My Theological Vision for Worship
In my last blog, I discussed the importance of forming a theological vision for your worship and the difference it can make to do so.
To summarize, forming a clear vision for your corporate times of worship will help you:
- Determine your goals for worship
- Decide what kind of songs you pick (or leave out)
- Give definition to what “success” in your worship looks like
- Serve the overall vision of your particular church or congregation
My personal theological vision for when I lead corporate worship is threefold:
(1) That I would lead worship that is Christ-centered; (2) That I would lead worship that is God-exalting; and (3) That I would lead worship that gives an invitation to fresh surrender.
The first point (Christ-centered) is a bit long (and rightfully so), but the next two are considerably shorter.
This one might sound strange; I mean, isn’t this a given? You’d think it would be. But not all worship is truly Christ-centered. It might start out Christ-centered, but end up with us singing about ourselves most of the time.
What Jesus has done for us is worthy of a million songs and can never be overstated; it’s actually something we’ll be singing about forever (Eph 2:7). But I have a resolve in my heart to sing to and about Him as the end goal.
All of Scripture is about Jesus, and points to Him who was, who is, and who will come. Beginning in Genesis 3:15, the statement is made that “He (Jesus) will crush the head of the serpent,” to Mount Moriah in Genesis 22 when “God provided a sacrifice” as a foreshadow of the cross, to the Isaiah 53 suffering servant, the entire Old Testament looks forward and points ahead to the coming of the Messiah (Mt. 13:17, Heb. 11:13).
Jesus confirmed His centrality throughout the whole of Scripture in John 5:39 when He said, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.” Again in John 5:46, He says, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.”
Jesus wasn’t a New Testament idea that the Godhead had at the last minute when they realized they needed an intervention in their story. Jesus is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8).
Jesus arrives as Old Testament Scriptures predicted (John 1:29), gives up everything to redeem mankind (Jn. 3:16, Mt. 18:11, Rev 5:9), His message spreads throughout the ancient world (Acts 1:8, Col 1:27), and culminates with the Revelation of Christ (Rev 1:7).
I believe that the more we study the Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments, the more we will gain understanding that this whole story is about Jesus. He’s there on every page if we have eyes to see Him. If the very word of God is so consistently centered on Jesus from Genesis to Revelation, shouldn’t our worship be as well?
I think most would agree that Christ-centered worship is a good idea, but what does it actually consist of? Here are a few of the countless things we can write and sing about that focus our attention and adoration on Jesus:
He exists outside of time yet interacts with us here (Ps. 90:4, 102:12, Isa. 57:15, 2 Tim. 1:9, 2 Pt. 3:8).
He who existed before all things came and took on flesh (Jn. 1:1-14).
He is a Jewish man who was and still is flesh and bone. Jesus walked the same Israel we see today, experienced frail humanity, got tired, and needed to rest and eat to survive, just like you and me (Lk. 2:52, 24:39-43, Jn. 5:21, 28, Rom. 8:23, 1 Pt. 3:22, Heb. 4:15).
He is fully God. (Jn. 8:24, 8:58, 9:35-38, 10:30-33).
He has always been. There’s never been a time when He was not. No one ever said, “Let there be God” (Isa. 9:6, Jn. 8:58, Col. 1:17, Jn. 1:1, Heb. 7:3, 13:8, Rev. 1:17).
He literally knows everything (Ps. 147:5, Isa. 55:8-9, Acts 15:8, Rom. 11:33, 1 Jn. 3:20).
He is the only perfect, trustworthy judge (1 Chron. 28:9, Mt. 12:47, 2 Pt. 3:7, 1 Jn. 3:20).
He leads perfectly without error (Ps. 16:11, 23:1, 32:8, 37:23, Isa. 48:17, Jn. 8:12, 16:13, Phil. 2:13).
He rules and reigns from a real physical throne (Ps. 89:36-37, Rev. 4-5, Rev. 11:15, Rev. 21-22).
He is actually a real King and will reign forever (Ps 47:8, Isa. 9:6, 11:10, Jn. 12:15, Rev. 19:16).
