In reading this, please be aware that this blog is but a small snapshot, a glimpse if you like, of a very much larger topic. Although I will endeavour to provide an extensive overview, it would be impossible to collate a lifetime of experience into a single written page. Any further questions you have, feel free to ask me. (See details at the end of this blog.)
As Christians we worship often (or should), but what exactly is Spirit led worship? In John’s gospel Jesus, in speaking about the Holy Spirit, makes this statement.
“14He will glorify me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you.” – John 16:14 ESV
The Holy Spirit intimately knows everything there is to know about Jesus and the Father for He is part of the triune Godhead. He also has the mind of God, for He is God! Therefore, it only makes sense that if we want to enter into true worship that pleases God, who better to lead and guide us than our helper, the Spirit of God? He is the ultimate worship leader.
Dennis Ngien states:
“There is no work of God in which the members of the Trinity are not jointly operative. This is true of creation, redemption and worship. …….. As a perfecter, the Spirit leads us to the Son, through whom our being and our act (of worship) have free access to the Fatherly sanctuary in the same Godhead. Only Spirit-perfected worship is true worship. Not only the Spirit joined through the Son to the Father is the proper object, but also the causative agency of worship, the one who exalts the community in Christ to the heavenly throne of the Father.”[i]
Worship should be Spirit led in the same way a Sunday sermon should be Spiritually inspired. It’s not about one being more important than the other. Both have very different functions but work together as if in a divine dance, or sweet duet. The Holy Spirit gives us revelation (rhema) through the inspired preaching of the Word (logos) of God, and our hearts/spirits excitedly respond with worship. Sometimes the lyrics of the songs themselves will have been Holy Spirit inspired when written, and He will use those words to raise the worship in response.
Geoffrey Wainwright explains:
“Theology [is] a handmaid of worship, performing a service ancillary to a primary activity of the church.”[ii]
JI Packer, author and theologian states that
“Theology, as I tell my students, is for doxology: the first thing to do with it is to turn it into praise and thus honour the God who is its subject, the God in whose presence and by whose help it (the Word) was worked out!”[iii]
To put that plainly he states:
“The purpose of theology is doxology. We study in order to praise.”[iv]
Note that doxology literally means the study of praise. It arises from comes from the Greek doxa, ("glory, splendour, grandeur") and logos, ("word" or "speaking"). However, dictionaries usually define it as an expression of praise! In other words, the revelation we gain through the Word of God inspires us to praise and worship.
But how can we be Spirit Led in worship? Before we create a list of “how-to’s” it would be sensible to firstly discuss four essential ingredients God requires for worship. You can already recite two. True worshippers must worship in Spirit and truth. (See John 4:24)
1) In Truth: This means that true worshippers will be genuine, authentic and without pretence. They will also speak and sing the truth as they worship. (It would be nonsense to expect the Holy Spirit use songs if they are not in accordance with the truth of the Word of God. Please note, I’m not suggesting that songs are direct quotes from the Scriptures, but that the sentiments expressed agree with the Word of God as the ultimate truth.)
2) In Spirit: I have already discussed briefly the need to be led by the Holy Spirit, but true worship also comes out of our spirits as well. It is not merely a mechanical action or something we have to do on Sunday because that’s what Christians do. No, it rises up out of our spirits in response to the revelations of God.
What about the other two essentials? The next is almost obvious: Worship must come from our hearts.
3) A Heart Response: Our love for God compels us to worship. This we desire to do whether home alone, or with the saints corporately. In fact, I can unequivocally state that God has always – right from the dawn of man - desired our hearts in worship. (I go into much more detail from the Scriptures in my book “Spirit Led Worship” if you are interested in delving deeper.)
Suffice to say that when Israel’s heart had been lured away from God, Isaiah spoke these words in the Holy Spirit.
“These people draw near with their mouths And honour Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,” - Isaiah 29:13 NKJV.
Jesus even quotes this passage when speaking about the legalistic Pharisees (See Matthew 15:7-9.) Why? - because God is looking for those who truly love Him. If worship is merely for show, it’s a waste of time, and what’s more, God hates it.
This brings us to the final essential ingredient:
4) For God Alone: If we are merely trying to impress others, or if all our other interests take precedence over God, God hates our worship as well. Again there is much to be said on this, but even a cursory reading of the Old Testament will highlight this point, and God’s thoughts on the matter have not changed.
Recapping: the four essential ingredients for worship are:
1) In Truth
2) In Spirit
3) From the heart
4) Him alone with no other gods before Him.
(Note: this list is not in order of importance!)
