The Ultimate Destination of Biblical Worship is Vertic^l

My friend Andi Rozier is well-known for his analogies.  One of the most helpful ones I’ve heard him use deals with destination.  It goes something like this: Our lives are consumed with destination.  When you leave from work (if you are reading this at work), you will go to your car, drive to your house, eat your food and retire in your bedroom.  How you get to each of these daily destinations may vary, but you will eventually arrive at these destinations nonetheless.  

Another illustration: Maybe you have gone to Disney World.  How absurd would it be for you to flip-out over the vehicle taking you there more than the destination itself?  Could you imagine yourself as a child saying, “Dad, I can’t wait to spend 13 hours in our four-door sedan with wood panelling, this is the best vacation ever!”.  Sheer lunacy.  How you get to the destination is nothing, arriving there is everything.

Biblical worship, like our lives, is also consumed with destination and the final destination of all Biblical worship is vertical.  I’m not saying that worship cannot or should not have horizontal aspects.  Scripture is clear that when we gather as living stones built into the house of God and worship corporately, there’s a horizontal aspect to our worship.  Consider these passages:

  • “Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt His name together” (Psalm 34:4)
  • “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” (Psalm 95:1)
  • “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16)
  • “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise-the fruit of lips that openly profess His name” (Hebrews 13:15)

What I am saying is that as we lead our churches in corporate worship, if we do not arrive at a vertical destination point, we fail to climb to the top of mountain and miss out on the best, most glorious view of who God is.  The vertical destination of all Biblical worship is the unmistakeable ascription and exaltation of Jesus Christ.  That’s why the apostle Paul writes to the church at Colossae admonishing believers to, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2).  The ultimate destination of Biblical worship is vertical.

As Christians, our souls have a final destination as well; the new heaven and Earth that is being prepared for us.  There’s two key places in Scripture where the curtain is pulled back on what’s happening in eternity that underscore the vertical destination of all Biblical worship.

The first place is Isaiah 6.  In this terrifying account of Isaiah’s commission, we see the angelic hosts reciting exactly what God has ordained for them to be saying.  Scripture says their refrain is endless: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, the whole Earth is filled with His glory.”  The angels model what worship looks like in God’s throne room: They sing TO God ABOUT God.  The direction of worship God has ordained by those in closest proximity to him is vertical in nature.  

The second place is in Revelation 5.  We see through John’s vision that the preoccupancy of all worship in heaven will not be focussed on our feelings towards God or even our testimony of His work in our lives.  Rather, the indisputable direction of worship happening in the throne room is vertical, ascriptive and Christ-focussed.  Consider John’s account and count how many times the pronoun, “You” is used in verses 9-11 alone:

“And they sang a new song, saying: you are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.  Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand.  They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.  In a loud voice they were saying: Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”

If we truly desire to usher people into the throne room of God week after week, we as worship leaders ought to have a firm handle on what’s happening in the throne room, namely, the vertical nature of worship being offered to the Almighty.

Worship planning can take on a lot of forms, but one Biblical form that’s a helpful template is seen in Old Testament worship both at the tabernacle and the temple.  (As an aside, I’ve always found it interesting that in the construction of both the tabernacle and temple, there’s never a place for congregants to sit and observe.  Worship of the Most High is not a spectator sport but highly participatory!).  In both tabernacle and temple worship Scripture supports five stages in the worship journey; gathering (Psalm 122:1), thanksgiving (Outer Courts – Psalm 100:4), testimony (Inner Courts – Psalm 145:4), preparation (holy place – Psalm 24:3) and presence (Holy of Holies – Revelation 1:17).

When we plan our worship sets intentionally with this journey in mind, we mimic the precedent set in Scripture, ordained by God.  Again, it’s not the only or “right” way to plan worship, but it is one supported by God’s Word.  Understanding what our songs say and what they provoke our congregation to think and feel will help us use them as thoughtful building blocks for the path we build to our (vertical) destination.

Using Old Testament worship as a template, we may want to consider starting a worship set with songs of gathering that tune and focus our hearts towards Christ as we arrive to meet with him.  After that we may move to songs of thanksgiving, giving praise for who God is and what He’s done.  From there we may move to songs that declare and testify to God’s work in our lives and His church.  Next, we may want to sing songs of confession and repentance that prepare us to be in His presence.  Finally, and most importantly, we want to bring people to the mountain top of worship through songs of ascription that say nothing about us, but like the angels, sing TO God ABOUT God.  

In my tribe we have given a number to each song in our worship canon according to how it functions.  1’s are gathering songs, 2’s are thanksgiving songs, 3’s are testimonial songs, 4’s are preparation songs and 5’s are vertical or “throne room” songs.  The purpose of this categorization tool isn’t to reduce worship planning down to a formula, but to encourage thoughtfulness and intentionality in the worship sets we build and present to those we serve each week.  I’ve written about this before and you can read a more detailed breakdown of this method of worship planning here:

Most of these song categories are self-explanatory but I want to highlight the final category, the destination point of every service we plan.  Vertical or “throne room” songs are purely ascriptive in nature and are often hard to come by mostly because they are difficult to write.  When the church exalts the Lord with songs whose lyrics are completely and unequivocally focussed on Him, the transcendent holiness of God enters the room and literately brings us to our knees.  He is enthroned upon His praise (Psalm 22:3) and lives are changed by an undeniable encounter with the Almighty. 

Isn’t that a worthy goal to intentionally and wholeheartedly chase after every weekend?

Here’s some examples of “throne room songs” of pure ascription.  Note the vertical focus of the lyric and absence of numerous personal pronouns.  These are “final destination” songs that say nothing about “me” and everything about God:

  • Revelation Song (Kari Jobe)
  • God of the Ages (Charles Billingsley)
  • Holy, Holy, Holy (Hymn)
  • Crown Him with Many Crowns (Hymn)
  • King of Kings (Hillsong)
  • What a Beautiful Name (Hillsong)
  • O Praise The Name (Hillsong)
  • Exalted Over All (Vertical Worship)
  • None Like You (Vertical Worship)
  • Hallelujah Amen (Vertical Worship)

There’s something in the core of our souls that seems to resonate differently when we sing songs of pure ascription.  The view from the mountain top is always the best, so whereas the journey there may take a variety of forms, the destination is always the same: Vertical.

The destination point of our weekend worship sets is everything.  We call down the manifest glory of God when we “ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name and worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness” (Psalm 96:8-9).

Worship Leaders: Be intentional as you plan your worship sets.  Be thoughtful as you craft the journey but be decided on the vertical destination: Jesus Christ.


One thought on “The Ultimate Destination of Biblical Worship is Vertic^l

  1. Pingback: Worship Planning: Defining and Refining Your Song Canon – Part Two – Travis Doucette :: Song Spinner

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s