Martyrdom Entranced Worship ...
Since coming back from the Brighton Leaders Conference I have found that I am obsessing nearly on two things: Mission and Worship. I have never before felt such a desire "to go"! Yet John Piper's famous quote in his book, "Let the Nations Be Glad" is arresting:
"Mission is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Mission 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 in 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 ... When the flame of worship burns with the heat of God's true worth, the light of missions will shine to the most remote peoples of the earth. And I long for that day to come!".
As do we Dr Piper! An unfortunate comment was once made by a pastor I was talking to. He said; "Worship is really the cup of water before the main course - the sermon". After reading "Let the Nations be Glad" I couldn't disagree more vehemently and so would John Piper. Surely rather the sermon explains what the worship is. Or rather the object and goal of the worship.
However as I read a chapter later in the book, I was arrested by a comment that John Piper quoted regarding martydom. It was regarding a man called Raymond Lull - an 80 year old.
"His ambition was to die as a missionary and not as a teacher of philosophy ... His love had not grown cold but burned the brighter "with the failure of natural warmth and the weakness of old age". He longed not only for the martyrs crown but also to see his little band of believers (in Africa) ... At length weary of seclusion and longing for martyrdom he came forth into the open ... he was stoned on the 30th of June 1315".
His ambition was to die as a missionary! He longed for the martyrs crown!? Longing for martydom?! Who is this man? As I read this, part of my heart burnt with a desire to have his same longing - but the other part of my heart ached with fear that I simply did not have this man's faith or vision. Could I walk willingly to my certain death for the sake of the relentless advance of the Gospel? I'm not sure at the moment I must confess.
So I began reading Terry Virgo's excellent article in a previous Newfrontiers magazine on "Worship in Spirit and in Truth". As I understand John Piper, these great men of the faith - these martyrs - could go with their heads held high because they had seen Something or Some One worth dying for. My reasoning is that it is in worship that my vision will increase and I pray my faith will grow to attempt daring exploits for the spread of the Gospel. So I went through his article with my own comments. I must become a better worshipper! It was said that Albert Einstein, "must have looked at what the preachers said about God and felt they were blaspheming. He had seen much more majesty than they had ever imagined and they were just not talking about the real thing".
I believe that Terry's article is so helpful in increasing our knowledge of worship because he identifies steps or stages in worship. This is a totally biblical concept. Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote; "Do we know anything about these advancing steps or stages? As we look back acros our Christian experience, do we know what it is to rise, like this, from step to step and from platform to platform? Do we know this increasing boldness in the Presence of God, this increasing assurance and the desire for yet more and more?".
So Terry wrote:
"Worship is our highest calling. God is seeking worshippers, so converts must become worshippers ... Perhaps our worship reaches full expression when we gather corporately in our churches. It should be the climax of our week".
This sounds very similar to John Piper's argument. And how vastly different. Corporate worship should be the climax of our week compared to a "cup of water before the main meal"?
"We don’t want to be bound hard and fast with rules, but if you have no guidelines you can lose direction. 1. THANKSGIVING. Enter His gates with thanksgiving; a simple thing but genuinely helpful".
I remember for many years at my home church in Dunstable there was a huge sign in the entrance foyer. It said; "Enter His gates with thanksgiving". As children it became very normal to us, but the worship used to model that generally in church. We would always begin with thanksgiving. It was so useful because thanksgiving would enable us to focus on God whatever baggage we had entered the church with. He is God! And He is worthy to be praised! As Terry said;
"Thanksgiving is appropriate in every circumstance. People face huge problems; mortgage difficulties, family disputes, parent/child tensions. People often come in pain. It’s helpful for them to be able to say ‘in every circumstance of life I’ll praise you’ and then start adding content to declare why He is worthy of praise. So come thanking Him, honouring Him, expressing our appreciation to Him. Thanksgiving is our threshold, our doorway in".
"2. PRAISE GOD WITH UNDERSTANDING. You praise what impresses you! Don’t keep singing songs that have no content. Sing songs that absorb your mind and expand your understanding of God.".
I thought about the many times that I had come to churchs past and simply not had any desire to worship or praise God at all. This made me think - does God really impress me? Hymns and songs are so helpful when they are full of doctrinal content. Because they express some aspect of God that should impress us! Some of my favourite songs contain lines that sometimes I can hardly sing without getting emotional. The beautiful hymn, "Before the Throne of God" (sang at Stoneleigh Bible Week 1998) contains the line, "For God the Just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me". Wow! Or as another hymn says, "Amazing Love! How can it be?".
Terry then takes us up another step or stage in worship;
"3. IDENTIFICATION. Worship is enriched by identification ... we are not moved only by the objective beauty of God, but by our identification with Him; He’s my God, my Saviour. So my praise takes on an even deeper feeling and meaning ... Praise takes on greater intensity the more we appreciate our identification with this God, with what He has done for us in His Son".
