Robert Banks and R. Paul Stevens write:
In the last book of the Bible we are given an empowering vision of worship in the new Jerusalem. All earthly worship should be inspired by the worship that is already going on in heaven and that we will experience more fully when Christ comes again. In this sense our present worship is like “playing heaven,” as when little children invite each other to “play house,” looking forward to the day when they are grown up and have their own home. So in our worship now we are anticipating the joy of the final redemption of matter and time in one continuous, everyday life expression of joy and pleasure in God.
Far from being dull and stereotyped (playing the same old songs on our harps sitting on gold streets) worship in heaven is exquisitely beautiful, continuously spontaneous and totally enjoyable. The picture given to us in Rev. 21-22 has several characteristics that can inspire our worship now.
- The worship is responsive. It is caused by God and God’s actions rather than “worked up” by human effort. God awakens a desire for worship (Rev. 3:20; Rev. 5:2) in the same way he awakened a desire in Adam for a wife.
The worship is reverent. God-pleasing and for God’s benefit, it is inspired by the mercy of God and directed to the pleasure of God. The alternatives promoted today—relational, charismatic or contemplative worship—focus on what we get out of corporate worship. But the royal priesthood (Rev. 1:6; Rev. 5:10) is focused on blessing God.
- The worship is inclusive. Revelation gives us a picture of all nations, tribes and peoples together worshiping God. The global village has become the global garden city. The synergism of this is far more than the sum of individual privatized worship.
- The worship is intelligent. The mind is engaged fully in heaven. Worship is not a “touchy-feely” affair but reflects (as does John himself) on the great themes of God as Creator and Redeemer (Rev. 4-5). Worship is evoked by the qualities and actions of God: power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, blessing and sovereignty (Rev. 4:11; Rev. 5:11, 13; Rev. 7:12; Rev. 19:1).
- The worship is theological. Revelation is a christocentric commentary on the whole Old Testament explaining how Christ is the goal toward which the whole drama has been moving. This great theological theme provides the framework for the dominant mood of the book: worship. The original covenant reaches its consummation in the marriage supper of the Lamb, when we commune with Christ forever.
- The worship is aesthetic. Worship in heaven appeals to our senses in a spiritual way. There are sounds (trumpets, shouting in a loud voice, silence), motions (falling down prostrate, casting our crowns before the throne), light (rainbows and exquisite emerald), rhythm (antiphonal, sequential and total groupings of praise; Rev. 5:9, 12-13; Rev. 19) and patterns (the encircling throne; Rev. 5:11). Heavenly worship appeals to the sanctified imagination.
The worship is holistic. This worship does not only comprise times of direct focus upon God but the whole of life in the garden city of God, so full of divine creativity, beauty and wonder. Into this all the delightful things people have made from every nation will be brought and enjoyed.
- The worship is prophetic. A balance of awe and intimacy, adoration and access, with respect to God is our destiny and should shape our worship in the here and now. In the same way our present earthly worship prepares us for life in the heavenly city. Perhaps in some way beyond our imaginations, but hinted in Hebrews 12:22-24, our present worship contributes to the ongoing worship in heaven.
Complete Handbook of Everyday Christianity, art. ‘Worship’ (numbering added).