Treasuring the Presence of God with Devotion
The only time Jesus declared that a human action would be proclaimed in the whole world was in response to an act of devotion (Mt 26:13). When a woman broke a jar of expensive perfume over Jesus it was an encounter of devoted intimacy, and an action that outraged some of those present. But it was a devotion that Jesus praised!
Real worship displays something of this kind of devotion. This means that our ‘worship times’ should not just function as the preliminaries or response to the sermon. Of course, when we are gathered together all that we do should be in someway worship. I certainly feel this about preaching – that when the word is being declared Christ is moving among the congregation and drawing them to himself. So the sermon is worship in the broader sense, but there is something distinct about our worship, as we offer songs and prayers to God. When we worship we are coming to God and the singing can’t be something that we are simply trying to get through in order to get to the real business of the sermon!
This means that we do need to give sufficient time to worship. I don’t think there is a divinely sanctioned length of minutes that our worship should extend for. I’ve been in extended times of singing that have, to be honest, become quite boring, because it is has felt like just singing. But I’ve also been in more traditional worship settings which have been so truncated by instructions to stand up or sit down, readings, and other interjections, that it is felt impossible to really press into the presence of God. When we worship we need to come with devotion!
Coming to God with devotion means having an expectation that worship can help pull people through into holiness. Sanctification happens in worship! A community devoted to God will help one another grow in holiness as we worship, because our worship draws us into the purifying presence of God.
This is another reason why church elders should not just delegate worship leading to anyone who can play a guitar – worship leaders need to be devoted to Jesus themselves, and gifted to help lead the congregation into the presence of God. And to make the point again, they need to choose songs that are worth singing: content matters! Devoted worship will express itself with words that help the worshippers focus on the object of their worship.
The Father is seeking worshippers (Jn 4:23) – he’s looking for them! When we gather together in worship we are expressing our devotion to the Father who has sought us out. This means our singing and praying should never be shallow or trite, but a Spirit and truth empowered pressing into the presence of God – a devoted treasuring of the Father who loves us.