Gravity and Gladness on Sunday Morning - Lesson 6

A Philosophy of Music and Worship

Eleven points of what unites us in worship. Ten practical preparations for hearing the Word of God on Sunday morning.

John Piper
Gravity and Gladness on Sunday Morning
Lesson 6
Watching Now
A Philosophy of Music and Worship

A Philosophy of Worship and Music

I. Worship services and preaching

II. Preparation for Sunday Morning

  • The aim of corporate worship is that God be seen, known, enjoyed as glorious. God supplies us the strength to do it. Jesus diverts attention from worship being in a specific location with outward forms to a personal, spiritual experience with himself at the center. Worship doesn't need a temple, but a risen savior.
  • So what Jesus has done is break decisively the necessary connection between worship and its outward and localized associations. Spirit refers to spirit given intensity and truth refers to thinking right thoughts about God. The root of our passion and thirst for God is God’s own infinite exuberance for God. The basis for my passion for God's glory is God's passion for God's glory. 

  • How is God's pursuit of his own glory loving? But if our enjoyment is incomplete until it comes to completion in praise, then God would not be loving if he was indifferent to our praise. When God commands us to praise something that is infinitely praiseworthy, it's the completion of our joy which can only be found in him.
  • The implications of the inward essence of worship focus on centering our corporate worship on connecting with God and experiencing joy as a result. When our whole life is consumed with pursuing satisfaction in God, everything we do highlights the value and worth of God. Which simply means that everything becomes worship.
  • Some elements of corporate worship make it possible to glorify God in a way that an individual worshipping privately cannot. Preaching should be expository exultation.
  • Eleven points of what unites us in worship. Ten practical preparations for hearing the Word of God on Sunday morning.

God pursues us. We should pursue him. The key is to get these in the right order and depend on the first for the second. In the New Testament is a stunning degree of indifference to worship as an outward form and emphasizes a radical intensification of worship as an inward experience of the heart. 

The booklet that Dr. Piper refers to is not available at this time. Most of the notes he refers to are in the notes that you can download under the Downloads heading.  

We are thankful for John Piper's willingness to share these lectures with us. They were originally given in 2008. Copyright 2008 by Desiring God Ministries. Used with Permission. For more information, please visit www.DesiringGod.org.

Gravity and Gladness on Sunday Morning

Dr. John Piper


A Philosophy of Music and Worship

Lesson Transcript


The following message was recorded at an event hosted by Desiring God. More information about desiring God events, conferences and resources is available at W WW dot desiring God dot org. I thought it might be helpful way back when, when I prepared this to. Take you to a period in the history of our church in which we were about to be blown to smithereens. It was 1993 and 94, and I won't go into any details that will hurt anybody. I want to bring up any garbage, but it was horrible. And 230 people left their church. And. It began to settle down. We were flat for three years. Zero growth for three years. And it was a time in the wilderness and of great mourning and. And sadness. And during those days, the question was, who are we? What has happened. There was a great immorality. What has happened to us, what it has, the worship we've been doing been real. If if this kind of immorality could be happening while we're worshiping, who are we? And we took a year and a half to talk through, pray through, cry through our identity as a church, corporately worshiping and things changed dramatically. The first ten years of Bethlehem, of my existence here and the next 15 years are like night and day stylistically. Not that that was the key. It just changed during those days. We were just. You talk about worship wars in churches, and I just went to the Lord said, Lord, I don't know how to keep this church together, how to keep it on the same page. This thing could blow up. It's been around for 120 years. I don't want it to be destroyed on my watch. And I presented what I'm about to present to you, these 11 points of what unites us in worship.


