All too common today are polarizing tendencies in worship that fail to reach the whole person. For instance, in some churches, how a Christian thinks is far more important than how a Christian feels. Worship in these churches is primarily geared to informing the mind. But when it comes to feeling God, they remain stoic. These churches turn worship into a classroom for learning.
Other churches do well at “feeling” in worship but do “thinking” poorly. In these churches, worship is primarily geared to engaging the emotions-thinking is far less important than feeling. These churches turn worship into a therapist’s couch for emotional highs and healing.
Still other churches conclude that neither our thoughts nor our feelings toward God are as important as what we do for God. In these churches, worship is primarily geared to the will-the goal of worship is to get the worshipers to give more, serve more, or take some other action.
But notice Isaiah’s varied response to his encounter with the glory of God. He responds intellectually to God’s presence-there’s no question in Isaiah’s mind that God is who he is: “My eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (v.5). In the same verse, there’s also an emotional response-he feels the presence of God in his heart: “I’m undone.” Finally, there’s a volitional response-having encountered the living God, Isaiah is ready and willing to do God’s will with his entire being: “Here am I, send me” (v.8).
We, too, ought to experience God with the totality of our being in worship. Worship services ought to inform the mind intellectually, engage the heart emotionally, and bend the will volitionally. God wants thoughtful worshipers who believe, emotional worshipers who behold, and obedient worshipers who behave. God-centered worship produces people who think deeply about God, feel passionately for God, and live urgently in response to God. Therefore, when we meet God in worship, we should expect a combination of gravity and gladness, depth and delight, doctrine and devotion, precept and passion, truth and love.
Not only here in Isaiah, but throughout Scripture we see people in the presence of God weeping over their sin, celebrating their forgiveness, and exalting in God’s bigness. People feel their desperation, cry out for deliverance, celebrate their pardon-and in many other ways respond in fullness to the thick presence of God’s glory.
Isaiah’s many-sided response to God’s revealed glory is anchored ultimately in the multifaceted beauty of the gospel-the good news that in the person of Jesus Christ, God came down to recover and repair a world lost and broken by sin.
Contrary to what many Christians have concluded, the Bible does not tell two stories: one about Israel in the Old Testament, another about the church in the New Testament. The Bible tells one story and points to one figure. It narrates how God rescues his world that we wrecked, and exalts Christ as the one who accomplishes the rescue. In the Old Testament God revealed himself through types and shadows, promises and prophecies. In the New Testament God reveals himself in Christ who is the substance of every shadow and the fulfillment of every promise and prophecy. The Old Testament predicts God’s rescuer; the New Testament presents God’s rescuer. Therefore, the whole Bible-both the Old and New Testament-is all about God’s rescuer. A gospel-fueled worship service tells and retells this unified story-highlighting the story’s infallible Hero-through song, sermon, and sacrament.
If our worship is genuinely gospel-fueled, than we, like Isaiah, will go through a range of expressions when we’re together. The experience of the worshiper should be multifaceted because God’s story-the gospel-is multifaceted. Our worship should have many parts because the gospel has many parts, and is neither one-dimensional nor stagnant.
The cradle, the cross, and the crown of God’s Rescuer are to be rehearsed and in some way felt. For instance, the gospel takes us from a sense of gratitude when pondering the incarnation, to a sense of grief when pondering the crucifixion, and to a sense of glory when pondering the resurrection.
God’s story takes us low and brings us high and gospel-fueled worship services should in some way reflect those ups and downs in their style and substance, context and content. With our Hero, we should experience something of the darkness of the garden of Gethsemane and the daylight of the garden tomb. We cannot ponder the cross without feeling our sin. And we cannot ponder the empty tomb without feeling our salvation.
Our worship should include moments of praise, lament, and thanksgiving-or, in the words of Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, “orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.” It should involve a sense of guilt and gratitude, desperation and deliverance, somber contemplation and joyous celebration. It should contain silence and singing, confession and cleansing, commendation of God and conviction from God.
(To be continued…)