Worship That Honours God

Some Biblical Principles

Ajith Fernando

GUIDELINES FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP

YOUTH FOR CHRIST PUBLICATIONS

December 2009

Though originally written to the Youth for Christ staff and volunteers this booklet has principles that will be helpful to all Christians.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

 A Great Challenge

Worship Must be Biblical

Helping Worshippers to be Alert to God

Two-Way Communication

Praise

Using Bible Texts in Worship

Bi- and Tri-Lingual Worship

Joy and Edification in Doctrinally Sound Praise

Personal Response to God’s Love

Taking God’s Holiness into Account

Confession of Sin

Silence

Lament

Prayer

Praying for the Needs of Worshippers

Benedictions

Worshipping as a Body

Tongues and Revelations

Preaching

There have been huge shifts in worship styles among Christians over the past two or three decades. While Youth for Christ (YFC) is not a church, worship is an important part of our agenda. We do not have some aspects that are common in church worship such as the Lord’s Supper, Baptism and the offering. Therefore, I will not discuss those aspects of worship here. The other elements of worship are seen regularly in the life of YFC. With all the changes that are taking place it is very important that we ensure that the way we conduct our worship is biblical. I want to share some thoughts that have been burning in my mind for the past few years regarding worship. I write as one with an active interest in this subject as I often serve as worship leader in our church.

 

A Great Challenge. I think I am more emotionally drained by leading worship than by preaching. Worship is one of the highest activities humans can engage in, and leading God’s people in this is an awesome responsibility that I approach with much fear. I do not apologise for my nervousness when leading worship, because the Bible says that worship acceptable to God must be done “with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28-29). We must approach each worship experience with a fear that makes us strive to see God honoured through the worship.

 

Because worship must be conducted in order to bring glory to the all-glorious God, we must seek to design it as best as we can. The worshippers must have a strong sense during worship, that God is glorious. One way to achieve this is to strive as much as possible for perfection. If someone is operating the overhead projector or the multimedia projector for PowerPoint, that person should concentrate 100% on that task. Unless that person is an expert in what people call multi-tasking, that person may not be able to sing too much, because he or she is concentrating on ensuring that the people are not distracted by technical errors. I cannot do that at my age, so I will not volunteer to do it.

 

Most importantly, those who lead worship need to be in vital touch with God. If you are not, get back in touch before you lead or hand over the responsibility to someone else. Those who do not have a regular and vital time alone with God should not lead in public worship. I am very happy these days that the worship team in the YFC headquarters usually spends time in prayer before coming to lead. Prepare yourself personally also through prayer, confession and commitment before you lead in worship.

 

Jesus spoke about leaving the gift at the altar and visiting someone who has something against us before coming to worship, in order to be reconciled with that person (Matt. 5:23-24). If that is needed for ordinary worshippers, how much more urgently needed is that for worship leaders? If we find there is an issue that cannot be settled before we come for worship, try to settle it in our hearts with God and make a promise to God to follow through with a plan for settling the issue completely. I am amazed that sometimes people having serious issues with another person will nevertheless worship with that person without making any effort to solve the issues. Remember, commitment to Christ automatically means commitment to his body. There are some whose lack of commitment to the body results in them not dealing with fellowship and walking-in-the-light issues with a brother or sister. That lack of active commitment to the body of Christ is a sign of lack of commitment to Christ.

 

The Indian evangelist Samuel Ganesh was once interpreting the preaching of African church leader, Festo Kivengere, into Tamil. While he was preaching, Samuel Ganesh came under conviction because there was someone in the audience with whom he needed to get right. So he stopped Kivengere and went up to that person and asked for forgiveness from him. When the people in the audience saw this, they too began to go to others and make peace with them. God was honoured through the process of people meeting the biblical requirements for worship.

 

Of course, God’s grace is sufficient even for our weaknesses. If for some unavoidable reason, like not getting up for your alarm in the morning or having to help someone with an urgent need, you cannot prepare yourself adequately for worship, he will give you the grace you need to lead in a way that honours him. God lets things like this happen to us sometimes, so that we remember that our ministry is all of grace and not because of our qualifications.

 

As for worship leading, just like preaching, those leading should sense a call to lead worship. Some people may be wonderful worship leaders because of their love for God and for worship, but they may not be able to sing in tune. We could arrange for them to lead worship without their singing being heard by the worshippers. For example, we could shut off their mikes during the singing. I read somewhere that A. W. Tozer was not very good at singing and that he sometimes sang out of tune. But few people have been used recently by God to restore worship to its place of importance in the church, as much as Tozer.

 

It would be good if we can identify people who are committed to this task and have them as a team of worship resource persons in our group or church. The Old Testament Israel had people who were specially set apart to help in the various aspects of worship, including music. Worship is an important part of our programme and even our evangelism, so it is good to have a group of people who give themselves to thinking seriously about how we can be at the cutting edge of where God wishes to lead us in connection to worship.

