Encountering God in Worship: Why It Matters
By Jonathan Clarke and Alice Clarke
Picture thousands of teenagers crammed into a big top tent, worshipping for hours on end. Moments where everyone is jumping up and down and dancing, and moments where the whole place is completely still and quiet in awe of the beauty of our King.
Before we knew each other, we both went to Soul Survivor, a Christian youth festival in the UK, for most of our teenage years. We share memories of being in different parts of the tent as hundreds of teens gave their lives to Jesus and as miraculous physical healings took place. Memories of feeling Holy Spirit as we shook, cried and laughed, and as we encountered the love and wonder of God as we worshipped.
Encountering God changes us
We’ve both been transformed by encounters with God in worship. Again and again, he has moved our hearts to respond to him, and again and again, he has touched our lives with his love. Each time, we’re a little bit different. This is what we love, this is what we pursue.
Encounter is pivotal to the way we worship. We’re not ashamed of that. We love encountering God. We pursue encounter as we lead worship. We want everyone in the room to experience God’s presence in a way that will change them.
It’s deep in our foundations
Encounter is deep in our roots as Catch The Fire worshippers. In the ’80s and ’90s, the Vineyard worship movement really shifted the way we engaged in worship from singing about God to speaking directly to him. That change in focus towards intimacy is something we’re still exploring and benefitting from today.
Worship isn’t about us throwing words and melodies into the ether, to an unknowable unseen God. It’s us giving our adoration and praise to someone - our God, who meets us and receives our worship.
In the last three years, we’ve had the privilege of connecting with worshippers from Catch The Fire churches around the world. We have realized that encountering God has to be a core value of our worship. It’s part of what makes us who we are, part of our DNA that came from the Toronto Blessing, and now is being shared all around the world as Catch The Fire churches are planted.
Encounter is about a person
When we talk about encountering God’s presence, it’s easy to confuse our language and thinking. Holy Spirit isn’t a force or cosmos energy, and the presence of God isn’t a ‘nice feeling’ we’re chasing.
Encounters with God’s presence are the moments where we recognize we are standing in the presence of a person, right here with us - the person of the Trinity manifested among us by the Holy Spirit. It’s about those moments we’re face to face with the living God, where we pause and recognize his sovereign presence in our midst and in response, pour out our love and give him glory.
Of course, if we never personally encountered God, he would always be worthy of our worship... but what a beautiful mystery we get to take part in! It’s a divine exchange where we receive back from him when we pour ourselves out before him.
Pursuing him together
We are both so grateful that our encounter experiences didn’t stop at Soul Survivor, but that we get to continue to meet God intimately; both on Sunday mornings and personally in our day to day lives.
So how do we all honour the personal presence of God as we worship? Keep Jesus, the manifestation of the person of God, as the focus of your worship. Let’s celebrate the nature and character of God, reflected in his glorious creation and demonstrated perfectly in Jesus’s death and resurrection.
Jonathan Clarke and Alice Clarke are the lead Worship Pastors of Catch The Fire.