Have you ever been in that intense moment of worship? It is such a surreal experience. The only thing that seems to matter in the world is what is happening right there and then in sacred space. Time seems to move at its own pace and everything else outside that worship event fades into white noise. My mind and my senses seem to be more alive, charged with an electric heavenly energy. The words, the sounds, the congregation, everything seems more meaningful, more real, when I am caught up in the motions of worship. Wave after wave of strong emotion I never knew I had hits me as I am moved with unspeakable gratitude to God. In that moment the God you realise has always been with you, comes into sharp focus. Paradoxically the majestic of mystery of our Maker also comes into stark relief. Every moment you find yourself immersed in worship it is so rich, so powerful, so scary, that sometimes it is very hard to put in words. The best you can do is just to worship him some more.
When I am in such a deep moment of worship, beyond the feel of it I also think a lot. My mind is just sharper and my imagination is enlivened in new ways. Worship for me is not just about being aware of his closeness but also exploring his greatness. My most profound meditations on the mysteries of God happen when I am lost in a moment of worship. It was on such an occasion that I began to reflect on the worship experience, how everything seems to come together during that time. I had explored the concept of “total worship” and had even written posts about it on this blog. It is the idea that worship is a consummate experience involving all of God’s creation and humans are the cosmic worship leaders in all creation fully honouring its maker. It is a very rousing thought that your worship is not an isolated private event but something of cosmic significance. As I stood with my hands lifted up the idea of total worship came to me again in a fresh way. I began to consider how this theology of worship played out in the moment of pure, unscripted adoration I found myself in.
I noticed that when you worship in a congregation, whether 2 or 200, 000 people, all reality seems to converge on that place. My private understanding and experience of total worship was different from my corporate understanding and experience of it. I realised congregational worship had its own ordained, non-negotiable place in the lives of believers. Participation in it is simply not optional. You, the entire you, worships with the congregation, the entirety of every person present. Even the building, the instruments, the furnishings, all seem to be geared towards that one singular purpose: worship.
The analogy that came to me of what was happening was a singularity. In physics a spacetime singularity is an event where the ordinary understanding of the laws of nature breaks down. The big bang and black holes are examples of spacetime singularities. There the normal rules as we understand them don’t apply and anything can happen. Within the event horizon of worship our experience of reality is not the same because we are participating in a cosmic event. In the worship scene in Revelation 4 & 5 we see all creation, things in heaven, on earth and under the earth, all in worship of He Who Sits on the Throne and of the Lamb. This is not just a poetic way of talking about worship. It is a real event albeit described in apocalyptic language. In 4:11 the 24 Elders explain that everything is made according to God’s will. This means the purpose of creation is to serve him. In other words the purpose of creation is worship. In Revelation John saw a visionary snapshot of what creation does all the time, that is, serving its maker. John saw a living holographic picture of total worship. The clue as to how all this work is found in 4:1-2.
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. – ESV
The classical Jewish understanding of heaven found in the Bible is not a distant place in outer space. It is God’s space, his dimension of reality that interlocks and meshes with earth which is also man’s space, the dimension of reality given to him by his maker. Heaven and earth are supposed to work together in the same way God works with man, his living, breathing image. They are like two friends walking down a road heading to a common destination. As they journey together they talk and interact with one another. Heaven and earth are not meant to be separate, mutually exclusive entities. The door John saw was not to transport him to a faraway place. Like any door it opens into another room in the same house. It was a portal into another dimension of God’s creation, a window into what was actually going on all the time. Talk of portals into other dimensions of reality sounds all very sci-fi. The clear distinction between this and science fiction is that we are not talking about a disjointed dimension of reality that has no bearing on our daily lives. God by the spirit was simply pulling back the veil. The subsequent visionary and prophetic events that happened in the rest of the book had a real bearing on real people’s lives in real time. No matter how you interpret the prophecies and symbols in the book you would agree it concerns God’s plans for humans in the course of history. The frame of the heavenly portal revealed to John is like the event horizon of this mystical singularity.
At once I was in the Spirit
The spirit is the key to understanding how we like John are able participate in the ultimate worship experience. This is not to say if you do the following things you are going to have a vision like John. The purpose of the Revelation was to show what God was already doing and how the Church, that is you and I, already fit into the unfolding plan.
In Total Worship II I go into the role of the spirit in worship. The creation doesn’t merely exist. It is made alive by the very breath of God, the Holy Spirit. The spirit is God’s living active presence in the world. It is the omnipresent spirit that brings together all creation like the breath sustains every living cell and tissue in the body. Without the breath everything falls apart. The Psalmist said,
When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground – Psalm 104:29-30 ESV
In this mysterious dimension of the spirit strange and wonderful things happen as the prophets often reported in their visionary experiences. This because in the spirit you are seeing reality from God’s perspective and not your normal everyday experience of it. The seven spirits of God, which is a very mysterious apocalyptic symbol of God, are described as the eyes of the Lord. If we are seeing from a divine vantage point we would witness a unified creation all in service of its maker. Worship in the spirit means participating in the experience of total worship. It is no wonder that when we are deep in worship strange things begin to happen. This is because we participating in the mysterious dimension of the spirit. Wherever we find ourselves in worship, we are literally at the intersection of heaven and earth.