Hillsong Highlights – Day 3

Today’s conference for me was quite a definitive one. I felt God speak to me very clearly about commitment to His cause.

This morning Bill Hybels shared on tests of leadership. Test 4 was the grander vision test. As leaders we need to give those we lead a grander vision than they have seen so far. Test 5 is about whether the vision is so consuming that we would be prepared to pay the price to run after it.

Hybels shared about how his father had set up a succession plan for Hybels to take over the family business. Instead, Hybels was so gripped by what could be done through a properly functioning Acts 2 church that he gave it all up to start a church. His dad made him sign over all the shares in the company. He said it was one of the things in which he experienced his dad’s disappointment. His dad passed away two years later, never to see the fruit of Hybels’ ministry.

Hybels recalled that two weeks ago, he was baptising converts in his church. It was something he never got sick of. In fact, he still bawls like a baby when he does baptisms. And his lay leader (a businessman) looks over and says “sign me up for another 20 years of this”.

Then this afternoon Louie Giglio ran a masterclass entitled “Being a Visionary Architect”. He shared that people are either leading a vision or under a vision. He shared that we need to be faithful to a vision until God releases us from it. Because you never know when you will hit the multiplication zone.

I’ve gone through a difficult season of uncertainty the last few months in terms of career paths and decisions. God finally led me to a place where I could take up a role to direct and influence the culture of my firm but also to fulfill my role in church ministry. Why not both? I was finally at peace with the decision.

In the context of what I’ve shared above, I’m gripped by a grander vision. Of seeing work as worship and bringing the presence of God to the marketplace. But also to keep running hard in music ministry, to give all I’ve got to see my worship director reach his fullest potential and for our church’s worship to transition to a higher level. Today, I feel that commitment to the cause galvanise like never before. I’m all in!

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Worship: The Centre of Existence

It’s been a while since I last posted. Life has just gotten really busy. But I recently had to do some assignments for Metro Worship Academy. I haven’t written assignments in years! My friend Kelwin says that they should call them “adventures”, rather than “assignments”. We will see…

In an interview with the Canberra Times[1], former lead singer of KISS, Gene Simmons, professing to once being religious, reveals his objection to the worship of the Christian God. “Why,” he asks, “would this God who is very non-human want to hear his name repeated? … Now that’s a really frail characteristic.”

Simmons view discloses a perverted understanding of worship by projecting a human trait on a Being who is beyond and before created things. God’s passion for His own glory is in fact at the very core what it means to worship.

Harold Best calls it the “centre of existence”:

Worship is at once about who we are, about who or what our god is and about how we choose to live…. [A]t this very moment, and for as long as this world endures, everybody inhabiting it is bowing down and serving something or someone.[2]

The question then is: who or what do we choose to worship? Simmons failed to understand that, by virtue of His being God, God necessarily must exalt His name and glory above anything else and that “His first and central love is Himself”.[3] This singular fact is the foundation and fountainhead of created order: for the individual, society, the nations and the cosmos.  Giglio observes:

When God makes His glory the centre of all things and the center of our affections, he gives us Himself – the very best gift He could give us, and the ultimate expression of His love.[4]

In other words, it is only when we understand the centrality of God in our universe that we can fully realise our personal destiny and the destiny of our cities and nations, undergirded by the love and generosity of God in His divine mission to reconcile all things to Himself.[5]

God’s desire and passion for His own glory, manifested in His goal of reconciling all things to Himself led to Jesus’ death on the cross, which is also for Christians, the starting point of our worship.  Paul says this:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.[6]

To offer our bodies suggests that worship must be an all-consuming, continuous act (in other words, “worship as a lifestyle”) but the use of the word “offer” (in the present continuous tense) requires a direct act, a sacrifice. In one sense, whole-life worship can be very much an unconscious reflection of the way we have chosen to live, manifested in our daily choices and actions. But there is also a place for direct, intense adoration and praise.  James Macdonald observes:

We are frequently told that making a meal for your family or cleaning your car or helping your neighbour are all acts of worship. When these acts are the outgrowth of our love for God and done to demonstrate that love, I would agree that they are “worshipful”…. Worship is the actual act of ascribing worthy directly to God. Worshipful actions may do this indirectly, but when the Bible commands and commends worship as our highest expression, it is not talking about anything other than direct, intention, Vertical outpouring of adoration.[7]

So in light of this, the question we ask is: how do we worship? We must understand that worship begins with the heart, from our affections. God is not focussed on “outward appearance … but the Lord looks at the heart”[8]. Jesus puts it another way: God is seeking worship that is “in spirit and truth”[9], that is, worship that is initiated within our spirit by the Holy Spirit, and worship that expresses (and is consistent with) an inner reality.[10]  That does not mean that outward expressions are not important, for indeed the actions of worship themselves (singing, kneeling, bowing, raised hands, clapping, shouting) hold great spiritual significance[11]. The point is that outward expressions originate in inward attitude.

