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Look Who is Worshiping!

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Then I looked and heard…

Revelation 5:11

I usually look around a good bit when I’m worshiping. Regardless of whether I’m in the pulpit or the pew, I need to look around a lot. I want to see who’s worshiping with me. I think I’m reaching for the assurance that I’m not alone, that these are real live people with all the same struggles I have, coming with me into the presence of God. I look around because worship is a community event. It really doesn’t matter whether there are 20 or 200 there. I just want verification of the fact that I’m part of a “body”. It’s lonely to worship alone. I need the others with me.

But when I read Revelation 4 and 5, I become acutely aware of my limited vision. I’m apparently seeing only a tiny slice of all the worshipers.

John is given the privilege of observing worship in heaven and the crowd he observes is spirit-boggling! He makes six references in those two chapters to seeing and hearing. The privilege God gives him to “see” and “hear” strengthens his weary heart. What he becomes aware of stretches my mind and deepens my worship. According to John, I am worshiping with a much bigger crowd than I ever imagined!

It’s easiest to see the group around me, those on my left and my right, in the pew ahead of me and behind me. Some I know and some I don’t know. But what I do know is that they are folks with the same needs and hopes and faith that I have – my sisters and brothers. I’m so glad they are here. That’s the group I see with my physical eyes.

But there is so much more. I believe, of course, that God is here–in Trinity, all three. The Father is on the throne (4:2) receiving our adoration. Christ, the slain Lamb at the center of the throne (5:6), is worthy of all praise. And the Holy Spirit, the sevenfold Spirit (4:5), is making it all possible. So all three are present with me in worship. I must discipline myself to think of that as I prepare to worship. It’s an incredible thought–all three of the Trinity eager to be in conversation with us!

As John helps me look further, the crowd continues to swell. Twenty four elders (4:4) represent the whole church of God, Old Testament and New Testament. They surround the throne, and my mind can imagine all those who are there– some from past centuries and some very recently translated. I put names and faces on them from my memory. They are my brothers and sisters. We are apparently singing and praying together while living in separate worlds.

And then I become aware of another part of the crowd–angels. John says they number “thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand” (5:11). I seldom think of them, but John gently rebukes me for overlooking their presence. They are not merely spectators. They participate with the whole church, with all of us, in exclaiming “Worthy is the lamb…”. When I sing my whole-souled praises, I can imagine them joining right with me. And when I groan out my laments, I know they are groaning too.

I’m going to church on Sunday. And I know I’ll be joining a huge crowd. It doesn’t really matter whether there are 20 or 200 or more in that sanctuary. John has helped me to realize that there will be so many no one will ever be able to count them. In Revelation 7:9 he says it’s a crowd “that no one could count”.

I wonder. If I could really remember how big the crowd is–and if I could accurately visualize being a part of that crowd–and if I would focus on that every time worship begins, I wonder how much more privileged I’d feel and how much more of my heart I’d put into worship!

Howard Vanderwell is a retired pastor in the Christian Reformed Church in North America who now serves as worship resource specialist at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.