- Jesus defeated death!
- Jesus ascended to heaven and took the throne of the universe!
- Jesus sent His Spirit to us to carry on this cosmic mission until all creation is redeemed at His Return!
This is the meta-narrative that binds the generations and the cultures within the church together as one.
The good news is, we need not lose intimacy in the presentation of grandeur.
Jesus surrounded himself with characters whose intimate relationships with Him serve as the foreground to His grand enterprise of the redemption of mankind:
- Peter’s boast, denial and restoration;
- Mary, Martha and Lazarus,
- Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea,
- Mary Magdalene, and even
- Pilate and Judas.
When we tell the Big Story, these moments of intimacy flow into and out of the spectacular words and deeds of Jesus.
- We need to repent with Peter,
- agonize with Pilate and Judas,
- hurt with Mother Mary, and
- despair with Mary Magdalene before we dance with the angels at the tomb or echo the coronation of Jesus at the Ascension or burn with the flames of the Spirit at the Day of Pentecost.
To express both intimacy and grandeur we need a wide dynamic of musical sound.
Some say that choirs and orchestras are a thing of the past. They are cultural expressions and we can take them or leave them. Today’s popular music is not orchestral or choral; it is intimate and personal.
Let’s go to the movies. It is true that a small story will be accompanied by smaller, more intimate music. But when the story is cosmic, when it is a Big Story, the filmmakers call on the masters of the orchestra and chorus for music to match cosmic action and grand themes. It is my understanding that George Lucas considered using all synthesizer music for “Star Wars”. (Film buffs will recall the soundtracks to “Forbidden Planet,” “Chariots of Fire” and “The Bounty” for examples of all-synthesizer soundtracks.) Lucas was wise enough to know that his story was bigger than that. He hired John Williams and created a film and a film score for the ages, one unlimited by the sure-to-be-outdated sounds of a synthesizer. Un-churched people listen to intimate music because the lives they live are small in scale. The movies show us that, when presented with grand ideas, today’s audiences will accept grand music.
The truth of the Jesus Story is the grandest of all ideas. His story is the biggest of all stories. His ministry among us achieves this grandeur while maintaining a deep, personal relationship with each believer. At once, Jesus is both Creator and Friend. If we deliberately celebrate both intimacy and grandeur each week, the processes that help us do that will also help us tell the whole story, The Jesus Story, each Christmas and Easter.
Process and Product
Another manifestation of intimacy and grandeur is the relationship between process and product.
- Churches can become event-driven organizations if productions (events of grandeur) take over the whole calendar (the schedule of processes). This is one of the aspects of production ministry that has turned off many young pastors and worship leaders.
- Christmas and Easter productions are seen as entertainment events for Christians from other churches rather than outreach events aimed at unbelievers.
- An even more serious charge against production ministry is that of being ego-driven, performer-centered variety shows rather than serious presentations of gospel truth.
Either way, Christmas and Easter productions, like choirs and orchestras, are under attack as unnecessary, ineffective or even counter-productive.
Such criticism points to the loss of process and focus as the event is elevated beyond its importance.
This was my experience early in my years of minsitry.
After moving into the ranks of the mega-churches and discovering just how much work big productions demand, I started wondering why we did them. Of course, evangelism is the quick answer, but there were many easier ways to evangelize. I experimented with forms to see which was the most fun and which was the most effective. I observed the potential for abuse inherent in productions if the proper focus was lost.
So, what was the proper focus? For me it was this:
Tell the Jesus Story!
It wasn’t about me or my choir or my program or us and our traditions or the church’s standing in the community. The only reason to put us all through the rigors of production ministry was to tell the Jesus Story in the most effective way we could. Since discovering this, I have had no trouble motivating people to join me in this type of ministry and it has not been difficult to keep the whole company on track.
A Powerful Process Produces Positive Events
I am convinced that the weekly ministry of preparing and presenting worship that is both transcendent and intimate by singers, players, actors and technicians is the perfect process to produce dynamic artistic events at Christmas and Easter.
It has been well-said by many that each Sunday’s worship should have a touch of Christmas and Easter in it. Amen.
- The incarnation and the atonement are the deep wellsprings of our faith and can bring form and order to our worship plans.
- Even rituals like the Table of the Lord, if we celebrate them properly, tell the Big Story.
