It is good when a church is concerned with the topic of worship in general, and in particular the place of the Holy Spirit in that expression. The Bible reminds us that without the presence of the Holy Spirit no right worship can ever take place for “the things of God knoweth no man but by the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:11).
In recent years this simple truth has been neglected to the peril of the Church and all Christians there in. We read the words of the prophet Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9).
The apostle Paul wrote, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). The natural man, that is, the man of mind, the man of intellect, cannot understand nor receive the things of the Spirit of God. Nevertheless, many that do not understand are enamored with the intellect, and so Satan takes some captive as a result.
A. W. Tozer noted that, “Christianity stands and falls on Jesus Christ, stands and falls on the illumination of the Holy Ghost”. In preparing our hearts for worship a definition can be of help. Mr. Tozer asked, “What is worship? Worship is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that Majesty which philosophers call the First Cause, but which we call our Father which art in heaven.” Worship is the soul’s intimate communion with God the Father of whom Jesus said must be worshiped in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
As God is a Spirit, so He both invites and demands a spiritual worship. But what is spiritual worship? What are the characteristics of worship guided by the Holy Spirit? What will happen when the Spirit comes? I would like to suggest that some, if not all of the following characteristics will be displayed when the Spirit comes.
First, and at the risk of being misunderstood, when the Spirit comes in power there might be a display of unusual phenomena. The Bible says that when the Day of Pentecost was fully come, and the disciples were all with one accord in one place, suddenly, as the people were gathered, there came a sound from heaven as the sound of a rushing mighty wind. It was not a rushing, mighty wind, it was the sound of such a wind. It filled the house where they were sitting.
Little flames of fire rested upon each forehead, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in languages. People from seventeen nations were present and everyone heard them speak in their own dialect. The ones that could be astonished were astonished. The skeptics remained skeptical, and those who wanted a rational explanation for the spiritual asked, “What does this mean?”
Those who sat in the seat of the scornful were also present for they pointed to the disciples and shouted, “These men are full of new wine. They are drunk!” Of course the disciples were not drunk as Peter quickly declared.
Standing up alongside of the other disciples Peter lifted his voice and spoke to those who had gathered together at the sound of the mighty wind blowing. Let the church be open to a display of unusual phenomena if the Spirit is pleased to reveal Himself in such a manner.
Sometimes when people worship in public, or in private, the Spirit comes in an unusual way as Jonathan Edwards discerned and felt compelled to write A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God. This book is Edward’s own account of the mighty way in which God moved among the people of Northampton, Massachusetts and other nearby communities in the early stages of what has become known as, The Great Awakening (1733).
Edwards was astonished at the unusual phenomena of the Spirit’s work which he witnessed as Charles Spurgeon was amazed at the story of Colonel James Gardner. The narrative which Mr. Spurgeon wrote himself is given in the introduction to the work A Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson. I was astonished at the story myself when I read it years ago, and I still do not know what to make of it today. The account involves Colonel James Gardner who, on a Sabbath evening, was reading a copy of The Christian Soldier by Mr. Watson. Spurgeon says,
“Guessing by the title that he should find some phrases of his own profession spiritualized in a manner which might afford him some diversion, he resolved to dip into it; while this book was in his hand, an impression was made upon his mind, which drew after it a train of the most important consequences. Suddenly he thought he saw an unusual blaze of light fall on the book while he was reading, and lifting up his eyes, he apprehended, to his extreme amazement, that there was before him, as it were suspended in the air, a visible representation of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross, surrounded with a glory, and was impressed as if a voice had come to him, to this effect:
‘O sinner, did I suffer this for thee, and are these thy returns?’
He sunk down in his chair, and continued for some time insensible. He then arose in a tumult of passions and walked to and fro in his chamber, till he was ready to drop in unutterable astonishment and agony of heart, which continued until the October following, when his terrors were turned into unutterable joy.”
With that Mr. Spurgeon ends the narrative of Colonel Gardner.
I mention these examples in part to be able to say that unusual phenomena of the Spirit’s work can be found in the lives of the most conservative, and rational, of Christian people. It is not unusual to find tears of repentance, brokenness of heart and great emotional expressions of sorrow when the Spirit comes. Nevertheless, our hearts must want more of the Spirit’s work whatever form He may be please to express His sovereignty.
There is a second facet of the Spirit’s work in worship, and that is to give the church a sense of prophecy being fulfilled. In responding to those sitting in the seat of the scornful Peter stood up to declare that no one was drunk, as the accusation was unkindly hurled at the disciples of Christ, “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16).
In trying to understand this passage, remember two simple rules of biblical interpretation. First, let the New Testament interpret the Old and secondly, when it does, believe it. Whatever differences in interpretation God’s people take in exegeting this passage there is an inescapable fact that Peter believed, and he wanted others to believe, that some aspect of prophecy was being fulfilled at the present moment, not only as given by Joel, but also by Jesus.
Notice the language of Acts 2:32-33. “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33 Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.”
Jesus had promised “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. 39(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified)” (John 7:38-39).
Is this an important concept to embrace in our understanding of Spirit directed worship? I believe it is.
When a sense of the sacred is brought to the consciousness of the congregation that meets with God, when people comprehend they are part of prophecy being fulfilled it adds a special dimension to the worship experience.
The heart can beat a little faster when it meditates on how Christ has come and the Comforter has come according to promise.
”O spread the tidings ’round, wherever man is found,
Wherever human hearts and human woes abound;
Let ev’ry Christian tongue proclaim the joyful sound:
The Comforter has come.
The Comforter has come, the Comforter has come!
The Holy Ghost from heav’n, the Father’s promise giv’n;
O spread the tidings ’round, wherever man is found—
The Comforter has come!”
And prophecy is fulfilled.
There is a third facet to observe. When the Spirit controls worship Jesus Christ will be exalted. When Peter stood to preach he proceeded to tell the audience how Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled prophecy and from that point on his whole message was about Jesus of Nazareth.
Peter gave testimony that, “this Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear” (Acts 2:32-33).
Then he says, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Our hearts love God the Holy Spirit because of who He is. From that love care is taken not to grieve the Spirit (Eph. 4:30), not to quench the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19), not to resist the Spirit (Acts 7:51), not to lie to the Spirit (Acts 5:3). or blaspheme Him by ascribing to Satan Hisglorious works (Mark 3:29,30).
Furthermore, out of respect for the work the Holy Spirit has been given, we are careful to rejoice that Jesus Christ is exalted for the Spirit’s work is to point hearts to the Savior. Jesus said that when the Spirit came, “He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you” (John 16:14).
A worship service that is controlled and guided by the Holy Spirit is a service that centers on the glory of Jesus Christ. The songs are of Christ. The prayers are of Christ. The testimonies are of Christ. Surely the Holy Spirit must be pleased when the church sings,
“O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s a light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.
When a congregation is Spirit filled because Christ is preached and Spirit led because Christ is exalted, when a congregation anticipates the divine presence and believes it is connected to the saints of all the ages by way of prophecy fulfilled a dramatic difference will come to the congregation.