first steps of the journey

August 2002

In the launching of this website, I want to tell the story of how my journey as a worshipper began. I look back with on those early days of knowing God as a very precious time in my life. In those first few years, the foundation was laid for all of the major decisions of my adult life. And it all started with the gift of knowing God.

Worship: A Dialogue
Up through my high school years, I had very little interest in God. I was among those who are "darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God" (Eph. 4:18). It’s not that I was into all kinds of overt immoral practices, but my life was totally self-centered.

All I had understood as a young churchgoer was that I was supposed to follow the rules. I knew that I should "do unto others as I would have them do unto me". I’m so thankful that I was raised in a Christian home. But I had no idea that I could actually commune with God and know him intimately.

I was a responsible, conscientious kid. I worked hard in school and treated others with respect and kindness. I attended church pretty regularly. I knew the basic gospel story – Jesus died for my sins. Though I believed Jesus was truly the Christ, I didn't know him personally. I didn’t wake up every morning with a passion to please God. Being a Christian meant I ought to behave myself and stay out of trouble. I had no idea that he wanted to lead me and empower me to live as his son, his disciple.
In my first year at university I joined a fraternity led by Christian students who later became pastors. I can remember sitting in my room in the fraternity house I had joined as a freshman in college, glowing with the revelation of Christ’s love. I loved to pray and read the Bible because I had been swept up into a divine love affair. Reading the Bible was like reading a personal love letter. I was bursting with joy over this new found love of God. A few months before, it was all I could do to fulfill my ‘religious duty’ of attending church. Now it seemed natural to spend hours on end in prayer!

Identity As Spiritual People
In an article for Worship Leader Magazine, Clark Pinnock writes about knowing God’s immanent presence: “It is an unfortunate reality of our day that theological tradition tends to magnify God’s distance at the expense of his nearness. But an experience of the Holy Spirit brings the intimacy and warm divine-human embrace into view. It takes you in worship beyond just learning about a God who is out there to an encounter with God who is down here in the thick of life. . .We encounter Yahweh, who is a person who plans and wills, acts and creates, loves and interacts. . .God is humanity’s enthusiastic lover and, although transcendent as creator, God chooses (by grace) to be bound to us and involved with us in this changing world”1.

All throughout church history, people have known God’s tender and powerful love. A great example of this is found in the first hymn book we have from the early church - the Odes of Solomon. This lovely collection of hymns was likely gathered during the late first or early second century. I find many similarities between this ancient hymnbook and our contemporary love songs to God.

One of the outstanding features of these hymns is the imminent presence and love of God filling the writer as he worships. Here are some selections from 2nd century hymn book called the “Odes of Solomon”1.

I am putting on the love of the Lord. . .

For I should not have known how to love the Lord, If he had not continuously loved me.
Who is able to distinguish love, except him who is loved? . . .
I love the Beloved and I myself love him, and where his rest is, there also am I. . .
I have been united to him, because the lover has found the Beloved,
Because I love him that is the Son, I shall become a son. (Ode 2)

For the Most High circumcised me by his Holy Spirit,
Then he uncovered my inward being toward him, and filled me with his love. . .
And speaking waters touched my lips from the fountain of the Lord generously.
And so I drank and became intoxicated, from the living water that does not die.

And my intoxication did not cause ignorance; but I abandoned vanity,
And turned toward the Most High, my God, and was enriched by his favors.
And I rejected the folly cast upon the earth, and stripped it off and cast if from me.

And the Lord renewed me with his garment, and possessed me by his light...
My eyes were enlightened, and my face received the dew;
And my breath was refreshed by the pleasant fragrance of the Lord.
And He took my to his Paradise, wherein is the Lord’s pleasure. (Ode 9)

Fill for yourselves water from the living fountain of the Lord,
Because it has been opened for you.
And come all you thirsty and take a drink,
And rest beside the fountain of the Lord.
Because it is pleasing and sparkling,
And perpetually refreshes the self. (Ode 30)

Adopted By God
God is Spirit (Jn. 4:24) and we worship in the spirit (Jn. 4:24, Phil. 3:3). God broke into my life with his love and he put me on his wavelength. If you’ve read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis, you will remember the part when the children wander into a different world via a wardrobe in an English home in the country. As they tumble out the back of the wardrobe, they enter a whole new reality of talking animals, and fascinating creatures who wield great powers of good and evil.

When we are born of the spirit, we enter a whole new world. God gives us the capacity to perceive things about Himself and about spiritual reality by the person of the Holy Spirit within us. “His Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God’s children” (Ro. 8:16). Ultimately, it can’t be explained, it has to be experienced. And the good news is, we can expect to experience God. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would make his home in the lives of those who love and obey him.

In 1990, a survey was taken at the Anaheim Vineyard by a team from the University of Southern California. One of the questions they asked was “What are your current reasons for continuing to attend the Vineyard?” One couple answered this way: “Our son and daughter-in-law came to us telling us how Jesus was healing through them. We had never heard of the Vineyard and thought they had been brainwashed by a cult. We rushed to check it out and fell right into the love of God through his Holy Spirit. We cried for five straight Sundays. The worship – the love of our Lord, we never had felt such love”3. This response was typical of many people interviewed in the survey.

Having God break into my life with his delightful presence was the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me. Like David said, God’s love is “better than the richest of foods”. Over and over again he has visited me as I simply strum a guitar or play a piano. Through times like these, Paul’s prayer has been answered: “May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvellous love. . .May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it”.
Isaac Watts, on of the most prolific hymn-writers in church history, shows in his writing that he has touched the Divine. He paraphrases a portion of Ephesians 3 in one of his hymns:

Come, dearest Lord, descend and dwell
By faith and love in every breast
Then shall we know and taste and feel
The joys that cannot be expressed 4

1 Clark Pinnock, Worship Leader Magazine, Nov./Dec. 2000

2 The Macmillan Book of Earliest Christian Hymns, Edited by F. Forrester Church and Terrence J. Mulry, Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, pgs. 52-53

3 University of Southern California Survey, response #1119

4 David G. Fountain, Isaac Watts Remembered, Pub. By Gospel Standard Baptist Trust Ltd, 8 Roundwood Gardens, Harpenden, Herts, England 1974, page 103.