- As with the ancient confession of the church, “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again,” each service we construct and conduct should tell both the intimate truth of Jesus as my Friend and God as my Father, and the grand story of God’s saving acts throughout history from creation to the new creation to come.
If we tell the Jesus story every week, our Christmas and Easter events become elaborations of our constant themes.
If your worship music only celebrates grandeur, explore the sweetness of intimacy with the contemporary song. The majesty you admire will become even more amazing as you touch the hem of His garment.
If your worship only expresses intimacy, lift your eyes above your own heart to the Throne of God and of the Lamb, to the One Who sits upon the throne and to angels and believers gathered before Him. The intimacy you enjoy will grow sweeter and more amazing in light of His majesty.
The Jesus Story is both grand and intimate. He has brought us together, let us learn from each other how to celebrate His fullness.
The River of Life
Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple…
And when the man went out to the east with the line in his hand, he measured one thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the water came up to my ankles. Again he measured one thousand and brought me through the waters; the water came up to my knees. Again he measured one thousand and brought me through; the water came up to my waist. Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross; for the water was too deep, water in which one must swim, a river that could not be crossed. He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he brought me and returned me to the bank of the river…
There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes. Ezek 47:1;3,9 NKJV
And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. Rev 22:1-4 NKJV
The River of Life is a Healing Stream
One of the most vivid images in Scripture of the power of worship is the River of Life, seen in Ezekiel 47 and Revelation 22, two strikingly parallel passages. Other references include the Psalms (1; 36, 46) and the words of Jesus (John7:38). In Ezekiel’s vision we see four depths to the river:
- ankle deep,
- knee deep,
- waist deep and
- waters over the head.
Ezekiel and his angel guide passed through the first three levels but found the fourth depth to be too large to cross. It was a river in which one must swim. I observe four levels, or depths, in our common worship experience:
- adoration and
These correspond to the four depths of the river in Ezekiel’s vision. Let us follow the analogy:
- We enter the ankle-deep waters of life when we give thanksgiving to the Lord.
- As we praise the Lord it is like wading knee-deep into His presence.
- When we pour our hearts of love out to the Lord, it is like standing waist deep in the waters of life.
- We can be overwhelmed in His presence as if we were over-the-head in the River of Life.
Psalm 100 identifies thanksgiving as the gateway to the presence of the Lord. Like standing ankle deep in a stream, thanksgiving is refreshing to the soul. But this is a level intended as a passage, not for a dwelling place, so we go out deeper.
When we are standing knee-deep in a river, we can feel the current. In fact, we have to counter the force of the river with every step. When we go beyond thanksgiving and begin to proclaim the Lord’s excellence, His character, deeds, and love, we also move from refreshing to a state of being impressed with the Lord’s power. Thanksgiving and praise refresh and impress us with God’s power, but these are levels of expression which we must pass through.
Wading into the ever-deepening River of Life, it is clear that ankle-deep and knee-deep does not bring about lasting change. We can exit the river at the exact spot we entered. But the next passage to waters that are waist deep, begins the process of being altered by the waters. The river carries us downstream with every step. This explains why churches can be active in praise but still not progress toward the holiness the Lord expects from us. Praise is refreshing and impressive but it is not transforming.
When we move from knee-deep to waist deep in the waters of life, to my mind we are going from the proclamation of praise to the expression of adoration. We move from praise to worship, from speaking about God to speaking to Him, from an emphasis on what He has done for us to who He is in us.
Now change begins to happen.
Paul said that to contemplate his glory was to be changed. When we begin to worship the Lord, we begin to be changed. This, of course, takes time; time we are sometimes reluctant to allot to corporate worship. For decades this time was found in those wonderful, long altar services in the American Pentecostal tradition. But, as the altar service has fallen out of vogue, we have put praise and worship on the clock and we have lost the sense of tarrying, of waiting on the Lord. No wonder our strength is not often renewed.
Still, this incredible privilege of standing waist-deep in the waters of life is also a passageway and not a destination. Ezekiel’s angel-guide brought him out another thousand steps. At this point Ezekiel had to swim, to let go of the safety of the riverbed and launch himself onto the presence of the Lord.
The first result was that he got wet all over. Many of us know what it is to be immersed in the presence of the Lord in worship. These experiences change us for ever.
- This the place where baptism in the Spirit happens,
- calls to the ministry are heard,
- miracles and healings take place, bondages are broken, and
- shackles of sin are destroyed.