 

Worship Must be Biblical. Christians view the Bible as their standard and guide for all their thoughts and actions (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Therefore, we must ensure that what we do in worship is in keeping with the teachings of the Bible and that people also sense the authority of the Bible by the way it is used in worship.

 

One of our great challenges is to nurture people who will look to the Bible for all their decisions. Often our folk forget the Bible in a crisis, and follow the easy way out of the situation—such as lying, taking revenge, giving into their feelings of love for a non-believer or for someone they should not be romantically related to. Obeying the Bible should become second nature to our youth. When they actively participate in worship that clearly derives from the Bible, it is easier for them to make the idea that the Bible governs the life of a Christian, part of their thinking. They have seen it in practice and participated actively in a Bible-directed experience.

 

Helping the Worshippers to be Alert to God. There is a lot of space devoted in the Old Testament to instructions on how to worship, and many of these instructions are guides to keep the worshippers’ minds alert and aware of the contents of the worship. This is why so many symbols were used in Old Testament worship.

 

What if the worship does not involve (engage) and get the attention of the worshipper? What if his or her mind is somewhere else? It will be similar to a situation when a person who has come to meet the President of a country is distracted and whistling a tune while the President is talking. Consider then, who the President is in comparison to the Lord of the universe. Therefore we have to work hard to ensure that worship is led in such a way as to keep the attention of the people who worship. We may say something to introduce a hymn or song we sing, so as to help the people to be in touch with the direction the worship is taking. That introduction however, must not be too long, as if it is, the worshipper may move from a praising mode to a listening mode. Thus our introductions should be carefully planned and brief.

 

Nowadays we often hear very loud music emanating from the “worship team” consisting of the worship leader, singers and instrumentalists. This can have an adverse effect on the worshippers. At times, the music could be so loud that the singing of the worshippers is not heard. With such an atmosphere, the worshippers could become passive listeners or very silent singers. That would hinder their active involvement in the act of worship. I have seen youth sing very loud, even when the worship team is producing extremely loud music, because they are highly charged by the mood that has been set. However, that is an exceptional situation. Generally, I believe that when the leaders produce too high a volume, it hinders the full involvement of the worshippers.

 

Two-Way Communication. Worship involves two-way communication between God and us: from God to us and from us to God. We should maintain this “principle of alternation” in worship. We speak to God through songs and prayers of praise, confession and petition; and God speaks to us through the message, the reading of the Word, the words of the worship leader, and even through times of silence.

 

Praise. In the Bible, a lot of the praise that is sung could be classified under what we call hymns. The songs in the Book of Psalms come under this category. They take a theme and go deep into it. The praise that is sung in the Book of Revelation is more like the worship choruses we have today—where one theme is repeated over and over again. Both expanding on and going deeper into a theme, as we do in hymns, and going round and round with one theme, as we do in worship choruses, are acceptable forms of meditation. For both, the key is the content: what we praise God for. It is easy for praise to become a ritual when we repeat familiar songs and phrases, but do so without paying attention to the meaning.

 

We should praise God for who he is and what he has done, as recorded in the Bible as well as for things he has done among us. The praise segment of worship should be carefully planned out so that we praise God for some aspect of his nature and work. We could choose different aspects on different days, so that we can comprehensively praise God over a period of time. In fact, worship leaders could make that an ambition in their lives—leading people to honour God by praising him comprehensively for who he is and what he has done. For example, we could praise God on one day for creation; one day for his love and care over us; another day for his power and sovereignty, another day for his justice (see the discussion on God’s holiness below), another day for who Jesus is, another day for what he has done, another day for the Holy Spirit and what he does and yet another day for our salvation. If we inform the worshippers of the theme for the day, then they will be able to worship God with understanding.

 

By praising God for the great truths of the Bible, we could teach people doctrine in a very effective way. This was how doctrines were taught to the early Methodists, most of whom did not have much education and did not grow up in religious homes—just like a majority of the youth who come to YFC.

 

Using Bible Texts in Worship. As discussed above, the Bible gives the foundation for our lives. When we use it in worship, we are making the foundation of our lives strong. Sometimes we are so interested in having people enjoy the worship that we forget to use the worship to help them become strong.

 

We could read Bible portions relating to the subject for which we are praising God. Bible reading was a very important feature of New Testament worship. If the Bible is read in worship, it must be done well. Timothy is asked to “devote [himself] to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim. 4:13). By using the word “devote” Paul insists that it should be done well. Find people who are good at reading. Some people are not good readers. If you ask them to read, you are dishonouring God by their poor reading and hurting them by giving them a public task for which they are not gifted.

 

If you are reading in three languages make sure that the people are not bored. Use your creativity to ensure that everyone in the group can be alert mentally during the reading. You could read short passages in one language, and the person who follows the one who read first in another language can come on immediately after the former person has finished.

