Worship—A Pentecostal Perspective II
BIBLICAL KEYS TO WORSHIP
Scriptural Truth, Human Need, Divine Desire
This is the second in a series of articles exploring worship from the standpoint of the classic Pentecostal. In the first article it was established that Pentecostal worship was not a cultural entity composed of certain musical styles. Rather, it is trans-cultural and trans-generational. Pentecostal worship is worship led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. This worship expresses itself in the culture of the worshipers but wherever it is found, it is distinguished by the power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit.
The next essential of Pentecostal worship is that it is Scriptural. The history of man’s relationship with God can be described as a struggle between ritual and relationship. God attempts to establish a relationship with man and man often settles instead for an empty ritual. One of the things that angered Jesus was the substitution of man’s traditions for the commands of God.
So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?” He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men. ‘You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! Mark 7:5-9(NIV)
This struggle characterized life in the Acts story. From those who walked with Jesus, to James in Acts 15, to the Apostle Paul, the followers of Jesus broke away from ritual to find and maintain a relationship with God. Church history is the record of this struggle. What was the Reformation but a breaking away from the Roman traditions to follow the Word of God? The Pentecostal revival, almost a hundred years ago now, was another breaking away. The truth is, if we are to have anything more than tradition to pass on to subsequent generations, the truly Pentecostal church must continue to be a renewal movement. The truths of Scripture must be reborn in each generation and the fullness of the Spirit must be experienced by each generation. There is no substitute for a personal Pentecost and knowledge of the Word.
This places leaders in an important role. We must be the watchmen on the walls, constantly searching the horizons for encroaching armies that would besiege the City of God, sealing us off from the reinforcement-effect of a fresh visitation and revelation. One of those besieging armies is un-Scriptural tradition, as social and cultural ideas and motivations are mixed with biblical truth. Few things are as effective at locking out the move of God as the inertia of human comfort zones. As worship leaders (that includes the pastor–the Lead Worshiper!) we must be as bold as our twentieth century grandparents were. We must follow the leadership of the Spirit if we are to have His power!
These articles share a biblical view of worship. Armed with these truths, Pentecostal people can see the difference between culture and Scripture, the traditions of men and the commands of God.
There are six Scriptural keys to worship. This article will develop the first two and the others will follow. I call these passages keys because I believe they unlock the rest of the Scriptures concerning worship.
- John 4:23, 24 – The Human Need and Divine Desire for Worship.
- Psalm 22:3 – The Divine Response to Worship
- Romans 12:1,2/Hebrews 13:15,16 – The Sacrificial Nature of Worship
- Ephesians 5:19/Collossians 3:16 – The Music of Worship
- 1 Peter 2:4,5,9 – The People of Worship
- Ezekiel 47:1-11/Revelation 22:1-5 – The Flow, and the Future of Worship.
At first we may not think the woman at the well represents us in any way. Few of us have had five marriages and a sixth elicit relationship. But before we dismiss her as irrelevant, we need to look past the uncomfortable sexual details of her life to see the deeper forces at work. I believe she represents all of us. She demonstrates the depth and desperation of the human thirst for relationships. She sought for life in men, lots of men. We may have sought for it in churches. Some people have been through more than five or six churches in their individual searches for a relationship with God. Others seek life in physical things trying five or more weight-loss plans or exercise regimens. Still others seek for life’s satisfaction in work with many career changes along the way. This Samaritan woman was thirsting for more than water from Jacob’s well that day; she was thirsty for a relationship that would satisfy her deep in her spirit.
Her desperation is seen in her willingness to defy social mores by talking to a Jew. Notice how she jumped at the chance to taste “living water”, a concept that had to be brand-new to her. When Jesus revealed his knowledge of the intimate details of her life, she shifted the subject rather quickly to a parallel search–a relationship with God. Where and how should He be worshiped? She presented Jesus with a clash of traditions: the Jewish tradition of temple worship in Jerusalem, and the Samaritan traditions. His answer to her culture clash is the same answer for ours–“God is spirit. Those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. He is seeking people to worship Him in spirit and truth” (paraphrase mine). Whenever we are faced with a culture clash: old against new, one generation against another, one ethnic group against another, this is the place to begin if we are to make peace–God wants to be worshiped by all in spirit and truth. When God’s desires are more important to us than anyone else’s desires, we are on our way to true worship.
Just the Samaritan women reveals the need all people carry for a relationship, Jesus reveals the deep desire God has for a relationship with people. The first words spoken in this dialogue were, “Women give me to drink.” Jesus was thirsty. He had been compelled by the Holy Spirit to go through Samaria, a much more difficult and mountainous route, to get to his home country in the north. His thirst was as real as that of the woman. Today Jesus is no longer subject to the weariness of the flesh but He is still thirsty. He still makes His way to our villages, to our wells, to our churches and homes and asks, “Give me to drink.” He longs for a long drink of our thanksgiving, of our praise, of our humility, of our worship, of our adoration. Do we realize how important our expressions of praise and worship are to the Lord? Jesus said the Father was seeking worshipers and demonstrated His deep desire for relationship with His disciples at every turn.
