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How Heaven’s Worship Can Affect Our Own

Revelation 7:9-12 describes a scene of worship in heaven:

  • It involves a great multitude no one could count (v9)
  • It includes those from every nation, tribe, people and language (v9)
  • It also includes angels (v11)
  • It is clear that the object of worship is God the Father and God the Son (v10)
  • The seven attributes of praise (v12) express “complete” praise of God, as seven is a symbolic number of completeness in the Bible.

Not only is this a powerful picture of worship in heaven, but I think it can give encouragement to us today. Especially these days, when Stay-At-Home orders are restricting everyone to their homes, forcing us to worship online without the presence of our friends and other brothers and sisters in Christ.

No doubt, many have turned to Matthew 18:20 as assurance in these times, that wherever 2 or 3 come together in Jesus’ name, He is with us. But this passage from Revelation also reminds us that our worship will one day be joined together with all believers of all times and all places. In fact, because heaven is not bound to our time, whenever we gather to worship, no matter how few, we are in a sense joining that multitude in heaven worshipping God. It is also quite possible that this multitude includes all believers who have died and gone to heaven, including our loved ones.

So when we worship, whether it’s just our immediate family in our homes, just ourself joining our church family and following an online worship service, or someday back together in our churches worshipping together, we are joined in heaven by our loved ones and all those believers in Christ who have gone before us.


Genuine Worship

Several years ago, I traveled with a relational/worship/youth ministry team through the organization Youth Encounter International. While on this team, we were almost always together, or with host families, or with a group of people to whom we were serving. So, personal time was precious.  One day I had some personal time as I was walking across the campus of Gustavus Adolphus in St. Peter, MN and saw that their chapel was open and empty.  I was compelled to walk in, sit down in the sanctuary, and spend some time with God.  After some time of mostly clearing my mind and trying to listen for God, I found myself singing – out loud:

            I love you Lord, and I lift my voice to worship You.  Oh my soul, rejoice!

            Take joy, my King, in what You hear. 

May it be a sweet, sweet sound in Your ear.

I believe that was one of the most genuine times of worship I’ve ever experienced. It had nothing to do with music style, sound equipment, preaching, liturgy, or how many were gathered.  It was a matter of me making time for God, and allowing His Spirit to communicate whatever and however He chose.  I don’t remember everything about my encounter with God that day, but I do know that it was a meaningful step in the development of my relationship with God. And that is what genuine, authentic worship should be about: spending time with God to build your relationship with Him.  This can happen in a variety of circumstances, and can look differently for each of us, because God has made us each unique.  In this case, my response was a simple song, coming straight from the heart. 

Worship… at sunrise?!

I am not a morning person. However, when I was growing up, the one day of the year I didn’t need an alarm to wake up early was Easter Sunday, because I was so excited. In all honesty, my excitement in those early years was probably more due to looking forward to finding my Easter basket than celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But gradually the latter overcame the former. Even still, getting up early is one thing. But getting up early enough to be at church before the sun rises in order to attend a worship service?

If you are a regular church-goer, you are probably familiar with the tradition of a sunrise service on Easter Sunday. Have you ever wondered why many churches do this? Sure, it provides pastors with an easy play on words: we watch the sun rise as we celebrate the Son (of God) rise. But there’s a Biblical reason behind it. All four gospel accounts mention the time of day when women first went to the tomb, and found it empty. John 20:1, Luke 24:1-2, and Mark 16:2-4 all refer to early or very early in the morning. Perhaps the most specific account is from Matthew:

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.

Matthew 28:1-2 (NIV)

Clearly, sunrise is an important time on Easter Sunday because Jesus rose from the dead at, or very near, sunrise. I imagine that Jesus couldn’t wait to rise, and as soon as the 3rd day dawned, it was time!

When I was younger, I enjoyed going to a sunrise service, even leading worship, especially if it were outdoors (and not too cold). I remember one year in college, providing music for an outdoor sunrise service with my brass quintet. There were the years I was a worship leader in Orlando, where not only was it warm, but the timing of the sunrise was usually right around the beginning of the service. These days, however, it would be a struggle for me to get up and out for such a service, especially with two children at home. However, due to our stay-at-home world we currently find ourselves in, sunrise services will be streamed online this year. And considering that our kids will probably be awake well before sunrise, it will be much easier this year to attend a sunrise service!

So, whether you’re a morning person or not, I would encourage you this year to find and attend an online Easter sunrise service this year. There’s something special about starting the day – literally – worshipping our risen Savior! If your church doesn’t have one or you don’t have a home church, here are a couple options, for churches I and my family currently serve and attend: St Paul Lutheran Church in Grafton, WI (6am CDT) or First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Cedarburg, WI (7am CDT, “on the bluff”)

Connecting to the Congregation

In today’s day of stay-at-home orders, most churches are resolved to offer worship to their congregations online. One of the biggest challenges with this kind of ‘virtual worship’ is how to enable your congregation, apart from you and one another while watching from home, to feel connected. I know the pastors I’ve talked to find it challenging to preach and even lead a service with an almost empty sanctuary.

However, even when leading worship in a room full of people, one of the challenges of worship leading can be connecting to one’s congregation. Just because people are in the room doesn’t mean they’re connecting or engaging with the music, or truly worshipping. So maybe this season of virtual worship can help worship leaders, including myself, to become more intentional about connecting to our congregations, developing habits that can continue once we are back worshipping together live.

First of all, we have to know our music well. The more we have prepared and mastered the music, the less chance there is of making a mistake that distracts people from focusing on God. Mind you, the goal isn’t to “show off” our musical chops; our focus should always be on God, and showing off can just as easily distract people from worshipping God by turning their attention to the performer. But that doesn’t mean mediocrity is OK. Excellence should always be the goal, because God deserves our best. (Psalm 33:1-3)

Secondly, those leading worship should be focused on God. This seems obvious, but it is all too easy to turn our focus on the music, on the congregation, on what other members of our team are doing, or on ourselves. Again, the more prepared we are with the music – individually and as a team – the easier it is to focus on God.

If worship leaders are doing those two things, it is easier to connect with our congregations. This can mean speaking to the congregation, whether before, during, or after a song; although I’ve learned that this should be kept as concise as possible. This can mean inviting the congregation into a moment of prayer. Just be sure that you coordinate with your pastor(s), to understand their level of comfort with the amount of speaking/praying from you. The most basic thing that every worship leader can do is make eye contact with your congregation. If you’re like me, this is a lot easier said than done. But like any public speaking or performing, the more you do it, the less nerve wracking it usually becomes. The next time you are leading worship, pay attention to how often your eyes are on your music, or other members of the team, versus how often you’re looking at different people in the congregation (or these days, into the camera).

The primary job of a worship leader is to be worshipping God ourselves. But while we worship God, if we can connect to those who are there to worship with us by making eye contact or speaking to them, that will help create a sense of worshipping together as the family of God – even over the Internet!

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