The living God dwells where His people worship, and life happens where He dwells. It is my conviction, therefore, that the life-flow of a church congregation will rise only as high as their worship of the Godhead. We cannot underestimate the importance of teaching the Word of God, but the Word itself reveals that worship is what the Christian Church is all about.
The book of Ephesians says that we who trust in Christ are to be "to the praise of His glory" (1:12), "built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (2:22). Peter describes the people of God as "living stones . . . being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood" (1 Peter 2:5). Each member of the Body is a part of the temple of the Lord, summoned to be a "living stone" of His dwelling.
God is looking for a place to dwell. We know of nowhere else in the universe except earth where God is not praised or welcomed. In the words of Jesus Himself, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (Matthew 8:20). During His ministry, Jesus had no home. When He was born, there was no room at the inn (Luke 2:7). In one sense, this is just an interesting analogy, but in another, it is a dramatic demonstration of the fact that God has a hard time finding a place to be on this planet.
In order for the foundation of our "spiritual house" to be firmly established, it is important that we understand the biblical grounds for worship. These derive from the saga of loss and recovery of humankind's fellowship with the Almighty God.
Stage 1: Lost Authority
Humanity is given dominion of the planet and gives it away.
In Genesis 1:26, we see humankind given rule and dominion over the earth: "Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion . . . over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'"
Authority over this planet and all its creatures was delegated to Adam from the Creator. Adam was given everything and was asked to obey God in only one thing. In violating that one thing, not only did Adam lose relationship with God, but also the dominion he had been given was lost (see Genesis 3).
Had that been all, it would have been bad enough. Man now lives on the planet without the right to rule over it, his relationship with the Creator has been severed and he must earn his living by the sweat of his brow. Loss of dominion also means that we now have an animal kingdom in turmoil.
And there is more. The consequences of Adam's disobedience are far greater. When Adam violated the trust God gave him by obeying the suggestions of another being, Adam submitted himself to another power. By so doing, he transferred the title deed to this planet into the hands of the serpent—Satan—whom Jesus referred to as "the prince of this world" (John 12:31, kjv). When Satan showed Jesus "all the kingdoms of the world and their glory" and propositioned Him, "All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me" (Matthew 4:8-9), Jesus denied the terms, but He did not challenge Satan's right to make the offer.
The Kingdom of God, intended to be administrated by man on earth, has been crowded off the planet by the kingdom of darkness. God could have taken back rulership, of course, but His desire has always been that the human race He created should rule the planet. Dominion was lost because of man's choice. God, out of His unfathomable nature of love, gave humankind the freedom to make that choice, just as He now graciously invites human beings to choose to receive eternal life through His Son, Jesus. Out of His perfect love, God did not—and does not—impose His rule.
Nevertheless, not everything has been lost by the fall of humanity into sin. Human beings are still created in the image of God. And we still have the right and the capacity to make our own choices. God desires for human beings to choose Him as their King, so that His Kingdom rule and blessings may be manifest on earth through them (see Mark 6:9-10).
Stage 2: Ministry from Within
The Lord begins the plan of redemption—the Levitical priesthood.
In the Old Testament, God prepares to introduce His King, setting the stage for the redemption of earth. He begins with Abraham, through whose offspring He intends to recover the planet and bless all its nations (see Genesis 17). But His chosen people—the children of Israel—wind up enslaved in Egypt. He then summons Moses, using him to deliver Israel, and declares His desire to make Israel "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6).
God's original intent was that all Israel would be "priests." This plan was short-circuited, however, when the people rebelled against Moses' leadership following the fashioning of the golden calf. Only the Levites stood by Moses. As a result of this key incident, priesthood in the nation of Israel became restricted to this one tribe (see Exodus 32). (By the way, we should not give the Levites too much credit for their loyalty on this occasion, since they were prompted mostly by tribal affiliation to Moses.)
In the New Testament, we learn that Jesus desires for all those who name Him their Lord to be His ministering "priests." In an interesting parallel of the Old Testament experience, Church tradition singles out the "priesthood" as a select few. So instead of all the people of God reaching out to minister to the world, we end up with a segment of the Church ministering to itself—just as the priests of Israel ministered only to Israel.
Yet look at what the Scriptures say about the Church serving as ministering agents of Jesus Christ: "To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen" (Revelation 1:5-6, emphasis added).
Some people take these verses to mean that we will reign on earth when Jesus returns. But John is speaking in the past tense: The text says that "He loved us and washed us"—and we know this has already happened. Then John says, "He has made us kings and priests"—again, the tense of the verb indicates that this has already happened. We are His kings (who have dominion) and His priests (who worship) now. (This is not to discount the millennial rule; simply speaking, we do not have to rule all the earth to rule some of it.)
Stage 3: The Lessons Begin
The Lord introduces the role of worship.
