Worship Is Only As Powerful As It Is True

I love corporate worship.  There’s nothing like it.  It’s where the hearts of God and His beloved converge.  Where Creator and created meet, Wholeness and brokenness collide, thirst and Everlasting Fulfillment come together and so on.

It’s so much more than a nice time of singing.  Don’t you long for the day when worship on earth better resembles the worship in heaven:  lightning, thunder, brilliant lights, fire, awe-mingled intimacy, unreserved abandon (Revelation 4)…?  I know I do.

There are many reasons why corporate worship is so powerful.  One of the prominent reasons is the Holy Spirit’s love of and commitment to truth.  A number of times Jesus referred to Him as the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17).  The New Testament’s description of the Holy Spirit’s ministry and activity could be summarized in these words: revealing and confirming truth with power.

John 14-16 undoubtedly contains more teaching on the Holy Spirit’s ministry than any other part of Scripture.  In this section we find statements like, “He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (14:26),” “He will bear witness about me (15:26),” “He will convict the world (16:8),” “He will guide you into all truth (16:13),” “He will take what is mine and declare it to you (16:14).”

Aren’t you thankful for Him?  I love the Holy Spirit so much.  The only reason the Church has lasted thousands of years after Jesus’ ascension is that He didn’t leave us as orphans, but came to us through the person of the Spirit (John 14:18).

Not only does the Holy Spirit reveal and confirm the truth, but He does so with power.  He does this in two ways: internally and externally.

When He reveals and confirms truth internally, i.e. in our “hearts,” we often refer to it as “revelation” (Eph 1:17) or “conviction” (John 16:8) etc…  A good example of this is when the gathered multitude was “cut to the heart” in response to Peter’s prophetic preaching in Acts 2.  Their response to his message didn’t result from “good reasoning” but from the Holy Spirit confirming the truth in Peter’s message with power in their hearts.

When the Holy Spirit reveals and confirms truth externally, we often refer to it as “signs and wonders” (Acts. 14:3), “miracles,” or “gifts of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12) etc…

The point is this:  Whether edifying the believer or convicting the unbeliever, the Holy Spirit is committed to revealing and confirming truth with His power, both internally and externally.  In a world swirling with different ideas, opinions, beliefs, lies, voices, etc… the confirming power of the Holy Spirit is the only thing that will shine a light on the true path, saying, “This is the way!  Walk in it!”

Back to worship.  There’s power on and in our worship when the Holy Spirit is active among us, revealing and confirming with power the truths we are singing, declaring, and praying.  Corporate worship is the place where doctrine becomes experience.  We believe we are forgiven of sin, but when we come together and sing about the cross and God’s forgiveness, the Holy Spirit releases His power on those truths and we can actually experience forgiveness in our hearts.

Worship is only as powerful as it is true.

Worship leaders, how much truth does the Holy Spirit have to work with in the worship experiences we design?  Is there room for more?

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4 Ways “You Can All Prophesy” In Worship

The Apostle Paul makes an incredible statement in the fourteenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthian church: “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and be encouraged” (v. 31). Wow. All really does means all.

So, how do we all prophesy when we come together? I’m sure there are hundreds of answers to this question but I’ll share four here.

However, before doing so it may be necessary to explain my use of the word “prophesy” in this post.

The word “prophesy” and it’s derivatives are used hundreds of times in the Bible. The “container” and the “content” of a prophecy in the Bible varies from use to use.

For instance, as far as a prophecy’s “container,” sometimes it’s sung, spoken, written and sometimes even acted out. Sometimes it’s straight prose and other times it’s in poetic form.

As far as “content” goes, sometimes it’s correction, prediction, direction, encouragement, comfort, praise and so on.

Regardless of its “container” or “content,” I believe all prophecy boils down to this: God-inspired communication.

Now on to the four ways we can all prophesy in worship.

1. Sing the Script.

To the extent that our worship songs are full of truth and our hearts are full of faith in those truths, we are prophesying when we sing them.

For instance, if we are singing the words “You are good, good ohhhhh” (John Mark McMillan’s “King of My Heart”) and we’re singing them from hearts that have experienced God’s goodness, it’s prophecy.

Jesus said, “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27). According to Jesus, the only reason we can sing the truth of God’s goodness from hearts that know and believe in His goodness is because Jesus has revealed His goodness to us. Us singing that song is “God-inspired communication.”

