When Our Worship, Fails To Worship = Ichabod!
To be in God’s presence is wonderful! It is the atmosphere of heaven, the very reality of God among us. I don’t want to merely sing about him, or to reverence him with my songs. I want to know him experientially. To sense him with me and in me and around me.
Of course, God is a holy God and his presence is a sensitive presence. We have all known his presence come and go. I have known him walk through a door right beside me; I have also known him leave a service when actions or attitudes offend him.
As a worship leader you need to know how to care for the presence of God. You need to know what makes him stay and what makes him leave. In the final part of this book I want to outline some of the spiritual requirements worship leaders, musicians, singers and ministers should fulfil, if we are to correctly handle and host the presence of God. Literally thousands of people have died through ignorance over handling God’s holy presence. And though we have talked much through the pages of this book about God moving in glory upon our lives, we must acknowledge that an increase in God’s glory, means an increase in responsibility, especially from those called to lead.
Handling the Ark of His Presence
In the pages of the first book of Samuel we find a remarkable series of events revolving around the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was, as you will know, the gold plated box God had commanded the Israelites to use as a symbol of his throne and promise. Above the Ark were two Cherubim (angelic beings). God had said to Moses “I will meet you there” between the outstretched wings of the Cherubim. (see Exodus 25:10-22)
Following this Ark on a journey through a few stages of Israelite history, we can see how this symbol of God’s presence impacted different circumstances. This story goes some way to teach us how to handle his glory in life and service.
Calling God’s Presence “It” – 1 Samuel 4
The children of Israel drew up battle lines against the Philistines, their arch enemies. The first stage of the battle begins and the Israelites get badly beaten. Back at camp there is panic. A few desperate Israelites remember wars of old when they had routed various large armies and dangers. Whole cities had fallen by the miraculous battle strategies of this fearsome tribe. Something had always been present at those battles – there had always been a common denominator: The Ark of Covenant.
The Israelites said to themselves “Let us bring the Ark of the Covenant into the Camp, that it may save us from our enemies”. I suppose they had a right to think it may save them – it had been present at many victories in the past, so subliminally they endued the Ark with a sense of power all of its own. They brought the Ark into the camp, went out into battle, lost abysmally once again, and the Ark was captured. At the same time a child was born called “Ichabod”, meaning “The Glory Has Departed”.
Let’s learn from this: God gives us Arks and other tools and symbols to help us. Things like worship leaders, worship styles, songs and P.A. systems. But please note the children of Israel said “IT will save us”, not “He will save us!” While not wrong in and of themselves, the moment we begin to rely on the “Its”, and believe it is them that “will save us”, the presence of God departs. The day we depend on the “Arks” instead of a personal relationship of walking with God, the glory of God evacuates our lives.
It is amazing to watch the reaction of Christians who always believe the way they do things is the way they should be done. The songs, the music, the length of the meetings, the preaching style. Now while God gives us lovely things, if we depend on them, rather than on him, the glory will depart. If we depend on our “three fast songs, three slow songs” formula, the glory and presence will run out of the door. Sadly, many might not know the difference when he has gone, and may keep on churning out the religious formula, however charismatic it may seem! But there will be no fire, no wind and no power to defeat the enemy!
Ron Kenoly wasn’t playing in the background as Jericho fell; No Kendrick songs were being played when Jesus healed the sick. At the end of the day, you can live without all the “Its” if the power of God is with you! What is your attitude to the “Its” and Arks he has given you? Are you more dependent on them and on your worship culture, than on God? I had to overcome my dependence on the “Its” the day I found myself leading worship in the African bush, with no P.A. system, a guitar with three strings on it, and hundreds of people waiting for Spirit led leadership!
As a worship leader you need to know, deeply, that God is with you. You need to know that you have a greater connection with his presence and power than with any of your “tools”, such as music, worship styles and culture. Unless you do then his manifest presence probably left you a long time ago and you may not even know it, as we can survive a long time on the “Its” – or at least until a crisis hits us!
God’s Presence Among Other Gods – 1 Samuel 5:1-9
Once captured, the Ark of God’s presence was taken to Ashdod and placed in a pagan temple, alongside other gods. In the morning the demonic god Dagon lay toppled before the ark. In a very short time an epidemic hit the land, with many covered in boils and tumours. They had made the dreadful mistake of thinking you could place our Living God alongside other feeble excuses for divinity! No other god can ever stand beside the One True God for long.
And that includes the gods of our own worship ministries, plans and profiles. We don’t want to be “gods” alongside the True God. We want him to be revered and him alone. I know this is strong, pictorial language, but deep in the hearts of many performers, there is the desire to be a “god”. Pop and film stars are known as screen gods, or equal themselves to “Jesus”, as the Beatles so in-famously did.
It is sad to say, but many worship leaders would be just at home singing in a pub or club, trying to get into the charts or to become teen idols! There are, without a doubt, ego-issues in the hearts of most creative people that must be dealt with (mine certainly did!). While desiring to sing in the charts or give God a profile through fame is not wrong in and of itself, in worship ministry we must ensure our hearts are set to cause everyone to worship Jesus and Jesus alone. God once said to me “It’s not your meeting, or your platform – I just want you to give me a platform and let me have my meeting!”. And that is the worship ministry – facilitating others to commune with Jesus, not with our gifting or good looks!
In scripture we find that as King Solomon’s priests stepped down and got out of the way, God’s glory invaded the temple. This is an important factor. Worship leading is partly about stepping down and stepping aside. Pointing people to God and getting out of the way. It’s not about pointing people to ourselves or getting our gifting to be seen and visible.
