God’s cloud invades Solomon’s temple – 2 Chronicles 5:2-14
A God of love is a God of relationship – and not a distant relationship, but a close one. Those who have experienced divine intimacy will tell you that there is nothing they would want more. In this post I use the account of the cloud filling Solomon’s temple to make some points about how churches and their worship teams can facilitate divine intimacy. If you are not familiar with the story of the cloud you may want to read the Scripture above before continuing.
Israel did not put an idol in their temple like other nations … they had a gold box. This box was called the Ark of the Covenant. In it were the tablets of stone on which were written the Ten Commandments. This was the core of God’s covenant with Israel, it was an agreement between heaven and earth and Israel was convinced that God would meet them wherever the documents were. So when King Solomon finished building the first Jewish temple he got the priests to place the Ark in its inner-most room. With the covenant in place they were set to invite God to be present. So the priests withdrew to a safe place outside (11) and then called the musicians to lead worship (12). The priest’s act of withdrawing demonstrates a wonderful mixture of faith and fear. Fear of God is a good thing – it shows we understand his holiness and his power. These priests believed that if they asked God to come he would, and when he did they needed to be ready. Wouldn’t it be great if we approached church this way every Sunday?
So the priests withdraw in anticipation and then the musicians are called to lead worship, and what a great group they have! They have cymbals players (their percussion), they have harpists (their pianists), they had lyre players (their guitarists) and trumpeters (most likely using various sizes of trumpet with different tones). This sizable orchestra joined with hundreds of voices and began to sing “His love endures forever” (12-13). Awesome! But also interesting! Israel’s expectation here is that God will come when they worship in song. Maybe you’ve noticed he does that. Have you ever wondered why God responds to our music? I believe it has something to do with his desire for us to express our hearts or our inner-most being. Jesus said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Mt 22:37) and he also said “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:24). Music and song helps us to express what is deep within us. Poetical lyrics give part of that expression and music completes it. Music adds mood – it goes beyond what is possible with mere words. Let me explain.
If you are used to receiving text messages on your phone you will know how easily you can misunderstand a text because you don’t know if the message was serious or a joke, in anger or a light hearted comment. The text is there but the mood is missing. This is part of the problem we have when reading the Psalms. The Psalms were Israel’s song sheets. If they had electricity and projectors they would have projected them onto walls for everyone to sing. Today we love the Psalms because they are so expressive. We see the hearts of ancient worshipers there and find we can relate to the spiritual things they were trying to express. But can you imagine how much more powerful that expression would be if we had the music for each Psalm? The music that gave the exact mood is lost. We can detect some of the mood from the lyrics, but the exact mood is missing. This is why music is important in worship. It facilitates the expression of our hearts. This is something every worship leader and accompanying musician needs to think about. Church musicians are to follow the Spirit and facilitate the mood.
Facilitating mood is very different from hype. Hype is about group pressure. When worship leaders expect everyone to clap, dance and shout regardless of what individuals are feeling – we have hype. When we facilitate mood we just provide an ideal environment for the heart to be expressed, but the individual decides if they want to participate. So the musician may provide a joyful tone, or a repentant tone, or an intimate tone, and if the individual finds that mood is in them they will express it. But if it does not match what is in their hearts then they don’t. Worship must be real. It must be “in the Spirit and in truth.” Anything else is merely a performance.
But let’s return to Solomon’s temple. While the musicians were gathered and leading Israel in worship a supernatural cloud filled the temple. This is what they were after – the presence of God. Has that ever happened to you?
Back in the 80s I went to watch a contemporary Christian band called Silverwind. There was a crowd of about 2000 in a large church facility. The group performed really well, but halfway through the performance they something we did not expect, they switched from performance to worship and it was amazing – God came and filled the room in a very powerful way. At one point I opened my eyes and everything was hazy, there was a cloud in the room. I looked up at the band on the platform to see if they were experiencing what I was and they were completely broken. The two female singers were struggling to lead, they had tears streaming down their faces along with all their mascara. The presence of God had taken over.
The Scriptures tell us that when the cloud filled Solomon’s temple, “the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple” (14). I wonder if God’s presence had come upon the priests in such a way that they were broken or even floored and so they could not continue?
During the Silverwind concert we continued to worship even though the band was struggling. No one wanted to stop. But what do you sing when the presence right there, all around you? Isn’t it true that we need different songs when we are in the cloud? We no longer want to sing “His love endures forever,” we want to sing “YOUR love endures forever.” We no longer want to sing about him, we want to sing TO him. Why? Because we are feeling intimate, we are face to face.
This is important for worship leaders to think about. When the congregation is at an intimate place and God’s presence is being felt we need a different language, we need a more personal means of expression. In fact it helps sometimes to change the words of songs to enable this. But song writers should think of this. If you are composing an intimate song we must keep the lyrics in the first-person. And if the lyrics are going to be intimate, then the music should be too. When we are in the cloud there is no desire to jump, dance and party, all we want to do is kneel at his feet. Upbeat music has no use at this point, everyone just wants to be still. And it is here that we start to sing those close-up and personal songs like “Father you are my portion in this life” or “Into your hands I commit again” or “I’m giving you my heart and all that is within.” This is where love ballades facilitates intimacy.
Now some people reading this might not be able to relate to what I am saying because they have never had this experience in church. And this might be because you have not been a Christian for long or it might be because you church does not facilitate intimacy. Some churches are very conservative and fear the idea of ‘getting in the Spirit.’ They say ‘We don’t need to get in the Spirit because the Spirit is in us.’ But the apostle John had the Spirit in him, but he still spoke of being in the Spirit at special times. He said in Rev 1:10 “On the Lord’s day I was in the Spirit.” This was not a continual state; it was when the Spirit was upon him in a special way. So even if we have the Spirit in us God still comes and pours his Spirit upon us. Sometimes his Spirit is like a cloud or an unseen but captivating presence, and our worship teams have to be ready to co-operate.
The other day I asked someone who had decided to join our church why they did not choose a different one that they had visited, and they said “Because that church only has three songs and then we are all told to sit down. How can you get into worship with just three songs?” And I had to agree, I would struggle with that too. We need to structure our services to facilitate divine intimacy, people are hungry for it.
Facilitating divine intimacy is a passion of the Vineyard movement. Vineyard songs are sung in most denominations around the world. What made Vineyard music popular was its emphasis on simple intimacy. And I would urge all Vineyard song writers to continue cultivate that strength. May we never trade simple heart wrenching worship for complicated platform performances. The day we do that is the day we will have stepped out of our anointing. And who wants to be there? Let our worship teams and writers focus on what God has gifted us to do – facilitate divine intimacy. What more could we want.