When I was growing up in South Africa in the 1960’s most worship service planners called everything before the sermon, “preliminaries.”
That word conveyed what everyone was thinking in those days… that the main attraction in the worship service was the sermon and everything else simply a warm-up to the main feature.
Somewhere between the 1960’s and ‘70’s there was a noticeable and long-awaited shift, precipitated largely, I think, by the Jesus Movement and the wave of genuine worship that flowed out of the movement.
These names may not mean anything to you, but Keith Green, Love Song, Second Chapter of Acts, Edwin Hawkins and Andre Crouch (to mention just a few) turned our hearts to the priority of God’s presence… not just in an anointed sermon, but the whole time God’s people were gathered in worship.
The whole service became worship.
The main thing was encountering God’s presence.
And what a difference!
A lot has changed over the last 60 years.
Obviously, names have changed. Styles have changed. Technology has changed. Emphasis has shifted from guitar-driven to keyboard driven and back to guitar. Harmonies have changed.
But one thing has to remain the same!
The Holy presence of God that alone can move on human hearts, soften hard-pan soil and prepare us for the seed of God’s Word and a life-transforming encounter with the divine.
The presence of God is God made present to us by the Holy Spirit.
That is nothing to be taken lightly.
The Presence cannot be carried by some instrument, style, lyric or an environment created by good lighting and an excellent sound mix.
It can only be carried on the shoulders of priests appropriately prepared to encounter the holy, and with reverence and a measure of Holy fear.
The Levites in Abinadab’s House should have known better than to try and move the ark of God’s presence on an ox cart. If they had been attentive to their calling they would have known it was only to be carried on the shoulders of consecrated priests.
King David had the best of intentions.
But good intentions are not enough.
All of Israel was “rejoicing before God with all their might” (1 Chronicles 14:8).
All of Israel was worshipping with “song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets.”
On the surface it was a magnificent worship experience.
With one glaring exception!
Everyone demonstrated a lack of reverence for the presence of God and it cost Uzzah, one of the chief worship leaders of Israel, his life.
My father was way ahead of his time in the church he pastored in South Africa in the early ‘60’s. We had a worship band before they were popular. He was not afraid of innovating.
He was a stickler, however, for the heart and focus of everyone involved, that what we were about was sacred and holy… and that was how we entered into every worship service.