And I believe the Lord used it to hold us together. What you'll notice is that there is very little stylistically in these which you might get at the end and say, well, how does that help? Because it didn't decide whether you got to use guitars or organs. We we worship with a pipe organ on Sunday morning only with piano and pipe organ for ten years. It was the sound of a drum, the sound of a guitar, the sound of anything but a great pipe organ and a great piano. On Sunday morning, that's all we did. On Sunday morning, Contemporary worship songs. That was in Sunday school. Hymns and pipe organ were in the worship service. This doesn't even address the organ issue. So how did this help? And I just want to say to those of you responsible for leadership. Unity and solutions to practical problems often come from deep harmony even. It's like underneath the Pacific Ocean, you know. A mile down. It's pretty quiet, pretty still, pretty solid, pretty unified. And there's a hurricane on top. And what the church often needs is for a pastor to take them down, down, down. And they they lock in together. This we believe this. We love if you can focus people there, they can survive a season of hurricanes and come through it and by grace come out on the other side with some sense of unity in form. That's what happened to us. We did lose people. But so here's here's here's what I gave them. The one. This is called What Unites US in worship. He's just not president in 1993 or so. They two, Nancy, I can't remember exactly. God centeredness a high priority on the vertical focus of our Sunday morning service was just Sunday morning back in.


The ultimate aim is so to experience God that he is glorified in our affections, to come on the lookout for God, leave on the lookout for people. I'm never certain that we've got the right balance in our church. I just don't know how to be certain. The right balance of intense, vertical, focused, God centered worship. That's what I feel. And one another. Warmth, tenderness, compassion, friendliness. Caring. Which is biblically mandated. How these two relate on Sunday morning is always a tension for me. It's a tension in our church right now. Lot of churches have mingling times during the service. Stand up. Go greet people. Give them a hug. So if you're if you're a formal church, you say, you know, give them a piece of Christ. And if you're not, you just say, give them a hug. But do that. Just do that. We don't do that. The main reason we don't is because Piper Piper doesn't want to go there. And they'll let me have my way for a little while on that issue. And I don't want to go there just because and it could be the Lord may smack my knuckles on the last day because of this, but. I look at the American church that is awash in. Familiarity low, dumb down, y'all come keep it friendly. And hardly anywhere. Is there a sense of the majesty and numinous and greatness and glory and terror and rage of God? We are in 68 hours a week. And I just have said to the worship leaders over the years, is it excessive? That one of those hours would be radically vertical. Is that excessive? Can you be friendly before and after? Just go hard after God for 70 minutes. Is that really excessive? And that's still where I am.


I still where I am. I'm pushing on that one and I'm making I make enemies that way. They just say, Yeah, but people come and they don't think you're as friendly as they would be, as if we took time in the service that we all hugged each other and. If you only knew where we were to where we are. There was a day at this church where we put signs on the outside of the doors of the sanctuary that said, Enjoy the ministry of Waiting. And you only came into this church at two points in the service. And that was during no act of worship except silence as the organ played. And you were made to feel you were late. And when you came in the first 10 minutes, it was quiet and the organ was playing and people were bowed in prayer. And I preached on bowing in prayer during the prelude to get your heart ready to meet God. That's gone. I let that one go. I stopped fighting that battle. I just gave it up. I loved it. I would still love it if our people came in and this place were trembling with expectation. Rather than talking about the Vikings. But I'm not going to fight that one anymore. So when you when you think if you think I'm a stubborn person, you're right. But I have moved whether I should move further. We'll see. Number two. Going hard after God. These are things we are united on. We lovers of organ and guitar. Right. Going hard after God, pursuing and expressing the deepest satisfaction in all that God is for us in Jesus. Number three, expecting the powerful presence of God. We don't just direct ourselves toward him. We earnestly seek his drawing near according to the promises of of James four eight draw near to God, and he will draw nearer to you than before.


