"I want more of that!” a toddler loudly asserted during the children’s worship time one Sunday morning. She had just eaten bread during “the feast,” and her appetite had been whetted. Those nearby smiled, the meaning not lost on them. Many in this congregation had a similar desire to experience more, in particular more of God’s nearness through extended times of worship. A typical Sunday service is just a snack. They wanted to feast.
Over time a night was set apart to do just that—to worship all night. The following year, a second all-night worship was planned, this time organized by a committee who found people to lead the worship for each consecutive hour throughout the night. Eventually a plan emerged for regular all-night worship on the last Saturday of every month, worship that would conclude at the end of the regular Sunday service. These times are now a regular feature of the congregation’s life.
Drawing closer to God by trying to stay awake in the sanctuary all night? Does that even make theological sense? Why would anyone even consider doing something like that? Perhaps the best way to answer these questions is to recount what happens at a typical all-night service.
8:00 p.m. About a dozen people arrive and worship begins. Some have notebooks or laptops, some carry flags, others haul in canvas, easel, paint, clay, even a potter’s wheel. Several children seat themselves at a table covered with colored pencils and paper and start to draw. The atmosphere is relaxed and expectant. A team leads with praise songs for well over an hour as more people arrive. The songs point to the root meaning of worship, rendering “worthiness and honor” to God. This time sets the stage for the night.
As the team finishes the last song, worshipers spread across the sanctuary and make themselves comfortable. Artists set up their easels and sculptures, the potter sets up her wheel, all accompanied by a CD of praise songs. A pleasant aroma of fresh-baked bread drifts from the church kitchen where a member offers her baking skills to the Lord. With all the senses now engaged, there is a reverence in the air. Children who are still drawing do so quietly, perhaps because they are getting sleepy. They show their drawings to the adults around them. Eventually their parents gather them to go home.
Midnight. The ranks are thinning. At a signal from the leader, worshipers gather in a circle on the floor and quietly talk about what they sense or understand about the evening. Some share word pictures. Others talk easily about what they feel the Lord is saying to them. The group moves apart and the praise music is turned up again. A few take flags and dance at the front of the sanctuary.
2:00 a.m. The atmosphere changes noticeably. Self-consciousness and weariness seem to be forgotten.
One participant was struck, when entering into worship, by how much his prayer typically centered on himself. “Even when I pray for others, it is often still centered on my own wishes and desire for them,” he said. This time, however, he felt moved to simply focus on the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, not as they related to him but as Creator, Redeemer, and Mover. “It was as if I moved out of the way so that God’s presence could enter. In doing that I was welcome to participate in what God was doing. . . . That night I was set free to dance and sing and shout to my heart’s content.”
The whir of the potter’s wheel can occasionally be heard when there is a lull in the music. Later the potter wonders aloud whether God uses clay to speak. “I’ve come to realize that God will use anything and everything to speak. His utter longing for relationship with this world and with us is so strong that he uses whatever catches our attention to bring his message of love. As I throw an open vessel during the long night, the strong sense that God wants to open us up invades my being,” she said. At one point during the night she found it impossible to center the clay and realized the worship was off-key as well.
5:00 a.m. Some are asleep on the floor. Only four people are still awake, two artists, the potter, and the man kids call “the flag man.” He has spent much of the night singing aloud to the Lord, and now heads off for a short nap.
The artists are still at work. One speaks of the night setting her free. “Worship and painting have always gone hand-in-hand for me. It is how God speaks to me, how I respond to him.” She adds, “But I had never worshiped in this way with others. The first time we did this, I found that being surrounded by others whose hearts were also filled with worship, I was set free. . . . Being in God’s presence for so long in a concentrated way seems to allow creativity to flow. It is like working alongside the Master Artist.”
The first streaks of light appear in the sky. “In the darkness,” she continues, “there is an intimacy with the Lord even though you are in the company of others. When the night has passed and the dawn breaks, it feels like he slips away and returns in new clothing for the day. He gently turns me around to think again of others and the cares of this world. . . . God has refreshed me to step into the day to continue in worship.”
Morning has come; the Sunday service is underway. The praise is exuberant. Afterward, the congregation goes home having savored a taste of a feast.
An Emerging Vision
The monthly all-night worship at Meadowvale CRC is the initial part of an emerging vision: 24/7 worship. All day, all night, all week, all year. Offering continual worship to our God in as many ways as he has gifted us, with as many means and instruments as he has provided us, and in as many places as he opens for us. The name for our vision is “The Dwelling.” We’re called to make God our dwelling place (Ps. 90:1-2; Ps. 91), to continually abide in him (John 15:1-11), and to dwell in his presence all of our days (Ps. 27:4; 23:6; 84:1-4). And as we do so, God promises to make us his dwelling place (Lev. 26:11). God will actually pitch his tent in our midst (Ex. 25:8-9; 29:42-46) and make his home with us (John 14:23; 2 Cor. 6:16).
The vision of centers of 24/7 worship is simply our response to this call to make God our dwelling place, offering our best to provide a welcome place for God’s presence in our midst. As we welcome and learn to “host” God’s presence through continual worship, not only will worshipers become transformed into God’s likeness (Rom. 12:1-2, 8:29), but the presence itself will have a transforming affect on society, culture, and the environment in which we live (Col. 1:19-20, Rev. 21:5).
Though we recognize the transforming effect of God’s presence, that in itself is not our primary purpose for worship. We are not called to worship because of the blessings that come to the worshipers and their community. Our sole purpose in worship is simply to love God because he first loved us; to lavishly and extravagantly pour our devotion out to him as he has given himself without reservation for us.
Our vision is to encourage worship by as many means and creative expressions as we have available to bless our creative God. This includes using a variety of music styles, with as many instruments as may be at our disposal. It may include expressions of dance, of visual arts such as painting, drawing, sculpting, or needlework (see burntofferings.ca). Worshipers may be inspired to creative writing in this worship atmosphere or simply to lie prostrate in God’s presence. Sometimes our worship will be expressed communally and at other times individually. But always the purpose is to bless God with all the gifts, instruments, talents, and time that he has given to us, whether there be two or two hundred people present.
To learn more, visit www.24-7worship.org.