Worship is the Fuel and Goal of Missions

I’m reading John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad at the moment and have really been challenged by the depth of his thinking, particularly around the topic of God’s glory.

If you ever need a clearer statement about the intersection of worship and missions, go no further than the first paragraph of Piper’s treatise, where he says this (one of the most thought-provoking and challenging book openings ever, at least on the subject of worship):

Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.

Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God’s glory. The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God. “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice, let the many coastlands be glad!” (Ps 97:1). “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!” (Ps 67:3-4).

But worship is also the fuel of missions. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish. Missionaries will never call out “let the nations be glad!” if they cannot say from the heart “I rejoice in the Lord … I will be glad and exult in you, I will sing praise to your name, O Most High ” (Pss 104:34; 9:2). Missions begins and ends in worship.

If the pursuit of God’s glory is not ordered above the pursuit of man’s good in the affections of the heart and the priorities of the church, man will not be well served, and God will not be duly honoured.

And that’s just the beginning of the book! I can’t wait to read more.

I think a lot of Christianity these days is about easy-fixes and simple solutions. I think it is important that the way we live our Christian faith should be tempered by a child-like approach to God. But it is also important that we have an intelligent faith that asks deep questions; that seeks to understand God’s ways (like Moses did).

Here, we see the importance of what I call apostolic worship. I don’t believe that we truly engage in worship until we grasp God’s desire to gather the nations, not that missions is the ultimate, but because the redemption of the nations is God’s will, and God’s will is ultimate. This is the overflow of God’s desire for His glory to be manifest amongst the nations.

As we encounter God in worship, let us, as apostolic worship leaders, seek to complete the circle: start in worship – go in missions – bring the nations, as Piper says, into the white-hot enjoyment of God’s glory in worship.

 

Worship and the Marketplace Part 2

When I wrote yesterday’s post, I was led to Ezekiel’s vision of the river flowing from the temple in Ezekiel 47. As I read that passage, I had more thoughts about the connection between worship in the temple and transformation in the marketplace.

To fully appreciate the connection, we have to get an understanding of what I mean when I say “worship”. To me, trying to define worship is like defining the undefinable. In a later post, I will attempt to do so using Harold Best’s thesis in his book Unceasing Worship. Suffice to say for present purposes, worship encompasses our entire life. When we talk about worship in a church setting, it is simply an intensifying of what we are already doing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In this sense, the expression of praise that takes place on a Sunday could be said to be a subset of “worship”.

So we need to think about worship as a continuum. Praise/seeking God/waiting on Him etc sits on the more mystical side of the continuum; work/going to the office/house chores etc sits on the practical side.

So, in this context, let us go back to Ezekiel 47.

The Outworking of Worship

In the first few verses, Ezekiel describes how the river gets deeper the further it goes from the temple.

This is the outworking of worship. A holistic vision of praise starts and ends in the temple, because God is the beginning and end of everything (as one Biblical writer says, “in Him and through Him and for Him are all things”). But God is in the business of reconciling to Himself all things, which is an action directed towards the “outside”, i.e. towards the world, its people, its systems etc. So worship begins in the temple, but then is propelled out to the world with the mission of bringing “in” those who are “out”.

Colossians 1:19-20 says this:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Second Corinthians 5:18 says:

But all things are from God, Who through Jesus Christ reconciled us to Himself [received us into favor, brought us into harmony with Himself] and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation [that by word and deed we might aim to bring others into harmony with Him].

This is the same pattern we see in the book of Acts. As the disciples waited and sought the Lord in worship in the Upper Room, the Holy Spirit fell on them on the day of Pentecost, propelling the church out into the marketplace to answer the prophecy of Joel 2, that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord, will be saved”.

The Impact of Worship

Going back to Ezekiel 47:6ff:

Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live.

When we take the presence of God into the marketplace, it brings with it a divine flow of life into the areas of which are spiritually dead. That goes for people who are dead in their sins, and systems/values/mindsets which are corrupt and perverse.

Even the Dead Sea becomes a place where swarms of living creatures will live and thrive! The salt water will become fresh. Like Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3, we become the aroma of Christ, the fragrance of life to those who are perishing.

The Reach of Worship

Ezekiel’s vision ends with this, in verse 12:

Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.

Indeed, this year is the year of Unceasing Fruitfulness. For those who worship God, our leaves will not wither, nor will be fail to bear fruit.

But notice this: the presence of God is our source “because the water from the sanctuary flows” to us. And further still: the purpose of our fruit is not just for our own sake and prosperity. Rather our fruit is to feed others! This is where worship and justice meet: to lift the poor and feed the hungry.

And our leaves will be for the healing of the nations. Where once the nations have turned away from God, true worshippers will carry an anointing to see the fulfillment of the day when the kingdoms of this world, will become the kingdom of our Lord and King.