I am afraid the ranks of our churches are filled with people who have never been wet all over. This level of spirit-deep communion with God is still available to us in the secret place and in the public place. The river still flows in its fullness from the Throne of God and of the Lamb.
In Ezekiel’s vision, the shallow marshes were not healed. His words are stark:
“But its swamps and marshes will not be healed; they will be given over to salt.”
I fear the shallow, me-centered, time-conscious worship of the contemporary church. Do you hear the Spirit calling us out farther into the waters of life?
Do you hear Him calling us deeper? That’s where the healing is.
The Office Place of the Lord
Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen whohad been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ” Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.Acts 13:1-3 NKJV
Ministry to the Lord
This biblical phrase, “minister to the Lord” is an absolute key to the understanding of worship. The NIV translates this as “worshiped the Lord” and that is a good translation. The Greek word is “leitourgeo (li-toorg-eh’-o); from NT:3011; to be a public servant, i.e. (by analogy) to perform religious or charitable functions (worship, obey, relieve): KJV – minister.” (Strong) Vines gives the word this definition:
leitourgeo NT:3008, (akin to A, No. 2), in classical Greek, signified at Athens ”to supply public offices at one’s own cost, to render public service to the State”; hence, generally, “to do service,” said, e. g., of service to the gods. In the NT (see Note below) it is used (a) of the prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch, who “ministered to the Lord,” Acts 13:2 (Vine)
At Antioch, this college of spiritual leaders was actively engaged in fasting and worshiping the Lord, probably in a liturgical style like the worship in the Temple since this same word is used to describe that kind of worship in Hebrews 10:11. In fact this Greek word is the source of the English word, “liturgy.”
I find the literal meaning of the word leitourgeo to be a source of an exciting concept of worship. It is one of the seven biblical models of worship I develop in my book Worship That Pleases God, in seminars like Enter In…, and in these potss. I call it the Office-place of the Lord.
The Office-Place of the Lord
The idea is simple enough: when we worship in Spirit and Truth, we provide the Lord with an earthly place to do His work. Our sanctuaries become His Office-place when we truly worship Him. So do our lives, our work stations, our homes, every capacity of life that is given over the Lord as praise and worship can be a place for Him to do His work in the world.
We are all familiar with the concept of the office. When we move from assignment to assignment we are not comfortable until our office is set up and running. I look around me now and see familiar books going back to high school and continuing through doctoral studies. I want this literary record of my studies kept here in my office. Most of us will even have an office at home in addition to the one at work. In these are found the mementos of our journey, pictures and plaques of extreme significance and tools of our ministry: the computer, the printer, the phone, the files.
Apply these familiar trappings of our work, to the Lord Jesus and His work. We are His office! When we have made Him the Lord of our lives, or when we have ministered to Him, giving Him the place of preeminence in our services of worship, then He can work through us.
The Ministry of the Messiah
What is the Lord’s work? It is the ministry of the Messiah as prophesied by Isaiah (Isaiah 61) and claimed by Jesus (Luke 4).
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me
- to preach the gospel to the poor;
- He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
- to proclaim liberty to the captives and
- recovery of sight to the blind,
- to set at liberty those who are oppressed;
- to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD. “Luke 4:18-19 NKJV
This is still His work today. When we minister to Him, He ministers through us.
- He preaches the gospel to the poor using our organs of speech.
- He uses our embrace to bind up the brokenhearted.
- Our words proclaim the liberty of the captives in prisons of all sorts and new sight for eyes long blinded by sin.
- Those who are oppressed, bruised by the enemy of their souls with shackles that cruelly bind, are set at liberty by His power as we go about living for Him, following His call, seeking His anointing, telling His story, worshiping Him with heart, soul, mind and strength.
Worshipers are healers in this world. Our words can be His words, our touch His touch, our embrace His loving caress. Worshiping churches are healing stations in this world, hospitals of the wounded heart. There is a work that only Jesus can do but He has chosen to do it through His people. Is it any wonder the enemy of souls fights True Worship with every weapon He can muster? The Lord Jesus wants to set up His office in your life and mine, in your church and mine. Let us be faithful to minister to the Lord.
Before the Throne of God—Entering the Realm of the Sovereignty of God
But You are holy, Enthroned in the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in You; They trusted, and You delivered them. They cried to You, and were delivered; They trusted in You, and were not ashamed. Ps 22:3-5 NKJV
Extending the Kingdom of God
In Psalm 24, the Psalmist declares,
“The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.”
