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No, this isn’t a blog about human origins or creation. (Although maybe if I pretend that it is we could get a lively debate going!) I’m wondering about a different kind of life—the kind that people mean when they say, “That worship service was full of life!” or “There just wasn’t much life in our worship today.”

A musician-friend recently visited two Lutheran churches to participate in their worship services. Both churches closely follow their lectionary, so he experienced the same worship plan, nearly the same words, same communion liturgy. He was fascinated that, with so much content being identical, the two worship services felt entirely different. He said, “one was full of life, the other was not.” Using a musical analogy he said, “they played all the right notes, but it just wasn’t music.”

I’ve had the same experience in various churches I’ve served—sometimes there is a worship-life beyond what we could plan or anticipate, but sometimes it seems that the hour drags on gasping for air. Most often there have been enough differences in the content of these worship services that I assumed that “life-less” worship was due to lack of good content. But my friend made me reconsider. What if the life of worship is not inherent in the content? Then where is the source of worship-life and how can we experience that life in our own churches?

I’m not talking about “life” as equivalent to energy, speed, celebration, joy, enthusiasm, volume, etc. I think there is life in worship that can be either exuberant or reverent—and sometimes both. In fact, loud and energetic worship is not necessarily life-giving. Sometimes the volume drowns out the life and the speed races past a life-giving moment. At the same time, quiet, somber reflective worship is not always reverent. Sometimes the solemnity squashes the life out of the worship.

So if worship-life can’t be easily identified as a style, then what is it and where does it come from? Practically speaking--Who is to blame when it is not there!!?

  • Isn’t the Holy Spirit the source of life and the one who shapes our hearts and minds for worship? If this same Spirit abides in us and in our churches, why does the “life” of worship seem to ebb and flow? Is it the Spirit’s fault?
  • Is it the worship planner who selected the ‘wrong songs’ –too wordy, too old, too new, too simple, too schmaltzy, too intellectual, etc. . . . ?
  • Is it the musicians’ fault? Good music was selected but it was played without life.
  • Is it the preacher’s fault? Would one more cup of coffee have done the trick that morning?
  • Is the congregation’s fault? All the leaders have done all they can, but the people come without the heart to worship and it just falls flat.

Where does the life of worship come from? If we can find the source, can we bottle it and sell it for a million bucks!?


Mavis Moon on December 7, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thank you for this comment, Richard. I really appreciate that distinction of a "lead worshiper." I sent a link to this discussion and a snippet of your comment to my worship and praise teams, which includes our church's new "lead worshiper."

Great question, definitely worthy of  lots of contemplation and discussion...  thanks Rich, for taking the time to share your thoughts.   I too waited a few days to ponder it before sharing... I have lots of thoughts, but will try to limit it =)...  and sometimes I cringe at sharing this via computer, vs. face to face... I would so much rather have this discussion in person!  to get your feedback, your sharpening... but I'll be content that at least we can discuss it in this format  to some extent.  So, test, test, test... Don't let me get away with anything that does not line up with His Word!

I think this concept of the Spirit given life in worship is one of the reasons many (particularly of the younger generation) left the crc, even though they couldn't articulate what it was that was "missing", but they found more of that Spirit "life" in other worship services.  Now, I'm not saying the Spirit is not in the crc worship at all and that we don't have much "life", but we do have some "residue" in our history of not being real open to Him (think cessationism), as the 3rd person of the Trinity.  We're great on the Holy Spirit convicting us of sin, leading us to salvation, and maybe illumination of scripture, but some of the other areas, we've been somewhat resistant to Him (the degree and reasons are debatable).  CRC forbid (literally) that we might have experienced the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" as a 2nd blessing apart from our conversion.  This is an entire discussion in itself.  But when we (the CrC), state as a position, that basically anyone who has experienced this as a 2nd blessing, is disqualified from office, then we had better be very sure that the Holy Spirit never does that.   Because if He does, even if it's rare (Acts 19), then we could be seriously quenching and mis representing Him.   I have read and re-read Gordon Fee's position  (Gospel and Spirit; Issues in NT Hermeneutics; 1991; Chapter 7, p105-119) on this several times, which does not agree with our official position per the crc website.