 

Dramatic reading is another effective way of communicating the message of the Bible. This is when different people take the different characters in a passage and read it as if it was in a stage play. This is a wonderful way to get people to absorb the message of a text. Once I was travelling in a friend’s car when a CD with the Bible read in this way was being played (called The Bible Experience). It really drew me into the text. Another way we can actively involve the audience is by having two or three different people reading different verses or by having the leader read some verses while the worshippers read others.

 

Bi- and Tri-Lingual Worship. Generally bi-lingual and tri-lingual services are very boring. What a dishonour that is to God and a bad testimony to the ability of the gospel to join different peoples into one body! We must work extra hard and use maximum creativity to ensure that people are not bored at such services. Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life—a group very similar to YFC—used to say, “It’s a sin to bore a kid with the gospel.” That is a good motto to have for youth worship.

 

It is very important that we get good translators to interpret at multi-lingual worship times. These should be people who have the ability to get into the mood of both the worship and the worship leader—people who can intensely concentrate only on the programme at hand and transmit what the leader is saying, so that the worshippers can keep in step with what is happening without being distracted. If the interpreter’s presence distracts the worshippers, he or she becomes an interrupter rather than an interpreter!

 

A good service does not need to have everything said in one language to be slavishly interpreted into the other. We must look for ways to keep everyone (1) involved, (2) not feeling left out and (3) actively worshipping God with understanding, all through the service. The one who plans the service must always think of these three things. For example, we may have one song that is not available in one of the languages, but not more than that. We must look to ensure that the songs we choose are found in all the languages used in the service. We must check whether our people can sing the selected translated songs. Our Sinhala and Tamil people often find it difficult to sing many of the popular hymns translated from English—especially those that do not lend themselves naturally to a drum beat.

 

Joy and Edification in Doctrinally Sound Praise. Our security in life is because of who we believe in, and what we know about him and his ways. The world is constantly attacking our beliefs. We need to counter those false messages from the world, and equip the minds of Christians with right beliefs. One way to do this is to have our core beliefs affirmed when we worship God. Then we will have the confidence to go in to an unbelieving world and obey and serve God.

 

I fear that sometimes (not always) the enjoyment that comes from some of the worship we have today is an emotional satisfaction resulting from highly charged music. The satisfaction received is through the repetition of some common phrases and songs, and is not strongly connected to the content of what we believe about the God we praise. In other words, the satisfaction is from the form and not the meaning of what we say. As we are emotional beings, it is not wrong for people to go into an emotional attitude that helps them to experience in a deeper way the truth that is being highlighted in the worship. However, truth must always be primary—not the emotional high. We must be very careful not to allow the style of worship to become more important than the content of worship. Therefore do not use a song only because the people love to sing it. If the words of a particular song do not fit in with what you want to praise God for, then do not use it; even though it may be very popular with the people!

 

Personal Response to God’s Love. One of the most beautiful contributions of the contemporary worship movement is that people are truly enjoying worshipping God. We are people in love with God; and God gave us the capacity to enjoy. Then surely, when we have a spiritual feast with God (which is what worship is), it should be an enjoyable experience. The dominant emotion in much of Old Testament worship, is joy. Deuteronomy 16, which gives instructions on how to keep the pilgrimage festivals, mentions rejoicing on three separate occasions. Verse 15 says that the people should be “altogether joyful” (16:15). This is an aspect which some of the traditional forms of worship lacked.

 

Some traditionalists are complaining about the intensely personal tone of some of our newer worship songs. Indeed, this intensely personal, love-song type worship can be overdone. But if we are in love with God, and that love is the greatest joy in our lives, and if God shouts over us with joy (Zeph. 3:17), isn’t it appropriate that we too get sentimental and romantic about our love for God? Actually, there were many songs in the evangelical gospel song era of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which were like intimate love songs. Examples are “My Jesus I love Thee, I know thou art mine” and “I come to the Garden alone.” There was a time when I did not like this latter song because I felt it was too sentimental. But once I realised that there is a sentimental and romantic aspect to my relationship with the God I love, the reasons for not liking that song vanished. There are times when we feel like saying:

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! (Psa. 84:1-4).

 

There are times when worship leaders feel like proclaiming: “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” (Psa. 47:1). The joyous and personal praise of contemporary and charismatic worship has a strong biblical base!

 

A good example of this emotional expression of love and devotion to God is Michael W. Smith’s song, “This is the Air I Breathe.” The words seem to be so emotional, but when I heard it sung in a church (by a classically trained trio). I found myself joining with the singers in yearning for more of God. The words are as follows:

 

This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me

This is my daily bread
This is my daily bread
Your very word spoken to me

And I’m, I’m desperate for you
And I’m, I’m lost without you

This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me

This is my daily bread
this is my daily bread
your very word spoken to me

And I’m, I’m desperate for you
And I’m, I’m lost without you

And I’m, I’m desperate for you
And I’m, I’m lost without you.

