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MAKE LOVE, MAKE WAR
NOW is the Time to Worship
By BRIAN DOERKSEN
David C. CookCopyright © 2009 Brian Doerksen
All rights reserved.
Come, Now Is the Time to Worship
From the moment I "heard" the beginning of this song floating through the air early on a September morning in London, England, I knew something special was happening.
In the mid-1990s I had become somewhat disillusioned with worship music and the ministry connected with it. I grew tired of the striving, weary of artists jumping on the worship bandwagon just because worship music projects were selling more units. There was also my own shallowness as I compared myself with some of those artists. Looking back, I can see that I was passing through a patch of wilderness; God desired to break me in different ways so He could use me in new ways.
In the previous five years, I had experienced some successes with songs and recording projects (all of which were a surprise) and some failures, too (not a huge surprise but still discouraging!). I had also spent a good portion of those years pursuing a dream to communicate the Father-heart of God through music and story in a musical called Father's House. The project collapsed for several reasons at the end of 1996. In the process I reached a low point, a point where I was not even sure I believed in God anymore. Or maybe I believed in God but had decided He simply wound up the universe and for the most part abandoned us to sort ourselves out. Rather than finding a figurative corner to "suck my thumb" and feel sorry for myself after the musical collapsed, I decided to try to find a place in the church where I could serve someone else's vision for a few seasons, rather than try to keep my own visions alive. And so God, in His great compassion for my family and my wife, Joyce, moved us to England.
I was given two jobs upon arrival. The first was as the worship pastor at the South West London Vineyard under the leadership of John and Eleanor Mumford. The second one involved training songwriters and worship leaders in the Vineyard movement throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland. There were about seventy-five Vineyard churches in the United Kingdom and Ireland at that time.
It was challenging to do a good job leading worship when so much of my heart was still ravaged by confusion and disappointment. But I had served long enough in the church to know how to effectively gather up people in the presence of God through intimate worship, and so I just got on with it, believing that eventually my feelings and the restoration of my heart would follow. I do remember a few times when I gulped rather deeply before getting up to lead worship, wondering if God might strike me down for leading in public, when privately I was having doubts about His very existence—or at the least, doubts about His goodness and whether He was actively intervening on behalf of His children. Yet where else could I turn? I knew enough about the other major philosophies and religions to know that nothing else really made sense of life and death, nor satisfied my heart and awakened my spirit.
Most mornings I would get up before the kids to go for a brisk walk. It was some light daily exercise and a chance to clear my mind before the day began. And it was also time to pray, to sing, and to speak out Scriptures. It was on one of these walks that I heard it. The idea floated through the air, and in that moment my life changed again. I tuned into what felt like the "frequency of worship"—that realm where God is completely real—and I immediately sensed the presence of God in a way that I had not for some time. I intuitively knew I was tuning into God's invitation, the invitation that goes out "day after day," as it says in Psalm 19:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (vv. 1–4)
The call to worship is unending. Its sound reverberates in every language and culture ... and I was just hearing a little part of it in English in England's capital city on that September morning. It is so amazing how big a little fragment of "God inspiration" can be!
Once the idea came, I kept singing it over and over so I wouldn't lose it. (I have heard stories of songwriters who get a brilliant idea but lose it because they don't sing it enough to imprint it or write it down or record it some way.) When I got home, I raced upstairs to the piano in the top loft of the house, and I started playing the idea over and over. I took a mental picture of playing the melody on the piano and jotted down some notes and phrases that popped into my head. In the few minutes before I left for my favorite daily job of walking my kids to school, I managed to document the basic idea of the first section of the song. I don't remember the details of that morning walk with the kids. Usually I drive them crazy by singing silly songs—whatever I see sparks a song, and I love embarrassing them by being silly. It's part of the dad job description. However, I expect that morning there were no silly songs ... just the repetition of this God-breathed melody.
Over the rest of the week, I continued to sing the song—morning, afternoon, and evening. Writing a song feels more like birthing, and it invades every waking thought.
If you had told me that this song would travel the globe, get translated into numerous languages, and be recorded by dozens of artists, I probably would have chuckled in disbelief ... but just maybe I would have said, "Yes, that's going to happen." I sensed that God was designing and building something special, and by His grace, He was letting me in on the ground floor.