Similarly, if we are declaring Jesus’ lordship through a song like “Great Are You Lord” (All Sons and Daughters) from hearts that believe He truly is Lord, we are prophesying. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 12:3 that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” In other words, we are incapable of declaring Jesus’ lordship from believing hearts without the Holy Spirit having first revealed this truth us. Thus, “God-inspired communication.”

May this reality spur us worship leaders and songwriters on to ensuring that the worship “scripts” we provide for God’s people are chock-full of God’s truth.

2. Go Off-Roading.

The next way we can prophesy in worship is by occasionally leaving the “beaten path” of the song we’re singing and do a little “off-roading.” As wonderful as worship songs are, I like to think of them as “conversation starters.”

Using our “King of My Heart” example, declaring generalities about God’s goodness is powerful but it’s even more powerful when, in addition to this, we move into a place of declaring specificities of ways we’ve seen His goodness.

We can do this by singing our own words, making declarations etc… The goal is simply to bring the Lord something out of the storehouse of our own hearts.

The book of Psalms is actually a collection of David’s (and it’s other contributors) “off-roading” adventures. Those songs came out of his own heart and in response to his own personal revelations of God. These “adventures” were recognized as prophecies by the apostles and as a matter of fact, no other Old Testament book is quoted more as prophecy in the New Testament. (Someone smarter than me calculated the following: Psalms has 79 quotations & 333 allusions in the NT. Isaiah comes in second with 66 quotations & 348 allusions).

As worship leaders, we can both model this as we lead as well as provide “space” (through vamps, instrumentals, silence…) during our worship times for worshipers to leave the beaten path.

The great thing about these first two ways is that you can do these regardless of what type of worship tradition or context you find yourself in.

3. Dare to Share.

One of my favorite things about small group worship is the opportunity to hear everyone. Prayers, spontaneous songs, scriptures, encouragements, declarations etc… can all be interjected at various times and everyone can hear them and be encouraged.

With a group of 100 or more and a full band with a sound system makes this a bit more difficult and requires a bit more coordination though it is possible.

Next time you are in a small group time of worship, or in a large group time of worship where there’s space for such contributions, and you experience revelations and responses bubbling up within your heart, express your heart to the Lord in a way that others can hear and agree and thus, be encouraged as well.

As worship leaders, we can create space and invite people to pray aloud or share at various times during worship.

“I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the congregation!” (David in Psalm 40:10)

4. Pray for Someone.

A fourth way we can prophesy during the worship portion of our gathering is to ask the Lord to show us someone we can pray for right then and there. Or, just go find someone. Depending on who it is, it might be necessary to ask permission or at least inform them of what you’re about to do.

Just begin by thanking God for them and praying whatever comes to mind. I find that when I take steps of faith like this the Lord meets me with specific Scriptures or “words” to share with them. It can be really quick it doesn’t have to be too long. I can almost guarantee that they’ll be encouraged.

I’m sure there are many other ways we can “all prophesy” in worship but these are a few for you to press into if you aren’t already doing so. Please share additional ways in the comments section if you have some!

The Glue of Spirit-filled Communities

Oftentimes the “prophet of God” is portrayed as an old, hairy man living alone in a cave on a mountaintop.  Or, maybe in a van down by the river.  You get the idea.

There is some merit to this portrayal.  However, what we see in the Old Testament’s company/sons of prophets is different and, I believe, closer to what we see in the New Testament.

Within Samuel’s company of prophets, and Elisha’s sons of prophets, we don’t see a collection of independent prophets but a community of interdependent prophets.  They ministered together (1 Samuel 10:10), ate together (2 Kings 4:38), worked together (2 Kings 6:2), and at times, even lived together (2 Kings 6:2).  They were in community.  There was the mutual submission to each other that makes community possible.  They weren’t “just me and God” lone rangers.

I love this.  Not only was their mutual submission to one another but there was also submission to leadership  (1 Samuel 19:20, Samuel was “standing as head over them.”)  This submission to leadership can also be seen in how the sons of the prophets dwelled “under the charge” of Elisha (2 Kings 6:1).

As seen here, I believe prophetic communities thrive when there is a culture of submission.  This is not to be confused with a culture of control where instead of submission being a gift we offer each other, it’s something people are forced into.  That’s yuck.

Once again, it shouldn’t surprise us to find this idea of mutual submission to each other and leadership in the New Testament.  There are many verses we could look at but the ones that interest me the most are the ones that relate to the cultivation of prophetic environments.

In Ephesians 5:18-21 Paul gives instructions to the prophetic community (i.e. the church) of Ephesus about the cultivation of prophetic environments.  I’m sure most of us are familiar with this passage.  It’s a favorite among us worship leaders.  Paul names a few of the ingredients that best cultivate and sustain a Spirit-filled environment.