I’m lost without you.
I’m lost without you.
I’m desperate for you.
I’m desperate for you..
I’m lost, I’m lost, I’m lost without you..
I’m lost without you

I’m desperate for you

The same words are repeated over and over again, but with the help of a simple tune, we can find ourselves expressing a heartfelt desire for more of God in our lives.

 

Taking God’s Holiness into Account. The verse quoted previously from Psalm 47, refers to the awe inspiring holiness as the reason clapping hands. The next verse says, “For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth” (Psa. 47:2). John was the disciple who was most intimate with Jesus, as seen from the narrative of the Last Supper. In John 13:23, he is described as “the disciple, whom Jesus loved, who was reclining on the bosom [or chest] of Jesus” (literal translation). Later, however, when he had a vision of the risen Christ, he says, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev. 1:17).

 

Psalm 96:9 says, “Worship the Lord in the splendour of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!” and Hebrews 12:28-29 says, “…let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” After a vision of the holiness of God, even Isaiah cried, “Woe is me!” (Isa. 6:5). Therefore when we focus on God’s love for us, we respond with almost romantic affection and joyous love; but when we focus on his holiness, we respond with fear and trembling. Thus, worship leaders should be sensitive to the Holy Spirit to know when the people should be trembling and when they should be rejoicing.

 

We should use the holiness of God as well as his love when praising God—just as the Psalms do. For example, we could thank God for his justice and how he brings down the haughty and the oppressor while lifting up the needy and oppressed. We could even praise him, as the Psalms do, because he punishes the oppressors, exploiters, and dishonest people. We can also thank God that even though we may seem to suffer now—because of our solidarity with the needy and because we refuse to do what is dishonest—one day we will see that this was the wisest path we could have taken.

 

After praising God for his justice, we could pray that injustice be overcome in our land and in the world. We could pray for persecuted Christians in Sri Lanka and all over the world. We could pray for oppressed people, for the restoration of justice and integrity in government and public life, and we could pray for people and groups specifically working to end oppression and injustice—like lawyers, journalists, authors, academics, honest judges, bankers for the poor, government officials, politicians and organisations working towards justice and human rights.

 

Most Christians would be stunned if they heard the prayer of Psalm 94:1-7 prayed in a church today. Yet it is found in the Bible, in the book of Psalms, which we like so much and quote so often. The Psalmist says,

O Lord, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth!
Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve!
O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?
They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.
They crush your people, O Lord, and afflict your heritage.
They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless;
and they say, “The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.”

 

Another way to acknowledge the holiness of God in worship, is to ask God to make us holy. The formula, “Be holy, for I am holy,” appears five times in the Old Testament (Lev. 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7; 21:8) and once in the New Testament (1 Pet. 1:16). Hymns and choruses which express the desire to be holy were very common a few decades ago, but are not so common today. This is another shortcoming that needs to be addressed in contemporary worship. We should look for more songs like “I’ll live for Jesus” and “Refiners Fire—Purify my heart,” and sing them often in worship. Sometimes I get the congregation in our church to sing the common chorus, “Is There Anything too Hard for the Lord?” and follow it up with, “Let the Beauty of Jesus be Seen in Me.” Usually when people sing “Is There Anything too Hard…,” they refer to God’s power to answer prayers for healing from sickness or some such need. But in this context we use this common song to refer to God’s power to make us holy—a process that many do not believe is possible.

 

One of the weaknesses of some contemporary worship is that it does not give sufficient importance to the holiness of God. God’s holiness is sometimes a frightening subject. When Abraham, Isaiah, Daniel and John saw the holiness of God, they fell down as dead. In the Old Testament when people violated God’s holiness by doing something in worship that was not sanctioned by him, they were punished severely. Sometimes they were even struck down dead (see Lev. 10; 1 Sam. 6; 2 Sam. 6).

 

Recently, we have discovered that worship is a wonderful means of evangelism. When people see us worshipping God powerfully, in an intimate and attractive manner, they could be attracted to God. However, we should never tone down the serious and “frightening” aspects of worship in order to attract people to God. The result could be people accepting Christ into their lives without accepting his holiness and its implications for daily living.

 

One of our great challenges is to learn how to integrate our response to God as both holy and loving in worship. Sometimes when I hear people calling God, “Daddy,” I wonder whether they have taken his holiness lightly. Perhaps not. “Daddy” means different things to different people. The Bible talks of us being so assured of our salvation that we can boldly “cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15). “Abba” was the term children used when addressing their fathers in Jesus’ time. It was an intimate term. But in that culture the head of the family was treated with great respect. That may not be common in homes today. For us, this is a wonderful combination. We deeply love our heavenly Father, and we also respect him. There is respect and intimacy at the same time. This is a balance we must work hard to achieve.

