This is the second part of a two part series. Click below for part one.
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” Revelation 4:1
In Part I of “Come Up Here,” we looked at portions of Jonathan Edwards’s 1734 Thanksgiving sermon. The primary thread woven through his message was for his people to have “clear spiritual sight of God, so that they would know more of God and have frequent discoveries of Him made.” Edwards also compared the praise of believers in local churches to the worship of saints in heaven who “praise the Lord so fervently because they see Him.” The preacher adjured his flock with these words: “The church on earth ought to join with the saints in heaven in their employment, as God hath joined them in one society by his grace.”
What is that employment or work? It is the life-giving work of praise.
One of the most significant insights I’ve gleaned from Edwards’s sermon on the worship scene in Revelation is the connection between joyful praise and humility. When Jesus told John to “come up here” and witness the worship, John must have observed the humility of the heavenly worshipers. Edwards writes,
The saints in glory are so much employed in praise, because they are perfect in humility, and have so great a sense of the infinite distance between God and them. They have a great sense of their own unworthiness, that they are by nature unworthy of any of the mercy of God. Labor therefore that you may obtain more of a sense of your own littleness, and vileness; that you may see more what you are, how ill you have deserved at the hands of God, and how you are less than the least of all his mercies.”
The heavenly beings are sinless. They serve in the presence of Holy God. As Edwards says, they are “perfect in humility.” How often do we as worshipers and worship leaders enter a service of worship with an accurate sense of God’s greatness and our own unworthiness? We get busy with logistics, details and countdown clocks. We wait to prepare transition statements and communicate service flows with other leaders until the last minute. And as the service begins, we can somehow flip an internal switch that launches us into corporate worship-leading mode, with little concern for the real condition of our own heart or the hearts of those leading with us.
As worship leaders, perhaps we should remember that we too are summoned by Jesus to “come up here and see.” As we take the time to look at the passages in Revelation that depict the worship in heaven, I think we will be overwhelmed by the heavenly worshipers’ humility. Edwards writes, “They (the saints in heaven) are as much lower in humility as they are higher in honor and happiness. And the reason of it is that they know more of God. They see more of his greatness and infinite highness, and therefore are more sensible to how wonderful it is that God should take so much notice of them, to have such communion with them, and give them such a full enjoyment of him.”
So what do we do, and how do we “come up here?” I think there are at least three keys:
First, bathe the opening of worship in Scripture and songs that point to the transcendent greatness of God. Through the Word of God, remind the congregation that they are responding to the God of the universe! The over-arching story of the gospel begins with God and creation…so too should our worship. Remember, we put words in people’s mouths to worship our Creator. Choose the opening songs wisely and be sure to proclaim the Scripture.
Second, build in time during the corporate gathering for the congregation to respond in humility to the wondrous God of creation. Edwards writes,
“For it is the sight of God’s excellency which gives them (the saints in heaven) a sight of their own unworthiness. And therefore they do proportionally admire the love of God to them in giving Christ to die for them, and the love of Christ in being willing to offer himself for their sins, and of the wonderful mercy of God in their conversion, and bestowing eternal life upon them. The humble sense the saints have of their own unworthiness, doth greatly engage and enlarge their hearts in praise to him for his infinite mercy and grace.” Edwards seems to be saying that humility in the heart of a worshiper is directly proportional to the worshiper’s capacity to respond to Christ authentically while expanding their desire to praise Him more completely.
Third, as worship leaders, we must confess our utter inadequacy of leading anyone to worship. I need to be reminded often that the people in our congregations have been summoned to worship by Jesus Christ, not by me or any other personalities on the platform. When the Scriptures guide and inform our worship, people begin to realize more and more that Jesus is the one saying, “Come up here,” not the guy on the stage. Worship leaders have a tendency to think the impact and power of a corporate gathering rests on their shoulders. We simply can’t bear that weight. But when worship leaders point people to Christ through His Word, the Redeemed will respond to Him, and He is the only one that can endure the weight of their worship.
At the end of the day, we’re really not the worship leaders. Jesus is. That understanding should humble us. Why would we ever want to take that role when He is doing it for eternity? “For both He (Christ) who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, “I will proclaim Your name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise.” (Hebrews 2:11-12).
For all of us worship leaders, Jesus bids us to “Come up here” as well. To do that and to help others to do the same, we need to stay in the Word, approach God with ever-growing humility, and depend on Jesus to be the real worship leader.
Dr. Crider is the Executive Director of the Institute for Biblical Worship and a professor of Church Music and Worship in the Department of Biblical Worship at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY. He also serves as Worship Pastor at LaGrange Baptist Church in LaGrange, KY.