I love music. I can’t do anything without some kind of soundtrack running in the background. Even as I write this, I have a nice rhythm going in my office. Naturally, this also makes me easily drawn to corporate worship experiences. It’s one of those things that stir my affections for the Lord. Music becomes an easy part of the way I worship.
But while music is definitely a part of worship for many of us, it is far from the whole picture. Whether we realize it or not, we are always worshiping something through our affections, priorities, worries, and even our spending habits.
At its core, to worship something is to recognize and appreciate its value. One of the most powerful moments of worship ever recorded in Scripture is in Isaiah 6 as the prophet approaches the temple to find himself in the throne room with God seated before him.
AWE & FEAR
When Isaiah had his experience, Israel was in a crisis. King Uzziah, a man whose reign brought great prosperity and safety, had just died. They were uncertain of their future in a time when the empires around them were gaining power. The people were desperate, scared, and in mourning. That’s when he experienced the Lord firsthand.
Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
You can sense the fear and awe in Isaiah’s language. The giant, powerful seraphim are covering their faces and feet while flying aimlessly around the throne. They’re calling to each other, “Holy, holy, holy!”
Their voices are so loud the doors and walls of the temple are shaking, filling it with smoke. At the sight of the Holy God, Isaiah responds the only way any human being can.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
As he sees himself in contrast to God’s holy presence, he is immediately aware of his sin and scared for his life. In true worship, we are immediately humbled by the reality of our depravity. There’s no escaping how unworthy we are of God’s presence, much less his mercy.
A SENSE OF CALLING
But when the seraphim purifies his unclean lips with the hot coal, the Lord speaks for the first time.
“Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
Notice the shift in Isaiah’s tone. He goes from fear and humility to this new sense of boldness. He screams those famous words, “Here I Am. Send me!”
In light of God’s holiness, Isaiah trembles. But in response to his grace, he goes full-on missional. God even offers him a humiliating task.
“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
In other words, “proclaim my message but no one will understand you. They’ll be hardened against your words and turn from you as a result. But do it anyway.” But this doesn’t deter Isaiah. He counts the cost and answers the call.
Much like our perception of God, our view of worship is often limited in today’s Church. We narrow it to an emotional experience in the confines of a church building with dozens or hundreds of Christians surrounding us. But while Jesus is certainly honored in our prayers and songs, it’s unlikely he’s all that thrilled by us whipping out another Hillsong number. He is honored most when we obey his call to go.
Steve Bainbridge writes, “The reason many fail to joyfully proclaim Jesus Christ is because deep down they fail to joyfully adore him.”
True worship makes us missional. In seeing God for who he truly is, how can our response be anything less? When we fully grasp the heights of his holiness and the depth of his loving grace, we can’t help but join in his mission to make all things new. He deserves both our awe and our sacrificial obedience.
Could it be that our struggle to fully live our faith in the public sphere is rooted in a lack of true worship? The idea of sharing our faith, fighting for justice, and engaging those on the fringes of society feel like less of an obligation when God’s character comes into great focus.
The ideas of worship and mission should never stand in opposition to one another. As we see with Isaiah in this life-altering moment, the two feed each other. As we engage in worship, we become more missional. And as we become more missional, we are compelled to greater worship. If either of these aspects of the Christian life aren’t feeding the other, we’ve likely missed something critical.
This article was originally published by e3 Partners, a global missions organization based in the Hope Center that is establishing local churches in over 50 countries. Visit www.e3partners.org to learn more and get involved.