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Jesus left teaching and gave us lessons from his life to show us how to live here on earth. The example of the Centurion encourages us to have faith that we can exercise authority over the world, the flesh and the devil. The church should be able to bring God’s power into situations where the enemy is having a field day; this does happen at certain times and in certain places, but we have to admit that the overall record is not good.

However, there is one aspect of the Christian life where Christians seem to be in complete control and that is the conduct of worship. Is it possible that the church’s general inability to exercise power out in the world could be connected to its unwillingness to let go of its control of its own worship? Most church leaders will probably answer this question in the negative, they believe that they can make all the decisions on style, content, format, etc. when their church family come together to praise God. These decisions are usually based on what the leaders believe will please the people, drawing from traditions, aesthetic considerations, the desire to entertain,… basically the ‘things of men‘ (Matthew 16:23). There is no doubt that some worship is acceptable by God, and other forms of worship are an anathema to him. Old Covenant worship was carefully proscribed in the Law and we have many of the rules and regulations in the Books of Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. In the New Covenant we are to be led by the Holy Spirit, but worship seems to be the hardest place for him to take control.

There is a fascinating connection between two passages in the Bible that makes this clear: the Golden Calf and the Day of Pentecost. These two are connected by these factors, which cannot just be coincidences:

  • They are both acts of worship; on the Day of Pentecost the people in Jerusalem reported “…we hear them speaking the great things of God in our own languages.” (Acts 2:11)
  • Days before they made the Golden Calf, the leader (Moses) had gone up, was covered with a cloud and was in the presence of God (Exodus 24:15-18). Just before the Day of Pentecost, the leader (Jesus) had gone up, was covered with a cloud and was in the presence of God (Acts 1:9, John 20:17). In each case the second-in-command (Aaron, Peter) was left in charge.
  • Following the worship of the Golden Calf, about 3000 were killed (Exodus 32:28); at the end of the events on the Day of Pentecost about 3000 were born again and baptised (Acts 2:41).

This last point makes it clear that we are to embrace all that happened at Pentecost, and to firmly reject everything about the worship of the Golden Calf. This is certainly not a matter of finding a compromise between them, we are meant to go to this one extreme.

The vital difference between these two events is that, at Sinai, the worship was pre-planned to please the people:

…the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us;… Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” (Exodus 32:2-5 NASB)

whilst the Day of Pentecost turned into a spontaneous praise service, as the unbelievers in Jerusalem recognised.

Another contrast happened on the mount of Transfiguration. When Jesus was revealed in his transplendent glory to Peter, James and John, Peter’s mind ran down the tram lines of the worship tradition he was used to:

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Matthew 17:4)

But the Father intervened before they could put Peter’s plan into action:

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5)

Jesus is still speaking to us through the power of the Holy Spirit, especially when it comes to worship.

How can we say we want to be led by the Holy Spirit as we go out into the world, if we stubbornly refuse to be led by the same Spirit in our worship? Jesus said to the Samaritan woman:

“A time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23)

Jesus said “God is spirit” and spoke about “true worshippers”, so worshipping “in spirit and in truth” must mean that we are to worship God led by the Holy Spirit with complete integrity (i.e. with no motive other than expressing the glory of God and our love for him).


At Holy Trinity Church, the first time we experienced the manifest presence of God in an unmistakable way was one Friday evening in 2006. R.T. (Dick) France had agreed to give us a series of talks on the early chapters of Matthew’s Gospel. He had just finished what is the finest commentary[36] on any book of the Bible that I have ever read. On 1st December 2006, I had forgotten that he was scheduled to come the following week and so called the church family together ready to hear another wonderful exposition. We started with worship as usual, but when Dick failed to arrive, I rung him only to discover my mistake. I apologised to the congregation and we decided to just carry on worshipping, this time with no time or other constraint. Then God turned up… It was as if he was saying, “You can plan to put on the absolute best that man can provide, but just see what I can do!” That sense of God’s manifest presence was still there on the following Sunday and we realised that we had ‘accidentally’ discovered something fundamental. God is seeking true worshippers who will allow him to be God, even in their worship! It is on earth as in heaven:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God…” (Revelation 21:3)

