Have you ever wondered what corporate worship is all about? Why do we sing at church? Why do people play musical instruments during a church gathering? Some might say, "Well...it's because that's just what you do in church? You sing and play instruments." Others might say, "Well...that song service (I despise that term) is to fill some space before the preacher comes to preach." And here's the classic one, "It's to prepare our hearts to receive the Word of God." While that last one can be true, we must remember, Jesus prepared your heart to receive the Word of God the moment you received Him into your heart. And by feeding regularly on His Word (at any time), we actually prepare our hearts to worship Him more effectively!
You and I are actually created to worship God. I once heard someone say the center of heaven will not be the pulpit. Instead, it is the throne of God. I agree with that. Even today God is the center of all His creation, and He is worthy of our worship...now. I am a minister of the Word of God. I love to preach and teach the Word. It is my calling in life. But when I get to heaven, I probably won't be preaching and teaching the Word of God. I will be worshiping the King of Kings. As a matter of fact, I will be worshiping Him forever and ever and ever. Yes, you and I will still be learning because we can sit at His feet for 10 or 20 thousand years at a time! He is the Word, and so very worthy of our eternal worship!
A scribe once asked Jesus, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" Jesus' response was, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is One Lord; and you shall worship the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." (Mark 12: 29-30) According to Paul there is only one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God. (See Ephesians 4) Paul tells us also in Romans 4 that even though we are many members, with different functions, we are ONE body, the body of Christ. Worshiping corporately brings the members together to worship God in one voice. Why? Because we are one body of Christ. If you've ever experienced the unity that comes during powerful, Spirit-led corporate worship, you know what a wonderful experience it is. Not only is it wonderful, it is very powerful because Jesus is intensely glorified.
I am not trying to be critical, but I think many churches are not realizing the "why" of our corporate worship. Understanding there is a protocol for worship or approaching God's throne is crucial. Here's a good example. If you wanted to visit the President of the United States you wouldn't just drive up to the White House, park near the front door, walk in, approach the Oval Office, open the door, and say, "Hey Mr. Prez! Got a couple of minutes?" No. If you are granted time with the POTUS, you go through a very scrutinized protocol to end up in his presence. Approaching God may be a bit different from approaching the POTUS, but there is a protocol we must understand.
The Psalmist said, "Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise." (Psalm 100: 4) Did you know that entering His presence in corporate worship begins with being thankful? We must be thankful that we can enter in. We must be grateful for who He is and what He has done for us. As we are thankful, we move into the courts of His presence. This is closer to Him. Through praise we declare who He is and the great works He has done. Our God is so extremely good that we could praise Him, non-stop, from now throughout eternity.
From a technical sense, it's easier to praise God with songs of praise. The psalms are full of them. Psalms 120 - 134 have been given the title "Songs of Ascent". It is believed by many scholars that these songs were sung by worshipers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the 3 yearly appointed festivals. Others think they were sung by the Levite singers as they ascended the fifteen steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem. Either way, both are beautiful types and shadows of ascending to the courts of God's presence with praise. It is not that we have to sing these same psalms, but it's the principle we must realize. Again, praise songs are songs that declare the great feats God has accomplished, or will accomplish. Praise songs are declarations of faith. They can be declared to others as well as to God Himself. I'll explain this later, but praise songs should typically be faster, up tempo songs.
Quite frankly, we can praise anyone for doing good things. But only God can be worshiped in Spirit and truth. Only God can be given our total surrender. Only our Lord and King can be adored simply for who He is. This is the heart of worship.
At some point the praise should move out of His courts into the most holy place of His presence. Many corporate gatherings never get this far because they simply don't allow the time for this to happen. But this is why we exist....even here on this planet. We don't wait until we get to heaven to start worshiping our King. We must be taught, then encouraged to do so even from a babe in Christ! As we enter corporately into His most holy place, we find it is a place in which His Spirit is manifested in supernatural, life-changing ways.
I said before that praise songs should typically be faster songs, and from my experience we should begin with them. The reason for this is the faster celebratory songs tend to focus the attention of everyone on one thing...Jesus. A group gathering for corporate worship is made up of individuals from different walks of life. Believe me, not every mind is on Jesus when they arrive for worship. These songs gather the folks together as a call to worship. When the majority of the gathering has set their attention on Jesus, the Holy Spirit will lead us deeper into God's holy presence as we offer songs that enhance more intimate worship.
There has been a strong move among many Spirit-filled church gatherings to sing only intimate style ballads during praise and worship. The Holy Spirit has been faithful as always to inspire people to write powerfully anointed songs born out of times of intimacy with Jesus. This is awesome. However, many worshipers who gather to worship have not been as intimate with God during the week. As they come in to worship, their focus is spread among the many activities and challenges of the day or week. They need the "call to worship", faster, praise songs to draw their attention to the King. To bypass this part of the process usually causes some to go through the motions of intimate worship instead of being truly led into God's presence through the protocol of approaching His throne. Never forget, lives are changed before His throne, in the presence of the King of Kings.
The Bible gives us our protocol for corporate worship, which applies to individual worship as well. However, we should never be legalistic about the protocol. Knowing the protocol simply gives us an understanding of approaching God's throne in worship. Anytime we gather for corporate worship, it should be with the mind that Holy Spirit has His way. He is here to lead and guide us into the truth. He is in our midst to glorify Jesus, our King. After all, that's what worship is all about...glorifying Him.