Revelation chapter 4 gives us a no-holds-barred view of worship in heaven. The imagery is fantastic, similar to something out of a Tolkien or C.S. Lewis novel. God is at the center of it all, surrounded by 4 living creatures, 24 elders, then encircled by thousands of angels.
Of interest to us are the 4 living creatures, each possessing a different appearance. These creatures play a central role to the worship of God throughout the book, inspiring spontaneous worship at times. We’re told, “whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne, the 24 elders bow down and express worship.” Although these creatures take on other roles in the narrative, they primarily function as instigators of worship (think: worship leaders!), as we understand from the text.
The narrative tells us that each creature has a different appearance. One has the appearance of a lion, the second, of an ox, the third, of a man, and the fourth like an eagle. Similar creatures are described by Ezekiel in his vision.
I make no claim to be an expert on the apocalyptic genre of the Bible. I’m not certain that even the “experts” get it all right. What I do know is that from a Biblical perspective, each living creature does represent (symbolizes) some characteristic of Christ from which leaders of worship should strive to emulate. Let’s take a look at each living creature, and see what might be drawn from each.
The lion is a bold conqueror who protects his own. Revelation 5:5 describes Christ as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, signifying a victorious leader of his people. Judah, fourth son of Israel and Leah, received his father’s blessing as the leader of his brothers. It was most likely an unexpected patriarchal blessing, but in similar form, God’s callings are often unexpected. We may be tempted to walk out that calling with timidity, but as one called to engage God’s people in worship, it is critical not to be afraid to lead. Operate in the full authority that Christ has given you. You have been authorized with a task to lead God’s people into His presence. Don’t shrink back or fear– be bold!
The strong ox is symbolized as a servant throughout the Bible. Valued for its ability to plow ground, the ox’s humble role in an agrarian society also denoted its value. I can think of no greater example of a servant than the example of Christ, who “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8). Remember the servant nature of your calling. When you are consistently on the stage, under the lights, it is easy to get distracted by the praise of men, which inevitably leads to arrogance, pride, a haughty spirit. Instead, be an imitator of Christ by practicing true humility in keeping with repentance!
The human speaks of the humanity of Christ and His empathy for the human condition. Fully God, fully man, Hebrews assures us that Jesus is not a “high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.” Demonstrate human empathy for those who serve in your ministry. Pastor your volunteers. They are not assets to be used for your ministry, but they are God’s people, entrusted for a season into your care. You will give an accounting of them before the Lord. Invest yourself in them with great compassion!
The eagle operates from an on-high, transcendent perspective. He is able to see what is happening as he soars throughout the earth. This is something of a prophetic role. Jesus operated in this role throughout His ministry. In John 5, he declares matter-of-fact that he only does “what he sees his Father doing.” This demonstrated the outflow of His prayer life, which empowered Him for ministry. The worship leader similarly must live a lifestyle of worship, bathing in the Word and prayer. In those times, the Holy Spirit will give insight how to handle difficult situations, what words to speak to people, and yes, unleash that prophetic, creative flow. It takes time and dedication to develop our relationship with the Lord. When we neglect that spiritual connection with the Lord, we became stale, dead, utterly disconnected from God. A disconnected life relies more on talent than anointing, a very dangerous place to be. Live in God’s presence!
God’s model for instigators of worship is a beautiful one. My prayer is that you will apply these central characteristics of Christ- our Prophet, Priest, and King – to your life and ministry.