Worship begins in the sanctuary and worship flows out into the marketplace to bring transformation. As my friend Adrian Lim once put it (and recently reminded me), true worshippers worship through the 24/7 window, the 9/5 window and the 10/40 window. Worship begins as a 24/7 lifestyle, but then must be manifested in the 9/5 window of the marketplace. And the end game: to see the nations, represented by the 10/40 window (being the most unreached of the nations) transformed and revived.

Wineskins, Patches and Paradigm Shifts

I think Christianity has been one of the most enduring faiths because of its ability to reinvent itself within the parameters of its core tenets and beliefs. It is a revolutionary faith.

One of the things I love doing is to look at paradigm shifts in the church, particularly in the context of worship. Certainly, the church’s understanding of worship has come a long way, and its expression of worship has taken quantum leaps, even in the last 20 years or so.

Jesus’ parable about new wine and new wineskins is interesting. I have heard many teachings about how we need to change the church’s methodologies (new wineskin) to contain the new wine that God is pouring out.

I have often taught from this passage when I talk about changes in the worship landscape, but I never really understood the first part of the passage about shrinking a cloth before using it as a patch. So I happily ignored that part and hoped no one ever asked me questions about it. (Actually one of the great things about teaching at church is people tend not to want to ask you pointy questions!)

But I think I’m getting a clearer revelation of this passage now and want to offer you some of my thoughts. But first, here is the passage from Luke 5:36-39:

[Jesus] told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.”

The problem I had in the past with interpreting this passage stemmed from an erroneous approach: I always thought the two images (wineskins and cloth) are reinforcing images, i.e. they are two ways of saying the same thing. Actually, I now understand that the key to this passage is in the fact that the two concepts are complementary. The wine imagery tells us about the need for renewal, and the second imagery of the cloth tells us about the method to implement that renewal.

If you are a wine drinker, you will know that really good wine needs to mature over time. New wine can often be harsh with undeveloped flavours. That’s why Jesus says that no one who drinks old wine actually wants new wine, because they say “the old is better”.

Recently a friend of mine opened a bottle of wine which was apparently bottled on his actual birthday 30 years ago. He thought it tasted okay, but whilst I politely agreed, inside me I actually had some doubts. It tasted a bit funky in my opinion. In any event, I think most people know the general principle that when wine gets really old, it turns to vinegar.

So even though most people like old wine, we can’t hold on to old wine forever. It will go off.

Even though the pentecostal tradition eschews liturgy, in fact, we often have a strange reliance on “unstructure” to the point where it can become its own structure and liturgy. In fact, step into most contemporary churches and the service is entirely predictable: singing, followed by announcements and then the sermon. Depending on how “spirit-led” you are, you may get some ministry time at the end too.

No matter how much we like the old, we can’t hang on to the methods, models and strategies of the past. They will become stale and ineffective.

The fabric analogy however, tells us about the way we bring about change and renewal. The patch of cloth from the new garment can’t be used to patch up a hole in an old garment unless the new patch is preshrunk. Otherwise, it will tear away from the old garment. Often, we want to transplant a new idea or a new method onto existing structures without holding back a little. The new idea becomes too radical and a shock to the system for those used to the old, and the radical idea gets rejected entirely.

Twenty years ago, the idea of a woman worship leader was unheard of. (There are still some remnants in the body of Christ who don’t believe that women should lead worship). But then Darlene Zschech came onto the scene. She started out as a strong backing vocalist and she began to write songs which captured the heart of the church. Before long, having her lead worship was a natural choice. Darlene paved the way for women worship leaders to start taking up that mantle all over the world.

Once, a church I knew began to flow into prophetic worship in the vein of Rick Pino. However, the worship leader began the service by singing free worship and then sang one song over and over again for 25 minutes. A good deal of the congregation failed to engage and was lost in the process. Whilst moving the church into prophetic worship is desirable, doing it too quickly when people aren’t ready or educated can result in a church rejecting the new move of God.

This is what Matt Redman refers to when he says that as worship leaders, we must balance the prophetic with the pastoral. Worship leaders must keep prophetically forging ahead, breaking new ground with new styles of music, new songs, new prophetic flows and new artistic expressions. But we must also be pastoral: we need to bring people with us; we can’t go too far ahead that they can’t follow; we need to hold back a bit and let the new cloth shrink slightly, so it doesn’t tear from the old cloth.

True renewal is necessary. Psalm 102:25-27 says this:

In the beginning, you laid the foundations of the earth,

and the heavens are the work of your hands.

They will perish, but you remain;

they will all wear out like a garment.

Like clothing you will change them

and they will be discarded.

But you remain the same,

and your years will never end.

God is the same, but He is always on the move and bringing change.

As revolutionaries, we must love the church, even those who seem to be slightly lagging behind. We need new wineskins to contain God’s new wine. But we must also be careful to preshrink the new patch from the new garment before applying it onto the old garment, lest we tear away from the old garment and destroy it so that even the cutting off from the new garment would have been in vain.