Worship and the Kingdom of God

Tuesday 14 July

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Neil Bennetts has been teaching on worship during Sligo 15.  This morning his seminar explored the connection between worship and the Kingdom of God.  Here VOX magazine's editor Ruth Garvey-Williams brings you a summary of what he had to say.

My first question is: what do you mean when you use the word worship?

Answers:  Way of life.  Adoration. Exalting God’s Holy name.  Being in God’s presence. Giving thanks and praise to God.  Singing.  Obedience. Responding to God’s love.

My second question is: what do you mean when you use the term "kingdom."

 Answers: God’s rule and authority.  God’s power in heaven breaking into earth. God’s family.

I have been involved in worship for 35 years.  Going to Africa was a huge step. I’m one of the least risk-taking people in the universe . For one day, I went out into the slums of Kampala and that was the start of real change for me in my understanding of worship and the Kingdom of God.  I have led worship and experienced the power and presence of God in powerful ways in venues all around the world but as I walked through the slums of Kampala, I experienced the presence of Jesus in a special way.  I wasn’t anticipating that same sense of the presence of God there as in a worship service.

The highlight for me was visiting a land project where they are taking families out of the slums, building houses, rehabilitating and restoring them, teaching them farming skills and so much more.   I’m not sure life gets much better than that - on a mountainside in Africa when people’s lives are being restored and people are worshipping God and people are coming to faith!

I’ve been thinking about this a lot - bringing together worship and the coming kingdom of God.  When we worship we want to see people healed and restored.  We want to see people coming to faith. How does this all hang together with the Word of God?  

Starting with the definition of kingdom.  One of my heroes is Dallas Willard.  His definition: the kingdom is where what God wants done, gets done.  We need to understand what God wants.

God chose Abraham - we don’t know why.  That’s grace. God always wants to do great things through ordinary people. The lightbulb moment about scripture is that our relationship with God is always by grace (not just in the New Testament)!  The narrative of scripture is all about grace from start to finish!

In Scripture, the instructions about worship in Leviticus went hand-in-hand with laws about feeding the widows, taking care of the poor, the lost, the broken and the foreigners.  This was the heart of God for His people.  This is not how we get chosen, it is how we express that we are chosen!

In the minds of the Israelite people, worship was just as much about liberation and justice as it was about music and singing.  I think the people of Israel would be utterly bemused with the tendency of the church to equate worship with what we do on Sundays. 

My definition of worship is this:   To worship God is to wholeheartedly orientate our lives around His presence and purposes.

We can become worship consumers and that can become idolatry.  Worship must be about God’s presence and His purposes.  We need to hold together the practice of corporate worship with the lifestyle.  We need to do both those things together.  It is good for us. 

Worship is the entire activity 24/7 of a kingdom-minded people.

The pattern of worship in Scripture

  1. A manifestation of the presence of God
  2. A revelation of the character of God
  3. An expression / response of worship
  4. A re-orientation around the purposes of God

Examples from Scripture

The dedication of Solomon’s temple:  The priests blew their Shofar’s.  The cloud of God’s presence is comes down on the temple and they fell flat on their faces.  Following this passage, Solomon prays, “Let this be the place where people are healed and restored, where justice is dispensed, where people find forgiveness.”  This is the re-orientation around the purpose of God - concern for the oppressed, the poor and the broken.

When it all goes wrong: Amos 5:21 “I hate and despise your feasts…”  The context of the minor prophets was that the people had let go of God’s heart.

Jesus’ baptism: The spirit comes down (a manifestation).  God’s expression of love (a revelation of His character).  Jesus goes into the desert (a response of worship).  Then Jesus goes into the synagogue and announced His ministry (re-orientation around God’s purposes).

Pentecost: Manifestation of God and expression of His character, a response of worship and then a reorientation around the purposes (they had everything in common, they gave to the poor…)

Revelation:  We see a fulfillment of the kingdom with no more death, tears, pain or injustice.

It is important to understand what scripture is saying about worship!  I believe the world is desperate for an authentic encounter with God.  There aren’t many places where people can go for an encounter with God. I believe if we are to be a missional church, we need to be a worshipping church. It is so important to understand the biblical foundation for everything we do.

Each one is a prophetic foretaste of the next.  Pentecost for me, shows that what was temporary in the Old Testament because universally available for all.  The fullness of the presence of God that existed in the temple and in Jesus is now in us.

The Spirit has broken out and it is in us.  Everything you need to help the king get done what He wants done is in you!  The door to the temple is in your heart.  We become more kingdom orientated when we surrender to the presence of God within us.  We are not trying to drag a reluctant God into the room.  He is already in the room and willing to work.  The only question is whether we are willing to surrender to Him.  The work of the worship leader is to encourage a deeper surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit.  We need to release ourselves from the burden of having the generate the coming of the Holy Spirit.  He is already here!

There is a challenge to me personally to be engaged with issues of justice, the poor, the oppressed… it is not good enough just to be part of a church that has a ministry to the poor.  Every person has to have a ministry to the poor and the broken.  There is a single parent who lives down the road, why don’t you start there?

In one place, people of the slums are not allowed in the church because they smell too bad.  In the church, so often we are just like that!  Yet, Jesus’ agenda is for the poor and the broken.  There is an invitation here to a fullness of life.  If we engage with the purpose and presence of God, then we are doing things that we are meant to do and we come alive when that happens!

Walter Brueggermann (Old Testament scholar) - “When the powers of injustice are overthrown and the new powers of Yahweh come into place, there is celebration and worship in the throne room of Yahweh and He shows His glory.”

When you don’t know what to do, worship!