He not only served us by suffering on the cross, but continues to serve us each and every day. Jesus is the greatest, most humble servant (Isa. 50:6, 53, Mt. 13:55, 21:5, Jn 5:41, 6:38, 13:1-17, Rom. 15:3, 2 Cor. 8:9, Phil. 2:7, Heb. 4:15, 5:7, 12:2).
He hears and sees everything because He is everywhere (Job 34:21, 1 Kings 8:27, Ps. 139:3-10, Prov. 15:3, Jer. 23:23-24, Mt. 6:6).
He is completely pure and without flaw (Ex. 15:11, 1 Sam. 2:2, Ps. 22:3, 47:8, 48:1, 77:13, Isa. 6:3, 43:15, Hab. 2:2, Lk. 1:49, 1 Pt. 1:16, Rev. 4:8, 15:4).
He and everything He does is is beautiful (Ps. 27:4, Isa. 4:2, 28:5, 33:17, 52:7, Rom. 10:15).
He has unmatched glory both on earth and in heaven (Ex. 33:9-10, Deut. 5:24, Ps. 24:7-8, 29:3, 104:1, Isa. 4:5, Ezek. 1:26-28, Hab. 3:4, Mt. 17:5, 24:30, Mk. 9:7, Lk. 21:27, Rev. 19:1).
He is the only one worthy to receive it all (Rev. 5:9, 5:12, 13:8).
He is the definition of goodness (Ps. 73:1, 119:68, 143:10, 145:9, Mk. 10:18, Rom. 2:4, 1 Tim. 4:4).
He has the kindest heart (Ps. 17:7, 31:21, 36:7, 69:16, Isa. 63:7, Rom. 2:4, Eph 2:7, Titus 3:4-6).
He is the only flawless one (Mt. 5:48, John. 8:29, 2 Cor. 5:21, Heb. 4:15, 1 Pt. 2:22, 1 Jn. 3:5).
He gave himself to anguish and suffering to redeem us (Gen. 22:2, Ps. 22, Isa. 53, Lk. 24:46, Acts. 3:8).
Everything He does is morally right, just, and virtuous. His nature and His actions are always pure and without sin. (Isa. 46:13, 51:5, 1 Cor. 1:30, Heb. 4:15).
He is faithful to keep His promises (Num. 23:19, Deut. 32:4, Lam. 3:22-23, 1 Thess. 5:24, 2 Tim. 2:13).
His wisdom goes far beyond our understanding (Mt. 13:54, 1 Cor. 1:24, 30, Col. 2:3, Rev. 5:12).
He suffers long with us (Ex. 34:6, Num. 14:18, Ps. 86:15, 103:18, 145:8, Joel. 2:3).
He delights in showing mercy (2 Sam. 24:14, Ps. 86:5, Lk. 6:36, Eph. 2:4, Heb 2:17).
He is full of grace (Jn. 1:14, Rom. 3:20-24, 2 Cor. 12:8-9, Eph. 4:7).
He shows compassion to weakness over and over again (Ex. 34:6, Isa. 42:3, Mt. 11:28-30, 20:34, Lk. 7:13, Heb. 2:17).
He is love (Jn. 3:16, 13:34, Rom 5:8, 1 Jn. 4:8, 16, 19).
He possess authority over all (Ps. 72:8, 145:13, Jn. 1:3, 5:21, Col. 1:16-17, Heb. 1:3).
He is the most creative person ever (Gen 1, Ps. 139:13-16, Isa. 45:7-12, 64:8).
Now of course, all of these things apply to and have huge implications for you and me. That’s an amazing thing. I could write songs about each of these facets of Jesus, starting with the truth of who He is, and then I could apply each one to myself and explore how it relates to my life. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That evokes beautiful worship!
But I have a deep desire to write about themes that begin and end with Jesus alone. This in itself awakens my heart to worship.
The incarnation is a great example of a topic people have tended to sing about in this way; when we sing Christmas carols about the birth of Jesus, we don’t usually put ourselves into that theme and apply His incarnation to us. But focusing on this amazing reality awakens my heart to worship simply because of the power of the truth that Jesus took on flesh and came as a humble king.