 

The combination of reverence and loving intimacy is seen when people address God as “Almighty God, our heavenly Father,” or “Our Father in heaven.” Sometimes I get impatient with the long list of names that people use when they address God. This is particularly common in Sinhala and Tamil worship. I should not be impatient, because these lists can help prepare us for worship. They can orient our minds to understand whom we are addressing when we pray. However, they must not be used for effect because they sound impressive, and they must not be so long that the worshipper ends up bored or impatient. On the other hand, they could be expressions of the heart’s sincere desire to describe a God who can never be adequately described.

 

Sometimes for my personal prayer I use the prayers of St. Gregory of Narek, a tenth century Armenian Christian leader. He sometimes goes on for many lines in his prayers just addressing God by different names and ascribing to him various different qualities. After every time I read those prayers, I feel like I have been touched by a breath of fresh air. They reflect a deep desire to linger reverently with the inexhaustible God.

 

We are a youth movement. Our youth generally want everything to be full of energy and bounce. But we must learn to lead our youth to incorporate both respect and intimacy in their worship of God.

 

Confession of Sin. One of the direct results of remembering the holiness of God is confessing our own sin. When Isaiah had a vision of God, his first response was a terrified confession: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isa. 6:5). If Isaiah, who was presumably a godly person, responded like that to a vision of God, then we should expect confession to be a regular feature in the worship of Christians.

 

David said, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully” (Psa. 24:3-4). Paul expanded on that and said, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling” (1 Tim. 2:8). Some who come for worship do not have holy hands. They must be given an opportunity to get right with God. Without such confession, they would be seriously violating the biblical requirements for worship.

 

In many places today, the fact that confession is rarely used in worship, shows that something is seriously wrong with these groups. It may be that the desire to give people an enjoyable experience has eclipsed the desire to glorify God. Could the omission be because it is unpleasant to confess sin; and therefore it is felt that confession could take away from the enjoyment of worship? I sometimes wonder whether people have dropped confession from worship because they do not take holiness seriously anymore. Could this be a sign that worship has become a form of entertainment, where people who are living in disobedience, enjoy an emotional and spiritual high, without being encouraged to straighten out their lives?

 

There is a song that says, “Let’s forget about ourselves and concentrate on him and worship him.” There is truth there. We must loose ourselves of the shackles of selfishness, the cares and anxieties of life and the spiritual and mental lethargy that prevent us from concentrating on God. But we must be aware of the danger of people ignoring their sins and responsibilities while having a spiritual high through praise. People who need to repent or change some behaviour at home or in their workplaces, may forget about all those things and have a tremendously satisfying time of worship. After the pep pill-like experience, they could go back to their old lives and do nothing to change that which should be changed. This would support the observation of Karl Marx that religion is the opiate of the masses.

 

Perhaps we should occasionally mention what Paul said to the Corinthian church kin our worship; that some in their fellowship were weak and ill and some had died because they had participated in the Lord’s supper “in an unworthy manner” (1 Cor. 11:27-30). Worshippers must sense that they should not dare to worship God until they give up their rebellion against him and his ways. We can help people realise this by involving the their minds in serious times of confession each time they worship in community.

 

Nurturing holy people is a very serious challenge in YFC and the church today! We should use every means possible to communicate the message that people simply cannot call themselves Christians and continue in sin. A serious confession time during worship, which gives people an opportunity to examine themselves, is a great aid to holiness. More importantly, it is an essential requirement for acceptable worship that we offer to the God who is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:28-29).

 

What if you have already confessed all known sins before you come to worship? I think we can do two things. Sometimes in the Old Testament, God’s people confessed not only their sins, but also the sins of their fellow Jews. Daniel (Dan. 9:20) and Nehemiah (Neh. 1:6) prayed in this way. They confessed the sins of their fellows, just as if they were confessing their own sins. Such prayer is valid; because, according to the biblical idea of community solidarity, we are one with the people to whom we belong. We could also pray during the confession time that God will help us overcome the sins that we often commit. Just after the petition about forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray saying, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:13).

 

Silence. During worship, another response to the holiness of God is silence. Habakkuk 2:20 says, “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 says, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools…. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.”

 

Sometimes in worship, we simply remain silent in the presence of God for a few minutes. We may be speaking to God silently, or he may be speaking to us; we may be confessing sin, or we simply may be in an attitude of prayer or commitment, conscious of his presence but not initiating any physical action. A period of silence at the beginning of a worship service can help the worshippers to focus on God and prepare themselves for worship.

