Worship starts with Seeing, not Singing.
Some years back, Matt Redman wrote a song entitled, “Singing and Seeing,” included on his Face Down live worship record.
“No one can sing of things they have not seen
God, open our eyes towards a greater glimpse
The glory of You, the glory of You
God, open our eyes towards a greater glimpse
Worship starts with seeing You
Our hearts respond to your Revelation.”
Music must serve Revelation, not Substitute for it.
This is an important insight. Worship starts with seeing, not singing. The key is Revelation, not music. The distinction is critical. Good music will readily substitute for Word and Spirit leading to an offering of emotional sentiment rather then deep hearted response. The worship leader must indwell the vision of God’s mercy, abiding in the deepest place, in the shadow of the cross, the iconic yet ironic summit of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. She lives in the shade of Golgotha, where darkness breaks forth into light and where death is swallowed up by Life. Looking to the rear horizon, he remembers all of history, speaking and singing it into the present moment. Gazing on the far horizon, he anticipates all of eternity, leading us into the very cloud of witnesses where we behold the lamb slain from before the foundation of the world.
The worship leader’s calling is to dwell at the intersection of Word and Spirit in such a way that this Story becomes visible to others. In worship, words create worlds. Words spoken, read, sung, prayed, proclaimed, declared, affirmed, eaten, drank, given and received in the power of the Spirit reveal the view of God’s mercy as a compelling vision, an urgent invitation and a movement of eternal proportions. This only happens as the worship leader sees the vision him or herself. This requires the worship leader to be a certain kind of person with certain cultivated dispositions, a particular vision of God and a distinctive way of “seeing” the World.
Talent and skill are important. Holiness of heart and life are essential. Skill keeps the worship leader from being a distraction. Holiness keeps the worship leader from becoming the main attraction. Abiding in the cross, at the intersection of history and eternity, captures the aim of effective worship leadership and the outcome of sound theological worship design.
Matt Redman invited me to write a piece for one of his early worship compilations which I gladly obliged. I offer a piece of that reflection here to further this idea of the vision of worship design and leadership.
Good Worship Design and Leadership leads us to “Imagine the View from Here.”
“Leading worship is about seeing God. The life of a worshiper, and particularly the life of a worship leader, is far more about a quality of vision than it is a type of personality or set of gifts. Matt Redman, may have said it best, “Before you can worship God you must first see God.” Worship and leading worship are about seeing God. The great worshippers of all time, the history makers, saw the Lord. They had a vision of God. The Word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision. (Gen. 15:1) Glimpsing God’s glory, even from behind, empowered Moses to go forward leading the Israelites in worship. Listen to Isaiah, In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. From Judges to Kings through the Prophets and onward to the Apostles, what separates their life and work from the rest, which is to say what distinguishes their worship, is a quality of vision. They saw God and could never return to ordinary again. And compelled by the vision of God, others followed.
Down through the centuries, the Saints are set apart by their vision of God. Hear Bernard of Clairvaux on worship: Jesus the very thought of thee with sweetness fills the breast; but sweeter far thy face to see, and in thy presence rest. Thomas Acquanis, easily the greatest theologian of the medieval era, gave his life to the pursuit of the knowledge of God. The staggering influence of his scholarship is breathtaking. On December 6, 1273, while attending Mass, Thomas had a vision of God. Upon being asked to write about it he responded, “Such things have been revealed to me that all that I have written seems to me as so much straw. Now I await the end of my life.” He never wrote again. In 1393, Julian of Norwich completed Revelations of Divine Love, a written account of her sixteen visions of Jesus. The list goes on.
Leading worship is about seeing God. From the hymns “Be Thou my vision,” to the choruses, “Open our eyes Lord, we want to see Jesus,” to our modern worship songs, “Open the eyes of my heart Lord,” we sing. “I want to see you. . . . . .high and lifted up, shining in the light of your glory,” our quest in worship is to see God. But what is this about? In the days of the Old Testament, the question was always how can one see God and live. Today the question may be how can one see God and stay out of the psychiatric ward. So what does it mean to see God and more so how does it happen in a way leading to an abandoned life of worship?
There is no formula. This is not a practical essay. Worship is not practical. Contemporary theologian, Marva Dawn, calls worship “A Royal Waste of Time.” Worshipping God and leading others to worship him comes from the capacity of a holy imagination. The idea is not new or original, but it could be revolutionary. Here it is: Worship is born from an imagination rooted in remembrance cultivated through attention and nurtured by discipline.
The great preachers and poets and prophets, the great songwriters and singers, are those who lived imaginatively from a vision of God. Because they saw, their leadership transformed peoples’ ears into eyes. Hearing gives way to seeing and worship literally combusts into vision. Imagine. Isn’t this what a worship leader does? It’s not about singing songs but seeing God and calling others into the vision. The worship designer stands, no, kneels at all the places of the wonder of God and says simply and creatively, “Imagine the view from here.” Worship designers and leaders journey us through the stunning story of God, stopping at all the scenic overlooks to gaze on the revealed horizon of God’s Glory, saying clearly and profoundly, “Imagine the view from here.”
A taste of what it might look like:*
Beginning at the utter ends of the cosmos; imagine the view from here. . .
Immortal, Invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes.
Into the wonder of creation. . .
You spread out your arms over empty space, said let there be light in a dark and formless place the world was born. . . . What a wonderful Maker.
Shout to the Lord all the Earth let us sing, power and majesty praise to the King.
Mountains bow down and the seas will roar at the sound of your Name.
Through the pain of rebellion and exile; imagine the view from here. . .
We bow our hearts we bend our knees O Spirit come make us humble. We turn our eyes from evil things. O Lord we cast down our idols. Give us clean hands and give us pure hearts let us not lift our soul to another.
To the place of mercy; imagine the view from here.
When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died. . . . I’m forgiven because you were forsaken. I’m accepted. You were condemned. Open up the skies of mercy, rain down the cleansing flood. . . . It’s your kindness, Lord, that leads us to repentance. . . It’s your beauty, Lord, that makes us stand in silence. Your love is better than life.
And onward in the pilgrimage to the House of God; imagine the view from here. . .
Now you are exalted to the highest place, King of the Heavens where one day I’ll bow. How lovely is your dwelling place O Lord Almighty. My soul longs and even faints for you. For here my heart is satisfied within your presence. I sing beneath the shadow of your wings. Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.
And outward as Apostles to the whole world; imagine the view from here. . .
Open up the doors, let the music play let the streets resound with singing. Songs that bring your hope; songs that bring your joy; dancers who dance upon injustice. . .
Taking with us as many as will come upward to the place where the streets have no name; imagine the view from here.. . .
We fall down. We lay our crowns at the feet of Jesus. . . and we cry Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lamb.
Surrounded by your glory what will my heart feel? Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still? Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing Hallelujah? Will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine.”
*(Lyrics: Tomlin-Redman, Zschech, Hall, Watts, Foote, Tomlin, Redman, Smith, Tomlin, Millard)