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Come, we that love the Lord,
And let our joys be known;
Join in a song with sweet accord
And thus surround the throne,
And thus surround the throne.
WORK WORTHY OF ETERNITY
One Wednesday evening after choir rehearsal Jon and Joy grabbed their two daughters from the church nursery and slumped into the seats of their minivan, exhausted and spent. Tomorrow was a school day, and the hour was late. Jon had gone to church directly from the office, skipping dinner. They had spent all evening at church. After a quick stop at Caribou Coffee on the way home, Jon muttered to Joy, "Do you ever get tired of this? Frankly, this is one of those nights where I wonder whether it's worth it all. Maybe we should cut back and drop out of choir."
Joy was quick to respond. "I know how you feel, and tonight's not a good night to ask! But I came across an article this morning that helped change my whole attitude about music in church. The article pointed out that, in heaven, no earthly occupations will be needed, save one: church musicians.
Think about it. In heaven doctors will have no clinics, for there will be only perfectly functioning and reenergized bodies. Lawyers and judges will have no reason to appear in court to settle disputes among people who are living together in peace.
Even preachers will no longer need pulpits to win souls, for Christ will be living in the neighborhood, and we shall see Christ, and Christ shall be all in all!"
The article was right. For church musicians, earthly service comes with an implied eternal contract.
Given such a momentous task, church musicians ought to learn to worship well and lead worship well, for our worship here is a warm-up for the everlasting worship of God that is to come.
But what exactly is worship?
Worship is entertaining God. Worship celebrates God's greatness and his love for us. Worship receives God's word as it comes to us through the Bible, the sacraments (or ordinances), and Jesus Christ. It's clear that God desires and enjoys our worship and that God created all things to praise. The Bible says that all creatures give glory to God and that everything has its unique voice and mode of praise. Thunder, cattle, crickets, fruitful trees, and birds give glory to God (see Psalm 148)! One day even the trees of the fields will clack their branches together as though they were hands applauding the premiere of God's new creation. God delights in creation and in all of creation's worship. Worship entertains God.
Of all God's creatures, humans were created with a special role. Biblical authors hardly know how to express just how valuable we are to God other than to say that we were crowned with glory and honor and made just below the angels (Psalm 8: 5). As the blue-ribbon prize of creation, God made us breathing, living instruments of praise. When we fill our lungs with air and breathe out through our vocal chords to shape words and phonate pitch, when we "play skillfully" (or not so skillfully) upon the harp (think "piano"), when we glide our bow across the fret of five-strings, the Spirit of God uses that to the delight of God.
Worship is explosive and life changing when we see it, not as a means to entertain us, but as a way to bring attention to God. God delights in creation's worship. I think God even whistles along with us in our praise of him!
WHO'S AT THE CENTER?
When we gather for worship, then, our attention should naturally be directed to God. Several times, when describing worship, the Bible's writers observe God at the center of worship. This makes sense, for worship exists to praise God, the One seated on the throne (Revelation 4: 2). Worship does not first of all exist for us, but for God.
For example, when John has his vivid dream, which is recorded in the book of Revelation, he sees God seated on a throne (Revelation 4-5). This image is the center of the picture. Arching the throne is a jewel-studded rainbow comprised of rare and costly gems--imagine a ribbon of diamonds, emeralds, and rubies a block wide, miles long, and arching way up into the sky! Four living creatures are in a circle around the jewel-arched throne, each of these creatures representing the best of its species: the human (God's most amazing creature), the ox (the most humble of domesticated beasts), the eagle (the most skillful), and the lion (the boldest of creatures). In the next ring around the throne are twenty-four elders who bow down in worship. Around them assemble seas and seas of angels.
And then not only the four living creatures, not only the elders, not only the seas and seas of angels, but the entire cosmos gathers in the circle to bring a sevenfold ascription of praise to the One seated on the throne: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!" (Revelation 5: 12). Everything defines its place in relationship to God's throne. Every note of praise and every organism find its place in relationship to God. Everything finds itself in God. Worship exists to bring praise to God, who is at the center.
WORSHIP LEADERS POINT US TO THE THRONE
Worship planners, leaders, and musicians use their skill and craft to point worshipers toward God. The role of keyboardists in worship is not to bedazzle the congregation with technical wizardry or to show how loudly the organ can be played, but rather to use music to bring people around the throne. Instrumentalists serve, not to focus attention on their instruments or on their graceful bowing techniques, but to invite the congregation to join an orchestra of sound that praises the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. The purpose of soloists is not to flaunt an amazingly agile voice or to wallow in self-aggrandizing virtuosity, but to use words and music to invite worshipers to join their hearts and minds in praise of God. The purpose of worship planning is not to orchestrate liturgical acts into a laundry list of "must do" activities, but to facilitate all things so that attention points to God--and to what God is doing in worship, in our lives, and in our world. Liturgists and pastors are not emcees but facilitators used by the Spirit so that our attention naturally falls on God.