One of my recurring prayers over the last few months has been to seek God’s understanding of what His purposes are in these days in congregational worship. One of the lasting worship leaders of our time, Kent Henry, espouses the assertion that a new generation of worship is born every 15 years or so. I can’t disagree. In my lifetime, there have been several distinct worship “movements,” or “seasons of worship”, with different emphases (both good and not so good) revealing a kernel of truth about God’s purposes.
In the midst of this prayer of mine, over the last few weeks, I have been consistently been drawn back to a passage in Isaiah 61. This passage has led me on a chase through the scriptures as I sought to understand its impact. Isaiah 61 starts with a very familiar Messianic passage that we understand was fulfilled by Christ. The end of the chapter, verses 10-11, are my focus. It is generally accepted by scholars that these two verses are Israel’s response to the promise of the Messiah:
I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.
There is so much in this passage, but to summarize, we have the prophet Isaiah speaking for Zion, declaring delight and rejoicing for having been given hope of salvation, restoration, and right standing before the Lord, especially in a season of judgment. The last bit of the passage, though, is my focus.
The passage is apparent that God’s purpose is to cause “righteousness and praise spring up before (in the view of) all nations.” The words of this passage speak of something new coming to life. In this context, it is the renewal of right standing with God and new expressions of worship. True worship is always accompanied with a right heart. You can’t separate the two. True worship also makes an impact on those who do not believe- the nations. Israel’s mission was to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” representing God before the nations. This mission was extended to the church through the work of Christ.
As we enter the spring time of the year, we are beginning to see the tender shoots of flowers beginning to sprout up from the ground. Soon, little gardens will be planted in suburban back yards. It’s always amazing to me to see this miracle where there was no apparent life, but now there exists a young, new expression of God’s creation.
As the flowers of the field are of a cyclical nature, so are seasons of worship. I strongly believe that the current season of worship expression is wrapping up, having fulfilled God’s purposes for it. I won’t get into detail with this current paradigm, but one of the strengths of this season is that it has exposed the worship of God to the world, very much in keeping with God’s intent for His people. How many times have we seen one of these reality TV singing talent shows be blown away when an anointed musical servant makes a musical declaration of faith over the airwaves- and they have not been cast in a mocking light? It has been unprecedented, for certain.
With this in mind, my prayer is that a new sprout of worship will grow from the seeds of this passing generation, with a heart for God and for the nations. Adjoining my prayer is that the next generation of worship will be infused with a fresh sense of joy. I feel that this is essential to what comes next. Our days are filled with the world’s anxiety and dread. I believe that the church and the world are craving for songs and expressions of worship that inspire joy. My second prayer is that it will be indwelt with a deeper understanding of the presence of God. My consistent message in ministry always has been that the Lord can do more with one second in His presence than we can accomplish in our lifetime. When we pursue afresh the presence of the Lord, then truly, believers will be transformed, and unbelievers will be confronted with the living God!