Heavenly Worship

Last Saturday during the closing worship of Tennessee Music Ministry Leadership Conference Travis Cottrell joked that Tennessee may not be Heaven, but “it is where God gets His mail.” We all got a good chuckle out of that, and I couldn’t help but think of my colleagues in surrounding states who I would be rib-poking if they had been present.  (I have great relationships with those guys and enjoy friendly competition among us – deep in their heart they know Tennessee is best. J)

 

Kidding aside, our worship gatherings at TMMLC were in fact a little taste of heaven!  Friday night’s worship was no doubt one of the most powerful worship experiences in my eleven plus years in my role with the convention.  I was speechless to respond to people when greeted in the hall on my way to teach the first conference session with pastors and worship pastors.  I have since been assessing some of the elements of the worship that contributed to its profound impact (that has filled my email box with responses from conferees, by the way).  Here are some critical components to chew on as you plan weekly worship:

 

  • ·         The service was bathed in prayer.  Through all the preparation from enlisting musicians to choosing songs to checking notes with the preacher, Justin Wainscott, there was an intense prayer that the Spirit would speak to hearts and be free to work among His servants.  He answered.
  • ·         The service was drenched in scripture.  My class of pastors and worship pastors could not think of the last time they heard two complete chapters of scripture read aloud in worship.  Lord, help us trust the power of Your Word more than what we have to say or sing about it.  As Justin began to read Revelations 4 and 5, I was awestruck with the picture of Heaven and John’s vision of what was happening there.  It so connected the present reality of 600 musicians gathered to strengthen preparation for ministry with the worship of Heaven and the gathering of all the saints and heavenly beings.  I had a sense that my own dad, grandparents and loved ones were in that worship gathering, (we had sung All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name at Dad’s memorial service in fact) and knew we would soon sing No More Night, which I had conducted last at the memorial service for former Union University Music Department chair and beloved Tennessee Baptist musician, Ken Hartley – “Doc.” 
  • ·         The service was dripping with sweet fellowship of the gathered.  One of my favorite aspects of MMLC is observing people’s entrance into the building and/or worship center as they see and greet one another.  I do not think that sweet unity is just based on musical connection, but rather celebrates the likemindedness of people deeply desiring to meet with God and allow His Spirit to bring healing refreshment, significant renewal.
  • ·         The service was soaked with the Gospel.  From the joyous opening anthem reminder from the Psalms and the pen of Mary McDonald to Sing! And Be Not Silent, which remembers the testimony of God’s people, “Thou hast turned my mourning into dancing,” to the emotional recollection of two years previously when Claire Dickerson was struck by a car while walking to school, now standing before us to testify that God is mighty to save!  The theme of Good News continued through the resonant celebration that Travis led us in with his victorious declaration that Jesus Saves!  Wow!  Thanks be to God!
  • ·         The service flooded my emotions and obviously that of many others as tears freely flowed as Justin’s sermon crescendo led us to gaze again upon the Lamb Who was slain and sits upon His heavenly throne surrounded by throngs of worshipers.  I thought the choir (TLC/TMC – and their conductor and instrumentalists) would surely burst before we could release the praise building up inside, knowing we would be singing a dramatic picture of the place being described where there is “No more night. No more pain.”  Oh my!  I still hear the powerful sound in my mind’s ear.  God bless you ladies and gentlemen of TLC and TMC.  You helped a bit of heaven to be reflected on earth Friday night!

 

You may wonder about those water verbs, bathed, drenched, dripping, soaked, and flooded. Well, we are Baptists after all.  I believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit that leads us not to some unintelligible ecstatic state, but fills our imaginations with a glimpse of Heaven and our hearts with profound love for God in Christ and for one another, and compels us to reach our world for our Savior to God’s glory.

 

I realize that the above description is that of an experience in worship.  The ultimate end of worship is not our experience, but rather God’s glory displayed in the Truth of the Gospel.  I pray that in some way the Lord might use this feeble attempt to describe Friday’s experience to stir something among us – for those who were present, a remembrance of the Lord’s grace gift to be in our midst, and for those not present last Friday, a desire to baptize your own worship planning and preparation in prayer and scripture that the people of God in your place might live lives as Rorbert Webber says, “living in our baptism” – a people buried with Christ, raised to walk in newness of life.

 

In Christ alone,

Paul

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