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The Real Audience of Worship

October 24, 2019 • Life for Leaders

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.

Ephesians 5:18-19 (NIV)

If you were to eavesdrop on the conversations of churchgoers after a typical worship service, you’d hear comments like, “I loved the band this morning” or “The choir was glorious” or “The sermon was just so-so.” If you didn’t know anything about Christian worship, other than what you heard from worshipers on their way home from church, you’d figure that worship is a performance. The churchgoers are the audience (or maybe even the critics). The band, choir, preacher, and other leaders are the performers.

Lyrics from a worship song on a projector in front of audience during worship serviceFor most of my early life, I thought of worship this way. But in young adulthood I began to experience worship differently. It was not primarily for me and the other worshipers, but for God. We gathered each week, not mainly to receive, but mainly to give to the Lord. Though I didn’t talk about worship in terms of an audience, my heart sensed that God was the audience and, in some way, I was a performer. I understood that, in the language of Ephesians 5:19, I was to “sing and make music from [my] heart to the Lord.”

This new vision of worship became crystalized for me through the preaching of Ben Patterson, a pastor in Orange County, California. Though I did not attend his church, I heard him speak at conferences and listened to tapes of his preaching. Ben frequently used an image he had picked up from the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. According to Kierkegaard, God is the true audience for worship. Congregation members are the performers. Worship leaders are the prompters. This notion of God as the real audience for worship continued to transform my experience, encouraging me to think of worship more in terms of what I could offer to the Lord than what I could “get” from the service. Ironically, I found that the more I focused on giving to God, the more I actually did get out of worship.

In the remarkable providence of God, I ended up following Ben Patterson as the senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, where he had been the founding pastor. I gladly built on the foundation Ben had laid, encouraging the worshiping community of that church to “sing and make music from their hearts to the Lord.” Though it was right and proper for us to receive from the Lord in the context of worship – the God we worship is, after all, the ultimate gift giver – our focus ultimately should be on him, his nature, his grace, his glory. God is the real, ultimate audience of our worship.

Something to Think About:

As you think about your own experience of worship, who is the audience?

Do you ever think of God as the audience for your worship? Why or why not?

If you were to approach each worship experience with the conviction that God is the true audience of worship, how might this make a difference in your own worship?

Something to Do:

The next time you gather with other believers for worship, see if you can think of God as the true audience for your worship. Even as you listen to prayer or preaching, try to offer your listening to God as an act of worship.

Prayer:

Gracious God, you are worthy of all worship, all praise, all glory, all honor. You deserve everything I can offer you and so much more. Help me, I pray, to think of you as the audience for my worship. Remind me that you aren’t impressed by what’s on the outside, but by the offering of my heart to you. Be glorified, Lord, in my worship. And may what I do in the worship gathering each week be reflected in the way I live the rest of the time. Help me to offer myself to you in worship, not just when I sing and pray, but when I work and play. Amen.

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online
commentary:
Worship and Work (Isaiah 1ff.)

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