One of the clearest pictures to me of what worship is like and what a worship leader does is found in a story in the Old Testament.
In Numbers 21 God’s people are wandering in the wilderness. They are essentially, like us, a big group of tired, hungry, grouchy, grown-up kids who need a nap. First, somebody in the back begins to grumble.
“This stinks. Take us back to Egypt!”
The grumble spreads through the camp like wildfire; their entitlement now spewing projectile from their mouths. They were tired of eating of manna burgers, banana bread, and manna-cotti (Thank you Keith Green). They were tired of walking. God was tired of their complaining.
Enter “fiery serpents”.
Hundreds of poisonous snakes begin appearing. Biting. Screaming. Shrieking. Fainting. Dying.
Isreal wants mercy. God, true to His character, grants them mercy, but He chooses to do so in a very peculiar way.
“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery (bronze) serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” (Num 21:8) Now why show mercy in this way? Couldn’t God have just said a word and fixed it all? Healed them all? Maybe he could have turned all the snakes into cute little puppies?
This is why: John 3:14-15. ”As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”
This is why the display of mercy was so peculiar. It was a parable. God is teaching us through this historical event what faith is like, and what it is to worship him. Faith is a looking. It is the blood-earnest, serious looking of serpent-bitten, sin-ridden people towards God’s peculiar display of mercy. The holy, battered, bloody, mutilated Son of God is held high for the redemption of men. And if we don’t see Him…
We die. We go to hell. We have no victory over sin. We have no power over our addictions. Our lives remain a self-destructive mess. We have no spiritual life unless we see Him. Unless we run to survey the Savior on the pole. Unless we fight through the crowds and through our doubts and lift up our face. The poison of idolatry will rot our veins until the glory of the crucified God-man fills our eyes.
The reason our church services are boring….the reason our sanctuaries are filled with cold, lifeless songs….the reason we feel the need to conjure up fake emotions with slick productions…it’s all because deep down we believe we’re ok. We’ve forgotten that worship is life or death.
Worship is a looking. It is the gaze of the soul towards greatness, towards some savior. It is the pulsating, throbbing ache of the soul to see & celebrate glory. The “wow” of the heart. And we are always being captivated by something. We must be. The throne of the heart must be filled.
You have heard the phrase before “worship is a lifestyle”. This is true, but weak. It’s much more than that. We cannot not worship. We are continually kneeling to our highest perceived beauty. The soul does not have an embrace, it is an embrace. We never begin worship, we aim it.
And every week, people come into our churches. They enter….eternal souls…hoping to be impressed. Wanting to see real greatness. They have seen the glory of the world this week. We, along with them, have turned to the creation for happiness and have been betrayed. We’ve seen the ads. We’ve tried money, sex, and power and we have been bitten. We have been entangled by all manner of slithering sins, and now we come. They come. Wanting more. Craving, yearning, longing, dying for real glory.
The hour strikes, the service begins. The worship leader, that little moses, takes the stage. He takes his pole and he lifts up…
a guitar solo.
a catchy tune.
his own personality.
his own opinion.
his own greatness.
Because what should have been the pole became the thing on the pole. Jesus was the pole, a means to an end, and the people did not feast. They were placated. Inoculated. Restless. Embracing shadows. They leave church with a pseudo happiness in a vision of a pseudo glory.
Brothers and sisters, this should not be.
We must give them Jesus. Idols and addictions are never suppressed. They are eclipsed. Replaced. The brightness of the stars vanish in the fury of the sun. Money, Success, Power, Lust, Pride don’t stand a chance in the presence of Jesus.
So to my worship leader friends out there, my pastor friends, be a little moses. Standing before you are ever-worshipping, dying, immortal beings. People thirsting for greatness. So give it to them. Give them the glory they were made for, the anti-venom of the soul: the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Exalt Him. Satisfy them. Lift Him up. If you don’t, the people in the back are going to die.
Because a worship leader is not someone who stands on a stage and passively says “Stand & sing”. It’s someone who stands before a world of restless, dying hearts and lifts up Jesus as high as he can, and screams with every fiber of his being along with John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”
Worship or die.
Look & Live.