He asks the worship question of the ages,
“Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place?”
He invites us to
“Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!”
“And the King of glory shall come in.” (Psalm 24:1, 3, 7 NKJV)
Because the Lord is enthroned upon the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3) when we worship God (Psalm 24), the King does indeed “come in!” We sense His presence, that wonderful God-moment when anything might happen. The entrance of the King into our midst is the goal of every worship service. In very truth, we extend the Kingdom of God into our time and space by humbling ourselves before Him in praise and worship. The Lord responds to the humble heart turned toward Him with the wonderful gift of His presence, His sovereignty come to earth. In the words of the writer to the Hebrews, “We have come to Mt. Zion!” (Hebrews 12:22-24)
The Bible gives us two detailed visions of the Throne of God (Isaiah 6; Revelation 4-6) and a three-point definition of what the Kingdom of God is in substance (Romans 14:17-18)
What Is It Like Before the Throne of God?
Looking to Isaiah chapter six and the Book of Revelation we see what the Throne Room of God is like.
- It is a place where God is worshiped continually by angels and creatures, elders and saints.
- The focus of the whole locale is the One Who Sits on the Throne.
- The will of God gets done here at the Throne of God.
- There is no rebellion, no self-centeredness, no straying minds or wandering eyes.
- Jesus is the center of all.
- There is unity of spirit and purpose although men and women are there from every tribe and tongue and nation. Jesus has made them into one, whole, worshiping family.
- There is continual music and confession, ceremony and liturgy.
- And there is visual beauty beyond the mind of man to comprehend.
This brief description, inspired by the reports of Isaiah and John, reveal how off-centered and impoverished our worship has too often become.
- The desires and needs of man are at the center, not Jesus.
- Sometimes our buildings are plain and unadorned, speaking inadequately of the intricate detail and monumental scope of the One we worship.
- Our motives are often mixed as disunity and self-serving underlie our “offerings” of worship.
- We are surrounded by people who look and sound just like us or we are divided into musical camps each ignoring if not despising the other.
- Our services limp along with little content and less flow in a pale imitation of the grandeur and depth of the liturgy of heaven.
- With proud hearts on display and rebellious spirits in command, only lip service is paid to the will of God.
How far we have drifted from the Throne of God!
The Sovereignty of God
But we have His promise. He will be enthroned upon our praise! If we humble are hearts and turn to Him and begin to invest our worship with the liturgy of heaven (the glory, worthiness, majesty of King Jesus!) He will receive our worship to be His Throne!
We can know the joy and power of His sovereignty among us, “His kingdom, come and His will done” among us, here and now. Paul gives us the test of our worship in his definition of the Kingdom of God.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. Rom 14:17-18 NIV
When we can look at the church and see these three characteristics at work, righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, then our worship is actually an extension of the Kingdom of God. But if there is hidden sin, unrest and strife, or depression and discouragement, then some other king has come. Another’s will is being done, not the Lord’s.
Beholding His Glory
At the Throne of God, lives are changed. When we enter the realm of the splendor of His majesty and sovereignty, miracles, signs and wonders happen. Worshipers, like the prophet Isaiah, hear the call of the God to service. If we wonder why we have a dearth of miracles, signs and wonders and why so few are hearing the call of God into a life of service, perhaps this is part of the answer. These things happen at the Throne of God. If our worship does not take us there, how can we know these blessings?
If we wonder why there is a dearth of character in the church, why the gifts seemed to be more important to some than the fruit of the Spirit, we must consider how far we are from the Throne of God. Paul said, to behold the glory of the Lord was to be changed rom the inside out, just as Isaiah and John, our two witnesses, were never the same after their visions of the Throne of God.
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Corinthians3:18NKJV.
Lord, show us Your glory so that we might be changed!
The Living Sacrifice of Praise: An Aroma Pleasing to the Lord.
Every evening, every morning, throughout the centuries of Old Testament worship, the smoke of sacrifices coiled upward from the Tabernacle and later from the Temple. Every year the man of Israel, the priest of his home, would select from his flock the finest male lamb to offer to the Lord as a sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. Since it was the man’s sins that required atonement, under the guidance of the priest, the man would slay the lamb himself.