 

Silence may not come naturally to our youth. They are used to having some sound around them all the time. Even when they study alone, they usually listen to music. Therefore, they may respond much more positively to loud worship than to silence. This is a situation where we have to discipline ourselves to introduce the value of silence to them, though they may at first find it unattractive. Of course, we know that it could be a means to deep satisfaction and enrichment in their lives. It could help heal them of the restlessness that ruins their peace of mind.

 

A famous Pentecostal leader was speaking at a large rally in his later years. He started his talk by asking the people to remain quiet (I think it was) for about 10-15 minutes. The organisers were very nervous as there was nothing visible happening for such a long period of time. But the message that there are times when we should simply be silent before God was clearly communicated, and the people were led to experience this.

 

In recent retreats of YFC leaders, we have had one to two hour periods of silence when people are given time to be alone with God. This fits in with the biblical instruction “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psa. 46:10). These times of silence are wonderful opportunities to come face to face with God. Some of our youth and staff expressed negative thoughts about the idea of introducing these times, when they first heard about it. However, after they experienced these times of silence, most of them were very grateful. Let us use these to enable us to become more in tune with God, and also to open ourselves to him so that he can get through to us.

 

Sometimes I have seen people talking, or doing some activity or even sleeping during these silent times. That could be the sign of a serious spiritual problem. These people could be gaining so much satisfaction from activity that they are restless when there is no activity. They need spiritual revival. It could also be a sign of fear. I once heard Dr Robert Solomon, Methodist Bishop of Singapore, say that some people are afraid of silence, because in the silence, they are forced to meet God. They do not want to face the trauma of the process of God searching their hearts, as described in Psalm 139:23-24. Praying that prayer is a good way to start our time of silence before God: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

 

Isaiah observes that, “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (40:31). This verse suggests that regular periods of silent waiting for God could be a good remedy for the burnout that often occurs in the lives of people in activist groups like ours.

 

Lament. The book of Psalms was the hymnbook of the people of Israel. Fifty to sixty of the 150 psalms are laments. Laments were sung during Jewish worship. Of course, laments arise out of painful or difficult situations. There is a model for us here. When our country, our club, our core group, or our church experiences something sad or difficult or sinful, we could have a time during our worship when we mourn, or express our pain, and pray for God’s deliverance and comfort. The laments do not avoid pain; they face up to the full force of it. So there may be weeping or wailing during worship in times of distress. If a person has been hurt, then this segment of worship could concentrate on that person and on healing for him or her.

 

Worship leaders should remember that at almost every gathering for worship, there will be someone who has gone through great pain and does not feel exuberant. We must be sensitive to them. We must not make them feel like outcasts because of the pain they are experiencing. This is why it would be wrong to insist that everyone in the gathering does everything that is in the programme. Indeed, all can pray, praise, give petitions to God, and listen to the Word. But all may not be in a mood to testify or lead in prayer or dance for joy. On the other hand, focussing on the glorious unchanging truths of the gospel can minister to hurting people, by reminding them of the unchanging truths which under-gird their live, truths that are more basic and important than the temporary pain they experience at that moment.

 

Prayer. Generally, in YFC gatherings our intercessory prayer times are conducted in small groups. I think this is a good way to conduct intercessory prayer. We must be careful, however, about rushing through these prayers. Sometimes at staff devotions, we give a lot of time for sharing testimonies and requests and for teaching, and then there is very little time left for prayer. I am sometimes the culprit in such instances, because I teach for too long! Sometimes we divide the prayer requests among the members of the small group and all pray at the same time for their separate requests. This may save time, but it reduces the participation of the group in the prayers. It also gives the idea that prayers could be rushed through—indicating that it is not such a huge priority. In reality, prayer is the most important requirement for effectiveness in our ministry.

 

Since the Bible gives specific instructions on what we should pray about in corporate worship, we should regard those instructions very seriously. Here are some examples from the New Testament:

 

Praying for the Needs of Worshippers. I am discussing praying for the needs of worshippers separately from intercessory prayer in worship, because very often the two are different segments of a worship service. In the book of Luke the healing ministry of Jesus begins with him healing a man with an unclean spirit, while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum, on a Sabbath (Luke 4:31-37). He aroused the wrath of the officials on another Sabbath, by healing a man with a withered hand, while he was teaching in the Synagogue (Luke 6:6-11). On yet another Sabbath, again while teaching in the synagogue, he healed a woman with a disabling spirit. Once again, he angered the officials who did not want healings to take place on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10-17). These verses definitely give a mandate for prayers for healing to be incorporated during public worship. Considering that the Gospels present the opposition to Jesus’ healings during worship in a negative light, we should be cautious about opposing the practice of praying for people’s needs during worship.