Sometimes I feel like we almost have to justify singing about Jesus and just leaving it there. My hope and prayer is that we would be churches that have Jesus at the center of everything we do, that the center of all of our preaching and singing would be the Godhead Himself and not just His “helps” or the “services” He gives that can make our lives better.
God is passionate about you. But do you know what He’s even more passionate about? His glory.
In Isaiah 45 alone, God states nine separate times that He is the Lord and He alone should be worshipped (Isa. 45:5-6, 18, 21-23). The crazy part about this is that Paul later quotes this in Philippians 2 and lets us know that this is actually speaking of the glory and worth of Jesus (Phil 2:6-11).
God said that the greatest command is to love Jesus with all of our hearts (Mt. 22:37-38). The goal of the Father and Spirit is that Jesus would receive the reward of His suffering, the worship of all mankind. The Father committed to give Jesus the preeminence (first place) in everything. In other words, the Father and the Spirit are working to have all creation obey and honor Jesus (Eph. 4:10, Phil. 2:9-11, Col. 1:18; 3:11, Rev 5:12).
The crazy part about this epic story is that in the end, Jesus gives it all back to the Father, that the Father would be all in all in the hearts of all the redeemed (1 Cor. 15:24-28).
Corporate Christ-centered worship is something Christians have done since the earliest days of the Church, and something we will do forever. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection will continue to be celebrated in Heaven for all eternity. It is my desire to lead truly Christ-centered worship here and now, that I might help build a rich history of gazing on the attributes of Jesus.
This might sound strange, but there are a lot of worship songs that don’t necessarily lead me to exalt God. Sometimes we can be worshipping what we’ve received, while the Man behind our deliverance, freedom, or hope can be a secondary thought.
I want to pick and lead lots of songs that have the pronoun “You” in them, talking to and addressing God directly. I want to lead in such a way as to make myself, my team, and the entire stage as invisible as possible, so that the attention of both the people on my team and the people listening is focused on exalting God.
God is self-sufficient. He doesn’t need us; He desires us. God doesn’t require our worship to meet a need within Himself. He doesn’t desire our worship because He’s an insecure narcissist looking for human affirmation, but rather because He knows that it’s only by truly loving Him and relating to Him through worship that are we able to experience the fullness of what it means to be human. This is the story of each and every Christian as well as the Church corporately.
I want to lead in such a way as to make myself, my team, and the entire stage as invisible as possible, so that the attention of both the people on my team and the people listening is focused on exalting God. Click To Tweet
The human heart is a most prized possession. It’s the only thing God wants that He doesn’t already have. It’s what the devil is going to war with God over. Whoever controls your affections is the one the story of your life is centered around. Jesus died in order to put you in a position before God where you could receive His affection and He could gain yours.
True worshippers worship God in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23). I want to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pt. 2:9). It’s my desire to lead worship that helps us to lift up the name of the Lord and give Him glory
Whoever controls your affections is the one the story of your life is centered around. Jesus died in order to put you in a position before God where you could receive His affection and He could gain yours. Click To Tweet
3. Fresh Surrender
I feel like as we see the beauty of Christ and worship Him, one of the natural responses is surrender. While I love happy, positive songs, as much as the next guy, a balanced diet of Christ-centered songs must include the sometimes “less comfortable” truths about Jesus as well, such as His commands to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him even when it’s tough (Psalm 1, 37:7, Mt. 12:36, Lk. 14:26, 33, Jn. 14:6, Phil 3:8, 13).
In Heaven, there will be no need to sing about surrender. Once the next age begins and we have resurrected bodies (1 Cor. 15:51-56), we will no longer live by faith; we will see with our eyes. Trusting God and surrendering ourselves to Him by faith is something we only have the ability and privilege to do on this side. I, for one, want to take the opportunity to say yes to God in this brief window of time when doing so requires both faith and surrender.
If you made it through this, I applaud you. 🙂 But seriously, thinking through our vision for worship is an important part of what we do. You’re a leader. You’re a teacher. You’re a shepherd who’s impacting people on a weekly basis.
I would love to hear your thoughts on what I’ve shared and whether you have or plan on having a theological vision for your worship.
Huge thanks to my friend Jordan Vanderplate for letting me use this photo of Grand Canyon South Rim. Check out more of his work here.