I was once repeatedly invited to minister to a small group of people, an invite that took me a couple of years to fulfil. On reaching the meeting and setting up my keyboard I sat down to play and lead worship. As soon as I started to play God struck me dumb for over an hour! At first it was embarrassing, but then I realised everyone was having a great time without me, as the presence of God moved on people! I had to learn that God can do things quite well without me. My ministry is not about putting on a good show, but about keeping out of God’s way enough for him to touch lives as he wants to.
God’s Presence Without the Blood – 1 Samuel 6:19-20
Looking back to our story now: Somewhat panicked by the epidemic and destruction of the “gods”, the Philistines sent the Ark back to Israel, eventually finding its way to the men of Beth Shemesh. Intrigued by the Ark, this small Israelite clan lifted the lid to look inside. Instantly over 50,000 men died.
This is one of those unusual scriptures that leave you wondering what on earth has gone on? Why did God kill thousands of men for merely looking into the Ark? Was he in a bad mood? Did he just get out of the wrong side of the bed that morning? To understand God’s purpose here, you really need to understand the design of the Ark of the Covenant.
Inside the box-like Ark was stored a few items, most notably the tablets of the Law (also called the Ten Commandments, which was the Covenant or agreement made between the Israelites and God). The top of the box was a golden lid called “The Mercy Seat”. Over the Mercy Seat, between the outstretched wings of the two Cherubim (angelic beings), the supernatural glory of God would shine.
Once a year the high priest would enter into the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle and sprinkle blood over the Mercy Seat (the lid). In effect, the priest would sprinkle blood between the glory of God (shining above between the Cherubim) and the Law (hidden below inside the box). This meant that God would “look down” from the glory between the Cherubim, see the shed blood on the Mercy Seat and judge the people by the blood and not by the Law – the shed blood signifying that someone, or something, had taken the punishment for any acts committed that violated the Law.
What had the men of Beth Shemesh done by looking into the ark? They had lifted the Mercy Seat, thus removing the blood covering between the glory and the Law! This is one of the greatest lessons regarding God’s presence: God’s glory and holiness, without blood, will destroy you. The men of Beth Shemesh removed the blood that covered the Law, they were instantly judged by that Law, were found wanting and instantly died.
Worship, presence, praise and glory are utterly painful without the blood of Jesus Christ. Feelings of guilt destroy worship time after worship time, causing us to run, hide and separate ourselves from him. No-one can approach God without knowing the wonder of the shed blood of Jesus, his wonderful grace, mercy and love. We must enter the presence of God by the blood stained way. A way you can’t ever earn – but must receive through grace. A way where his sacrifice covers all our failures, even in the light of his intense holiness. We must always keep the Mercy Seat in place if we are to know his glory. If we fail to, he will “kill us”, as he is still the same holy God as he has always been.
When leading worship and hosting the presence of God in a meeting or in your life, always have an emphasis on the blood and sacrifice of Jesus. Always cause people to remember God’s forgiveness and grace. When trying to come close to God, confess your sin and receive God’s full forgiveness at the Mercy Seat. Then you can enjoy the pure intensity of his presence.
Never forget that God’s presence is hosted by the blood of Jesus on the earth.
Imitating the World – 1 Chronicles 13
As we have already seen, after the Ark had upset the Philistines, they sent it back to Israel. They did this by placing it on a new cart pulled by Oxen and sending it on its way. There it was found by the men of Beth Shemesh, many of whom came to an untimely end, as mentioned in the previous section of this chapter.
After God killed the men of Beth Shemesh, the Ark was stored in a house until, many years later, king David decided he wanted to bring it back to Jerusalem. Without really studying God’s blueprint of how to handle the presence, David tried to bring the Ark into Jerusalem in the same way the Philistines had sent it – on a new cart. Now it might not seem like much to you or me, but David tried to handle God’s presence in an inappropriate way, and a man called Uzzah died as a result. The Ark rocked around a little as it was on its way, Uzzah reached out his hand to steady it and God killed him. Yet another story where you wonder if God was in a bad mood!
Of course, he wasn’t. He just expected David to handle his holy presence with the respect he deserved. God had clearly outlined his blueprint for handling the presence but David had ignored it. Reproved, David then delved into the scriptures and discovered that the Ark was meant to be carried by Levitical Priests, not new carts. On his next attempt to give the Ark a home in Jerusalem, David was successful.
We can learn a very special lesson from this: Because of apathy towards God’s Law (God’s blueprint), David resorted to impersonating the world and the culture around him and simply assumed what he had seen elsewhere, or heard about, was acceptable to God. He took hold of God’s presence and treated it as the Philistines had, and God considered it sin enough to put a man to death. As we have seen elsewhere in this book, there is a definite right and wrong to worship. This cannot be ignored. We must discover God’s blueprint.
Worship leader, you are not here to impersonate the world. You don’t lead worship because you couldn’t make it as a club singer! You are not in God’s equivalent of the Top of the Pops every Sunday. You’re not here to show off, to perform or to entertain. You are here to respectfully host the presence of a Living God, who could well kill you if you get it terribly wrong. Ask Ananias and Sapphira if you want a New Testament opinion (Acts 5)!
Learn how you should handle God’s presence. Learn what your lifestyle should be like as a leader from studying the life of Jesus and the epistles. Live a life worthy of the calling you have received and don’t for one, short moment think you are on the platform because you have a right to perform. Not if you want to host the overwhelming presence of our King.
The presence of God is a fearsome thing. Handle his “nearness” with grave honour and respect. Study hard, pray hard, listen to God and the leadership he has given you. Worship in private as well as in public. Step aside and let God’s presence be the focus point of those you are leading. Then you will have fulfilled the glorious challenge of hosting God’s presence among his people.
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