We are Bible based and Bible saturated in these services. There's a difference between being only Bible based and being Bible saturated. I choose that word intentionally. In other words, I have I have heard talks on psychology and talks on on God and talks on marriage and talks on relationship that never referred to Scripture. And if you approach them and say, shouldn't, shouldn't you, shouldn't you be a more biblical? The answer is everything I said was based on Scripture. I say, Oh, excuse me, I couldn't tell, meaning I it. You didn't try to show that. And it didn't look like that. Now, that's good. I'm so glad. If what we say when we're not quoting scripture is based on scripture, Amen. Amen. Let's base everything on scripture, but in a worship service. Oh, God. Talk. God's got power. I want his word woven everywhere. I prayers to have Scripture in the songs. They have Scripture in them, welcomes to have Scripture in them preaching, they have Scripture in them. This is God's moment. Let him talk here. They must be oozing out here. Not just our ideas, our ideas, our ideas. And then we justify it with, well, it's all based on scripture. So that's why the word saturated the content of our singing, praying, welcoming, preaching. Poetry will always conform. I mentioned poetry because the Advent poems conform to the truths of Scripture. The content of God's Word will be woven through all we do in worship. It will be the ground of all our appeal to authority and preaching and elsewhere. Number five head and heart worship that aims at kindling and carrying deep, strong, real emotions towards God, but does not manipulate people's emotions by failing to appeal to clear thinking about spiritual things based on shareable evidences outside ourselves.


Now, let yourself try to let yourself imagine a church agreeing on this. That's at odds with each other and something. That's massive. If you get two people and one less pipe organ and one loves guitar drums. And you get a boat to say this, you accomplish something amazing. Worship aims at kindling and carrying deep, strong, real emotions. So the guitar player and the organist kind of believe that. And if they're real, there's going to be some amazing approach to each other there. It's going to alter the way the organ is played and the way the guitars are played. And it just might be someday the possibility of harmony and risks, earnestness and intensity. This is what was asked about earlier. That's a goal. That's an assumption, avoiding a trite, flippant, superficial, frivolous atmosphere, but instead setting an example of reverence and passion and wonder. We're very serious about being happy. Jokes are rarely fitting. Levity is a bad word for me. Joy Joy's a positive word. I've preached for 28 years at Bethlehem, and I've never told a joke in a sermon. Now. We laugh a lot about him and I say funny things. They just come out. Come out sometimes. Like, right there you laugh. So that happens because I think humor is totally designed by God and is a good thing. And so I'm just making a judgment call here. What are jokes about? How did jokes work? And there are they don't help me do what I want to do. They don't. My dad was an evangelist and preached more and better than I, and he began every sermon with a joke. They taught him that at Bob Jones University. It really began. It was an icebreaker. Get it by laughing a few more.


Kind of. What? What? I don't find a congregation laughing. Together. Necessarily helpful for what I'm about to say. Crying together, Maybe. Terrified together. Maybe laughter is not a given for me. You don't use it. Like a little break you'll break. This world is plagued with pastors who are afraid of seriousness. I'll give you an illustration. I was in ordination service one time. I just almost knocked this guy off who I was so mad at. We're standing surrounded by a bunch of pastors, and we're going to ordain a friend of mine to the ministry. He's going to kneel down and we'll lay hands on him. To me, this is the one of the most holy moments you can imagine. You're asking God Almighty to come down and put his seal on this man's ministry in the name of Christ. The pastor of the church was summoning to the front the other elders and preachers in the group that they would come and join us in laying on of hands, as I would invite all the the ordained clergy to come and join us here. And evidently they weren't coming as fast as he thought they should come. So he steps to the pulpit. He says, Come on, you shepherds. Don't be sheepish. And everybody laughed. I almost pushed him off the stage. There are pastors like that all over the country. No sense of the moment. It's okay to be punished. Sam Crabtree is the funniest person in the world. Sam is the executive pastor here. Sam brings to our staff gold, but his personality wouldn't trade him for anything. He better not do that at the wrong moment. I'm on his case and he has. Just like I told you, my personality gets me in trouble.


