Exalt, Encounter and Respond in Worship

Worship leaders have the blessing/responsibility to lead us in joining the heavenly hosts in worship. Here are three things to keep in mind.

By Dr. Kathleen Horwood, Business Manager for GCI Canada and Pastor for Saskatoon.

From Genesis to Revelation, we see that God’s people have been worshippers. We worship God for his faithfulness, his protection, his provision, his love. We worship because he is Father, Son and Spirit. Worship has never been confined to gatherings in the temple or church gathering. Rather, it can—and should—occur from the rising of the sun to the setting. Our Sunday gatherings, however, provide a time when God’s people can gather to worship him in concert with “our psalms, hymns, spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19b)—all rising to the throne of grace to honor our Lord.

Worship services have been planned with a variety of forms or what is commonly referred to as the “order of service.” Bill Hall, Canada National Director, wrote on the general pattern of Gather, Word, Table, Dismissal. Bob Kauflin in his book Worship Matters offers a somewhat different progression, or expression for the worship leader to think about as he or she prepares for the Sunday service—Exalt, Encounter, and Respond.[1]­ Each expression allows the worshipping community to enter into the presence of the Lord. Let’s look at each one.

Exalt

As a worship leader, I prefer to set a theme for worship that will carry through each part. A theme is more easily established when we are in the high seasons of the liturgical calendar—Advent, Christmas, Easter Preparation, Easter, Pentecost, Ascension. Recently, for example, the theme I centered on from the RCL is that God calls us to love one another. In the exaltation, the service began with the words of Jesus that reflected his love for us and his commandment to love each other. Our songs reflected God’s love towards us – “The Power of his Love” – and then our response to his love was offered through “My Jesus I Love Thee.”

The Exaltation of our Lord can be expressed with reverence and creativity. God is the God who issues invitations to his people to come into his presence through the invitational words “come,” “seek,” or “worship and bow down.” The worship leader can bring these words of invitation forward in a variety of ways. God’s Word can be read followed by a time of silence, a responsive or unison scripture reading or a short chorus. The main idea here is that God invites us into his presence, and we acknowledge this wonderful gift by focusing on God and giving him the honor and glory that belongs to him alone.

Following this, many find it helpful to enter a time of prayer. This can focus on thanksgiving, confession (which should include words of assurance that our sins are forgiven) and prayers of intercession. This writer finds it helpful to allow for times of silence so one can be open to hear God responding to our heart.

Encounter

A natural flow from exalting God is for his people to encounter him through his Word. Just as there are the invitational words to enter God’s presence, so there are various calls to let the Word of God dwell in us richly. The proclamation of the Word in scripture is given through the words listen, hear, or incline – “listen to his voice’ (Deut. 30:2), hear his voice (Deut. 31:13) and the Psalmist tells us to “incline [or turn] my heart toward your statutes” (Psalm 119:36). When Jesus was teaching the parable of the sower, he commends his audience – he who has ears to hear, let him hear (Mark 4:9, 23)

The proclamation of God’s Word is powerful, and all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). The hearing of God’s Word gives opportune time to listen and to receive God’s Word, to invite God to touch and move through every fibre of our being. It can be that moment when, through the Holy Spirit, God brings a word of encouragement, challenge, conviction or strength to our hearts.

As in our time of exaltation, which can be presented in different forms, so too the Word of God can be brought forth in meaningful ways. A drama presentation can enrich the Word, and this can be done as an introduction to a message or draw the message to a conclusion.

Another avenue that I have used, especially during Lent and Christmas, is to intersperse the spoken word with song. For example, in a Good Friday service going through Mark’s Gospel of the events of Friday, I used the pattern of: a) Scripture reading, b) meditation or devotional thought around the particular scripture, followed by c) a song or chorus.

Respond

The closing portion of our worship is when we are called to respond to the Word of God that has just been proclaimed. Although we typically conclude our corporate worship with a song followed by a benediction, our response goes further than embracing these concluding elements. The worship of our Lord is our daily response to his love and faithfulness, his greatness and majesty. As we walk through each hour of each day, we can sing about God’s amazing love, we can pray in thanksgiving for his constant presence, we can be still and know that he is God (Psalm 46:10).

Everything I’ve written up to this point is based on the assumption that the planning of service is undergirded with prayer. If we don’t prepare our hearts and invoke God’s guidance and invitation to the Holy Spirit to lead us, then we can hardly expect to hear the Holy Spirit in our corporate gathering of worship.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come before him.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.
(1 Chronicles 16:28)

[1] Bob Kauflin, Worship Matters – Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God (Wheaton: Crossway 2008), 114.

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