When those four essential ingredients are correct, we have Biblical worship. Naturally, in a corporate setting, for Spirit led worship to take place it will be the worship leader’s responsibility to be in the flow of the Holy Spirit, and the congregation’s responsibility to follow. This ensures that we all flow together in the Holy Spirit as a harmonious, unified church. (Where there is unity God commands a blessing.)
Space and time are insufficient to provide you with all the details or “mechanics” of Spirit led worship here in this blog. (See my book, “Spirit Led Worship: How to Follow Where HE Leads” for far more detail on how to achieve this.) Nevertheless, to put it simply, worship leading is hearing/seeing what the Holy Spirit is doing, or where He is moving next, and then doing the same. Jesus only did what He saw the Father do, (John 5:19). Likewise we only do/sing what we see or hear the Holy Spirit doing/saying.
The worship leader must also be able to hear/see the music on a “spiritual plain”, that is, to hear where the Holy Spirit is taking the worship next. This could involve hearing what’s next, or even seeing what is to be played on an instrument. Does He want to change to another song – either on your list or something completely different? Perhaps He wants to repeat the chorus or a phrase, or enter into free worship. Is there a building up of sound or a quieting down? Is there a particular instrument He is highlighting that will carry the anointing? Is silence required?
The leader also needs to be aware of both the music team and the congregation in the physical realm. Are they following into the flow, or sitting around bored? It’s not the leader’s job to go off alone in worship but to lead! Therefore, the leader must still be “with it” enough to give good directions to the music team. Of course, if there are dancers and other artistic expressions (e.g. flag waving), the worship leader must be aware of what they are doing, and how to lead them as well. As the worship winds up, keeping an eye on what the pastor is doing is important in case he needs to give directions to keep going or to stop.
As you can see, there is a great deal going on that both the worship leader’s spiritual ears, eyes and senses, and physical eyes and ears must be attuned to. This is also why pre-service prayer is essential and should not be sidestepped in preference to other pre-service activities.
With regard to the song list: it’s one thing to have prayed about what songs to use, but sometimes changes need to be made to the song list on the fly during the worship service. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit is not out to trick anyone, or to make them look foolish. He wants to work with people for everyone’s edification and building up, so although it can seem daunting at first, as with any Holy Spirit gift or skill, practicing at home with the Holy Spirit can only improve it. A Special Note here: Those who worship alone where no one can see will lead well where the brethren are gathered, because (as Dr Mark Virkler has pointed out), they have already been in that place and the fragrance of Heaven remains on them.
When putting the song list together under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, there will generally be a message or theme that the Holy Spirit specifically tailors to the congregation’s spiritual needs for that time. Nevertheless, there are also other times when He has no particular message for that week, other than for people to set their minds on the King of kings. In that case the songs will be absolutely God focused. From this focused posture it is easy then to enter into Throne Room Worship (see https://www.cwgministries.org/blogs/leading-worshipers-throne-room.) Note: Rarely will there be any theme jumping with each new song (e.g. warfare to intimacy to raucous rejoicing to something else) unless the songs you initially selected were incorrect, so avoid theme jumping at all costs, as it can simply be distracting to everyone. (I am not referring to transitions here.)
If you are not a worship leader in a church or home group, but still want your worship to be Spirit led, you can still do so without usurping the worship leader. While worshipping, still your mind and focus your eyes on Jesus, allowing your Spirit activated imagination to operate as you sing the words of the songs. If the Holy Spirit is on the music you will know. If it is, perhaps He is trying to tell you something. Listen to His voice. Is there a message in the words of the song? Watch for His image/vision, or listen for His words of advice or wisdom.
For much, much more on this topic, please visit https://www.KarenGray.com.au/KMGray-books-Worship. Spirit Led Worship: How to Follow Where He Leads is available https://www.karengray.com.au/KMGray-books-Worship.htm.
For much, much more on this topic, please visit https://www.KarenGray.com.au/KMGray-booksWorship.htm. Spirit Led Worship: How to Follow Where He Leads is available from https://www.amazon.com/Spirit-Led-Worship-Follow-Where-ebook/dp/B07PP5BNB5.
[i] “Gifted Response: The Triune God as the Causative Agency of our Responsive Worship” by Dennis Ngien, Copyright 2008, Paternoster publishers. ISBN: 1842276107
[ii] Geoffrey Wainwright, “The Praise of God in the Theological Reflection of the Church,” Interpretation 39 , 35
[iii] “God has Spoken” by J.I Packer, Copyright © 1979 Ebook ISBN 978 1 473 63708 5
[iv] J.I Packer
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