He mentions singing to one another, singing to the Lord, overflowing with gratitude to the Father and lastly, submitting to one another.  Mutual submission is the glue that holds a community together.  In its absence, even prophetic, Spirit-filled communities do not stand a chance of surviving.

The entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 14 consists of Paul giving the prophetic community of Corinth practical instructions on how to mutually submit to one another in the context of a prophetic environment.

He teaches them how to worship and prophesy in a way that is mindful not only of one’s own preferences and desires, but of the needs of others as well (vv. 16-17).

He encourages them to “weigh what is said” (v. 29) when a prophetic word is given.  The backside of this instruction is that the giver of the prophetic word needs to be “cool” with his word being weighed and possibly corrected.

And then comes his statement in v. 32, that “the spirit of prophets are subject to prophets.”  Whether he’s referring to individuals controlling themselves, submitting to the community or the leadership, a submissive heart is the idea here.

Friends, a culture of honor and submission is essential to the health of prophetic communities.  How can we better cultivate this in our own hearts and communities?  I’m so thankful, though at times I have to choose to be so, for the blessing and safety that comes when I am submitted to my leaders, others in my community and even those I have been entrusted to lead.

God has called us, the New Covenant Church, to be a company of prophets under His leadership that cultivate Holy Spirit-filled prophetic environments in the context of community defined by mutual love and submission.  Stay thirsty my friends!

Worship Jewels from a Moody Prophet

As mentioned in previous posts, I admit to a slight fascination with the seemingly obscure group referred to as the “company of prophets” or “sons of prophets” in the Old Testament.

We first meet this group in 1 Samuel 10 where the prophet Samuel dismisses the young and future king, Saul, telling him that on his journey home he’s going to meet “a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them” (1 Samuel 10:5).

Whenever I used to read this I would ask myself, why the music?  I mean, I love music as much as the next guy but what role, if any, did the music play in their prophesying?  Was the role of the musicians simply to make the passing of time on their journey more enjoyable, similar to a car stereo?  Or, was there something “magical” in the music that empowered their prophecies?  Maybe, but I don’t think so.  I’m sure we could keep guessing and come up with some great theories.

However, I’d much rather look for an explanation in Scripture.  Not that Scripture always explains everything but when it does, it has more weight to me than a good theory.  So, does Scripture offer any insight regarding their use of music in their prophesying?  I believe it does and that it is incredibly relevant today.  But first, we need to fast forward a couple hundred of years.

A reading of the first thirteen chapters of 2 Kings will show that when Elijah the Prophet’s young padawan, Elisha, replaced him in his prophetic office he also took on the role of leader of the “sons of the prophets”.  Elisha was undoubtedly very familiar with the practices of the group.

In chapter 3, the kings of Judah and Israel seek Elisha’s prophetic insight regarding a matter of war they had found themselves in.  When Elisha sees the king of Israel approaching, he is instantly filled with disgust and tells him to go away (3:13).  (Cue “Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift).  Despite Elisha’s lack of warm fuzzies towards Israel’s King, he has huge respect for the king of Judah so he agrees to seek God’s word on their behalf.  What happens next is very interesting.

Upon yielding to their request, Elisha requests that a musician is brought to him (3:15).  As soon as the musician begins playing, the hand of the Lord (i.e. Spirit of God) comes upon him and he gives the prophetic word.  What’s interesting to me about this scenario is that there are many other times when Elisha gave a prophetic word without seeming to need a musician (e.g. 4:16).

What was unique about this situation?  The unique thing about this situation was that the man of God was in a pretty foul mood.  Have you ever been asked to pray for someone or offer encouragement when you were in a bad mood?  It’s a bit more difficult wouldn’t you say?  Familiar with the practices of the sons of the prophets, Elisha understood the ability music had to bring one’s mood back into “alignment” with God and thus, into a posture of receiving.

Similar to Elisha and the sons of the prophets, we don’t require music to worship or prophesy but we do need to acknowledge it has powerful properties that can help us do these things more easily.  We shouldn’t be surprised to see that music is mentioned in the New Testament as an essential part of our worship and cultivation of prophetic environments  (e.g. 1 Corinthians 14:15, 26; Ephesians 4:19; Colossians 3:16; James 5:14; Revelation 5:8; etc…).

