A few of our Southlands musicians were delighted to sing group vocals on Matt Redman's recent album, Glory Song. Singing some of those songs live a few months later with him and his band as a church at our Night of Grace was a longing fulfilled for me. Over the years, I've marveled at how God seems to have given Matt the gift of expressing His heart for the Church at a particular moment with such poignance. There is one such moment on his album that comes after a song called Simple Pursuit, where he breaks into a probing spontaneous song that asks, "Did we lose the awe of God? Where has all the reverence gone? There's a song of Majesty we've forgotten how to sing. Bring us back to your Glory Song."
In the Western church, at any rate, we've never had such an embarrassment of riches when it comes to musical worship resources. Great songs abound on countless albums. Musicians are more skillful than ever. Arrangements, instruments, acoustics, lighting, graphics, sound rigs and musicians are cooler than ever. There's a wonderful mix of intimate songs and majestic hymnology, stripped down folksy meditations and catchy, wall-of-sound anthems. With a few notable exceptions, there's an increasing lyrical depth and a creative diversity. I'm no worship curmudgeon, nostalgic for the good old days when we only had our hymn books, Vineyard, Integrity and Maranatha to choose from. (Respect to them all). I remember the old days. Believe me, they weren't that good! But I think Matt's song touches a raw nerve that causes me to flinch a little, probing at something I intuitively feel may now be missing.
Where has all the reverence gone? Perhaps it's been replaced by cool? Worship today seems fixated with cultural relevance. I, for one, am glad we've shrugged off some of the cultural cringe factor of being 10 years behind the times in musical style. But relevance is a poor substitute for reverence. The former reaches outwards to our world in a language that is intelligible. It's timely. The latter reaches inwards to the holy realm of God's eternal throne. It's timeless. Reverence will never be satisfied with being merely timely.
Reverence is the unsandaled feet of Moses standing in the smoldering sand before the burning bush. It is, by its very nature, both intimate and awe-filled. "Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken let us be thankful and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12: 28)
Reverence does not cower in fear. The blood of Christ speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. It bids us come to glorious Mount Zion, not the fire and smoke of Mount Sinai. But it stands there wide-eyed, hand over it's mouth without so much as a hint of blasé'.
Reverent worship is the farthest thing from consumer worship. It does not do song-tasting. It understands that we bring a sacrifice that God consumes. It looks less like a song offered up and more like a life laid down. It will repent quickly. Obey fully. It's songs will be the soundtrack to a life of justice and mercy.
I would venture to say that reverent worship sounds less like something on a stage and more like something among a people. I would not think that reverent worship is only about singing old hymns and doing liturgy. But I think that reverent worship will be open to historic expressions of worship beyond the tyranny of our own moment. It may be loud one moment, quiet the next, but never luke-warm.
Reverent worship is in Spirit and Truth, anchored by the ballast of God's Word but with sails hoisted to catch the Wind that blows wherever it pleases.
Did we lose the awe of God? Lord, Bring us back to reverence.