When the instructions for offering these sacrifices to the Lord are given in Leviticus a strange statement is made repeatedly.
“It is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD” (Lev 1:9 NIV).
Does our God enjoy the smell of burning flesh and hair, of grain and oil?
Since God is spirit (John 4:24) the smells of the material world, so unavoidable to us, do not register in his awareness as they do in ours. What was the spiritual aroma that pleased him when an Old Testament worshiper put the knife to the lamb or lifted the grain and waved before the Lord? Jesus made it clear that true worship emanates from the heart; to worship the Father who is spirit, we must enter the realm of the Spirit and do so in truth. Under the New Covenant our animals are safe from the knife and altar. The New Testament sacrifice is the sacrifice of praise. It is putting the knife to our own pride and self-reliance.
The fundamental biblical image of worship is that of the sacrifice. In the Old Testament the record is clear.
- Unnamed animals died to provide the covering of Adam and Eve’s sin-revealed nakedness.
- Murder in the first family of earth entered the world through a heart that was not right, its error revealed by an improper sacrifice.
- Animals in Noah’s ark included in their number not just pairs for repopulating the earth, but sets of sacrificial animals to mark the deliverance of mankind and the animal kingdom from the floods of God’s wrath.
- Abraham told his servants to wait while He and Isaac went some distance away to worship. He was talking about putting the knife to his only son at God’s command.
- The whole relationship of God with Israel was predicated upon constant sacrifices, day and night and with the great seasonal feasts throughout the year.
- King Saul lost his Kingdom through an unlawful and rebellious “sacrifice.” King David was chosen to be king in Saul’s place because his heart was right.
- Later in life, David refused to offer a sacrifice on ground given to him with these words, “I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24:24 NIV).
In the New Testament, Mary of Bethany offered to Jesus a costly sacrifice of praise when she lavished her most prized possession on the Lord. She won His highest commendations,
“Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me” (Matt 26:10 NIV). “She did what she could” (Mark 14:8 NIV).
He also connected the preaching of the undiluted Word of God with this costly sacrifice of praise.
“I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her”(Mark 14:8-9 NIV).
In Mark’s gospel Jesus also said this,
“She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.”
The meaning of Jesus’ death is that of the final sacrificial lamb. His is not the story of a young man tragically struck down by society; it is the story of a willing, perfect sacrifice. The writer to the Hebrews explains that, like the material veil torn in the Temple at the moment of His death, Jesus’ body was the spiritual veil torn to open the way for a fallen mankind to enter the presence of a Holy God (Hebrews 10:19-25). Paul exalted this costly sacrifice as the example for us in worship.
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself … He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:4-9 NASU, Italics mine).
The aroma God loves is the spiritual scent of hearts being emptied before Him, the self-inflicted wounding of our human pride. As the Psalmist said,
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps 51:17).
Romans 12:1,2 presents powerful promises to the one who would offer his humanity to the Lord as a living sacrifice. The destructive patterns of life in a fallen world will be broken. The worshiper’s mind will be renewed and he will prove the fullness of God’s will. Somehow this meager presentation of our fallen, wounded selves, this voluntary lifting up of our hearts, hands and voices to Him in worship, is pleasing to God. Surely this is the “aroma pleasing to the Lord” Moses tells us about. No wonder Paul pleads with the Romans to enter into this sacrifice of praise. It is a reasonable thing to do. (Romans 12:1,2)
The writer to the Hebrews exalts the Sacrifice of Praise to the pinnacle of his exposition of the New Covenant.
“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise-the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb13:15-16).
This is more than the event described in Romans 12; this is a continual offering, a life-process like breathing. The attitude of praise (gratitude, humility) should be as consistent as respiration, a constant intake of heaven’s atmosphere into our earthbound spirits. This will result in the fruit of our lips confessing His name and the fruit of our lives as we “do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” This is the “aroma pleasing to the Lord.”
Priests unto the Lord
The Lord warned Moses, high in the mountain, that things were not going well in the valley below. Before he reached the foot of Mt .Sinai, the sound of “worship” reached his ears. He held in his hands the tablets of stone that would call for worship with detailed instructions on how it should be done and what it would mean. Soon the tablets would crash to the ground and break. Who was leading the worship at the foot of the mountain? How was it being done? The answers to these questions would break Moses’ heart and anger Almighty God. Up there in the mountain Moses interceded for the people so recently ascended from Egyptian slavery. In the valley Aaron, the brother of Moses, fashioned in gold a calf and the people were “worshiping” with all of their might. The wrath of God burned through Moses and a worship purge left thousands dead and focused the nation on true worship—worship by the Book.
