If I’m honest, I often feel like I fail more than I succeed at being both a worshiper and worship leader. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I’ve got this ever-wandering heart that can manufacture sin and fashion an idol out of just about any raw material–including worship.
I’ve had many interesting conversations with people over the years that all give me the sense that we Christians tend to, either consciously or sub-consciously, use our experience in worship as a spiritual barometer. If worship was amazing, moving, powerful, and life-changing, we feel pretty good about ourselves and our state before God. If worship was laborious, taxing, stoic, and shallow, we often (if we’re not criticizing the worship leaders and planners for a crummy service) turn inward and blame it on a week riddled with sin, staying up too late on Saturday night, or not cultivating the private life of piety we should.
As a worship leader, I confess to these ups and downs on a regular basis. I confess my spiritual bipolarity–great services send me into euphoria; ho-hum services make me miserable. Worse yet, bad services make me feel like there’s something wrong between me and God. Lord, have mercy.
Shortly after the Doxology and Theology Conference this past November, God spoke a liberating Word into my heart about all of this. It’s something I know, but I heard it in a fresh, freeing, and more deeply eye-opening way. The conference handed out Ron Man’s excellent little exegetical treatise Proclamation and Praise: Hebrews 2:12 and the Christology of Worship, which pointed me to this truth from Hebrews 2:11-12:
So Jesus is not ashamed to call [us] brothers and sisters. He says,
“I will declare Your name to my brothers and sisters;
In the presence of the congregation I will sing Your praises.”
I’ve read this passage many times. It’s never made me weep with joy until now. Of the many things I receive, imputed to me from Jesus’ perfect life, I receive His worship. Jesus was an earth-bound worshiper of God at one time, just like me. Jesus regularly went to church (the corporate worship of the synagogue) and worshiped, just like me. Jesus prayed the prayers and engaged the liturgy and elements of worship, just like me. He listened to the teaching/preaching/exposition of the Word, just like me. Jesus sang hymns, just like me. And He did it all perfectly, unlike me. And the mind-blowing good news for me is that Jesus’ perfection was for me and credited to me. I get to claim Jesus’ worship as my own. In light of all my bad worship and failed doxological record, that, my friends, is called a get out of jail free card.
Greater than that, Hebrews 2:12 tells me something even more profound. It tells me that while I’m praising God with the assembly–“in the presence of the congregation”–Jesus stands next to us, praising God alongside us. Jesus is perfecting our worship in that very moment, too. He’s standing in our midst, singing, praying, and listening along, in real time, in real space. He’s also declaring God’s name to us, meaning He’s encouraging us to worship, cheering us on. He’s Prophet, Priest, King, and Cheerleader.
Nearly every Sunday now, as I lead worship, I have a kind of Braveheart experience. At the end of that movie, as Mel Gibson is being tortured on his death-table, he looks out into the mixed crowd of haters and sympathizers and suddenly fixates on a single figure, calmly moving through the crowd, eyes locked on his. It’s his wife, who had died previously and awaits his arrival in the afterlife. It’s a gripping scene. When I lead worship now, as I look out on the mixed crowd of hand-raised charismaniacs and bored stiff yawners, I envision my Lord walking among us, singing as He goes, praying as He goes, encouraging as He goes. I see Him declaring God’s name to my brothers and sisters, and I hear Him singing God’s praises amidst the congregation. And our broken, selfish, mucky, sinful praise becomes perfected praise, in that very moment.
The good news about our bad worship is that Jesus worships for us. He didn’t just worship (past tense) for us, though that is remarkable enough. Fulfilling yet another glorious aspect of His High Priestly office, He worships (present tense), in real time, in our midst. And God the Father, through the power of the Spirit, sees Him…among us, through us, around us, and in us…and He loves it and revels in it.
What freeing news. This means that whether I had a good Sunday or bad Sunday, Jesus was there, making it the best Sunday, every time. Because of Jesus, God the Father loves my worship. This is the gospel, worship-style.
Great post. This passage has also been a great encouragement and I love that this verse is also a quote of Psalm 22, sung by Christ on the cross. Something beautiful about Old Testament worship, sacrifice of Christ, new community of God all gathered together in that one verse.
Another amazing thing is that our worship, which was once unacceptable to God by virtue of our unbelief (Psalm 50:16), is now made acceptable to Him by virtue of our faith in Christ. When God granted us faith in Christ (Phil 1:29), He also made us to be priests. And our role as priests are to offer up sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving acceptable to the Lord. It is indeed a miracle that sinners such as we have been spiritually transformed into priests, and even though we still sin, our worship is accepted in the halls of Heaven.
And just as with the priests of old, we too have been washed and clothed (in Christ's righteousness), making us fit to enter into worship with God. It is a glorious thing He has done in us.
1Pe 2:4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,
1Pe 2:5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
1Pe 2:6 For it stands in Scripture: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame."
1Pe 2:7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,"
1Pe 2:8 and "A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
1Pe 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Great Zac! From a poem by James Montgomery I received great encouragement along a similar line in realizing that I get credit for what Jesus felt for us. The lines are from a poem on Jesus' prayers and when he ponders the Garden he writes these lines:
“Next, with strong cries and bitter tears,
Thrice hallowed He that doleful ground
Where, trembling with mysterious fears,
His sweat like blood-drops fell around
And being in an agony, He prayed yet more earnestly
Here oft in spirit let me kneel,
Share in the speechless griefs I see
And while He felt what I should feel,
feel all His power of love to me
Break my hard heart and grace supply,
for Him who dies for me to die.”
I love that "while He felt what I should feel, feel all His power of love to me."
Hi Zac, Happy New Year.
In part, the authenticity of our worship is measured in terms of how many lost souls, we have drawn to Christ. To paraphrase Calvin; the mind is an idol producing factory. It is all too easy for us to focus on and be, relatively, satisfied with a personal worship 'encounter of 90 minutes duration one day a week.
True worship leads to servant hood. I'm still working on it!
You wrote "This means that whether I had a good Sunday or bad Sunday, Jesus was there, making it the best Sunday, every time. Because of Jesus, God the Father loves my worship." It is not only freeing news to you, but to others as well. Sometimes I look around at the great variety of fellow church members, some singing, some raising hands, some just there; and I wonder what they are thinking at the time.
I know that I am having a "good Sunday" or a "bad Sunday" of worship, and I expect that others are in the same situation. You have confessed similar thoughts. I know from my own experience of leading worship that the Leaders are no different from the ones in the pew (where I now sit). Everyone has to focus his or her mind on the Lord or the mind finds its own path.
I am grateful for Leaders who strive to lead the congregation to focus on the Lord and to worship Him. Please keep it up, whether it's a "good Sunday or bad Sunday".
The awesome responsibility of leading worship has never been delegated to a person other than Jesu of Nazareth. He won the battle over the former leader of worship…so that designation belongs to Him alone. Super writing bro!