To read part one of this sorta series on corporate worship, click here. To read part two, click here.
What do these two anecdotes have in common?
Alice (not her real name) is a cast-iron, old-school prayer warrior. She knows the prayer needs of those in her church by heart, and works though the list as she drives around town running errands. She starts her engine, clears her th roat and begins singing her intercession to God, usually to the tune of old favorite songs she’s known since childhood. Imagine, to the tune of ‘Jesus Loves Me’, a song-prayer that goes like this: “Lord, you know that Frank needs a job; he’s been unemployed for a long time. He’s really, really discouraged and he needs your provision today….”
It’s 2 a.m. at the International House of Prayer in Grandview, MO, and a full team of musicians take the stage of an aging strip mall, forming another link in the unbroken chain of 2-hour prayer and worship meetings that have taken place since 1999. Years earlier, the ministry’s leader, Mike Bickle, knew that prayer needed to be the heartbeat of his church’s ministry. But after marching through molasses in prayer, God gave him an ah ha! adjective that transformed not only his approach to prayer, but birthed a ministry that’s been able to sustain round-the-clock prayer and worship. The adjective? ENJOYABLE. As in – enjoyable prayer. Bickle adapted his prayer and worship model from the book of the Bible filled with eternity’s worship: “…the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” (Rev. 5:8). Harp (music) and bowl (prayers of the saints), Bickle discovered, is not just for heaven, but can serve as a pattern for worship here.
(You can click on this link if you’d like to watch a live feed of IHOP’s prayer room.)
If you pulled up next to Alice at a stoplight, you might judge her as crazy. And IHOP has its problems, struggles, excesses and theological wrinkles.
Can I be frank here? Crazy and flawed is true of each one of us in varying degrees. (A former pastor of ours used to say, “I’m preaching heresy. I just don’t know what it is yet.”)
But…both Alice and the ministry of IHOP demonstrate the one simple truth about what transforms “church music” into something more than songs containing information about God. Music becomes worship when it is prayer in all its various forms and facets: lament, intercession, celebration, desire, confession, longing, listening, praise. Paradoxically, sung corporate worship only happens when it is real-time individual, musical prayer. Our singing has a subject and an object that are one and the same – God.
Everything from an off-key alto in the choir to the fight you had with your spouse in the car conspire to keep corporate worship in the realm of “songs about God that we stand and sing together”.
Your prayer as you sing transforms scripted church songs – or spontaneously-created ones you sing to God in the car – into worship.
If you’ve ever experienced even a few moments of transcendence in sung corporate worship, what contributed to that experience? How might a worship leader or pastor help to cultivate a harp and bowl culture of worship in your church?