Post 3: God’s Role in Worship
In these posts we are taking time to think more deeply about worship. So far we’ve focused on what we do in worship: giving honor and glory to God because he is worthy. We’ve also explored four dimensions of our worship. But it is important to recognize that worship isn’t just about what we do for God. In fact, God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is involved in worship. So we need to think about God’s role in our worship.
Worship begins with God. It may seem like we initiate the worship service each week, but true worship is initiated by God; He invites us to worship him. Scripture testifies that worship begins with God’s action and invitation. God called the Israelites out of bondage to worship him (Exodus 8:1). Jesus says that the Father seeks people to worship him (John 4:23). Paul says that God’s plan in redeeming us is to create a people who will worship him (Ephesians 1:4-5, 12).
Worship begins with God, which means worship is about responding to God, saying “Yes” to his invitation. If God is the one who calls us to worship, what kind of response is required? Think of the way we enter into our worship services. Have we taken time to prepare, or do we think worship will just happen by accident? Do we arrive on time? What kind of attitude do we come with? Our response to God in worship begins with the way we answer his invitation from the moment we arrive.
Here’s a practical suggestion. On Saturday evening remind yourself (and your family) that God has invited you for worship on Sunday morning. Prepare your heart by reading the passages from the lectionary, and praying that you would be ready to say “Yes” to God. Make sure you get enough rest, and set an alarm to wake you up in time to arrive before the service starts.
The Father calls us to worship. What about God the Son?
Presentation, the presentation of Jesus, is an often overlooked event in the life of Christ. In liturgical worship, following a lectionary, the day of presentation comes during the season of Epiphany. Presentation is all about the presentation of the baby Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:22-40). Mary and Joseph brought Jesus in obedience to the law, it was time to present him to God and offer a sacrifice for purification. The whole context of the passage is worship, the focus should be entirely on God. So it is amazing that from the moment Jesus was brought into the Temple he becomes the focus, but not as a distraction. For Simeon and Anna, who were present, the presence of Jesus resulted in praise to God.
I think there are two implications of this for us. First, children are important contributors in worship. They are not a distraction. Let’s encourage the presence of children whenever we gather together. Second, this passage reminds us of the important place of Jesus in our worship. His presence with us is at the heart of what our worship is all about.
At our church we begin our service with these words as part of our opening prayers: “through his Son Jesus Christ” and “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In this way we acknowledge that we worship through Jesus, as Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
What does it mean to worship through Jesus? This is about Jesus’ priestly role in our worship. The priests in the Old Testament acted as mediators for God’s people in worship, they facilitated the worship rituals, offering to God the sacrifices brought by the worshipers. They were the worship leaders. In the New Covenant, Jesus is our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) and high priest (Hebrews 4:14). As the perfect high priest, Jesus has entered into the heavenly temple to be our mediator before God for all time. Hebrews calls him a “minister in the holy places” (8:2). The word “minister” speaks of someone who serves. Jesus serves as a priest, He is our worship leader.
Worship through Jesus means that we submit to him as our worship leader. True worship happens in dependence on Jesus. We depend on him because our worship falls short of God’s glory, it is “offered in a broken vessel,” but through Christ it is pleasing to God. God accepts our imperfect, half-hearted worship through Christ. In submission and dependence we find freedom and boldness. We don’t need to worry whether or not our worship is “good enough.” In fact, with Jesus as our high priest we can draw near to God with confidence (Hebrews 4:16).
The Father calls us to worship, the Son leads us in worship, and the Spirit guides and empowers our worship.
We’ve already seen that God is not a passive observer of worship services. Instead, God is very active. Here will will talk about the role of the Holy Spirit in worship.
Some people think that denominations like Anglicans aren’t much interested in the Holy Spirit, or that the Holy Spirit is only present in Pentecostal styles of worship. But I think the Holy Spirit is very important in all worship services and setting, regardless of denomination, and I believe he is very active. Let me mention three ways the Holy Spirit is active in worship.
First, The Holy Spirit brings us together. We’ve said that the Father calls us to worship him. But when we come to worship we arrive as individuals. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But part of God’s goal for us is that we would be a community, a people called together. This is what the Spirit does. We see the way the Spirit brings the church together and makes us one in Acts 2:42-47. At the beginning of Acts 2 a crowd of people gathered around a strange phenomenon, the disciples were speaking in their languages. By the end of Acts 2 people from that same crowd had become a community in the best sense of that word: a common unity. Luke makes it clear that the believers, the brand new church had a common life: “all who believed were together and had all things in common” (2:44).
Another way the Spirit is active in our worship is in helping us to understand. In worship we respond to revelation of God and his Word, but we can’t respond rightly if we don’t apprehend or understand what is revealed. This is where the Spirit works. It is the Spirit who reveals knowledge of God and gives understanding (Ephesians 1:17). We rely on the Spirit to understand and enable our response to God.
Finally, the Spirit is active in sending us. Our worship services don’t just end with “have a good week.” Instead we are sent from worship into our week to be witnesses. As we see in the book of Acts, the Spirit is God’s empowering presence for our mission. It is in the power of the Holy Spirit that we are sent out. As we go out in the Spirit’s power we are made ready to live and work for God’s praise and glory.
So, the Holy Spirit’s role in our worship is to gather us together into a community, to help us understand God’s revelation, and to send us out from worship as witnesses.
God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is intimately involved in our worship. How does this inform or challenge the way you lead worship?