When the Lord God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, He told him, "When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain" (Exodus 3:12, emphasis added). The Hebrew word that is used here for serve—abad—also means to be a servant of, or to worship. By saying they would "serve God," He meant that His people would worship Him. It took only one day for God to deliver the Ten Commandments, but His people remained at Mt. Sinai for more than a year, building the Tabernacle and being taught by God how to worship. As we have seen, God's plan for redemption, recovery of fellowship and resumed dominion was that His people would be priests, and priests lead worship.
Human beings would never be able to take back this planet in their own strength. Only in the context of their relationship with Him and the dominion that flows from His throne was the power of God ever going to touch earth. Hence, His deep desire to teach them about worship.
Stage 4: The Boundaries Grow
Worship is expanded under David's monarchy.
David's reign saw both the boundaries of worship and the boundaries of territorial land expand in an unprecedented manner. David had a heart for worship and taught his people a great deal about praising the Lord out loud. He wrote many of the Psalms, which ultimately became the early Christian Church's handbook for worship. Under David's leadership, the use of instruments and choirs was expanded. These things were not new in the worship of Israel, but they began to be systematized and structured in a way that reveals the important place worship occupied in the nation's life.
David also built a second Tabernacle. No one knows what happened to the first one; it may have fallen into disrepair during the reign of Saul. Passionate to see God's presence established in the midst of the people, David made a place for the Tabernacle in the heart of the nation. Although it was his desire to build a Temple, the Lord fulfilled that through his son, Solomon—and, just as He had done with the Tabernacle, God filled the Temple with His glory (see 1 Kings 8).
Tragically, however, because of the sins of the people, the Temple of Solomon was destroyed. And with that loss, Israel entered the years of exile.
It is important to underscore that under David's leadership, there was a correlation between the expansion of Israel's territorial boundaries and the expansion of the boundaries of its worship. As their worship grew, so did their dominion. The same holds true for the Church today: It expands in dominion in direct proportion to its worship. Indeed, I firmly believe that worship is the key to evangelism.
Stage 5: Victory over Darkness
God's own Son comes and "tabernacles" among us.
Jesus Christ epitomizes and personifies both the Tabernacle and the Temple where the glory of God dwells: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
The word translated here as "dwelt" is the Greek word skenoo, which could equally be translated "tabernacled." Similarly, Jesus refers to Himself as the temple in John 2:19: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
Everywhere Jesus goes, He proclaims that the Kingdom of God is present because He, the King is there. For the first time since Adam, there is a sinless man on the planet, and Jesus overcomes where Adam failed. He is here to establish a new breed of human beings—"a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). These are the people whom God will use to reclaim the planet, and the way they will do that is through their worship.
For the same reason as the Temple of Solomon was destroyed, so Jesus—the living Temple of God's glory—is destroyed on the cross: because of the sins of the people. Yet the Bible tells us that if Satan had had any inkling of God's plan, he never would have wanted to see the crucifixion take place:
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. ~~ I Corinthians 2:7-8
There, at the cross, where Satan thought he had once again succeeded in expanding his "principalities and powers," the Bible says he was disarmed by Jesus who triumphed over them, making his kingdom of darkness into a "public spectacle" (see Colossians 2:15).
Not only does Jesus win victory over death on the cross, but by the power of His resurrection, He becomes the seed that, having fallen into the ground and died, then begins to bear fruit. All over the planet, He begets people who receive the power of His life and begin to come alive with dominion possibility, bringing the rule, power and presence of God to all the earth. No longer does man have to labor in the power of his flesh; now, the power of the Kingdom of God is "at hand" (Mark 1:15).
Stage 6: A Godly Habitation
Jesus prepares the Church to be a temple of living stones.
The Lord is now ready to build His people into a dwelling place for His presence. Jesus has prepared the Church to be a temple built of "living stones"—that's you and me! When we gather together, we become a place for God to dwell and for the dominion of His Kingdom to be established; the King is literally "enthroned" in our praises (Psalm 22:3). When we worship, God will come and dwell with us, with all the weight of His glory, His rulership and His dominion.
In this atmosphere—where worship ushers in the presence of God—four critically important things take place. First, the Word becomes incarnated in people; it becomes life, not just an intellectual exercise. Second, people are healed in the ongoing pattern of God's presence. Third, they come to know the Lord as His Kingdom is established. And, finally, as God empowers His people, their worship crowds out the borders of hell's domain.
When we come together in a worship service, God's people are built up as a habitation for His presence, as the "living stones" of His temple. Through our worship, an intimate and vibrant relationship with the living God is made possible: His assignment for us as His "royal priesthood" is restored; we become ministering agents of His resurrection life to the world; and we are enabled to move in the expanding dominion and rulership He intended for humankind from the beginning.
Excerpted with permission of Chosen Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, MI. © 2005, Jack Hayford. All rights reserved. You can order a copy of Manifest Presence at www.christianbook.com. Visit Jack Hayford's website here: www.jackhayford.com