Do our people realize this? Do they know that the Father is seeking worshipers? Would they say rather that He is seeking workers? That seems to be a more pressing need in most places but the fact is when God finds a true worshiper, He has found a willing worker. These things go together but in the specific order of worship before work (reference the Martha vs. Mary incident). The true worshiper will always have a work that he or she is inwardly compelled by the Spirit of God to do. This is always higher quality service than that done at man’s compulsion. The truth is, our worship is important to God; it is desired by Him. This casts the whole enterprise of public worship in a different light. Congregational worship cannot be called “preliminary” if it is such primary interest to the Lord. We dare not consider congregational-worship time as more expendable than time given to other parts of the service.
Would such a large segment of our congregations remain passive and uninvolved in worship if they new that worship was so important to Jesus? What answers would we get if we polled them on what they think about worship? Most likely we would get answers centered on themselves: feeling better, remembering old times, receiving a blessing, being affirmed in the most precious faith, and preparing the heart to receive the Word. The real answers are these: God is worthy of our worship; the Bible commands that we worship; we were created to worship. Our worship is for Him! Like the Samaritan women, we draw waters of worship from deep within us for our wonderful Lord. As we do so we become the people for whom the Father is seeking and we fulfill the purpose for which we were created. I am convinced that when people know how important worship is to the Lord and to us, they will begin to enter in as never before. The incident at the Samaritan well demonstrates our deep need to worship God and His great desire for worship.
The Divine Response to Worship
God always responds to true worship. There may few things in life we can count on to happen every time but this is one. He is faithful; it is his nature; faithful is who He is. Psalm 22:3 tells us how He responds. The KJV says that the Lord “inhabitest” the praise of His people. Modern translations render this “enthroned upon” the praises of His people. When we look up the Hebrew word we discover why there are different renderings. The original language seems to embrace both meanings. I believe it is safe to say that the Lord inhabits our praise and is enthroned upon our praise. In other words God responds to our praise with His presence and His sovereignty.
Historically, the real presence of the Lord Jesus has been the hallmark of the Pentecostal church. We have been a people of the Book and a people of the Presence. This sets us apart from other Evangelicals. We prioritize God’s visitation as well as His wisdom, His person as well as His plan. Our churches have grown when the Lord’s presence has been with us. The primary concern of this series of articles is the restoration of His visitation to our churches. For this reason, the restoration of praise as a primary reason for each service is vital. God in habits our praise! When we turn our hearts to Him, when we lift our thanksgiving to Him, when we proclaim His excellence and declare His righteousness, when we prostrate our hearts before Him casting all our crowns at His feet, God responds. He comes near to us. Faithful to His promise in James 4:8–When we draw near to Him, he draws near to us. If our churches need anything, we need His presence and He comes to us as we praise Him.
His sovereignty is also a Pentecostal hallmark. The Lord wants to do more than just visit us. He wants to rule over us. Signs, wonders, and miracles are experienced by God’s people when we move into the realm of His sovereignty. When His Kingdom comes, His will is done. Only He can overrule disease, despair, and disgrace. Only He can summon people to personal service that comes from the heart because of a Divine commission. Only He can rule the church with peace and productivity. The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that when we worship, we have come to Mt. Zion, the dwelling and ruling place of God.
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Heb 12:22-24 NIV
When we tune our hearts to heaven’s songs, we come before the Throne of His absolute sovereignty.
The essence of true worship is the humbling of our hearts before the King of kings. He is enthroned upon on our praise because through true worship we relinquish our personal crowns, casting them at His feet. The spiritual forces arrayed against us are routed because light pushes back darkness. The opposing kingdom is deposed by the presence of our King and our submission to Him. This provides a test for our worship experience; is the supernatural present? Are people being changed? Is the Kingdom of God advancing? True worship establishes God’s Kingdom among us. His presence and His sovereignty change us. If God’s will is not being done, then His Kingdom hasn’t come. This tells us that we may have singing but not have true worship; we may have meetings but not have real worship services. People can posture and play at what looks and sounds like worship, but if they are not being changed into His likeness, it isn’t true worship.
Do not despair; God is faithful. If we will train our people to offer to the Lord the Sacrifice of Praise in spirit and truth, God will visit us. If we prioritize His presence, we will behold his glory and be changed. It is more sure than tomorrow’s sunrise.
A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Is 40:3-5(NIV)
For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations. Is 61:11(NIV)
Dr. Steve Phifer received a Doctorate in Worship Studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. He has taught at Valley Forge University and Southeastern Assemblies of God University. For many years he was the Worship Pastor at Word of Life Church in Alexandria, VA.
More of Dr. Phifer’s materials can be found at stevephifer.com.