The orgy of “worship” also wrought a change, a delay really, in the plan of God for mankind. Read the Lord’s words at the giving of the Law and sense his plan for the world. “Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex 19:5-6 NIV). Yet, after the worship of the golden calf, the Lord selected the sons of Aaron and tribe of Levi to be a priestly tribe.
“So I will consecrate the Tent of Meeting and the altar and will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests. (Ex 29:44-30:1 NIV) …appoint the Levites to be in charge of the tabernacle of the Testimony (Num 1:50NIV)
The terrible disobedience of people and the spineless “leadership” of Aaron postponed the plan of God all the way from the giving of the Law at Mt Sinai to the giving of his Son at Mt. Calvary. God’s plan was for Israel to be a Kingdom of Priests bringing salvation to the whole world. False worship temporarily put this plan aside, but what God intended at Mt. Sinai he has accomplished at Mt. Calvary. The Apostle Peter makes it clear.
“…you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:5-6, 9 NIV)
John’s revelation shines a universal light on this Calvary-cleansed kingdom / priesthood.
…with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Rev 5:9-10 NIV
Without a doubt the church has been raised up out of the Egypt of sin to be this Holy Nation, the Kingdom of priests, the Holy, Royal Priesthood. We have a vital ministry to perform to the Lord Himself—True Worship. And we have a ministry to the world—telling them the Jesus Story. Under the old covenant the priests had responsibilities in three broad areas:
- worship and worship leading,
- learning and teaching the Word of God, and
- assisting in the processes of redemption.
These are also the areas of ministry for the new covenant priests.
Priests unto the Lord Worship God with Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength
Individually we are each a holy, royal priest unto the Lord. This truth frames and fuels our private worship, as we will develop in later columns. When we gather to worship, we form the holy, royal priesthood. Without this theology of public worship, the focus of each event quickly moves to us: the songs we like, the ceremonies we prefer, the preaching that blesses us, the prayers that reinforce our comfort zones. We are quite willing to go to war over these preferences deluding ourselves into thinking we are defending God’s preferences. Actually, we are taking a seat-of-the-pants approach to worship, never questioning our self-centered motivations. It is ironic that people of the Book, with an announced philosophy of taking the Bible as the final authority in matters of faith and practice, would approach public worship from an if-it-feels-good-do-it point of view.
How transforming it would be if our worship leaders and rank and file worshipers would see themselves as priests unto the Lord, a Kingdom of Priests. Jesus would be the focus of every service. The Holy Spirit would have a free hand to move among us. The Lord Jesus would rule over us granting miracles and deliverances, signs and wonders, saving the lost, restoring the weak, healing the sick and calling people to lives of service. Ultimately our public worship would impact the world, fulfilling the Jesus Agenda of Luke 4:
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” ( Luke 4:18-19 NKJV)
Is it too strong to say this? Our self-centered, me-oriented worship has this result:
The poor are ignored; the broken hearted continue in hopeless mourning; the captives remain safely out of sight in their prisons; the blind stumble on in their darkness; the oppressed never lose their bruising shackles and the opportunities afforded by the Day of Grace are kept secret. The Holy, Royal Priesthood worships God—do we?
Priests unto the Lord Know and Teach the Word of God
Make no mistake, priests under both the old and new covenants, had the assignment of learning and teaching the Word of God. Self-centered worship is characterized by a dearth of Scripture and by a debilitating lack of Scriptural and theological thought behind the planning and execution of the services. Most of the time leaders are just feeling their way from song to song, from service to service and from season to season.
Priests unto the Lord Assist in the Advancement of the Kingdom of God
Called to a life of intimacy with God Himself and charged with the assignment of communicating and living out the Word of God, the Holy Royal Priesthood is a force for good in the world. Just as under the old covenant priests assisted the people in the offering of their sacrifices finding reconciliation with God, new covenant priests give public witness to the claims of Christ as the final and ultimate sacrifice for all the sins of the world. As priests unto the Lord, we tell the Jesus Story to the world. We do this as we worship, as we preach, as we witness, and, most importantly as we live.