Music is God’s gift to us.  He designed it to affect human hearts the way it does.  Worship leaders, we are architects of environments and music is one of the most powerful tools we have in our belt.  Let us thank Him for it and use it to His glory and to the edification of His people.

What Hallmark Taught Me About Worship

I love getting cards from my wife and kids on my birthday.  When I open one, my eyes immediately go to the handwritten parts as opposed to the print.  Often I’ll bypass the card’s printed words altogether.  As poetic and beautiful the author’s words may be, they mean almost nothing in comparison to the handwritten scribbles of my kids and the loving prose of my wife.  Why?  Because their own words come straight from their own hearts.

I am a songwriter and there are few things as exhilarating as successfully providing others with language to help them pour their hearts out to God.  Seriously, it’s incredible.  Not only this, but I am so thankful for the many men and women whom God has gifted throughout history to provide the global Church with language to express its heart to Him.  I love the unity that is expressed when a room of 10, 100 or 1000 worshipers are singing in unison to their Bridegroom.  There’s nothing like it.

However, I believe our corporate times of worship would be incomplete if this is all it consisted of.  In the same way, if I received a birthday card from my family and only found the preprinted words upon opening it, it would feel incomplete.

In addition to viewing corporate worship songs as “unifiers”, I see them as “conversation starters.”  Conversation starters are awesome but we don’t want to stay there, right?  There are people and contexts where we do actually want to stay there but that’s not what I’m talking about.  🙂

Conversation starters like, “What’s up?” are meant to take us somewhere deeper, more meaningful and real.  They hopefully take us to a heart to heart interaction.  Or, as Exodus 33:11 describes Moses’ relationship with God, “face to face.”

Let’s put it another way.  Many of the best worship songs were written out of a songwriter’s personal encounter with God.  I am blessed by singing them but I’m not satisfied if all I do is sing about Matt Redman’s encounter with God.  I want to sing about my own encounters with God!

Not only do I find it to be valuable for corporate worship to contain both “scripted” and “unscripted” expressions, but I find it to be biblical.  In Ephesians 5:19 I believe Paul exhorts us to come together and sing songs that are “scripted,” psalms and hymns, and songs that are “unscripted,” spiritual songs.

Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 14:15-16 Paul states that when he is in a corporate worship setting he prays and sings with both his spirit and his mind.  The context suggests that the type of singing and praying he is referring to is of the unscripted variety.

A culture of worship that values unscripted worship can be cultivated by teaching it, worship teams modeling it by singing and praying with their own words and creating space for it by using vamps and instrumental rests.

I believe God experiences an incredible amount of joy when His children come together and worship Him in unison and prewritten worship songs enable us to do this.  However, just as when we receive a card from a loved one, I believe He’s also excitedly looking in the margin of our worship times for those unscripted, unpolished songs and prayers that only come straight from the hearts of His loved ones.

Thanks Hallmark!

The Yelp Review Every Church Should Covet

In a previous post, “The Power of Prophetic Communities,” I looked at how God uses prophetic communities, not just prophetic individuals, to bring “outsiders” into encounters with Him.   We can see examples of this in both the Old Testament (1 Samuel 10 & 19) and the New (Acts 2).

To whet our appetites even further, let’s look at a passage where the Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian church about the impact a prophetic community can have on an unbeliever.

In the fourteenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he gives them some practical instruction regarding their gatherings.  Specifically, he instructs them on how best to cultivate and operate within a prophetic environment.

Following the bulk of his instructions, Paul introduces a hypothetical scenario in verse 24 in which the community is assembled, worshiping and prophesying, and an outsider, or unbeliever, enters.  Being familiar with King Saul’s encounters with Samuel’s company of prophets (1 Samuel 10 & 19), and what occurred on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), it shouldn’t surprise us what happens next.

In the midst of Paul’s hypothetical prophetic environment, he describes the unbeliever as being, similar to Saul’s experience in 1 Samuel 10 & 19, ambushed by the Holy Spirit.  Responding to the revelation of their sin from the Holy Spirit they end up on their face worshipping and giving one of their very first prophetic words, “God is really among you!”

Do you realize that the day you turned to follow Jesus you gave your first prophetic word?  All prophecy is, is speaking to others what God has shown you by His Spirit (i.e. revelation).  For most of us, our first revelation was the Holy Spirit showing us our sin and our need for forgiveness.  Our first prophetic word was probably something like, “Jesus, You are Lord.”

Back to “God is really among you.”  Can you imagine better feedback from an unbelieving guest regarding your church or small group?  I simply cannot.

May your church’s comment cards and Yelp page be filled with such statements.  May your church be known by believers and unbelievers alike as “a place where God dwells.”