   I think we/crc have to be very careful in saying that He doesn't ever do that!  Because if He does, and we say He doesn't... not good!

Ok, but Joy's asking about worship.  Well, when we "quench" and resist Him in other areas, why should we expect that He will "show" up for worship?   He often does, because He is loving and gracious and generous and He is God, and it's for His glory and our good.   I have seen Him "show up" for those who are truly seeking God.  They're not looking for a show or some manifestation (there are those who only want to see the signs and wonders - Matt.12:39), but some are truly seeking God!  On the flip side you have unbelief which limits (Matt. 17:17, 13:58), even within the Church. 

One of the NIV translations I struggle with is Psalm 22:3.  Many other versions state that He inhabits/enthroned in the praises of Israel (His people).   This concept might alter how we view our worship of Him!  Not saying the NIV's is wrong, but maybe there is another level to this that we're missing, as the original text is unclear how to separate the thoughts.

Going over Joy's questions:

Q  1  Isn’t the Holy Spirit the source of life and the one who shapes our hearts and minds for worship? If this same Spirit abides in us and in our churches, why does the “life” of worship seem to ebb and flow? Is it the Spirit’s fault?

part 1 - The Holy Spirit gives life (John 6:63) so yes.... and He helps us worship in Spirit AND Truth. 

part 2 - I think we can quench/resist Him for many reasons, not be in tune with Him, however you want to phrase it...  one concept the LORD has put on my heart is about giving Him our highest praise (Psalm 149:6 NKJV - and I'm baffled at why the word "high"/rowmemah is not in the NIV here).  Unfortunately, it seems like sometimes our high praise is reserved for our favorite sports team instead.  Not saying worship always has to be loud, but there are times it should be (Ezra 3:13, Ps. 100; 47:1, and many more =)  When's the last time everyone shouted in a crc worship service?   have to confess, I've only done this at charismatic type gatherings.

part 3 - is it the Spirit's fault?  Of course not,  If He's not "showing" up, then it has to do with us and our hearts (and our spiritual "ears"), and possibly a season of testing (dark night of the soul idea) which would be rare and more individual than an entire congregation experiencing this.

Q2  Is it the worship planner who selected the ‘wrong songs’ –too wordy, too old, too new, too simple, too schmaltzy, too intellectual, etc. . . . ?

possibly, if they are only picking songs based on what they like, instead of asking the Holy Spirit to guide them with which songs to select.  In my personal worship experience, the genre, age, style, language of the music has never limited the Holy Spirit if He so chooses to minister to me that way, that day.  He can use any song, from any time, secular or Christian.  He can use simple vocalizing (no words) to melt me sometimes.  He has used songs in Hebrew to melt me.  He has used songs 1000+ years old, and songs only days old, and sometimes even minutes old, being "made" up even as they are being sung.   I made the "mistake" one time of wanting to skip an Avalon concert, and thinking that I preferred the speaking (this was at  a women of faith conference).  God let me keep my bad attitude about music for less than 1 minute after the music began, and I became a sobbing puddle, the entire concert.  No time for "whipped up" emotionalism.  He melted me almost immediately.  What the LORD impressed on me, was "don't limit Me, I can use anything anywhere to minister to you."  Now, were the people beside me a sobbing mess.  Nope, just me!  It was so powerful, that every time I heard one of their songs up to a year later, I would instantly have tears.   That's the power and life of the Spirit. 

  • Q3   Is it the musicians’ fault? Good music was selected but it was played without life.

possibly... if they are playing for performance, instead of worship...  I have heard music that is out of tune, or with mistakes, but the Holy Spirit was present in their worship, and that "offering" led me to higher, more intimate worship, then the most gifted musician has done.

  • Q4  Is it the preacher’s fault? Would one more cup of coffee have done the trick that morning? 

Not going there =) !

  • Q5Q q qQ5 Is it the congregation’s fault? All the leaders have done all they can, but the people come without the heart to worship and it just falls flat.

Could be... but when I experience the Spirit in worship, I find that others might not have, and usually not in the same way.  Honestly, when I think about when I don't experience "life" from the Spirit in worship, it's when I'm primarily operating in the flesh and the intellect (my own understanding (Prov 3).