Good night. Way more than his does. But he'll. You'll do one of those punny things at a moment. And I think Sam thinks so. And I know this is on film, and he's probably going to watch. And I love you, Sam Crabtree. So much. So much is having devotions where you see God is enraged with the nations and there will be on our heads everlasting joy in knowing both of those and wanting to go before a people and capture them so you help them feel what it's like to have a God who's enraged at the nations and you help them feel what is like that everlasting joy is going to be upon their heads. That's what pastors are supposed to. You're not supposed to tell jokes and do slapstick and show films and do rap and ride donkeys and roll basketballs down the aisle and bounce beach balls around the sanctuary. That's just ridiculous. Come on. I'm in favor of youth groups that do crazy things from time to time. You know, just weird, crazy things. Craziness is okay. But. But one hour a week, can we just have one hour a week where the majesty and the wonder and the glory of going hard after God in intense verticality would be okay? That's my simple plea. And we agreed on things like this as Bethlehem back in the end. And number seven, authentic communication. We agree on that. The utter renunciation of all sham and deceit and hypocrisy and pretense and affectation and posturing, not the atmosphere of artistic or oratorical performance, but the atmosphere of a radically personal encounter with God and truth. What has historically killed hundreds of churches is pastors who seem especially to young people, artificial. Oh, Scotland, Word of the Lord.


You know how it's marked. I mean, marriage. Marriage is. It's a really low point in The Princess Bride. Almost all movies make pastors look stupid. Why? Because there are so many stupid pastors. I mean by stupid. Come on, be real. Everybody can see right through that tone of voice. I went to get stuff. Okay? We we as a staff really want to be real with you. We try to be totally honest. I mean, when I was having marriage trouble, 1888, 89, 90. My wife and I went to 33 months of marriage counseling. What does a pastor do with that? Hanging on by our fingernails to like each other and not hurt each other. We're 40 years married now. That's 20. 20 years ago. I just went to the elders and I said, This is where it is. So they knew the details and the church knew generally. There's just no point. When my. My kids went away. Come on, Bethlehem. You're my family. Pray with me. Help me. There's no point in hiding anything. If you get stuff you have to hide, the price should be out of the ministry. I held us together, commemorate the manifestation of God and the common good. We expect and hope and pray that our focus on manifesting God is good for people and that therefore a spirit of love for each other is not incompatible with necessary but necessary to authentic worship. I know that how we treat each other and what God does in and through us, in those in around those services is a key part of holding us together and displaying the glory of God. The nine I'm distracting excellence, and I've probably said enough of that in the other session. We'll try to sing and play and pray and preach in such a way that people's attention will not be diverted from the substance by shoddy ministry or by excessive finesse.


Those are the two mistakes. Over here you got shoddy ministry that causes people to think about it because it's so shoddy. And over here, you've got far less. That's so good. People are always drawn to think about it. Or elegance or refinement. Natural undistracted excellence will let the truth and beauty of God shine through that will affect the way you dress. Dress is a small thing. I hardly ever talk about it. Almost in 28 years. I don't think I've ever preached a sermon on how to dress. You notice how I dress on Sunday? Nobody else dresses like me. Mine is intentional. So is theirs. I don't mandate what they wear and they don't mandate what I wear. They probably wish I didn't dress like a penguin, but. Someday, when I'm willing to brave it, I'll write an essay about that. But if you talk about it, you know what happens. People think you're making a big deal out of dress. Even if you talk about it, not to make a big deal out of it. So I'm not going to say anymore. Number ten, determination to welcome people different from ourselves for the sake of Christ. We aim to be more indigenous to the diversity of our metropolitan cultural setting, both urban and suburban at huge. That's difficult. That's a challenge. Would we want to work on continually? We don't want to give the impression to ourselves or to the world that in order to be a Christian, you got to be white or be Christian, you got to be Western or whatever. But but finding a way to be ethnically diverse, culturally diverse and unified, I will go to my grave working on that and failing. I totally believe I will go to my grave never stopping working on that and never expecting to succeed, because I don't think it's possible in this fallen world to take as much diversity as we have in the Twin Cities, bring it into one room and with dress and prayer and preaching and music and relational structures and styles to make everybody able to be at home.


