A Possible Sunday Worship Journey

One of the goals of worship is intimacy, which means: belong to or revealing one’s deepest nature to another. Below are some thoughts about a possible Sunday Worship Journey using the Old Testament Tabernacle as a visual.

The Tabernacle
The Tabernacle was a picture for Old Testament Israel of the centrality of God. God was their God, not one who was “out there” somewhere. He was centrally located. Each Jewish person having access to him. The church has often allegorized this picture giving each part, each color, even each thread some meaning which departed from the text. Understanding that Israel thought in pictures, we are left to interpret what these pictures meant to the worship of Israel.

Outside: The Call to Worship
People tend to come to a corporate worship service with lots on their minds. As an example, if they are new parents, they have had to hassle with getting the kid or kids ready to come to church. If they are older, they may have a marriage relationship problem, or a kid problem, or a health problem, or a financial problem. You name it they may have it. They are effectively “not there.” They are “outside.” As a worship team it is important to recognize this and call them to worship. This is an invitation given directed toward the people of God as they have gathered. Acknowledging that we have all come from different places physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, and socially may alert the church that we are all here in the “same boat” as it were. Songs like “Come, let us worship and bow down…” or “Don’t you know it’s time to praise the Lord…,” or many others, are calls made to the people of God to begin the process of corporate worship. Scripture readings and the selection of songs for this part of the service is extremely important. This “call” sets the tone for the whole corporate gathering.

Outer Court: Engagement (drawing near)
The worship leader (team) now begins the process of connecting the people who have been called to worship with God. Songs which express love, adoration, praise, jubilation, intercession, or prayer are often conducive for this part of the musical worship. It is important for us to journey toward God in worship. It is not useful to parachute directly into his presence. We need the process so we are prepared to have an audience with the creator of all the universe. It was in the outer court that folks gathered and celebrated the forgiveness of sins.

Holy Place. Expression (physical and emotional)
Here we praise God for who he is. We begin to use more intimate language. We may even become animated or quiet and still. Inside the Holy Place there were three items:

The Showbread. Among the Jews was generally made of wheat (Ex. 29.2). The showbread consisted of twelve loaves of unleavened bread prepared and presented hot on the golden table every Sabbath. They were square or oblong, and represented the twelve tribes of Israel. The old loaves were removed every Sabbath, and were to be eaten only by the priests in the court of the sanctuary (Ex. 25:30; Lev. 24:8; 1 Sam. 21:1-6; Matt. 12:4).

The Lampstand. The tabernacle was a tent without windows, and thus artificial light was needed. This was supplied by the candlestick.

The Incense. Incense is seen by other authors of Scripture as prayer as in the beginning of Psalm 141.1-2, Revealtion 5.8; 8.3-4.

O LORD, I call to you;
     come quickly to me. Hear my voice when I call to you.
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
     may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice

(Psalm 141.1-2).

And when he had taken it, 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).

Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand (Rev. 8.3-4).

It seems to me that these items may had suggested for Israel the part playing that is involved between God and his worshipers. Showbread and light demonstrate what God is for his people. Incense may have been understood, because of the simple act of breath, as the breathing in of God’s presence.

Holy of Holies: Visitation (Giving time for God to visit)
The Holy of Holies (only entered once a year by the High Priest) was the arena which housed the Ark of the Covenant. It was a perfect cube. It was the place of God’s residence on earth as Israel understood it. There was a veil which separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. In the New Testament this was torn from top to bottom as referenced in Mark 15.38. This implies that all (because we are all priest) have the right to access the presence of God. It is the part of worship that brings us into the very presence of God. When we arrive, we need go no further. The worship (leader) team should be especially sensitive of when this point has been arrived at and stop (even though there may be other songs in the music set). To finish a set may be a high priority for the worship leader or team but the music is only a vehicle to bring us to the presence of God, when we arrive, it may not be needed any longer. We may wait while God communicates to us. We are not waiting for God to make us his mind to visit us. This is often implied by the suggestion that “…now we should wait on the Lord.” I believe that we should train the worshipers that this is a time when God will move in their lives. He may want to speak to us corporately. He may want to speak to us individually. He may want to bring salvation. He may want to heal. He may want to deliver. He may want to…

There is a phase of worship which is produced by being in the presence of God. It is response. We have received, we respond by giving (money, love, hospitality, information, etc.). It may be very appropriate to continue the worship by “receiving” the offering. It occurs to me that it may not be appropriate to bring people to a place of intimacy with God in which he is visiting and then immediately take a break. This would be like making love with a spouse and building to a chanchedo of intimacy and one says to the other, “let’s stop and get a cup of coffee.”

We must create a way for the people of God to come to intimacy, receive, and then give before we break the moment with fellowship, announcements, etc. A finishing song of celebration often allows the worshipper to explode with expression and produces a more productive time to break, if breaks are necessary at all.

Heightened Reception
The journey can continue with the teaching of the word. The spirit of the worshipper is now refreshed by the presence of God. Now we can listen, learn, and interact with his life changing word.

All Is Well That Ends Well
The end of the corporate service is as important as the beginning. Ministry time may be appropriate. Whatever the case, we must summarize and send the people of God on their way with some exhortation. In a traditional church one might sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” rather than “Holy, Holy, Holy” at this point. If we just close with no instruction about what has occurred or what may be expected, with no exhortation for life situations, it leaves a somewhat tainted taste in the mouths of the worshipper who may not be so anxious to return at the next appointed corporate worship time.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Elizabeth Chapin May 22, 2008 at 7:09 pm

Dr. Winn, I am so glad I stumbled upon this site. Great thoughts on worship and the tabernacle. I just studied that a bit in my Theology and Practice of Worship class at George Fox last semester. It looks like it’s been a while since you posted here – I hope you are well. Maybe I’ll see you soon at another Off the Map event 😉


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