Ok, i know this isn't the norm, but a year or two ago, i had a dream, in it, there were three groups of people, those with earplugs, those with tubes in their ears (like for ear infections), and those with ear wax/gunk.  I've been studying listening prayer for several years, and what this represented was 3 groups of people who could not hear the voice of the Spirit well.  The first group purposely plugged their ears because they did not want to hear the Spirit "speak" to them, some preferred their own intellect, some out of fear, some wanted "control", or whatever reason they chose.  The 2nd group was those who had been damaged/hurt by "words" given to them that were wrong, or inappropriately shared, and so could not hear the Spirit's Voice well because of past injury, and the 3rd group were those who had heard lies (gunk) about listening to the Spirit, ie, like He doesn't do that anymore, or only special people like pastors are the only ones He speaks to.  in the dream, the LORD was healing and cleaning the "ears" of the  2nd 2 groups, but only occasionally would He pull out the "intentional" earplugs, He generally left that up to those who put them in the first place.  They had to choose to take them out.   I don't know if that makes sense to anyone, and again, I know dreams aren't our "usual" type of crc conversation, but I share this because I think it's a picture of how we have been unable to hear His "voice" very well, for whatever reasons, which I think has limited us to some extent to experiencing His life giving Spirit through worship.  Test this, particularly keeping John 10 in mind.

I will testify, listening prayer, changed my faith walk and my worship from duty to delight.  I sense the Spirit in worship far more often, and far more powerfully, then i ever did "before", when worship was primarily intellect.  

Yes, the Spirit gives life, we need to be more in tune with Him, open to His leading and guidance.  Ok, the Holy Spirit and listening prayer is a huge subject, but I think "listening" is part of the answer.  so again, please test!   That's how sharpening happens!





Thanks Rich, for your thoughtful and insightful reply.  I know you have been involved with Dunamis/PRMI, and so grateful for your testimony of your walk with the Spirit and your "research" into the crc positions.  I love how it when the "body" works together, we each have different insight/perspectives, and then sharpening, reminding and growing through sharing with each other.   i think that is part of the "prophetic" picture, as we share what God is putting on our hearts together.

I will be up front in stating that I want to honor our denomination, and i don't "blame" anyone for what we have "missed", the "major oversights".  I am sensing increased intensity about seeing us/crc move forward in walking with the Spirit, that we will "experience" the full, abundant life in Christ Jesus, and I'm sure there are many more who are sensing this as well.

Again, I would love to have this discussion face to fact to clear up some things, and so we don't have misunderstandings.  

In regards to the "2nd blessing", it seems like some of this is semantics and terminology, our understanding of it.   So it sounds like what we/crc mean by 2nd blessing, is different than what others might consider the "2nd blessing".   I think this is a significant part of the problem, not just with this "phrase" but others as well.  We need to be very clear when we say what we consider the "2nd blessing" to be, when it is understood in other denominations as something different.  This is where the confusion and misunderstandings occur, which cause division between brothers and sisters in Christ.   Again, this is an entire discussion, that needs to take place at some point .  Rich, do you have where I can find the info on the crc's understanding of the "2nd blessing" as used in the holiness tradition?  Is it related to their requirement of speaking/praying in tongues as evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit?  

I  have read both the 73 and 09 reports on pentecostalism, and so am aware and extremely grateful, that we refuted cessationism in '73.  PRAISE GOD!!!  that was a wonderful discovery when I read that a few years ago.  As you said, we have refuted it theologically, however I wonder about practically for quite a few reasons.   As you mentioned, we have "nervously" opened the door on the gift of prophecy.  So that would be a discussion.  We have come a long ways, and still have a ways to go.

This gets back to the question and one of your points of are we practically walking in the power of the Spirit, the empowerment for ministry?  I agree, this is an area that is not significantly addressed in our creeds and confessions.  As I shared in my first post, we are good with the Spirit convicting us of sin, bringing us to salvation, and illumination of scripture (aka transformation and sanctification per your post), but there are other areas, such as the empowerment for ministry, listening prayer, prophetic gifting, etc. that we have mostly missed or a "major oversight" as you stated.  These areas are where I feel the "residue" of cessationism is still evident, even though it was refuted theologically by the crc almost 40 years ago.