God’s people are a prophetic community.  When we function in the way He created us to function we create prophetic environments.  This doesn’t just happen at “church.”  These anointed atmospheres can be created in the corner of a Starbucks, on a dormitory floor, in an office break room, and any other place where two or more friends come together to share what God is doing in their lives and give Him glory.

Are we willing to expect this whenever we come together?  I say yes!

Fixer Upper: God’s Dream Home Edition

In a previous post, “Why Worship Is a Personal Matter (But Not a Private One),” I pointed out that Paul uses the words, or a variation of them,“build up” seven times in 1 Corinthians 14.  What’s with the fuss?  Why does he make such a big deal in this chapter about building others up?  Well, for one, it seems the building up of others was the one thing that wasn’t happening when the Corinthian believers gathered.

For me, a question that begs to be answered is, to what end are we to build each other up?  Or to put it another way, are we actually being built up into something?  Or is this building up simply spiritual routine maintenance that ensures we all survive another day before gathering again?

I believe the answers to these questions are, “yes” and “ yes.”  In no way do I want to minimize the kind of building up that enables us to make it another day.  God knows I need this.  And regularly.  However, Scripture teaches us that there is something bigger that is happening.  Something that is easily missed if we’re only focused on the day-to-day.

God is building something.  He is building us into something.  This “something” is far more beautiful than the mind could imagine.  Something so inconceivable that it requires supernatural revalation to grasp.

In the following words to the Ephesian believers, Paul reveals what this “something” is:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

Did you catch it?  Did you pick up the on the same “building” theme we see in 1 Corinthians 14?  Indeed, we are being built up into something.  We are being built up into a “holy temple in the Lord.”  In case Paul’s readers were to miss this, he puts it another way, “a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

He’s making us a dwelling place!  Not just a house but a home.  A place where He dwells in His glory (i.e. manifest presence.)  God has determined not only to live with His people but to live in His people.  This is where everything is heading.

Paul tells the believers at Colossae that God’s big plan (i.e. “mystery”) from the beginning, hidden until now, is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).  Jesus Himself dwelling in us!  We have this now in part but there is coming a glorious day when this hidden glory within will explode outward and our broken outer man will be transformed into new glorious bodies!  (I think the magnitude of this truth calls for that run-on sentence.)

Every time we gather, God, in His grace, is building us up.  Yes, He strengthens us for that day but there’s something bigger He has in mind.  There are blueprints in His hand and on these blueprints is a home, a resting place for Himself.

Worship leaders, God wants to use you to build His people into His “dream home.”  He doesn’t want to just dwell in a meeting, but in a people. What an incredible privilege, and purpose, we have.

If Worship Is All About Him, Why Does He Make It All About Us?

I can remember several times as a kid when my mom gave us gifts on her birthday.  Three hundred and sixty-five days out of the year this wonderful woman spent just about every waking minute serving her three rambunctious and oftentimes thankless sons.  And on the one day of the year she had every right to receive and not give, she still chose to give.  Why on earth did she do this?  Because that’s who she is.  She is a giver by nature.

God is a giver.  He’s the giver.  Several passages in Scripture describe Him as a fountain.  (See Jeremiah 2:13).  Have you ever tried to shove a pebble into one of those wall jets in a pool?  What happens?  It shoots right back out every time.  Similarly, no matter how much we attempt to give God we somehow end up with even more.  It’s the way He is.  He can’t be any different from how He is and He likes it that way.  God has given and continues to give us so much.

In the previous article, “Why Worship is a Personal Matter (But Not a Private One),” we looked at how God uses the corporate worship gathering to build up His people.  Certainly, when we come together to worship Him it should be all about Him and only Him.  But there’s this problem: He’s a giver.

Like my mom, but to an infinite degree, when we draw near to make a big deal out of Him, He finds a way to turn it around and bless us.  To put it another way, when we draw near to the infinite fountain of life and love, with our “spoonfuls” of worship in hand, we shouldn’t be surprised if we end up getting a little wet.

This is just one of the reasons why I believe it’s so important to God that His people, the individual and the collective, are built up in corporate worship.  As we set our hearts on lifting Him up, He sets His on building us up.

We draw near to Him in worship to give, not to get.  And yet, the throne we draw near to is not just a place of giving, but of receiving.  “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Love is a fountain, not a vacuum.  Similar to the loving mother who’s personal joy is tied into the joy of her children, God takes great delight in our joy.  This blows me away every time I think of it.