Friday, March 24, 2017

The Impossibility of Worship Without Presence (The Presence-Driven Church)

Lake Michigan shoreline

Worship without a sense of God’s presence is not true worship. God’s presence and worship fit together like a hand and a glove. God’s palpable presence evokes worship; worship provokes God’s people into his felt presence. God’s presence is evocative; true worship is provocative.

At times I have a sense of God’s presence, and this evokes worship in me. I may praise God, or sing of God’s greatness. At other times I may feel spiritually barren, and then a song we are singing prods me, and barrenness is replaced with fecundity.

I doubt that a person could be in God’s presence and not somehow worship him. The experience of God, with us, never gets ordinary or old. The very thought of God manifesting himself in all his omni-attributes is cognitively and emotionally overpowering. Where God is, there people will bow before him in awe and adoration.

In true worship God becomes not only the object of our adoration, but our worship leader. This is why, in true worship, we cannot program or predict how the Holy Spirit will lead. The Holy Spirit cannot be click-tracked, or timed. True worship shifts time zones, from clock time (chronos) to now-time (atemporality; kairos; God’s “time”). We become lost in the moment, in what some have called the “eternal now.”

On Sunday mornings, for example, we have some things in place: an opening worship song, we pray for our children, announcements (if any), praise & worship, preaching, then a time of ministry. But all this can change.

Recently, during the opening song, I was drawn to a person in our sanctuary. I did not know them, but sensed God's presence doing a good thing in them. I felt led to share this with them. At that point the worship meeting was changing before my eyes.

We begin with a simple, basic structure. That's OK and, I think, good. God has led us to prepare the way for his manifesting presence. But within this structure there is room for the Spirit to do his thing. And He does. Always, in our context.

In that sense we do not have an "order of service," or a "program" to be followed. The reason is, while God can and does pre-order what happens in our corporate gatherings, it is God, not me or a committee, doing the pre-ordering. We can't order or program God.

When God manifests his presence it is never to put on a show to entertain a room of consumers.  A. W. Tozer looked at “worship” in the Entertainment-Driven Church in dismay. 

He wrote:

"Thanks to our splendid Bible societies and to other effective agencies for the dissemination of the Word, there are today many millions of people who hold ‘right opinions,’ probably more than ever before in the history of the Church. Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the Church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us."[1]

Tozer wrote that in 1948. What might he say today?

(This is why at Redeemer we want our worship team musicians and vocalists to, primarily, have deep, abiding spiritual lives with Christ. A musician who lacks that is doxologically worthless, an impediment to true worship.) 

[1] A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, Kindle Locations 46-51