I agree, the reformed community is a theologically safe place to explore the fullness of the Spirit.  But sometimes there is also fear, as well as some other "blocks".   That's why I say, "test, test, test" =).   Discuss and sharpen!

As for worship services,  I agree, "it" doesn't start and end with the worship event.   Some significant portion of the "Life" in worship is the growth/overflow/fruit of our relationship with Him throughout the week.   Abiding in Him, listening and obeying His leading, being in His Word, spending time in the "secret place" with Him, keeping our eyes and thoughts fixed on Him, being sensitive to the Spirit.  

So as to your last paragraph... I put "show up" in quotes in my post, because I know this is a theological mystery to us (see prev. post comment on Ps. 22:3) where we don't understand if it's our awareness (ie open the eyes of our hearts to know Him more), and how it is that the life of the Spirit "ebbs and flows" in worship as Joy is asking.  So we "experience" different "levels" of the Life of the Spirit.  Why?  Scripture says we can "quench" and "resist" the Spirit.   So, is it all about our awareness of Him, and our willingness to "dance" with Him?   This raises the question of the revivals, and where 100's/thousands where "slain in the Spirit", unconscious, etc.   There was a "level" of the Spirit present, that we're not "experiencing".    This goes back to one of your posts, Rich, I think it was on the reformed charismatic thread, about the Spirit being in and on.  He is always in us as believers, but there are times when we have a greater "anointing" than others, when He comes on us with greater power than other times. 

So Rich, I look forward to your thoughts, and anyone else's too!    I believe this is a "subject" dear to your heart, as it is to mine =). 

ps.  when I use quotes, it's because those are terms I'm using, that might need further discussion, as they have caused confusion and misunderstandings in how people "read" them,  based on their understanding or experience, similar to the "2nd blessing" and "baptism of the Holy Spirit"







Yeah, and we want it. And we want it when we call it. And we want it because we like it and we need it and our church needs it. 

Abram wanted a son. Abram needed a son. A son would have been a blessing. God promised a son. Abram did all he could to try to prime the pump of God's promise to him. Abram sinned much in his priming. 

Unfulfilling worship, just like unfulfilling anything good is a reminder of how we are fundamentally recipients in this relationship with the Almighty. That reminder is of grace itself because when we forget that foundation we are very difficult to relate to, even for an Almighty God. 

One of the ways I spot mature Christians is their ability to find pearls in the swine slop. I remember leaving a sermon thinking "that was a pile of huey" and hearing a dear saint find something of value in it. I still believe the sermon was poorly done, but a saint is easy to bless. pvk

There's good wrestling here, even if it waxes a bit long on verbiage. Perhaps this reminds us the question/topic is tremendously hard to get a solid fix on--slithery as an eel--so we keep fishing around with our many words to try responding to it.

Richard, I totally agree with the "lead worshiper" notion as a major key to authentic, life-giving worship: at best, this person ignites worship in the congregation by incarnating a worshipful heart in front of others in a kind of self-forgetful mode that makes the person, mystically, almost disappear before the Majesty, "lost in wonder, love and praise."

And Bev, of COURSE this frame of heart and mind is created, perhaps animated, by the Holy Spirit. Who can argue with that? The glib question-begging that usually happens here, though, concerns what we accept as evidence that the Holy Spirit is indeed at work: is it only tongues and tears? or perhaps upcranked amps and Christian dervish-dancing? What about prayers of penitence, reconcilitation of people in the foyer afterwards, a soul that relinquishes an idol during a moment of silent prayer....?

This attitudinal frame extends--again, at best--to ALL the elements of worship, not just the musical part! We Americans love to truncate our concept of worship by limiting it to the song set. Do we not worship in prayers, in reciting the creed, in Communion, in passing the peace, in giving our treasure, in listening from the heart to the reading and expounding of Scripture....? Why does it seem so hard for us to own a comprehensive, holistic view of (a) congregational worship and (b) worship as all of life?

Well, enough of my own windy verbiage for now.

May we all worship well!