So we work at it. Because we know that in heaven we're going to be together. And the diversity that God has created in the world ethnically, racially, personality wise, male and female, tall and short of all kinds of diversity. He did it intentionally for his glory, because humanity is like a prism and the glory of God is shining on it. And as you turn the prism, different angles and different shapes refract the colors of the glory differently. And so each of you individually is unique, and you're intended by God to refract. Part of His glory that nobody else can refract in just your way. And then churches try to put all that together in the last one. Number 11 is the mingling of historic and contemporary music and heartfelt congregational singing. And he said to them, therefore, every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and old. Now that starts to get up next to the style issue, doesn't it? Old and new. New tends to sound like contemporary worship music and old. And so like hymns. And so we're saying they're mingling of historic and contemporary. The best of both is something we want to value. It might be helpful for me to point out the importance of that word right there. I was talking with a brother last night who said the same thing. One of the things that we discussed in our meetings in those painful days was what should be the defining sound of Bethlehem. Pipe organ. Guitar. Piano. Drums. Orchestra. Flute. Choir. What should be the defining sound when I'm not preaching the defining sound. And the answer we gave was the people singing.


The people singing. Now, that may sound like, well, that sure doesn't help you choose between an organ and a guitar. You might be surprised. It. It has an effect, too, to agree on that. This people robustly engage with God in their voices will be the defining sound means you better back up on some of these instruments. Take a pipe organ to the limit. You'll never hear a single person say you take electric instruments to the into the. You never hear anybody say. And so that was important. It's true to this this day. And we you know, we constantly have to adjust. So those are the things that we as a church gathered around about corporate worship, what, 15 years ago, and God used them to spare us. Now, we only have a few minutes left in this last session. And what I want to do is go to the last session and take maybe 5 minutes and. The one that says ten practical preparations for hearing the word of God on Sunday morning. And just bullet these with you're going to skip the other things you can think about those your self if you want to. I think I've said most of what I want to say. What I want to do here is just talk about preparation for corporate worship. Most people don't even think in those terms. I was thinking again this morning as I re read these. That parents need from the time their children are little to build into them. This mindset. If you go to worship on Sunday morning, this mindset tomorrow morning, Jimmy Cheney tomorrow morning is the most important morning of our week. We're going to meet God together with God's people. We're going to tell him how much we love him and we're going to listen to his word.


And we're going to be shaped by God tomorrow. This is the most important week, therefore. You can't stay up late tonight. If you want to go out with your friends and stay up till midnight, you're going to do that on Friday night. You're not going to do it on Saturday night. As this family. We're going to get us a good night's sleep because being awake is more important tomorrow morning than Monday morning. Worship is more important than school. Almost nobody thinks that way. So I want to just encourage you to think that way. What are some ways to get ready for the most important hour of the week? Pray that God would give you a good and honest heart, because that's the text. This is all born out of Luke 818. Take heed how you hear. That's what I'm trying to help. Take heed. How you hear. Number. Whoops, skipped number two to meditate on the Word of God. So Saturday night and Sunday morning, pray that God would give you a heart to worship and take some time in the Word to retool your heart so that you're in tune with him. And the three purify your mind by turning away from worldly entertainment. Turn off the television. I. I just don't know how. I don't have a television and haven't had one for 40 years in the house. And we take vacations. And when we go on vacation, we're almost always someplace where there's a television. So I watch it and I get my TV bath for a couple of weeks. And frankly, I come away almost despairing for my people. I said, Lord. Just take the best of prime time TV, whatever that is. Just take the best and say, if that's what my people are feeding on, I just don't know how I can fight it.


I don't know how I can awaken spiritual affections and biblical values and priority when they're soaked in their brain in this crap. And I'm not talking explicit nudity or. Terrible language. I'm just talking about absolute banality, silliness, foolishness, mingled with innuendo and suggestiveness and then advertisements poking in every 10 minutes, all of them sexually oriented almost. And I sit there and I thought, Oh, no world, that would be Christian in the 21st century if we sit here. And I would just say, if you can fast one day a week. Fest Saturday night. Rest another the. If you fear you young folks who are going to get married someday, have kids. If you fear that growing up, your kids in a non TV house is going to make them nerds squares weird. Unable to grow up. That's not true. Meet any of my four boys, now grown married with kids, and they're all intelligent and worldly wise. Here's the list. Simple Will Simple help move into the city? So that they could see it real. And don't have to watch it on television. Watch a guy raping a woman in the front yard. What you got pulling the. Spout off the side of my house, smashing another guy's head with it. Here, the door being pounded on it 3 a.m. in the morning with a wild eyed drunk hollering at the pastor. Take your kids where the world has. Yes. He didn't even watch it on television. Because then they might have to learn that it's real and they got to deal with it and they learn how to rest long enough Saturday night to be alert and hopeful Sunday morning. Just get enough sleep so that you figure out what time you need to get up in order to not be hurried to go to church, work back seven or 8 hours, whatever you need in order to be fresh.