 

Healing, of course, should never become the main focus, and it should never detract from the primacy of the Word—that is, preaching—in worship. Many of those who have a healing ministry today, extensively publicise their ministries. It is common to see posters on our roads advertising healing meetings. Some posters have pictures of people who had been healed and short summaries of what they were healed of. D. A. Carson points out that, “There is no record of Jesus going somewhere in order to hold a healing meeting, or of Jesus issuing a general invitation to be healed, or of Jesus offering generalized prayers for healing.” (in Power Religion {Moody Press, 1992}, p. 99). In contrast, Jesus often charged people to keep their healings secret (Mark 1:43-44; 5:43; 7:36; 9:30). This should be a warning to us about the dangers of organizing healing meetings, and of using the prospect of healing as the primary attraction in our evangelistic ministry. However, there is a biblical mandate to pray for healing. In fact the church in Acts prayed to God wishing that he would “…stretch out [his] hand to heal, and signs and wonders [be] performed through the name of [his] holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:30).

 

1 Corinthians 12: 9, 28 and 30 lists healing as one of the gifts of the Spirit. Those with this gift could be encouraged to exercise it in YFC in appropriate situations. However, James 5:14 shows that all Christian leaders should be regularly praying for the sick: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord”

 

Healing, of course, is necessary not only on a physical plane. We need to pray for a wide variety of needs that people have. Physically sick people often have far deeper needs that should be addressed through prayer and counselling. Here are some problems that we could pray for during worship: physical sickness, mental and emotional sickness and pain; sorrow, loneliness and discouragement, bitterness; the need to forgive someone or to repent of some sin; temptation, demon possession, economic problems, academic challenges like exams and the need for guidance.

 

When people come for prayer during or at the end of a worship service, we should be sensitive to God’s leading to know what we should pray for. I usually plead with God to give me the right words to pray—so that my prayer will be according to the will of God. We must try to be in a listening mode and receptive to God while praying. If a thought comes to the mind that we should pray about something, that thought may be from God. We may pursue that line, trusting that it is a word from God for the person we are praying for. Sometimes I am urged to pray for the person to repent of any sin that he or she might be committing. Sometimes it is that the person would trust God, or forgive his or her enemy. I have found that sometimes God does give us words that carry prophetic insight into the life of the person we are praying for.

 

I have found that this type of prayer is even more draining than preaching. Being God’s representatives before the people is an awesome responsibility. When we pray, we are acting as priests between God and the people. We should be desperate that our prayers reflect the will of God for the person we pray for. The intensity of such a quest for God’s will and for appropriate words to use when praying, can be quite draining.

 

Benedictions. In some instances, the Bible has statements that are actually words of blessing from God to the people, mediated by the worship leader. We call these “benedictions,” which is a word derived from the Latin benedicere, meaning “to bless.” The best known benediction in the Old Testament is found in Numbers 6:24-26: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” The Old Testament benedictions are pronounced on the people by the priests, in the name of God (Num. 6:23; Deut. 10:8; 21:5).

 

The most famous benediction in the New Testament comes at the end of a letter, and not in the context of worship. Paul says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14). In both these examples of benedictions, the leader represents God and pronounces the blessings as from God. He says, “The Lord bless you,” not “us,” because it is a word from God to the people.

 

The practice, common today, of ending a worship service with a benediction, is most appropriate, as it is good to send the people out with a blessing from God.

 

Worshipping as a Body. As we look at biblical examples of prayers during corporate worship, we see that the people joined as a community—as one person—to pray. When Peter and John were told for the first time not to preach again in Christ’s name, they shared the news with their friends, and then “they lifted their voices to God with one accord [NAS] or unanimously [HCSB]” (Acts 4:24). A prayer is recorded following this verse, but it is attributed to the whole group. Scholars have given several suggestions as to how this prayer could become the prayer of everyone in the group. They may have repeated the words the leader spoke; they may have expressed assent by responding to each of the statements saying, “Amen.” Whatever happened, the prayer came from the whole group. When we worship, it is the body of Christ—not a group of separate individuals—that is worshipping. This is why we call it corporate (body) worship.

 

We must try to achieve that sense of being of “one accord” in our prayers. One way to accomplish that is to avoid praying in the first person. Instead of saying, “Lord, I pray…,” we say, “Lord, we pray….” Sometimes, the word “I” comes out of our mouths naturally, as it did when I was praying with a group this morning! This showed me that because we naturally tend to be individualistic, we must work hard at entering into the biblical experience of corporate solidarity—the experience of being one body.

 

It is because of the corporate nature of worship that Jesus clearly tells those offering a gift at the altar, that if they remember that a brother has something against them, they should leave the gift at the altar, and go and be reconciled to this brother (Matt. 5:23-24). Today we have situations where people worshipping together in highly charged worship one Sunday can end up worshipping in two groups the next Sunday because of a conflict. We are having far too many splits in churches that place much emphasis on worship. We must urge people belonging to the same body to settle issues before they come together to worship God. In one of the Pacific islands, each worshipper shakes hands with every other worshipper after partaking of the Lord’s Supper. This way they make sure that those who worship do so with the spiritual unity that is necessary for a body to be healthy.

