For it is our practices of worship that form us and aim us towards human flourishing as God intended from the beginning of time.
These practices must be far from ethereal or esoteric. We need worship practices that are embodied, earthy, that engage our senses and our imaginations. Worship calls us to take up our vocation of being fully and authentically human, and to be a community and people who image God to the world.
This value for experiential worship is foundational to the Vineyard movement. The Vineyard was birthed when a small group of folks began meeting in a home in the late seventies, desperate for God and hungry for God’s presence. And as they began to sing simple songs to God, not just about God, they began to experience the tangible and felt presence of God in their midst.
Out of this experience of God’s presence, Vineyard worship was birthed and spread all across the world bringing songs of intimacy to the wider body of Christ.
So we believe that it is the practice of God’s presence that brings transformation -- both in our worship gatherings and in our daily rhythms of life.
This is why we don’t just go through the motions of singing songs or praying prayers as if it is a one-sided conversation or a rote, religious duty. Rather, we expect God to talk back and to meet us. We expect to encounter the palpable presence of God, God with us, God who surrounds us and encircles us, God in whom we breathe and live and have our being. And so we make room for the Spirit to move.
We wait. We sit in silence held in the loving gaze of our Creator and it heals us. Often we experience breakthrough, insight and freedom as we encounter heaven meeting earth. Anxiety leaves. Fear is broken. Despair evaporates as we experience the inbreaking of God’s kingdom manifest in peace, hope and love.
And there is something so earthy and wholehearted as we lift our voices in song, using dormant stomach muscles and vocal chords, lungs and tongues, engaging our bodies as we raise our hands, clap, bow, kneel or dance. Our harmonies speak of our interdependence. As we look at the faces of the gathered community, we are reminded that we are a part of God’s family, invited into the overarching story of God’s love and redemption in the world.
The beautiful, intertwining melodies and notes help us find expression and voice to the longings in our hearts. Our souls are hungry. Hungry for God. These are the rituals in which we are deeply formed. We belong. We are beloved. We are home.
“How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” - Psalm 84:1-2
There is a hunger today in the midst of an age of anxiety and fragmentation for spiritual practices that ground us in the love of God. We see this in the resurgence of contemplative spirituality that draws from the wisdom of our Christian tradition offering a wealth of spiritual practice. And so we would do well to learn about the practice of the presence of God from Ignatius, the desert fathers and mothers, Brother Lawrence, and many other saints and mystics who have gone before.
Transformation happens in the practice of the presence of God; for we are shaped profoundly by what captures our desire.
There are many creative and imaginative expressions that include music, worship in song, prayer, liturgies, readings, poems, art, worship stations, contemplative practices and the richness of sacrament.
In some ways our Christian worship culminates in the sacrament of Communion. This is why this practice is central in our gatherings every week. So far our practices have called upon our ears and our knees, our eyes and our tongues, our hands – now our mouths ingest the Eucharistic feast. The bread or cracker that is his body is broken, its cracking perhaps reverberating through the room. The wine that is his blood is poured with a flourish, even gusto, that makes its scent waft across the space as our taste buds begin to anticipate.
We join those proceeding to the front, perhaps we grab a hand of another, we stretch out our hands, take hold of the bread and dip it into the wine, we bow our heads as we take in the body of Christ, the bread of heaven and the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation. The tangible enactment of the gospel in the Lord’s Supper is a deeply affecting practice. It’s sights, its smells, its rhythms and movements are the sort of thing that seep into our imaginations and become a part of us. And once again, we are invited into communion with God, into the mystery of the incarnation and into the experience of God’s presence.
“Come near to God, and God will come near to you….” - James 4:8a
Every time we come to worship, we are coming to a moment that is pregnant with the possibility of a rich, transforming encounter with God.
“…Not only is it helpful to understand why and how we worship God, it is also helpful to understand what happens when we worship God. …Keep in mind…we are headed toward one goal: intimacy with God. I define intimacy as belonging to, or revealing one’s deepest nature to another (in this case to God), and it is marked by close association, presence, and contact….” - John Wimber, The Phases of the Heart
Communion or union with God is the goal. For we are created to worship. We are desiring beings, hard-wired for intimacy. And so as we engage in personal or corporate worship practices, each moment can become a place of meeting with God. God is near. God is with us. God is active. God is here. The kingdom of God is the weaving together of heaven and earth. And our bodies and our hearts and our practices can be a part of bringing heaven to earth. And as our affections are captured by the One who loves us infinitely more than we can fathom, heaven, meaning the shalom, the wholeness, justice and perfection of God, is at least in part manifested in and through us.