The following is based on material originally written by (then) Associate Pastor Tony Yeo of the Covenant Evangelical Free Church in Singapore. The article is a series of tips for worship, manly focused on corporate worship, which I have enhanced with some additional thoughts based on my experience. A future second article will focus predominantly on Vibrant Worship in a Small/Life Group setting.
How often do we lumber through the fifth verse of a hymn and wonder how we are going to do it again next Sunday, or at our next weekly small/life group meeting, much less in our personal worship daily. Yet in heaven, our chief duty and joy will be worship to God!
The quality of our worship in daily devotion, weekly small/life group meeting or Sunday celebration service depends a great deal on how we prepare for and approach worship.
“Worship is the response of the creature to the Eternal,” as Evelyn Underhill aptly puts it. In other words, in worship we make God the centre of our attention. Another I would rephrase the quote is that worship is our appropriate response and attitude as created beings, to The Creator – God. We offer to God our praise and gratitude, our confusion and confession of sin. We offer ourselves full of love and wonder, vulnerable to God’s desires for us. As we worship, it heightens our awareness of God’s response to us, assuring us of His forgiveness and comforting presence. Our cognisance of God should also extend to him healing us, embracing us, teaching us, and sending us out to serve His will.
In focusing on God, we proclaim to each other and the world that God is with us in all that we do. Revelation 19:9 speaks of the great heavenly banquet that all Christians enjoy when Christ’s reign comes to full bloom – a feast to end all feasts. Worship is filled with the joy and triumph that Christ’s presence means even now. Worship, at its core, is responding to God. We need to learn to prepare and participate in worship as we focus on Him.
Stillness is an important habit to cultivate. We struggle to hear God and focus on Him when our to-do lists, grievances, worries, busy schedules and other distractions clamour for our attention.. Nosy minds and hearts drown out God’s voice and hinder our ability to worship. We need stillness. But we can hardly expect to be still if the only time we have for worship is during our Sunday service. We must cultivate inner stillness not just on Sundays, but also during the week – beyond even worship time in small/life groups. Consistent and regular prayer, meditation and private worship are important building blocks upon which our corporate and public worship of God must come forth.
Worship is to hear God speaking to us. Staying alert to God is as someone put it, “practicing the presence of God”. We need to steadily develop the habit of consciously looking for God at work in our lives and welcoming His nearness. This will not only bring joy during the week but prepares us to worship with our brothers and sisters during life group meetings and at Sunday worship service. Staying alert to God and the Holy Spirit deepens our worship experience.
It is God who enables and prompts our praise. It is He who teaches us how to “worship Him in spirit and in truth”. Ask God to teach us and lead us into depths of worship that we long for, but have not yet known. The One who calls you to worship Him will guide you Himself in worship.
In part, it is God’s spirit that joins you in worship that enables even a familiar song have a freshness and newness to it. In this way, God enhances the worship experience by making even old songs have the feeling of singing to the Lord a new song (Psalm 96:1).
Attitude of Expectancy
The One who is enthroned on the praises of Israel (Psalm 22:3) will delight to reign in our praises. Worship is more a gift than an achievement – it is a gift that God is eager to give us. Christ will meet every eager heart in worship. Read and ponder Scripture passages or reflect on themes to enhance one’s readiness to hear and participate in worship.
When we expect God’s presence in a time of worship we live out Acts 1:3-11. In this period of the early church, Jesus taught on the impending baptism of the Holy Spirit before ascending to heaven – His final instruction was to wait, and thus an attitude of expectancy was first established in the community of believers. Having an attitude of expectancy requires a balance between looking forward to the future of Jesus’ second coming and being present in the here and now.
Pray for the Worship Team/Leader
Pray for the team while they prepare to lead us in worship. Pray for them to enter worship deeply even while leading. Encourage them to know that you care enough about worship to pray for them. This can be applied to both the team leading worship at a Sunday celebration service as well as the individual who will lead worship during a weekly small/life group worship.
Each member of a worship team is a leader, even if there is a specific Worship Leader role amongst them all. Just as we are all part of the body of Christ, so too does a worship team best function when all members are connected to the head, and are worshiping as one – in sync to each other as well as to Jesus – the centre of His church.
Create Space for Worship
In the Jewish tradition, the Sabbath is set like a jewel in the week; a day eagerly awaited and remembered when it is past. This rhythm of preparing for the Sabbath and enjoying its continuing fruits helps the Holy Spirit to breathe into our breathlessness. One practical way is not to spend our Saturday evenings working or socialising too late so that we can hardly stay awake the next morning. We can also simplify the preparation practically say, by keeping breakfast simple and choosing your clothing the evening before. Arrive early at church on Sunday to enter into worship yourself even if the people around you may be prone to not doing so.
During a small group time of worship, simplify the effort by choosing LESS songs and extending them out. Instrumental times allow for space to worship, reflect, pray and connect with God. A number of instrumental songs/videos can be sourced.
Apart from the inner distraction we have brought into worship, there are external distractions such as musical techniques, sermon delivery and budding romances or family feuds to guess or observe. Instead of fighting distractions, offer them gently to God and let them go. Turn your attention back to God, in whose honour and for whose praise we have come.
For small groups, some practical ways to minimise distractions is to spend more time in preparation before the evening. Choosing less songs also means less transitions and opportunities for awkward silences, button pushing or changes in the flow and atmosphere generated by one song. If possible, try to download YouTube clips and play them offline without relying on an internet connection.
Emulate the smooth transitions that you witness and experience in a typical Sunday service. When you think about the delivery of a Sunday celebration service, the better experiences tend to be smooth and free-flowing. The Service Leaders and Worship Leaders should be working to ensure a continuity between the various segments. In small groups, one way is to get all administrative/announcements out of the way first and then allow worship to transition into a time of prayer and ministering.
Be a Participant, Not a Spectator
The spectator or audience mentality is far from the praise-shouting, hand-clapping and song-singing of the Psalms. To participate actively in worship is to sing boldly but not bashfully. Do not worry about your singing ability. This is praise offered to God, and not a recital for your neighbours. Read along with the Bible readings; do not mumble. Half-hearted worship tends to short-circuit our own worship and discourages those around us. Listen alertly to the words of the Scripture. Interact meaningfully in your heart and mind. Enter actively into the pictures of other visual symbols that are there in worship to help bring you before God. In short, be present!
Encourage Others to Worship
Help others by our active participation in worship. Be friendly and warmly accept those around us. Offer a smile, a gracious greeting without turning the gathering into a social hour. There are lots of ways we can say, “I am glad to be here with you before God.” Pray for those around you – especially for those who are downcast, troubled or distracted. Gently pray for the person and ask God to surround them with love, lift the weight of the burden, fill them with His joy and wash them with peace. This comes in knowing that God is present among us in worship to answer such prayers.
Be Thankful & Grateful
God calls us to worship and grants us that privilege. As we prepare and learn to participate in worship, it can only delight us and not burden us. It even prepares us for the time when worship is indeed what we will do constantly – and forever – a prospect we can anticipate and welcome with joy.
Acknowledge your place before the Almighty and Sovereign Lord our God; it is after all because of His love and grace that we can even approach and have fellowship with Him. Give thanks to the Lord, our Heavenly Father for sending His Son to die on the cross in our stead. Meditate and reflect on the meaning of Easter and the cross. Continue through the thought process and journey that leads us to the other side where death and sin have been conquered. As Jesus said upon that cross, “It is finished!”. Therefore, rejoice in our risen saviour and give Him the praise and glory.