Our church family is in a season of transition regarding worship leadership, which creates a great opportunity for us to step back and rethink how we approach Sunday morning worship. Why do we gather to sing? What role do the musicians play? What are we supposed to experience? We have prayed the simple prayer–“God, call the right person to lead us in worship.” But what are we expecting that person to do?
Entire books have been written about worship, so let me focus on one snapshot in the scriptures that unveils a broader reality of what worship is. Our scene opens with Noah beholding something he had not seen in nearly 10 months: dry ground. After all of his faithful waiting, the divine word commanded him to “Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you” (Genesis 8:16). Imagine what this must have been like for Noah. When he entered the ark his family of 8 was just one household amongst tens of thousands. Around him cities were being built and named after family members; skilled metal workers had invented implements for work and war; artistic types developed musical instruments and songs to be played; shrewd shepherds began moving nomadically with their herds (cf. Genesis 4:17-22). The world was growing and progressing! Now, as Noah stepped out of the ark, he walked on land which had soaked in both water and blood. Underneath his feet were millions of fossilized animals and hundreds of destroyed cities. Humanity had parted from God and gone their way of greed, exploitation, and violence. Now they were no more, and God’s sovereign power was the one blatant fact of the world.
Noah’s first act after making it out of the salvation crate was to worship. “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar” (Genesis 8:20). What else could he do? God communicated to him the news of the impending judgment. God gave him the specs for the ark. God shut the door behind Noah’s family and the indoor zoo. God destroyed wicked humanity with the fierce flood. And God told Noah when the coast was clear. Only one response fit this reality: worship.
Worship is the anthem of the new creation. It is the appropriate response of those whom God graciously spared from judgment and set apart to enjoy and cultivate his new creation. This is why the New Testament book that says the most about worship is Revelation–God’s prophetic word about his final victory over sin, Satan, and death, and the establishment of his perfected kingdom. Yet our songs are not on hold until these end-times events have occurred. Indeed, they have already been initiated in the death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. His judgment and new creation ensures the salvation and bright destiny of all who trust in him. Thus we join Noah in the new creation anthem, singing of the Messiah who has created new life in us and will bring new life around us when he returns to take resurrection global.
How does this inform our Sunday morning gathering? It tells us that the most important feature of corporate worship has nothing to do with music but with hearts that are impacted by God’s holiness, power, wrath, mercy, deliverance, and hope-infused promises. Thus whoever will lead us in worship will be tasked with setting before us texts that highlight the glory of God and tell the gospel story. The aim of the music will not be to impress but to serve us in singing these words to and about God. And since the new creation is not yet consummated, our worship leader will assume our hearts have been tempted to worship idols and will call us week-in and week-out to true worship of the only God who will remain after the final judgment.
Please join me in praying that God would grant us not only a worship leader but, more importantly, hearts that experience the gospel story of judgment and new creation and must sing for all that our Savior has done for us.