AW Tozer – Reverence is Necessary for Freedom in Worship

Worship the Lord with reverence,
And rejoice with trembling.
(Psalm 2:11)

For many years there has been a discussion in the church regarding styles of worship, but under this discussion (or should I say argument?) was a current of thought that often went unnoticed.  In fact, in the midst of the “worship wars” regarding what kinds of music was proper and appropriate inside the walls of the church, there was a fundamental foundation for worship that was seldom discussed or considered: that of planning worship.

I have written about and explained various systems, or theories, of planning worship in this column previously. I have sought to equally weigh the benefits of liturgically planned services that rely on a pre-set form which shapes each service, in comparison to freer planning (that characterizes the Bible church movement in particular) which allows for many and varied forms week by week (even to the point of non-planning). Both systems have their strengths and weaknesses.

Imagine how my thoughts were engaged when I read the following from A.W. Tozer:

The theory held in some churches seems to be that if the service is unplanned [or free worship] the Holy Spirit will work freely.  Now that would be true if all the worshipers were reverent and Spirit-filled. But mostly there is neither order nor Spirit, just a routine prayer that is, except for minor variations, the same week after week, and a few songs that were never much to start with and have long ago lost all significance by meaningless repetition!

I am intrigued that Tozer places the burden on the quality of worship not on the planning, but upon the worshiper. This is not to say that worship planners should be lazy, but in many ways, it relieves the burden of effectiveness on them and places it elsewhere. First, responsibility lies on the Holy Spirit as the Mover in the hearts of men and women, and secondly on those being moved by the Spirit. Certainly the worship planners in our churches must also rely on the Holy Spirit moving to plan services that will be both spiritual and effective.  While at the same time, only as the people respond to the movement of the Holy Spirit will true worship take place.

Tozer goes on:

We of the nonliturgical churches tend to look with some disdain upon those churches that follow a carefully prescribed form of service, and certainly there must be a good deal in such services that has little or no meaning for the average participant – this is not because it is carefully prescribed but because the average participant is what he is.”

Here we see Tozer turning his gaze on liturgical churches. Interestingly, he draws the same conclusion from his observation of these carefully planned and regulated services. It is not the planning, nor the prescribed liturgical elements, that cause attendees to find little meaning in the services they attend. It is the “averageness” of the participant. While the Holy Spirit can work through careful planning, His work is only effective as the worshiper’s heart is ready to respond to Him.

So we find that, in both liturgical and nonliturgical settings, the unresponsive heart of worshipers leaves the spirit of reverence wanting in worship.  No matter how well the craft of worship planning is practiced, deadness of heart will produce deadness of worship.  This gives us a broader insight into the relational character of worship in the life of the church. The worship planner and the worshipers must be vitally connected and ready for the movement of the Spirit of God. When we are all ready for Him to move, worship will capture us like we’ve never experienced!

Even in recognizing the importance of willing hearts, Tozer closes his comments noting the importance of the form of worship in allowing room for the Spirit to move. This reminds us that the skillful worship planner is a partner with God in the very form of the service overall.

The liturgical service is at least beautiful, carefully worked out through the centuries to preserve a spirit of reverence among the worshipers.  In many of our meetings [free worship] there is scarcely a trace of reverent thought, no recognition of the unity of the body, little sense of the divine Presence, no moment of stillness, no solemnity, no wonder, no holy fear!

Worship planning is a skill that requires the balance of many skills. Beginning with a ready heart to be led by the Spirit in the process of planning, one must also have skills regarding theology, music, public speaking, pastoral care, and others.  One must be able and willing to reflect the biblical ebb and flow in our corporate worship settings. Praise and worship is only one aspect, yet it is the primary diet of many churches today. Where is the reverence?  Where is the sense of divine Presence?  The stillness?  The solemn?  The wonder?  The fear?  Where is the worship planning that reflects fully the emotional and spiritual variety found in the Psalms?

Tozer’s words are important for this generation of worship planners and worship leaders to hear.  It’s important for the next generation, too. But trapped in the setting of the entertainment industry, one wonders how long it will take for worship to recover from its wanderings?  There is no way to know. However, we can start with ourselves and, as Tozer suggests, we can deal with our own average preparation for meeting God as He works in the midst of His gathered people.

*All quotes from “Renewed Day by Day:  A Daily Devotional” by A.W. Tozer, compiled by G.B. Smith (Old Tappan, NJ:  Fleming H. Revell Company, 1980).

(Original Post on April 24, 2013 at the Worldview Church:


Posted on January 27, 2014, in Christian Worldview, Content of Worship, Corporate Worship, theology, Worship Leader and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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