Dirty Worshippers, Holy Worship – Part 2

In my previous post, I talked about how a holy God still uses, indeed privileges, messed-up people to serve Him. In this second and last part of the series, I explore the theological foundations of such a paradox.

So, why do I say that in the context of worship ministry, our qualifications for those who serve should be musical skill and good attitude, rather than personal holiness? (I am not saying of course that people shouldn’t grow in holiness. We should! – because it is a sign of an ever-growing relationship with God).

The first thing we need to understand is the role of a priest. In the Bible, a prophet is someone who is God’s mouthpiece. He represents God to His people, to give direction, comfort or correction. A priest, on the other hand, represents the people before God.

Hebrews 5:1 says:

Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin.

This is why in Old Testament times, how Israel fared as a nation was dependent on the quality of her high priest. If the high priest was good, then the nation was blessed. If the high priest was bad, then Israel suffered the consequences.

Obviously, no high priest was ever perfect. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that the high priest himself was subject to weakness and so had to offer sacrifices for his own sin as well as the sin of the people (verse 3).

Thankfully, we now have a High Priest who is incorruptible, who lived a perfect life and now sits at the right hand of God. He is a High Priest, not of the order of Aaron, but of the order of Melchizedek; who did not inherit the lifeblood of Adam’s line but who was beyond and before Adam. This priest, the writer says is (in Chapter 7, verse 16):

one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.

So, as Jesus is, so are we in this world (1 Jn 4:17). In other words, just as Jesus is perfectly righteous, so are we seen as righteous by God in this world. What a reassuring thought!

This was actually foreshadowed when the law was instituted in the book of Exodus. There is much to be said about the significance of God’s design of the high priest’s garments (which we won’t have space to cover). But in relation to the headpiece, God gave these directions (Exodus 28:36-38):

Make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it as on a seal: HOLY TO THE LORD. Fasten a blue cord to it to attach it to the turban; it is to be on the front of the turban. It will be on Aaron’s forehead, and he will bear the guilt involved in the sacred gifts the Israelites consecrate, whatever their gifts may be. It will be on Aaron’s forehead continually so that they will be acceptable to the Lord.

Notice this: the gold plate on Aaron’s forehead has the words “Holy to the Lord” engraved, not written, on it. Engraving speaks of permanence. It cannot be erased or be taken to with liquid paper. This means that God’s standard of holiness is eternal and uncompromising. But, as Aaron brings the gifts of the people before God, God sees the mark of holiness on Aaron (it is “on Aaron’s forehead continually”). As a result, the priest absorbs the guilt of the people and the gifts are acceptable to the Lord.

At the end of the day, the gifts of the people aren’t holy and acceptable because the people were holy, it was because God saw the gifts through the high priest.

So today, as a musician, preacher, usher, connect group leader, event organiser, church barista, finance guru, rubbish-picker – the efficacy of your offering has nothing to do with how good you are. They are acceptable to God, and efficacious, because they go through our High Priest, Jesus, the only high priest who is forever perfect and righteous! This should give you the confidence to serve God no matter how you might feel about yourself, or what others might say about you. See yourself as God sees you; put your gifts (whatever they may be) in His hands; and let Him use them for His glory!

7 Things I’ve Learnt About Serving God

Recently, my church (Faith Community Church) has been going through a season focussed on being equipped for service. It is an important emphasis, because a telling sign of a healthy church is a high volunteer participation rate. With all the talk about service, and the mobilisation of church members into different ministries, I have been distilling a number of thoughts about service over the last few weeks.

Here they are:

1.  Service is Worship

In Romans 12:1, Paul talks about offering our bodies as living sacrifices because that is our reasonable act of service. The word for service in the Greek is latreuo which is used interchangeably with worship.

This means that we need to get our priority and focus right. Service is not about us. It’s first and foremost about God and His glory. Understanding this gives us perspective on why we serve and minimises the importance of how we serve. If we get this wrong, we fall into the realm of idolatory.

In the context of a worship team, this means that serving doesn’t necessarily mean being on stage. You can serve by helping to set up gear. This is as meaningful and significant as an ecstatic electric guitar solo in the middle of a prophetic moment.

2.  Service is by Grace

God gives us gifts by which we get to serve Him. It’s a privilege.

In the Greek, the word for “gifts” is charismata. The root word is charis, or grace. We didn’t deserve the gift, nor did we earn it. So we are really only able to serve because God empowered us to do so. It starts with Him, and it ends with Him.

Ps Jon Quay says, “the only service that is acceptable is that which is not reliant on our own power.”

3. Keep Fanning the Gift into Flame

In 2 Timothy 1:6, Paul tells Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you”. This is the first of his final charges to Timothy.

Let’s not take the gifts for granted. Keep fanning them into flame by using them. And keep fanning the gifts of others into flame through encouraging our fellow brothers and sisters.  Where you can, create the opportunity for them to serve – be secure enough to lift others onto your platform, even if they end up exceeding you in influence!