God’s Dwelling Places—David’s Tabernacle
The Lord has chosen to manifest His presence in the earth. One level of this manifestation is in nature and another is the revelation of His nearness in our hearts. The most powerful, specific and intimate is the Manifest Presence of the Lord, His presence within the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3). The Book of Psalms describes this level of worship. Every human emotion appropriate for worship is found in the Book of Psalms: joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, confusion and faith, stillness and action, solitude and community. When led by the Holy Spirit, God’s people can express these things in a necessary catharsis of soul and spirit and a requisite interaction of God’s family with God Himself. This type of congregational worship is revealed to us with the model of David’s Tabernacle.
- Moses’ Tabernacle shows us the broad pattern of worship and our individual privileges and responsibilities as Priests unto the Lord.
- David’s Tabernacle shows us the joy and significance of our ministry together as a Priesthood.
Moses’ Tabernacle is about worship and the worshiper; David’s Tabernacle is about the worshiping community.
A brief history is in order. When King David brought up the Ark of Covenant, his motive was to restore the presence of the Lord to the center of the nation and the hearts of the people. This was a direct outworking of the heart of David—he was called the man who was after God’s heart. To me this has two meanings:
- David’s heart was fashioned in the likeness of God’s heart and
- David was a man who pursued the heart of God.
It is impossible to review the lives of David and Jesus and fail to see the similarities of each one’s heart:
- a shepherd’s heart,
- a humble heart,
- a heart shaped by the Word of God,
- a principled heart,
- a heart hungry for the presence of God the Father in prayer and
- a heart broken by sin.
We also see the passionate heart of David as he actively pursued the presence of God just as Jesus did the presence of His Father.
After a first, unsuccessful attempt when the King failed to consult the Word of God on how the Ark should be moved, David succeeded in bringing up the Ark to Jerusalem(II Samuel 6; I Chronicles 15,16). He did not place it back in the Tabernacle of Moses, but placed it in a tent on Mount Zion instead. His view was that God had abandoned the old tabernacle (Psalm 78:67-72). Gone were the restrictions of the old tabernacle (men only, Jews only in the Outer Court; priests only in the Inner Court). The Tabernacle of David was a foretaste of NT worship—“Whosoever will may come!” (Mark8:34,35). This is why the prophets foretold the restoration of David’s Tabernacle as a vital part of Messiah’s ministry. Isaiah predicted this:
“In mercy the throne will be established; And One will sit on it in truth, in the tabernacle of David, Judging and seeking justice and hastening righteousness.” Isaiah 16:5 NKJV
Amos said this:
“On that day I will raise up The tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, And repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, And rebuild it as in the days of old; That they may possess the remnant of Edom, And all the Gentiles who are called by My name,” Says LORD who does this thing. Amos 9:11-12 NKJV
In Acts 15, at the first great church conference, the issue was the cultural make-up of the church. Was the church to be a Jewish sect or was it to be an international group open to all races and levels of society? James settled the dispute by quoting the prophet Amos (Acts15:12-22). Because the Messiah would bring back the glory as the fallen Tabernacle of David was restored, the church of Jesus Christ was to be universal, not just local. The Old Covenant was with the nation of Israel; the New Covenant was to be available to all mankind.
Paul and James tell us to sing Psalms. When we do the instructions found in the Psalms become New Testament instructions. Tabernacle of David worship is New Covenant worship (in Spirit and Truth) as it is described in the Psalms: with reason and with emotion, corporate as well as individual, joyful as well as repentant, musical as well as literary, with movement as well as with stillness, loud as well as silent, questioning as well as affirming, in crisis as well as in the daily routine, with instrumental music as well as with vocal music, carefully planned and spontaneous, and with the arts of man as well as with the Word of God.
Just as personal worship was established at Moses’ Tabernacle, corporate worship was established at David’s Tabernacle. Our corporate worship (David’s Tabernacle) must be underpinned by real and powerful personal worship (Moses’ Tabernacle). Today in every nation of the world, we need both. As the writer to the Hebrews said that when the NT church worships, we
…have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. Heb 12:22-24 NKJV
What an awesome privilege is ours to worship the Lord at the summit of Mount Zion, to join the songs of heaven with our earthly voices, to celebrate our King in His very throne room, and to spend time with Jesus the mediator of the New Covenant. Joyfully we ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in the Holy Place(Psalm 24). As we lift up the ancient doors of praise, the King of Glory comes in!