And then. Go to bed 15 minutes before that and read your Bible, because either God will put you to sleep because you need the rest, or the devil will put you to sleep because he doesn't want you reading about him. I really believe that you read your Bible at night. You're going to go to sleep. And just take that as okay, it's a gift. If you go to sleep in the morning when you read your Bible, then do what I do. Namely, you pick up your Bible like this. Get off your knees or your chair. And just for this. It's walk in a circle in my study. I never I've never fallen asleep walking. Except one time when I was working at night as a night watchman. And I used to have two punch buttons and I could sleep the whole way by just walking to sleep. I don't know how I did it, but. Bear one another on Sunday morning without grumbling and criticism. Know that one of the great killers on Sunday morning is spats in the car between a husband and a wife or with the kids. The kids are slow and you get mad at him and you're so mad. I mean, and you get to church and we're not going to work. Just it's really just put it off. If you've got to deal with the kids, deal with him at 1:00 in the afternoon, just keep make the peace on Sunday morning and try to be ready. Number seven, be meek and teachable when you come. Number eight, be still as you enter the room and focus your mind's attention and heart's affection on God. Still believe in that? I think it's totally wonderful if you walk into a worship service and you see a person crying or you see a person that that left the church three years ago in a huff and they're there, I think it's gloriously God honoring to walk over, put your arm around him and say it's glad to see you and worship with you this morning.


Are you okay? That's different than how about those Vikings? There's just something wrong with the Vikings. Well, there probably is, but you know what I mean. There's nothing wrong with being interested in sports. I'm saying there's a time for everything under heaven. Number nine, we're almost done. Think. Think earnestly about what is sung and prayed in others. Be engaged. Don't let the words go by without your reflection. And finally, number ten, Desire the truth of God's Word more than you desire, riches or food. So this has been a seminar supposedly on gravity and gladness in corporate worship. We've talked mostly about our hearts and about the inner nature of true, authentic worship here. And that's because I think that's this the emphasis the Bible has in the New Testament especially. Nevertheless, I have tried to make a case that corporate services are normative preaching in there in some way, form length is normative. And I hope that we are Bethlehem and those of you from other churches will be able to be an instrument of cultivating the kinds of authenticity and intensity and passion and truthfulness that would correspond to Jesus words when he said the Father is seeking such to worship him in spirit and in truth, let's pray. Father in heaven, you are worthy of our worship. We at Bethlehem want to gather back tonight and then tomorrow and do it. We I personally love corporate worship. It is a powerful reality in my life, and I thank you for the gift of it and the people that enrich my communion with you. When they join me in it, I pray for all of those here from other churches that you bless, those churches that should awaken all churches to the central city of your supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples.


In Jesus name, I pray. In. Thank you for listening to this message from Desiring God, the Ministry of John Piper, Pastor for preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Feel free to make copies of this message for others, but please do not charge for those copies or alter the content in any way without permission. We invite you to visit desiring God online at w WW dot desiring God dot org where you'll find hundreds of sermons, articles, radio broadcasts and more all available at no charge. Our online bookstore carries all of Pastor John's books, audio and video resources, and you can also stay up to date on what's new at Desiring God again. Our website is w WW dot desiring God dawg. Or call us toll free at 1888346 4700. Our mailing address is. Desiring God. 2601 East Franklin Avenue. Minneapolis, Minnesota. 55406. Desiring God exists to help you make God your treasure because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.


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