 

Sadly, the evangelical movement is very weak in its understanding of what it means to be the body of Christ. We reacted to the Roman Catholic belief that salvation was through the church, and emphasised the wonderful truth that salvation is personal. But we may have taken individual salvation to an unbiblical extreme by making it individualistic. Many evangelicals think of themselves as individual Christians living their lives on their own, though they are in fellowship with other Christians. We do not have that sense of being a body—where what one says and does is actually what the other members in the body say and do.

 

Tongues and Revelations. I tread cautiously on the issue of the use of tongues and special messages from God in worship, as there are different approaches to this issue in different churches and groups. As an interdenominational group, we respect the rights of people to differ on such issues. Over the years, there has been no unanimity among godly people in the church at-large. Therefore, we will not take a strong stand on this. Here, I use 1 Corinthians 14 to give us some guidelines.

 

Paul is clear that if someone speaks in tongues in public worship, it needs to be interpreted (1 Cor. 14:5, 13, 27, 28). Verse 2 of this chapter says that tongues in worship is actually a prayer to God, “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God.” Therefore, if the interpretation of an utterance in tongues comes as a message from God to the people (as it often does), then this “interpretation” should be classified under the prophetic group of utterances rather than under tongues. Clearly, Paul seems to prefer if people pray in tongues in private. However, if people want to pray in tongues while others are praying, they should do it silently so as not to distract others. Of course, they could do so audibly if it is a time when all are praying audibly together.

 

The clear teaching of 1 Corinthians 14 is that utterances during public worship should be for the building up of the believers (14:3, 4, 5, 12, 17, 26). In verse 6, Paul mentions four kinds of understandable utterances, after mentioning speaking in tongues: revelation, knowledge, prophecy and teaching. Those who teach would have been informed to come prepared to teach; so it is anticipated. A word of revelation, knowledge or prophecy is usually not pre-planned. Here let us take the thrust of the teaching of verses 29 to 40—that such utterances should be regulated, and that there should always be order during worship. In YFC, we are applying this principle as follows: those who believe they have received a message from God to be given to the people, should speak to the leaders and receive permission to present it publicly.

 

This is not meant to discouraging those who sense God has given them a message to be given to the body. Such persons should be encouraged to share what they have received. This precaution is given to ensure that it is done in an orderly manner. Soon after saying, “Do not quench the Spirit,” Paul says, “Do not despise prophecies” (1 Thess. 5:19-20). The implication is that we can quench the Spirit by despising prophecies. Nevertheless, immediately after that, Paul adds a realistic caution: “but test everything” (5:21a).

 

Preaching. When you preach, remember you are to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2). There is no other legitimate way for a preacher to preach. We are not smart enough to produce truths that will help nourish the lives of our people. It is the Word of God that sanctifies people (John 17:17). Our authority to preach comes from God’s call to us. The authority of what we preach depends on how much of it comes from the Word of God.

 

If you preach without basing what you say on the Word of God, that is a lost opportunity. It would have been better if you had not preached, because by giving an example of wrong preaching to the worshippers you have done great harm as a leader. I have heard dynamic preaching; even instances where I agree with almost everything that is said, but it lacks biblical grounding. This kind of dynamic, but biblically weak, preaching can become very popular in a youth movement. The Bible says that sanctification is through the Word (John 17:17). These spectacular messages may have some impressive initial results, but they will be powerless to nurture godly people. Make sure that every major point you make is derived from the Bible.

 

One of the great challenges faced by youth workers is to make the Bible relevant to youth. We must apply what is in the Bible to our situation today. Therefore, YFC people are students of youth and of the world that they live in. We must be aware of the trends in the youth world. We must know the challenges our youth face, and we must be working to help people in their walk with God. This is one reason why we do not permit those who do not have a personal ministry to preach in YFC. When we get to know what the youth go through, we must take pains to ensure that we apply what the Bible teaches to their lives.

 

In order to diligently apply the Word, those who preach must live close to people and to the Bible. They must read the Bible daily and study it diligently. Paul told Timothy: “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained [literally nourished] in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed” (1 Tim. 4:6). Of course, if you are not studying the Word you cannot get away for long in a youth movement. Our youth will sense that you do not have anything fresh to say. They will get bored by your teaching and start to complain. Sadly, sometimes we have our youth complaining that there is no solid substance in the teaching of some senior YFC leaders.

 

 

MAY THE ONLY PRIMARY GOAL OF WORSHIP BRING GREAT HONOUR TO OUR GREAT GOD! We will be able to achieve that do that by leading worship experiences that come from the Bible, and present biblical truths; worship experiences that reflect God’s nature of holy-love, and help our people to respond to God in adoration, praise, joyous love, listening, confession and dedication.