There is a great variety of worship styles on offer in most towns and cities, but each church tends to stick to what it believes will best please its congregation. Worshippers moving to a new area are encouraged to ‘shop around’ to find the church that suits them. Therefore, in most churches, most of the time, worship is something that runs along well defined lines; but this is tantamount to constraining how Jesus can manifest his presence with us. One member of Holy Trinity had a vision which clarified this:

I had a picture, during the quiet worship time on Wednesday evening, of a visitors’ room in an American style prison – prisoner and visitor sitting on opposite sides of an unbreakable glass barrier. I was the visitor and Jesus was the prisoner. (Why it was this way round, I didn’t understand.) Usually in dramas of this type the two people ‘touch’ through the glass as the visitor is leaving and this is just what Jesus and I did. I felt I wanted more – a real touch, but this I wasn’t able to do. Jesus then smiled and shook his head and the ‘prison’ setting disappeared and we were touching, hand to hand in open fields where there were flowers and meadows and trees and streams. I asked that if anyone knew why I was the visitor and Jesus the prisoner, could they please let me know.

Later while sitting and thinking about this I felt that Jesus spoke to me saying that Visitation and Habitation were a two-way thing. Chris Overstreet had spoken about Jesus wanting, not just a visitation but a habitation[37] – but Jesus was pointing out that we just ‘visit’ maybe for an hour once a week or once a month (like prison visiting hours) yet we can actually ‘habit’ with him since he has made this possible for us. We need to choose to spend that depth of time with him that constitutes habiting/living with him, instead of just visiting occasionally.[38]

If we deliberately take our hands off the planning and ordering of our worship, it’s like setting Jesus free. We come together in our church buildings to meet with him, but if we have carefully defined the environment in which this happens, it is as if we have imprisoned him. By taking off the constraints of our worship, we will meet with him on his terms. We will also know his presence outside of our meetings so we truly can say we are living with him.

There is a wonderful example of the power of revelation and Spirit-led worship to push back the forces of evil in the Old Testament. Please take the time right now to read 2 Chronicles 20:1-30. From the discussions above, I believe the lessons of this passage are clear, but here are just a few points to look out for:

  • It was all the people, including the women and children that came together to seek revelation:

The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him… All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the LORD. (2 Chronicles 20:4…13)

  • The required direction came through one individual, which the king and the people discerned, and then put into action

Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite and descendant of Asaph, as he stood in the assembly. (2 Chronicles 20:14)

  • His message was specific to their situation, but it is also true today.

“…You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.” (2 Chronicles 20:17)

  • The correct response: worship.

Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites stood up and praised the LORD, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice. (2 Chronicles 20:19)

  • The enemy was defeated, not by force of arms or a clever strategy, but by the people’s willingness to listen to God, their worship and their simple obedience. How God chose to solve the problem was beyond anyone’s imagination.

As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. The men of Ammon and Moab rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another. (2 Chronicles 20:22-23)

Discussion Points

  1. There is a great temptation for those leading and participating in worship to make it ‘horizontal’. We are more confident in pleasing those around us that we can see, than the one above whom we cannot. There is no excuse for not giving him our best, but how can we get attention off ourselves to listen to him? Have you any examples of that ‘still, small voice’ (1Kings 19:12 AV) leading you off in an unexpected direction?
  2. Mary of Bethany in one act of spontaneous, wasteful, extravagant worship (Matthew 26:7, Mark 14:3, John 12:3, see Chapter 8) set the standard. How can we emulate her?
  3. True Holy Spirit-led worship cannot be planned or engineered; therefore, there is nothing we can do to make it happen. All we can do is to clear the decks to be ready however he chooses to lead us. What aspects of your present experience of worship should be dropped and why?

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