BIBLICAL KEYS TO WORSHIP:
Heart and Spirit
Is there anything more dead than a dead Pentecostal church? If worship “in Spirit and Truth” is worship led and empowered by the Holy Spirit, can that worship be dry and predictable? Congregational worship is a subject of much discussion today. It should be. In the public worship service the private philosophy of the pastor is seen and experience by all. In the public worship service the church meets the community. It is difficult to think of any meeting that is more at the heart of our mission than the public worship service. It is here that we corporately minister to God, to the church, and to man. Most of the meetings, study times, prayer times, and rehearsals that happen during the week are focused on the public Sunday School, Sunday morning, Sunday evening and mid-week services.
It is time to ask some serious questions about these events. How much of what we do requires no prayer or pre-planning? How much is prescribed by ‘”the way we have always done it’? Are there biblical frameworks for what we do? Is there a conflict between worship and preaching? Do our people understand the goals of each meeting? Do they understand the purpose of the music? Do we? Have we taught our people about worship or do we just expect them to know without being taught? As leaders, do we facilitate their worship or hinder it? How would our people describe our public worship to their friends? “It is exciting and powerful. You never know what will happen but you know God will be in it.” Or, “We sing the same songs over and over. You’ll get used to it. Our Pastor really is a good man.”
The questions we need to ask could go on and on. Let’s get to some answers. This is the introductory article to a series called Worship–A Pentecostal Perspective. My goal is to explore a biblical framework for worship and for worship leadership. My conviction is this: a Pentecostal perspective is a biblical perspective. I am not using the term Pentecostal in a cultural light. Pentecostal worship is not necessarily the same as worship with Southern gospel music, or African-American musical styles, or contemporary worship music, or “high church” music. Pentecostal worship is worship led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. In different cultural settings the music used will vary but the heart must be the same.
Worship in Spirit and Truth demands a certain heart, a heart that cries out for the presence of God. Here is a sampling of verses from Psalms: (NIV)
Hear my voice when I call, O LORD; be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek. Ps 27:7-8
My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king;
my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer. Ps 45:1
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Ps 51:10-11
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise. Ps 51:17
My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. Ps 57:7
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Ps 73:26
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Ps 84:2
Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.
I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart;
I will glorify your name forever. Ps 86:11-12
Issues of the heart are primary to any discussion of worship. Listen to the words of the Lord from Isaiah:
The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. Isa 29:13(NIV)
“Rules taught by mean” by themselves will never bring us into the presence of the Lord. Insincere hearts will never get us there either. Developing a heart for worship is the primary worship goal of the pastor. He needs this in the worship leader, in all the singers and players involved in making the music, in the leaders of the congregation, and in the congregational worshipers themselves. The bottom line is this: if the people have a heart to worship God, it is not difficult to lead them in worship; if they do not have this heart, it is impossible to lead them in worship.
- The heart for worship keeps us on track as we follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit. It keeps our egos in check.
- A worship heart protects each of us from our tendency to take over and control events in our own wisdom and strength.
- A worship heart is interested in building God’s Kingdom, not its own. Like the elders in Revelation, our crowns (positions, degrees, honors) grow uneasy on our heads when we are in the presence of the King. We must remove our crowns and cast them (not gently lay them aside because we will need them later) but cast them at Jesus’ feet. Humility is the essence of worship. Since worship is the act of making Jesus Lord, we must surrender all of our lordship. He is “enthroned upon our praise” (Psalm 22:3) because we have relinquished our thrones.
Dividing Soul from Spirit
The writer to the Hebrews tells of an important ministry of the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword,
it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow;
it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Heb 4:12(NIV)
Issues of “soul and spirit” are at the heart of worship. If we are to worship God in spirit, we must worship from our spirits, the deepest part of us where God-consciousness dwells, as we are directed by His Spirit. We must do so in truth, in other words, in total sincerity. This can only be done from the soul, that is, the mind, the emotions, and the memory. Stirrings of the spirit flow up in us through the soul to be expressed by the body in tears, joy, physical movement, etc. The problem is this: the soul can be stirred by other stimuli than just the spirit. Memories can cause a similar emotional response to that prompted by the Holy Spirit, as can music, ceremony, and any number of sights and sounds than the congregant might encounter. If joy, sorrow, concern, and other such emotions can be stirred without the movement of the Holy Spirit within in our human spirit, then a danger exists. We can experience emotional, mental, and physical, stirrings that may not be led may the Holy Spirit. How can we know when what we feel is generated by the Holy Spirit and not by the music, or some other human power plant?
The Word of God is the only Sword sharp enough to divide soul from spirit. Only the Word can help us see the difference between feelings rooted in self (flowing in our soul) and those rooted in the Holy Spirit (flowing in our spirit). Each of us is a product of our family histories, our culture, and our walk with God. Our strong feelings are based in one or more of these influences. As leaders we must be able to sort out strong feelings based in our own preferences from those based in the Word of God. This can be confusing but we must learn to question our compulsions and classify them. Strong feelings not based in Scripture cannot be treated the same as those based in Scripture. In this risky process our security is in our knowledge of the Word of God. If we know how God wants to be worshiped, we can know when the Holy Spirit is leading us to worship in one of those ways. If we know what God’s purposes are in our worship, then we can recognize them in the choices we make during the planning and leading of worship. Fads and traditions in worship practice can be judged only in the light of Scripture.
An essential dynamic of Pentecostal worship is congregational involvement. The power of Pentecost is the partnership of pulpit and pew. If we arm our congregations with biblical truth on worship, they will know how to be led by the Spirit also. Churches with powerful preaching, worship, and personal living impact their communities. When our congregations become informed Holy-Royal Priesthoods, fully aware of who, how, and why they are worshiping, fleshly displays generated by man will rarely happen, if at all.
This is not theory. I have lived in this truth. Since 1980, I have been the principle worship leader at churches in Kansas, North Carolina, Missouri, Florida and Virginia. Where the pastor has taught and preached on worship and allowed me to do the same, I have seen the power of the informed priesthood of believers. The best example was my longest tenure. As worship leader at First Assembly of God in Winston-Salem, NC for nine years I saw the power of an informed Holy-Royal Priesthood. Pastor McManus preached on worship. I taught a 13 week Sunday School Class on worship to all new members. I based all our music making and all other artistic activity on the concept ministering to the Lord with our gifts. The church was not hard to lead in worship. The Lord could take our carefully planned worship services anywhere He wanted because all of us were seeking to be led by the Holy Spirit. Very seldom was anything out of order. Without coordination on our part, the worship music, the choir and orchestra music, the special music, and the message routinely flowed together as if some guiding intelligence had put it all together. Why? because the Holy Spirit was that guiding intelligence. If everyone is following the leadership of the Spirit and seeking to build only God’s Kingdom, we all come together in ways far beyond any leader’s ability to plan.
It is toward this end that this series of articles is aimed: Worship–A Pentecostal Perspective. I hope you will join me each issue as we discuss these important considerations.
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.