The result? Worship transforms us. We become like what we worship.  The Psalmist says that “those who make [idols] will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.”[12]  Hibbert observes that “worship not only changes our inner lives, it also affects the expression of our faith and service to God in the world around us”.[13] God uses us to change our community and cities, but in the midst of worship, God also supernaturally and metaphysically brings about transformation on the earth.

In Revelations 5, John has a vision of the Lamb who was slain, encircled by the 24 elders, standing as the answer to the question: who is worthy to open the scroll? As the elders worshipped with the harp and the bowl of incense (signifying prayer), the Lamb began to open the seals of the scroll. The scroll represents a will and testament, by which God bequeaths His divine destiny to the earth and all creation.  Through the means of worship therefore, God ultimately reconciles all things to Himself to the praise of His jealously-guarded glory.

 

[1] Peter Karp, Untitled Article, Canberra Times, 12 September 1999.

[2] Harold Best Unceasing Worship (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2003) p 17.

[3] Louie Giglio I Am Not But I Know I Am (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2005) p 162.

[4] Id, p 165.

[5] Paul states in Colossians 1:19, 20 (NIV) that “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.” (Note: all Scripture references are to the New International Version unless otherwise stated).

[6] Romans 12:1.

[7] James MacDonald Vertical Church (Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2012) p 168-169.

[8] 1 Samuel 16:7.

[9] John 4:23,24.

[10] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance #225: “alethia”. The word translated as “truth”, according to Strong, means “signifying the realty lying at the basis of an appearance” and also “sincerity and integrity of character”.

[11] An analysis of the various expressions of worship and their significance are beyond the scope of this post.

[12] Psalm 135:18.

[13] Vivien Hibbert Prophetic Worship (Michigan: Baker Books, 1998) p 147. 

More Definitions of Worship

Today at Arrows College, we delved deeper into the theology of worship and creativity.  I was really inspired by the first session in which we surveyed worship through the Old Testament. Because of time constraints, we couldn’t look into individual passages in much detail, but I was thinking it’d be a great idea when I get some time to properly survey the Bible from Genesis to Revelation through the lens of worship. That will be a fairly big project to undertake in the future!

Anyway, in this post, I want to consider in more detail what “worship” means.

So far, we’ve had the following definitions.

Harold Best:

Worship is the continuous outpouring of all that I am, all that I do, and all that I can ever become to God.

Timothy Keller:

Worship is ascribing ultimate value to something in a way that engages the whole being.

Here are some more definitions:

Evelyn Underhill:

Worship is the total adoring response of man to the one Eternal God, self-revealed in time.

Archbishop William Temple:

Worship is the submission of all our nature to God.  It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of His will to His purpose—and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.

Warren Wiersbe:

Worship is the believer’s response of all that they are—mind, emotions, will and body—to what God is and says and does.  This response has its mystical side in subjective experience and its practical side in objective obedience to God’s revealed will.  Worship is a loving response that’s balanced by the fear of the Lord, and it is a deepening response as the believer comes to know God better.

Judson Cornwall:

Worship is an attitude of heart, a reaching towards God, a pouring out of our total self in thanksgiving, praise, adoration and love to the God who created us and to whom we owe everything we have and are. Worship is the interaction of man’s spirit with God in a loving response

David Peterson:

Worship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible.

Louie Giglio

Worship is our response, both personal and corporate, to God for who He is, and what He has done; expressed in and by the things we say and the way we live.

Having looked at all those definitions, it will be clear to you that it’s pretty difficult to comprehensively nail down the concept of worship.

During our worship survey, our group was asked to look at Micah 6:6-8 and answer the questions: (1) What worship is; and (2) What worship is not.  Lisa, Nicky, Serene, Hilary and I came up with some profound thoughts which I will try to synergise below. So these thoughts are not mine. Rather they are the combined work of a bunch of inquisitive thinkers.  Here’s the passage:

With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

First, what worship is not.  Worship is not about offering of things or possessions. It’s not about systems and formulae and rituals. Nor is it about quantity, quality or even extravagance. The prophet asks: what can I offer? Rams? Oil? My firstborn? I think we all agree that our firstborn is one of the most precious things we can offer. It not only signifies our affection, but also our help, support and our legacy. Notice that the offer of the firstborn is for “my transgression”. When it is “me-centred”, it cannot be worship.  So you can give your most precious thing, and it will still not be worship. Worship is not about our trying to buy God’s favour.

The key is your attitude.

The prophet poses the question: “What does the Lord require?” This points to obedience to God’s requirements. Worship is therefore essentially a lifestyle of obedience which manifests in outward actions: “to do”, “to love” and “to walk”. And it is not only about our being in proper relationship with God, it is also about our right relationship with the people around us.

It is only in that context then that offerings, lavishness and extravagance, when done towards God, have their proper place, be it the widow’s mite, Mary’s alabaster box or Abraham’s placing of Isaac on the altar.

And I think it’s apt that it’s never about our firstborn, but God’s firstborn. Jesus is the inspiration and progenitor of our worship. We love, because He first loved us. When we were unable and unawakened to worship and in a state of sin, Christ died for us. So, shall we offer our firstborn? No – the suggestion is that because God has offered His firstborn, He has now paved the way for us to worship! Hallelujah!