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Who Do We Worship?

I continue seeing questions come up about the music that is used in a church service. It boggles that mind that this is a continual issue, so I have come to ask everyone who may read this a simple question:

Who do we worship?

Now, before you rush to an answer, think really hard about this question. I want you to picture yourself in a church service. The worship team, whatever that may consist of, is starting a song. As the song plays, you recognize it as one you have heard recently on Christian radio. Since the song is new to the church, you are following along with the lyrics on the screen. At the end of the song, you realize that there has been no mention of any members of the triune God: nothing about God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit, or any of the names that go along with those persons. There has only been a mention of a mysterious, unnamed “you” throughout the song.

Here is the question that we need to ask of this song:

Who is “you” and why are we singing to “you”?

Grammatically, we cannot refer to a previous song which may have mentioned Jesus because this song is a completely different text. Even if the songwriter is the same, the meaning of the song is different, otherwise the writer would have used names instead of pronouns.

Some people may accuse me of nitpicking and splitting hairs over this issue. However, I think we need to really consider the difference between a song sung in worship and the rest of the songs that we know. So, we ask another question:

What is worship?

To answer this question in a biblical sense, let’s look at what happens when mortal men come face-to-face with God.

Isaiah 6:1-7 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “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!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” 

First, notice the position of God. He is high and lifted up. He is exalted above all others.

Next, notice the seraphim. They are the ones worshiping in this scene. They are calling out to one another. Their cry of praise and worship is simple yet profound. “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” They cry out to one another that God is holy, He is set apart, and all the earth is filled with the glory that comes from Him.

Third, I want you to see the first response that is noted in these verses. “The foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.” The voice that cried out was of such power that the doorposts shook. The glory of the Lord filled the throne room. (This was often represented in the Old Testament by smoke as seen in accounts with Moses and David entering the tent.)

Fourth, and most importantly, notice the response of Isaiah. His response was not one of self-adulation as we find in so many of today’s worship songs. He did not wax poetically at how great he was to get to witness such an event. Instead, he recognized his humanity and his sinfulness. He cried out almost in agony over his plight.

Finally, the response to Isaiah’s cry is that he was cleansed. One of the seraphim took a coal from the altar and touched it to his lips, declaring him clean and his sins atoned for.

I understand that this is a special occasion in the Bible. This is not the normative practice of worship in the Temple at Jerusalem or the Tabernacle in the wilderness. However, this is a glimpse of the worship that is going on around the throne of God. Let me show you another example of the worship at the throne. I will refrain from elaboration on this one. I am putting it here so you can see that Isaiah’s account is not a one-time event.

Revelation 4:1-11 After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” 

So, what is worship?

It is declaring the glory of God to those around us. This can be done in song, poetry, art, prayer, or the sharing of Scripture. Our entire lives are to be acts of worship.

What is missing from these examples of worship?

Well, there is no mysterious “you” ever mentioned. When the pronoun “you” is used, it is clear from the grammar of the sentence that the word refers to God.

Also missing is any recognition of self. There is no use of the words “I, me, us, our, we” or any other mentioning of self, except in the case of Isaiah when he mentions his condition of being unclean.

So, I go back to the beginning:

Who do we worship?

When we sing our songs in church, are they songs sung to God the Father, God the Son, and/or God the Holy Spirit?

Do they mention Him in any way?

Or are they songs that are sung to a mysterious unknown “you” whose identity could be God, your neighbor, or your cat?

Do our songs exalt God?

Or do they exalt us?

This is just a little something to think about as we consider the music portions of our worship services. If you are a worship leader or pastor at a church, this is part of your ministry. If you are not a worship leader of pastor, but you know that your church is using the types of songs that are not God-centered, pass this along to them. The church needs to be focused on God, not a mysterious “you” and not on self.

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