4. We Serve Both in the House and Outside the House

With all the talk of service, we tend to think about ministry within the church. I am glad that in recent years, we have discovered the important role marketplace ministers play in the kingdom of God. The removing of that separation between clergy and laity has been a significant step forward in the church’s recovery of her transformative mandate.

There’s one more frontier to cross, however, and that is the exclusivity divide. Whilst we have now rediscovered the role of marketplace ministers, we can’t help but compartmentalise ourselves. Our thought process goes something like this: some of us are marketplace ministers; others of us are ministers within institutional church.

But think about your average dad who goes to work everyday to earn a living. He does this to serve his family. When he comes home, he doesn’t say “well, I’m done for the day. I’ve worked 8 hours in my job, so I refuse to do the dishes or put the kids to bed. That’s someone else’s job!” At least we hope he doesn’t say that…

The same goes for us! We might be focussed on marketplace ministry, but this does not preclude our serving in church ministry and vice versa. We can serve both in the house and outside the house!

5. Let’s Stop Focussing on the Stage Gifts

Frankly, as a worship minister, I’m tired of people putting so much focus and attention on the so-called “visible” or “frontline” ministries. It puts too much pressure on those in such ministries to perform. And by “perform”, I mean “act in an inconsistent way because of people’s expectations”.

The way I see it, there is only a question of functionality and fit. We should in fact put equal importance on all other ministries and even those types of service which aren’t readily categorised as ministries.

Paul says in Romans 12 that we have different gifts: if it is teaching, we should teach. If it is to lead, we should lead. If it is to encourage, we should give encouragement.

I have yet seen anybody in the church appointed the HOD of the Encouragement Ministry. This is because those who are skilled and anointed as encouragers are difficult to organise into a structure and they easily fall outside of church-growth metrics. Yet Paul puts encouragement pretty much on the same level as leadership!

6. We are All Dirt

That’s right! You are a dirt bag!

When God created humans, he didn’t choose to make us out of precious elements. He formed us out of dirt! Paul says we are “jars of clay”. Nothing fancy or in fact inherently worthy.

The only reason we are worthy is because we are God’s dirt! It’s like a tennis ball. A tennis ball’s inherent value is close to zero. But put one in the hands of say Roger Federer, rub some Federer sweat on it, and suddenly the ball is capable of raising significant sums of money at a charity auction.

People often want our gift. They want our contribution. They want to use us because of the results our gift can produce. But they can’t handle our dirt.

Only God can take both our gift and our dirt and use both to glorify Him! So don’t try to serve to please people; serve to please God!

7. There is Only One Reward for Service

The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 is often used as a lesson for those who use their gifts well. If you serve God with your gifts, then you will be rewarded with more, like the servant who took his five talents and made five more.

Now here is my first thought on this: the talents or gifts in this parable isn’t a gift in the legal sense. The master didn’t give the servant a present for the servant’s own use and benefit. Rather, the servant was expected to use the talents to generate more talents, not for the servant, but for the master! This speaks of stewardship. In the legal sense, the servant was a trustee of the talent for the master’s benefit.

Secondly, the servant who did more didn’t get more reward; in fact, he was ladened with more responsibility. The master said, “You have been faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things”.

If God has given you a lot of talents and giftings, he expects you to shoulder a greater responsibility!

But notice this: the second servant also received the same reward even though he only had two talents. There is only one reward in this parable, and it is equal irrespective of whether the servant generated five more talents or two more talents. The reward is to “share in the master’s happiness”.

When I serve God, I’m not hoping he builds me a big mansion in heaven. After all, in a perfect state, I won’t care how big my mansion is. Heaven wouldn’t be heaven if there was jealousy, covetousness and comparison. My motivation to serve must be for one reward only: that I might enter into my Master’s joy! May that be your motivation too!


Heavenly Commission

David Livingstone said:

If a commission by an earthly king is considered an honour, how can a commission by a Heavenly King be considered a sacrifice?

That’s a profound thought, isn’t it? Sometimes, we serve God as if our sacrifice can somehow be held to the same light as His. Juanita Bynum once said something like this: “even if God were to stop blessing us today, it would take us 1000 years for our praise to catch up to Him.”

How can our sacrifice ever compare to His? That He would sacrifice His most precious, so that we wouldn’t get what we deserve, but instead, so that we get what we don’t deserve. That’s His grace! And yet, when asked to serve Him, it’s as if God still owes us something. So we say we sacrifice for His sake, and the sake of His kingdom.

Think about this: God doesn’t need our sacrifice! He can do everything by Himself. If we don’t do it, someone else will rise up. Remember what Mordecai said to Esther in Esther 4:14:

“… For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

If we don’t serve, someone else will arise to take our place. But what if we have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

We must see our service to the King as a privilege. Yes, it does involve personal sacrifice on our part to some extent, but God didn’t need us, and yet, he called us to such a great honour. Will we accept the call?