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Hear the Sound of our Worship

Nigel Briggs

Nigel Briggs explores the differences in how we worship in public and private places.

Many years ago I found myself at a summer Christian camp with my wife’s Church. I was there not for any spiritual reasons; I was a non-believer at the time. My main aim was to look after our child and avoid everything else. For the first three days I did indeed manage to avoid everything except the campfire Coffee and Coco time (radical living) at the end of the day that happened around the tents. My curiosity was however, piqued every evening by the singing I heard coming from an enormous building in the centre of the campsite. Thousands and thousands of people would gather to sing their praises to their God and the sound would emanate throughout the site. It was my first real experience of collective/gathered worship and even as a by stander it was powerful.

The public place

There is no doubt there is something powerful about collective singing. Standing on the terraces hearing a crowd sing their teams name or hearing a sea of people at the ‘Glastonbury’ festival sing along to their favourite band is evidence enough of this. There are even some bands (U2 springs to mind) that have an incredible knack of using the music to provoke and emote almost worship like experiences. I’ve been to one of U2’s concerts and almost found myself worshipping, but unsure of what I was worshipping. The sound of gathered worship however, is something altogether different.

There is of course a joining of voices but it is the collective joining of our hearts that makes it amazing. Add to this The Holy Spirit moving throughout the room and it can truly become life changing. Our singing isn’t directed to a band on the stage, though they play their part. The songs we sing can have an effect on our response, and the journey of a worship set can help take us to a deeper place of connection with God. Ultimately however, musicians and worship leaders aim to get out of the way and let The Holy Spirit move. Collective worship in its true sense is about giving ourselves to God, “You’re worthy, and I’m not.”

I am convinced that God is a lot less worried about the songs we sing and lot more interested in the heart we sing them with.

The thing I love about Sunday morning worship is seeing how we all gather together and begin our worship from such different places. For some, they have raced to get their kids signed into their groups, others are there early laying out chairs or serving coffee. Some, turn up broken, struggling through life; some, are beaming with a newborn baby to show off. As the worship begins we are quite simply a mass of people coming before our maker. We don’t have to leave our worlds behind and pretend everything is fine. We simply need to give ourselves to God and invite Him to come and be part of our collective mini worlds. That is not always easy. I have to confess there have been times when I’ve just opened my mouth, and not my heart, during worship. It’s easy to fool people – you can still look good with a closed heart! But ultimately it won’t get you very far. Jesus saw straight through the Pharisees when they did it, and God sees straight through us when we try it.

John 4:23 “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the father seeks”

I am convinced that God is a lot less worried about the songs we sing and lot more interested in the heart we sing them with.

The private place

I’ve heard the words ‘revelation and response’ used over the last few years to describe our collective worship. As God reveals himself to our hearts we can’t help but respond. While I agree with this I think the process needs to be cultivated well before we get to church on a Sunday morning, you could almost say it should be the other way round ‘response and revelation’. The more we learn to respond the more God is revealed.

Carol Wimber in the DVD ‘Stories from The Vineyard’ tells of how the early Vineyard didn’t start by seeing God move in the public meetings. It was the private place, the one to one place, the bowed down place where they first experienced Gods powerful presence. As they each began to seek God, through prayer, singing and silence, He began to move. God chose to reveal himself in this private place first, and indeed, this is the place that ‘Vineyard worship’ was birthed. Simple heart songs began to pour out of those small gatherings and the songs then began to pour into the main church meetings. This private preparation went onto enrich their collective gatherings.

Our collective worship on a Sunday should really be an overflow of our weekly worship

I’ve heard over the years many times people say “I didn’t get anything out of worship today” or “why did they play that song?” or “why didn’t they play that song?”, I’ve even found myself saying it. It’s easy to do. We can so easily forget why we are there, and whom it is for. Often for me, when I find myself saying those sorts of things it is an indication that I’ve let my own private worship slip.

Our collective worship on a Sunday should really be an overflow of our weekly worship -not the start and end! When we try to cram all of our worship time into a Sunday slot, there’s no wonder we get frustrated. I find that if my private worship place is right then my public worship place is also right. It’s very hard to do it the other way round. If you would have said to an early ‘follower of Christ’ “we are going to now enter into a time of worship’ they wouldn’t have had a clue what you were talking about! To them everything was worship. The way they lived, and for some even the way they died. Every day, hour, minute was an opportunity to worship God and God loves it when we take these opportunities. Perhaps the truer meaning of John 4:23 is revealed when viewed this way. True worship isn’t a worship time – it’s a lifestyle, the private place as well as the public place. You just can’t have one without the other. The Father seeks not only our ‘times’ of worship, he seeks our lives of worship.

On the fourth evening of the summer camp I just couldn’t stay away any longer. I found myself sitting upstairs against the back wall of an enormous cattle shed watching thousands of people worshipping their God. It was beyond anything I’d ever witnessed, some dancing, some sitting, some with arms in the air and some on their knees. I could feel there was a presence in the air. As David Pytches called those who wanted to meet Jesus for the first time to the front, something (not my wife, although she was praying) took my hand and pulled me all the way down to the front.

That was the night I met Jesus and discovered what it means to worship your Maker.

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