As worship ministers, it’s so easy, isn’t it, to play wonderful music, sing beautiful songs, move a big crowd, all the while thinking that God was in it all? I’m not saying He isn’t, by the way. But I wonder how much of it can sometimes be viewed as a substitute for God’s presence, even without our knowing?
Harold Best says it like this, in Unceasing Worship (p 166):
Whenever we assume that art mediates God’s presence or causes him to be tangible, we have begun to trek into idol territory. Our present-day use of music as the major up-front device for worship is a case in point. We need to ask ourselves if we, as worship leaders, are giving the impression that we draw near to God through music or that God draws near because of it. Is music our golden calf? Have we come to a place in our practices where God must say to us, ‘You cannot worship me in that way,’ meaning that music has moved from a place of offering to one of lordship, from servanthood to sovereignty? Or might he be saying ‘You shall not worship me in their way,’ meaning that we have adopted a pagan worldview that imputes a causal force to music that it does not properly have? We need to discover the critical theological difference between being merely moved by music and being spiritually changed by it. Yes, music might bring pleasure and change our pulse rates or blood pressure, but so does taking a simple walk in the park.
At the end of the day, music, programs, artistic expressions – all are means to an end. And the end must be nothing less than the presence of God. As worship ministers, we need to walk this fine line carefully.
This was really brought home to me tonight when I attended Presence Sunday at South City Church. My friend Darren Woon (who is one of the music directors at South City) had told me what they were doing at their church earlier in the week. My first thought was that I was going to be “churched-out” today. But I decided to go anyway. Partly because I wanted to see Darren and another friend of mine Clem do their thing on stage, but also because I thought it would be good just to worship from the audience.
Even though I only serve on stage two weeks in a month, as Assistant Worship Director at my church, it’s pretty hard to “switch off” from serving mode. You’re always wanting to gauge how the ministry as a whole is going, so instead of just letting go and worshipping, you end up critically evaluating all the worship sets. Then, instead of wholeheartedly singing, part of your mind is trying to remember some things that you want to feedback to the team at the end of the service.
So it was nice just to be in the crowd for a change with no agenda, with no one from your congregation expecting you to act in a particular way. Just you, God and some family members from a different neighbourhood, most of whom you haven’t met before!
After a pretty liberating time of worship, Ps Ken Lee came up to preach a short message about “Making Room for God’s Presence” from 2 Kings 4 – the story of the Shunnamite Woman.
In verse 10, the Shunnamite Woman decides that she would arrange a small room, put in a bed, table and chair so that the man of God, Elisha, can stay at her house whenever he visits the village. And here was Ps Ken’s point: even though the woman knew she had regular access to God’s presence (as represented by His prophet), she wanted to create space so the presence of God could stay. All it took was for some small adjustments in furnishings.
As a result, despite her barrenness, God worked a miracle and she conceived a son.
And years later, the son, who is then grown up, dies. The woman takes the dead miracle in her arms, and in verse 21, lays the body of her son on the “bed of the man of God” in her home. Elisha came into that very room and brought the son back to life. And Ps Ken’s point was that we must not only make room for God’s presence, but keep room for God’s presence.
It would have been easy for her, after receiving God’s miracle to rearrange the room. After all, her long-held prayer had been answered. She could easily put Elisha’s room to a different use. But she decided to keep room for God’s presence. And the result was that Elisha revived a dead miracle.
The message this evening really spoke to me.
I wondered what adjustments I needed to make to my life; to unclutter. Don’t get me wrong: the ministry opportunities this year have been amazing. In this Year of Open Doors, God has opened lots of doors of ministry and I’ve been able to confidently walk through them. But this has become singularly clear: Programs have replaced Presence. It’s been easy to try to implement change and to invigorate the culture of our ministry, to come up with brilliant new strategic ideas, but how much of it was birthed in God’s presence?
Pastor Benny likes to show us a video of Bill Hybels talk about a guy whose life was transformed because he chose to meet God every day in his rocking chair. This guy went from being a nominal believer to eventually going into full time ministry. Every decision he made was a result of sitting in the rocking chair and meeting with God.
I used to meet with God in my study room. But now it’s full of clutter. There are papers and objects everywhere. We treat it more like a store room. In my quest to keep the visible part of my apartment (the living room which guests get to see) neat and tidy, I shove things into the study room and close the door.
The analogy of furniture and clutter was too hard to resist. God was speaking to me about the need to de-clutter, to come back to His presence again. Programs can only go so far. It’s time for me to clean up the study and get me a comfy chair, where I can sip coffee, read my Bible, pray and host God’s presence.
I think as we draw near to the end of this Year of Open Doors, the thought that God impressed upon me was this: it’s one thing to walk through the doors God opens for us, but 2014 will be a Year of His Presence. It will be about making room for Him and opening the door for Him to walk in whenever He wants.