In my thinking about worship leading, I suggested that the key part of worship relied on the question: what does God require? (read the article here) Based on Micah 6.8: seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly, and encouraging one another 1 Thes 5.11 and Ephesians 5.19. But worship must be directed towards God, otherwise it becomes idolatrous. So its direction is to God, but it’s purpose is encouragement.
But within that I have remained uncomfortable that it’s not the whole story. What happens when for some unaccountable reason we have such a profound sense of God that we actually respond to his presence. This then is a deeper worship. Not less than the first however: whilst the opposite of deeper is shallow, lets accept that if you go swimming in the sea you have to go through the shallows to get to somewhere which is out of your depth, but it’s still the sea. And one bit of sea is indistinguishable from the next! It’s just you do different things at different depths.
We can see this as King Saul joins the prophets and the Spirit falls on him and he prophecies (1 Samuel 19.24); or when the Holy Spirit falls on the gentiles in Acts (Acts 10.34 -48) and it’s a case of ‘quick, get the water’ and they worship God. And moving back to the Revelation passage of heaven, the creatures are in worship of God out of response (Chapter 4 verses 9-11 ). This is a responsive worship to God’s presence.
Just to flip it on its head for a second though, for reasons of completion, how rare is it that we can turn up in a worship service actually ready to worship? Yes there is anticipation, but we don’t, for want of a better phrase, feel in the zone. Now I’m not saying that that isn’t possible. If your life is an act of worship, and sometimes I can testify to the moments when I have walked into a worship event ready to worship, then you can go straight in with a sense of God’s presence and respond to his love. But it is more the exception than the rule (please comment if you have found different!).
So where does that leave us?
Perhaps here: that we begin with worship that is an act of our will. “Praise my soul” is an oft repeated phrase in the psalms: it is an act of will to instruct my soul that I will give God the honour he deserves as I consider what he has done for me. He deserves our praise. This is where we give encouragement to one another. Then somewhere this transitions into a response to God as his spirit moves on his will worshippers. We don’t worship to persuade God to move on us, it is his delight to do so but only when we are willing.
And this mystical engagement is transformative.
Now, if there is any evidence in this from Scripture, I have to ask if we consider the Last Supper, what happened there? Jesus was in a rather troubled state, and from the words in John looks like it wasn’t one last great ‘hurrah’ before they left the scene. No, there was a really down beat mood, they sang a song, and left. What song? Probably from those that were psalms and spoke of the release from Egypt. (Mark 14.26). These encouraged them, reminded them of what God had done. But do we really think that they had an emotional worshipful experience in the presence of God as we might understand an ecstatic event? Possibly not!
When we are in a fresh expressions of church environment it might be hard to engage in that deep worship. If we are forming worship and celebration around the culture that is attending 1) those people might not like singing for one reason or another 2) there may be others around who are just there to meet for other reasons (we meet in a public space coffee shop…I don’t think they would appreciate 20 people suddenly singing Matt Redman songs!). So we need to consider carefully what worship is before we reach for the guitars. I’m not saying it’s not appropriate, we just need to think first about context and culture. But worship is important.
So we need to realise that shallow worship is not less than deep worship. The act of encouraging one another is perfectly fine, in fact I would even suggest that in the majority of our churches this is exactly the kind of worship they participate in week after week. And there are ways of engaging culturally with that shallow worship.
But let us not forget that there is the deeper worship. As we explore the shallows we naturally go deeper as we grow in confidence, if we allow ourselves to. And it doesn’t all have to be about singing either. Currently I am researching the mystics (which isn’t as dodgy as it sounds…perhaps a more familiar word would be charismatic) an many of them found non-ecstatic experiences of worship, which were very profound. Others found ecstatic experiences. But all of them found a deepening of faith and worship, both as individuals and in a corporate context, and not necessarily involving song. In fact the discipline of prayer and holy life seems to be one of the keys.