About a week later I felt like the song was basically finished. That's pretty quick for me—sometimes I take months with songs as they go through multiple drafts. The next Sunday I tried the song out at our home church: the SW London Vineyard.
The song connected right away. In fact it seemed only a few weeks later that I heard that the song was already being used in South Africa. Often people interested in or connected to the Vineyard Movement would visit our church as they passed through London, sometimes taking songs with them as they headed home to other places. I was amazed to hear that the song had already traveled to the other side of the world. I had heard stories of other songs that spread that quickly, but to have it happen to a song I had written seemed crazy!
But even crazier is this: I wrote this song at one of the lowest points of my life—the point where I had failed in a big way with a project publicly, the point when private doubts raged about this whole "Christian ministry" and serving God thing. But that explains some of the lyric choices I made.
I think if someone in a season of success had received the same melodic idea and opening line, the song may have turned into something like this:
Come, now is the time to worship
Come, now is the time to give Him praise
Come, bring Him your best and worship
Come, give Him your all in glorious praise
Had this song been written by someone who was flying high, the focus may have been more on the good that we could do for God—but I was feeling broken. I needed to know that I could come and worship God just the way I was and that He would receive me even though my life was not all together. I needed to know that worship was about our heart, not our accomplishments. And so I wrote lines like "give your heart" and "just as you are before your God" because those were the things that I needed to reaffirm. I needed to know that those lines were true. That's what you are constantly doing as a songwriter—stepping back from what you have written and asking yourself, "Are these lines true? Do I need to say that in this season to God?"
Would you like to know a songwriter secret?
We basically write the songs that we need to sing. God by His mercy sometimes enables them to become songs for other people too, but we are writing the things that we really need to say to stay sane and alive! And I think that's a good thing. That's why I challenge worship songwriters to stop trying to write songs that the church around the world will sing and instead try to write a song that they have the courage to sing in their private time with God.
So I wrote the first section of the song as an urgent invitation from God. The key elements were come, now, time, heart, and just as you are. The second section of the song declares the contrast between the "one day" that is coming and this amazing treasure we receive when we choose to worship God: the treasure of relationship with God.
Think about it this way: Worship is reality.
Being aware of God, focused on Him and in relationship with Him, is ultimate reality. Worship brings that reality into focus. One day reality will be forced on everyone. All people will have to accept the truth that God exists and that He is their Creator and Judge. The tragedy is that He also longed to be their Savior, Father, and Bridegroom.
I have received a few letters over the years from people who have accused me of being a universalist. One man really hoped I was, and he thought he found evidence in this song! A couple of other worship leaders said they wouldn't use the song unless they could change the words. The line they were wrestling with was "still the greatest treasure remains for those who gladly choose You now." Some believed that because I said "greatest treasure," I was suggesting there was a lesser treasure awaiting everyone else—hence Brian Doerksen, the closet universalist.
The greatest treasure I am referring to is the treasure and pleasure of worship: a living, loving relationship with God. I had no intention of implying that those who reject God will get the treasure of eternal life as well. After a few years of answering this question, I am beginning to see how someone could stretch my words to head in that direction; it just never entered my mind, nor did it enter the minds of the theologians I tested the song lyrics with before it was published.
This is one of the challenges of writing for worship: We want to be theologically accurate, but we only have a few phrases to express an idea. Preachers and authors can take one concept and talk or write about it for quite a while! Songwriters take a large amount of material and reduce it to a few phrases that one can remember, forming it into poetic and artistic phrases that sing. If we wanted to fully explain each concept with fifteen verses, the song wouldn't make it very far.
What I was trying to say was that one day all people will be forced to "worship" God with their bodies by bowing their knees, but some are missing this greatest treasure: the experience of worshipping God willingly in the here and now, knowing and loving God and being loved by Him. Instead of living for God, some spend their days seeking earthly treasure, treasure that will be revealed as worthless on that "one day." God remains the only treasure that will always be worthy of our pursuit and devotion!
It seems that the "theological concerns" I received were really about who is going to get into heaven and how that is all going to work. I'm not sure any of us can presume to know those answers.