I think that really touches what I experienced at Church of Christ the King on the Sunday evening before the Brighton conference. I spent two years every Sunday singing of the Cross of Christ and feeling very little. The teaching aspect to those songs was second to none. But when John Hosier said that one sentence in his prayer; "It was love that constrained the Son of God to go to Calvary" - I think I identified it! For the first time it felt I realised that the Cross is the greatest expression of love that the Son of God can possibly give. To ask for further expressions of love as though the Cross wasn't enough is nigh on blasphemy.
The next steph or stage:
"4. SHOUT TO THE LORD. Praise has to be expressed. It is not fulfilled until it’s articulated ... When I was baptised in the Holy Spirit ... I was expected to keep this new experience to myself. Ultimately I could not settle for that because praise reaches its zenith in being expressed ... When I was a young Christian, clapping in church was almost like blasphemy! Now I frequently find myself applauding God and shouting His praise alongside a ‘dancing and shouting generation’. He is worthy of praise in the way that praise is often articulated in other normal human settings, namely with wholehearted enthusiasm!".
One of the things that stirred me the most last year at Newfrontier "Let the Nations Be Glad" conference was to see Terry left alone on the platform during the lively offering dancing and clapping to the African beat and watching the masses of Mobilise that were packed around the front of the platform. It moved me because my experience has been often that as men get older their tolerance for noise and sound diminishes. Not this man! How awesome to have a father of our movement who loves to shout His praise alongside the young!
"5. ADMIRATION AND REFLECTION. That brings us to expressions of love and devotion that take us into another sphere ... I am reminded of Graham Kendrick’s song, ‘Knowing you Jesus, knowing you, there is no greater thing…’, a song that is probably often sung in private prayer as well as in meetings. I imagine that, if you were a song writer, it would be your greatest desire to help serve the saints to get close to Him alone so that their longings for God can grow! If we don’t reach genuine encounter we are missing out".
I feel that we are getting close to the kind of worship that stimulates martyrs. Genuine encounter - really being able to sing, "There is no greater thing! You're my all - you're the best!".
"6. ENCOUNTER. ‘I long for you O Lord’, ‘As the deer pants’, ‘Show me your glory’ – we are looking for moments of discovery, and carefully selected songs can help us on our way. I think sometimes we start singing in the Spirit too early in meetings. Corporate singing in the Spirit can not only sound beautiful but also lead into a dynamic spiritual experience of God’s presence. But sometimes we jump in too quickly before people are ready. That, in turn, often results in quite brief times of singing in the Spirit which don’t go anywhere.
Consequently, we can get used to periods of singing in the Spirit that are not very dynamic. Times of corporate singing in the Spirit can be breathtaking and can be the prelude to the breakout of gifts of sung prophecies, sung tongues, sung interpretations, all kinds of wealth of spiritual worship. I love that old Wimber song ‘Just like you promised you’ve come…’ I remember in the early Wimber meetings there were times when you wondered what would happen next! How often is it like that for you at a Sunday meeting?".
Yet I was amazed to find that there is one final stage - that I am sure many will not like. Yet Terry writes;
"7. INTOXICATION. There is one more step: delight and even drunkenness! The Bible says, ‘These men are not drunk as you suppose’, they were full of the Spirit. ‘Don’t get drunk with wine but be filled with the Spirit’ (Eph. 5:18). We are talking about encounters that affect you powerfully. The nearest description is this very irresponsible one of being drunk! Who would have dreamed up such a comparison? It seems outrageous! But the Bible offers the comparison. When we come together we want to taste God; His love is better than wine".
Some may argue that this is not very seeker-friendly. Non Christians may be in our midst and may be put off. Dave Holden dealt with this issue excellently at Brighton, and Terry dealt with it too in his article. He wrote;
"We must not worry that this kind of worship is not ‘seeker friendly’. I have non-Christian friends who have come to our Sunday morning worship and have said to me, ‘We just cried. What did we touch? What was that?’ When we worship we want the unsaved to feel the impact and know that God is there".
And so in conclusion;
"8. TRANSFORMATION. As we behold His glory we are being changed. That’s the power of worship. So we go from encounter to delight, to transformation as we behold His glory. We are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another. If you experience God enough you are going to be changed. So we are being changed more and more from glory to glory as we worship and behold Him.
Don’t settle for anything less. Don’t simply sing a few songs. Worship is your highest calling. Let your mind be informed; let your will be motivated; let your heart be inflamed; let the Holy Spirit draw near for heartfelt fellowship; and let God be greatly glorified.
How thankful I am to be at a church where the elders are not prepared to settle for anything less! I began this blog by writing of the 80 year old gentleman who longed for martydom. Who wearied of safe seclusion and walked into Africa seeking out those who would kill him yet needed to hear the Gospel. Could I do that? I fear not at the moment. Yet God is so unbelievably gracious! His call for me is not yet to die a martyrs death but to worship Him in Spirit and in truth - to seek encounters with Him that will transform me forever.