Every Christian is familiar with words from a portion of what is often called the Lord’s prayer, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This truth and request is to be seen in our worship as much as any other aspect. How does heaven worship? What does it look like? Would the average Christian be comfortable worshiping on earth as it is in heaven? Biblical worship, for the large part, is corporate. It does include individual expressions in the life of a believer, but the fuller articulation is collective and is what we see in the Scriptures.
Since this article is dealing with corporate worship let me say up front, worship includes so many areas of our life. Even how we live is a part of our worship, as Paul wrote, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Rom 12:1). Our trust and faith in God can be called worship in that we ascribe honor, power, and glory to Him when we trust and obey God for who He is. It can be said that worship begins in the heart, but will not remain in the heart. Real worship will find a place of expression. It will not remain quietistic and internal. It will be seen in our life through giving, obedience, faith, and submission to Christ. Personal and individual worship is part of a contemplative life before God and should be seen as part of the life of a believer in Christ. Worshiping God alone in your secret place is real and powerful, but I want to address the fuller sense of biblical worship what is called corporate worship. This is the aspect of worship we see most often in scriptures.
We get a glimpse of heaven’s worship in the fourth chapter of the Book of Revelation. John was shown the throne of heaven and heavenly worship. John described the throne of God, the twenty-four elders around the throne, and the four living creatures leading in worship. Day and night they never stop saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, Who was, Who is, and Who is to come.” Whenever the living creatures offer glory, honor, and thanksgiving to Him who sits on the throne, the elders respond. They fall prostrate before Him Who is sitting on the throne and worship Him. They throw down their crowns crying out, “worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory, honor, and dominion” (Rev 4:9-11). The focus is entirely upon the honor, glory, power, and holiness of God. There are no spectators here. There are no performers here. Only God is the center of this worship. The elders, who sit in heaven as a representative of the Church, act in unison giving up their place and recognizing their own existence is from Him who sits on the throne. No independent worship here. No individualism being expressed. Only worship with God as the central focus.
A similar scene is described by the prophet Isaiah when he saw the Lord high and lifted up. He like John, spoke of the seraphim with six wings around the throne who led in worship crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (Isa 6:2-3). Isaiah’s response was to fall down knowing his own condition when he saw the King, the Lord of host. The prophet Ezekiel also had the opportunity to look into heaven’s worship experience. He saw the same four creatures leading in worship. His response was the same, he fell
upon his face (Ezek 1:28). Each of these worship experiences in heaven has the awesomeness of God the center of worship.
My point is not that we must fall before God in order to worship, but that same awe and honor where one would desire to do so, is the picture we see of God-centered worship. There is no evidence of any focus upon ourselves except our own condition in light of His presence. Since Jesus came as our open door to the Father, we can come boldly before the throne of grace, yet it is still in keeping with Him being central. He is our Father and very loving, yet worthy of deep worship and honor.
What I am about to say is from my own observation, but I see biblical corporate worship being lost in an individualistic culture. There are more and more people going to worship to hide or to get their sense of experiencing something from God. There is no doubt, some of my greatest experiences with God has been in worship both privately and corporately, so I understand the temptation to focus on ourselves in worship. There is a great inclination for worship to be “us oriented” because of that. You can hear it in our description of our worship experiences. Someone might say, “I did not get much out of that worship time.” Or, “I really enjoyed worship today.” I get it. I know that God’s presence satisfies our hearts and there is something to be said about the benefits. Without turning into a “word cop,” I only want to use these as illustrations to reflect our thoughts about worship. Our descriptions of worship don’t often express God as the center of our adoration.
So many of the present worship songs being presented on the market reflect this individualism in worship. There certainly is a place for songs that reflect God’s love for us and our position in Him, but I would suggest that greater time be given to songs that declare who He is. We see this in the Scriptures:
“Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place. Ascribe to the LORD, all you families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him. Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness. Tremble before him, all the earth! The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns!’” (2 Chron 16:23-31).
I have observed that something happens in a congregation of believers when they begin to sing songs that declare God’s greatness. I have noticed worship services when only a small percentage of the people were participating, but as soon as a song is sung about God and His works, something shifts. Even though those who are singing may not have even recognized it, you can easily see it by watching by the people’s
response. When a song is brought forth declaring God’s goodness, nature, and power, it explodes. I believe this happens because that is what is going on in heaven. Earth has just joined in with heaven declaring His holiness, honor, power, and majesty. It reminds me so much of the Psalms when David declared, “Great is the LORD in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations. Let them praise your great and awesome name— he is holy” (Ps 99:2-3). And another place he wrote, “Ascribe to the LORD, you heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness” (Psalm 29:1-2).
A lot of songs presently written and presented have solo-led parts and contain contemplative words that are more individualistic in nature. I have noticed the worship leader on the platform is often the only one singing at first and the congregation joins in on the chorus or bridge. This in itself is not bad, but a full worship experience with this format leaves the congregation experiencing individualistic worship and not a corporate experience. It would behoove worship leaders to be aware of the need for a corporate experience in worship. Every worship experience should include songs with a powerful corporate expression of who God is in the midst of believers. Our souls rise in strength when we glorify God. We are created as His worshipers. We have been born again into his nature to worship Him. Jesus tells us that the Fathers seeks worshipers (John 4:23).
Heaven’s worship includes a response from the participants. They are not entertained or comforted in worship. They are included as one voice and one heart. God is seen in all of his glory and holiness. In Revelation 7, we see a larger picture of worshipers. A multitude that could not be counted worshiped as “they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” Angels standing around the throne and around the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell on their faces and worshiped saying, “Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” (Rev 7:12).
True corporate worship should include declaring God’s greatness joyfully and even shouting together at times as the scriptures declare, “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs” and again, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” (Ps 100:1-2, 4).
My heart cries for worship on earth as it is in heaven. The words of John declares, “Unto Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and made us to be a kingdom and priest to serve His God and Father, to Him be glory and power for every and every amen” (Rev 1:5b-6). Let every one of us take our priestly place as worshipers in the house of our God. I have labored for more than three decades to see every member a minister. And just as we have worked to eliminate the separation from the platform to the congregation in ministry, lets do the same in worship. May there be few spectators and many participators as we fulfill the instruction given to us by the writer of Hebrews, “So worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Heb 12:28). And I will add, “as it is in heaven.”