I can tell you this: Having special-needs sons who cannot communicate verbally has tested me on this point because they can't pray the traditional sinner's prayer. What if the deeper heart questions that God longs for us to ask are "How can I get more heaven into me?" and "How can we get more heaven into us as the community of God?" God alone will be the judge of who enters His presence. And He will be more holy than we could ever imagine ... and more merciful! So I'm leaving those matters in His hands. He knows our hearts. He will not force us to choose Him. He invites us to choose Him, and our response to His invitation to "Come" makes all the difference in this life and the next!
Several months after I wrote the song, we started planning the first of two recordings I would produce while living in England in the late 1990s. The first one became known as Winds of Worship—Live from London with an alternate title of Come, Now Is the Time, and the second one was Hungry, which went on to sell over 400,000 copies. The first recording took place on February 22, 1998. It was a Sunday evening, and we were in the Elliot High School auditorium, which was jam-packed with people. It was as if people sensed something special was about to happen. Eleanor Mumford spoke about the treasure of worship before we started the first song, and she encouraged us to worship by singing to the Lord a new song with our whole heart!
As we started the song, I sensed God whispering to me, "This is one of the main reasons I brought you across the Atlantic—to encourage and awaken the call to worship in England and Europe in this season." And the entire evening was bathed in the presence of God and charged with an energy and urgency that came from God stirring our hearts. I continued to sense that energy and urgency through the long days of postproduction—and we needed plenty of energy as we only had one week to mix the project, with some days at the studio starting at 9:00 a.m. and not finishing until 4:00 a.m.
That sense of urgency was there because of the urgency to worship. Now is the time means just that. Now is the time to choose God, to choose to love and follow Him. We don't know how much time we have left, but we do have today. We have this moment to respond to God's invitation.
This urgency speaks of reordering our priorities. It's time to return to this truth:
Worship is first ...
always has been
always will be.
It's the way we were made; it's what we were created for!
Worship is the highest privilege and pleasure in the kingdom of God. It is the response of our lives to the greatest commandment in Scripture: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30).
I wrote this song in London, one of the great cities on earth. But it's filled with people who are passionately serving other gods. These days the most common god is the narcissistic trinity of "me, myself, and I." It's a world of people faithful only to themselves, yet made in the image of God, created to worship YHWH. Some activists have declared that this generation can end extreme poverty with our technology and wealth. What a fantastic goal! There is only one challenge: When you have a world of people who are self-absorbed, serving and worshipping themselves and protecting their own rights at any costs, how can we see poverty ended? The only way to see poverty destroyed is to destroy the idolatry that is its root cause.
That's one of the main reasons why there is such urgency to the call to worship that God is sounding. So much hangs in the balance. Those of us who have been called by God to sound this call often come under intense attack. That's one of the reasons why having a "prayer shield" is so vital. Pam Dyck, who leads my team of intercessors, shared this with me recently: "Satan hates what we do when we worship God, for when we embrace the calling to be 'lead worshippers,' we are doing what Satan abandoned." Many theologians believe that there is evidence in Scripture that Satan was a beautiful angel specifically created to direct the worship around the throne to God, until he desired the worship for himself. Of course, we won't know in this life exactly what happened eons ago when Lucifer fell, but we do know that Satan longs to be worshipped—behind all bondage and every false religion is the "father of lies" craving what belongs to God alone.
And so our calling is to clearly and urgently sound the call to worship God. And what is the core of that calling? Nothing less than our hearts—loving God with all of who we are!
And if worship is first and foremost a matter of the heart, it's not about where we worship or what we look like when we worship. It's not a performance for God. It's a surrender of love to God, just the way we are.
It's time to worship.
The word time reminds us that we are in the season of worship that God is releasing on the earth. Some people believe that the modern worship music movement "discovered" worship in the last few decades. I think that's proud and ridiculous! I believe that Jesus inaugurated these days when He arrived a short 2,000 years ago, and even Jesus the Son of Man was building upon the worship of the millennium before Him, which included the Davidic house of worship.
Listen to Jesus' words recorded in John 4:
A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth. (vv. 23–24)
Excerpted from MAKE LOVE, MAKE WAR by BRIAN DOERKSEN. Copyright © 2009 Brian Doerksen. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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