“Worship is the adoring response of the heart and mind to the influence of the Spirit of God. It stands neither in forms nor in the formal disuse of forms; it may be without words as well as with them, but it must be in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24).”
-Richmond Declaration of Faith, 1887
In our hectic age many of us have lost the art of true worship. We sometimes feel awkward in a time of corporate silence. We find it easier when things are carefully programmed, when something is “going on.” Yet Friends have consistently emphasized the value of silence, not as an end in itself, but as a means of hearing the voice of God, speaking either directly to the individual heart or through the vocal witness of a sensitive fellow-worshipper.
[Our purpose here] is to help the reader apply some of the wisdom of Biblical truth and Quaker experience to the specific task of worshipping God today. Our immediate concern is to enrich the times of “open worship” in our Meetings by providing practical suggestions to the individual on “what to do” during those moments when we wait in silence before the Lord, each one seeking to be sensitive and obedient to the Living Christ in our midst (Matthew 18:20).
May the following suggestions be used of God in ushering in a new age of faithfulness, ministry and service for all of us.
-Friends Elders at Berkeley, 1971
Worshipping God in Silence
Beginning with Silence. As we begin to worship, is it not more fitting to settle down in reverential silence and awe before the Holy One of Eternity than to rush into God’s presence with hearts and minds askew and tongues full of words? The Scriptural admonition is: “[T]he Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be hushed in his presence.” (Habakkuk 2:20 NEB).
During a time of “open” or “unprogrammed” worship, seek to:
- “Center down” first of all in reverential silence. “Centering down” means letting God cleanse the mind and heart from all distracting thoughts, worries or cares, asking Him to take out of our minds anything that would prevent us from hearing God’s voice.
- “Wait upon the Lord.” Listen for God’s voice within your heart. Seek to be quiet, totally surrendered and attentive before God. Then permit your yielded heart to be led to a thought, an impression, a passage of Scripture, a prayer, a hymn, a specific concern, or to whatever else the Spirit directs you.
- Communicate with God the desires of your heart. If joyful, praise and thank God, inwardly, silently, in true communion. If guilty, confess your sin and estrangement to God. If anxious, ask for God’s guidance, strength and peace. Partake of the spiritual substance of Christ Himself. (John 6:53-54)
- Be aware of others around you, their yearnings, their petitions, their needs. Be aware that Christ is speaking to them as well. You may be led to pray earnestly either for the whole worshipping community or for some particular individual.
Helpful Vocal Ministry
It is important to heed the Scriptural admonition: “Let all things be done for edification.” (I Corinthians 14:26).
There are varieties of gifts and varieties of ministries but all are designed by a common Lord for mutual help, instruction, encouragement and challenge. Types of vocal witness which have proved helpful are :
- Spontaneous words of joy, praise, thanksgiving to and adoration of the Lord.
- Simple words of witness or testimony -sharing the workings of God’s Spirit in your own life, perhaps even acknowledging a need, a trial, a dry spell or a persistent doubt.
- Honest confession of sin can have a humbling and healing effect on the whole congregation. However, caution should be exercised to avoid disclosing information which could be detrimental.
- Words of exhortation or encouragement speaking perhaps from some Scripture passage or personal concern, prophetically declaring God’s specific message for God’s people.
- Prayer that arises out of the needs and wants of the worshipping community.
- A portion of Scripture selected on an inner impression from the Spirit, and read clearly and effectively.
- A hymn or song singularly appropriate for the moment, which can be sung with profit either by an individual, or by the entire congregation.
Knowing When to Speak During Meeting for Worship.
- One of the hardest things to learn is when you ought to speak, and when you ought to keep still in a Quaker Meeting for Worship. How irreverent to indulge in mere chatter or to rise quickly to utter words when God has not spoken. How tragic, however, to be disobedient and silent when God has commissioned you to deliver a message in the power of the Spirit! Hence, above all else, seek to be obedient to the Living Lord, determining ahead of time neither to speak nor to refrain from speaking.
- If you feel like speaking, surrender again your impulse to the Lord, saying, “Not my will, but thine be done.” If it is only your will that prompts you, God’s grace will enable you to remain seated, with profit both to yourself and to others.
- However, if after an attitude of surrender you still feel the prompting of the Spirit, that inner necessity to speak (sometimes with emotional “butterflies,”) by all means be obedient to the Lord. Rise and share at once the message that God has given.
- Stand up when you speak or pray.
- Face the congregation.
- Speak audibly and distinctly.
- Let God’s Spirit discipline your mind; let your words be few and full; speak directly to the point without equivocation or wandering.
Insights on Vocal Ministry from Quaker Experience
“When the call comes, there should be no ‘quenching of the Spirit’, no ‘contempt for prophesyings’ on the ground that the offering is small, but instead, a willing-hearted, humble-minded obedience. Faithful use of a gift brings increase; unfaithfulness leads to the withdrawal of the talent entrusted to us not for neglect but for service. “
– “Advices on Worship and Ministry” 1899
“[H]owever varied may be the individualized needs in any company of worshippers there is common to all the need to hear the voice of the Lord, the prophetic word that comes with power from God to awaken the sense of sin, to heal the soul, to inspire the vision and hope, to challenge the complacent, to persuade the fearful, to convince the doubter-in a word, to win men and women for Jesus Christ. “
– Robert Davis, 1933
“Endeavor to express yourselves audibly and distinctly, and guard against all tones and gestures inconsistent with Christian simplicity. Speak with reverence, as in the Master’s presence. Beware of using unnecessary preambles and of making additions towards the conclusion of a meeting, when it was left well before. “
– ‘Advice on Ministry,’ 1928
“What it is that constitutes guidance in ministry, and the means by which it is to be sought and found, is a difficulty with many. Some are afraid to speak in a meeting for worship, because, though they know something of the love of Christ, they do not seem to have any experience of a call that is undeniably supernatural. Others may be too readily taking their own thoughts and feelings as a warrant for obtruding them on others. Our natures differ greatly. ..To some it seems that God speaks, as it were, by the earthquake and the whirlwind; to others it is in a very still small voice. There are strong impulses which make the heart beat and the body tremble; there are, on the other hand, faint whispers which we need to be on the alert to hear. Both may be equally the voice of the true Shepherd, calling us to follow His leading…
“To find the right words for a gathered company, whether of vocal prayer or testimony, we need to wait for that sense of call that comes to us from God through the fellowship of hearts that are bound into harmony by the flowing through them of the tides of His living presence. Hence, whatever may have been on our minds before hand-whatever thoughts we may have worked out under the sense of help from God-must be held loosely, with perfect willingness to refrain from uttering them if the right time has not come.”
– London Yearly Meeting, 1911