David Rowe

The movement of the Spirit is a mystery, much like the wind (so I read "windy" as potentially Spirit inspired ;)...  the Spirit and the Life He gives is a huge topic so we could fill books with our discussion as many books have already been filled on this, and I think the "wrestling" is Prov. 27 sharpening, and i will say it again, I would much rather discuss this person to person, because it is a "concept" worthy of much deeper discussion.

Is the evidence of the Spirit always tears and tongues?  Well, when was the last time anyone has experienced  tongues in a crc?  From my experience, I have found it extremely rare for whatever reasons.   I am not seeing any over emphasis on tongues or tears, in our denomination, and we are probably a long, long ways off from that being a "problem".  Instead I usually hear comments that treat such "expressions"  with disdain or fear.   So I would love a holistic approach, but it has seemed like we "pick and choose" only certain elements (ie like preaching, etc) that we are more comfortable with.   If I experienced or heard a testimony of us actually "shouting" to the LORD!, I would say ok, maybe I'm wrong (which I love to be proved wrong by testimonies =),   and we are more open to these different "expressions" than the evidence of what my experience has shown .   But I have never heard it!  that doesn't mean it hasn't happened in the crc, but when I bring it up, instead of a testimony that shows I'm wrong, I often hear reasons justifying why we don't need to be doing that. 

back to the mystery of how the Spirit moves... I love this quote from Duncan Campbell:

When God Stepped down... not an evangelist, not a special effort, not anything at all organized on the basis of human endeavor, but an awareness of God that gripped the whole community.

For the full message:.

I am  interested if anyone has any further insights on:  Ps. 149:6 and high praise and what that might look like in worship;  the different  translations of Ps. 22:3 (NIV and NKJV);   what does the "anointing" of the Spirit look like today, is this the same as the Spirit being "upon" someone =), and what about revivals. 

ps... I became a cpa so i wouldn't have to write... =)

how fitting for our holistic approach to worship...   the following is from the link to a Dallas Willard article also on the network's art. 17 thread.... 

Love and Worship

As the Living Word and the written Word occupy our minds we naturally—and supernaturally—come to love God more and more because we see, clearly and constantly, how lovely He is.

The wise Puritan, Thomas Watson, wrote:

The first fruit of love is the musing of the mind upon God. He who is in love, his thoughts are ever upon the object. He who loves God is ravished and transported with the contemplation of God. “When I awake, I am still with thee” (Ps. 139:18). The thoughts are as travelers in the mind. David's thoughts kept heaven-road. “I am still with Thee.” God is the treasure, and where the treasure is, there is the heart. By this we may test our love to God. What are our thoughts most upon? Can we say we are ravished with delight when we think on God? Have our thoughts got wings? Are they fled aloft? Do we contemplate Christ and glory? ... A sinner crowds God out of his thoughts. He never thinks of God, unless with horror, as the prisoner thinks of the judge.3

In this way we enter a life, not just times, of worship. The hymn of heaven will be a constant presence in our inner lives: “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and forever” (Rev. 5:13, NASB).

Worship will become the constant undertone of our lives. It is the single most powerful force in completing and sustaining restoration of our whole beings to God. Nothing can inform, guide, and sustain pervasive and radiant goodness in a person other than the true vision of God and the worship that spontaneously arises from it. Then the power of the indwelling Christ flows from us to others.

Remember, however, that we are not trying to worship. Worship is not another job we have to do. It is one aspect of the gift of “living water” that springs “up to eternal life” (John 4:14; 7:38, NASB). Our part is to turn our minds toward God and to attend to His graceful actions in our souls. This is the primary “care of the soul” we must exercise. Then love and worship, worship and love, flow in our lives as we walk constantly with God. By stepping with Him—in the flow of His grace—we live with spontaneity, love our neighbors, and minister the word and power gospel. 

Thanks for the lively engagement in this discussion.  May it enliven our worship!

Bev is looking for some insight into this question:

I am  interested if anyone has any further insights on:  Ps. 149:6 and high praise and what that might look like in worship;  the different  translations of Ps. 22:3 (NIV and NKJV);   what does the "anointing" of the Spirit look like today, is this the same as the Spirit being "upon" someone =), and what about revivals. 

I wonder about the intent of the original language, but don't trust my Hebrew enough to comment.  Any takers? 

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