Look & Live (Worship or Die)

Posted on: October 17th, 2013 by mattpapa 6 Comments


One of the clearest pictures to me of what worship is like and what a worship leader does is found in a story in the Old Testament.

In Numbers 21 God’s people are wandering in the wilderness.  They are essentially, like us, a big group of tired, hungry, grouchy, grown-up kids who need a nap.  First, somebody in the back begins to grumble.

“This stinks.  Take us back to Egypt!”

The grumble spreads through the camp like wildfire…their entitlement now spewing projectile from their mouths.  They were tired of eating of manna burgers, bamanna bread, and manna-cotti (Thank you Keith Green).  They were tired of walking.  God was tired of their complaining.

Enter “fiery serpents”.

Poisonous snakes begin appearing…hundreds of them.  Biting.  Screaming.  Shrieking.  Fainting.  Dying.

Isreal wants mercy.  And so God, true to His character, grants them mercy.  But He chooses to do so in a very peculiar way…

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery (bronze) serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” Num 21:8

Now why show mercy in this way?  Couldn’t God have just said a word and fixed it all?  Healed them all?  Maybe just turned all the snakes into cute little puppies?

This is why: John 3:14-15.

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

This is why the display of mercy was so peculiar.  It was a parable.

In this historical event, God is teaching us what faith is like…what worship is like.

Faith is a looking.  It is the blood-earnest, serious looking of serpent-bitten, sin-ridden people towards God’s peculiar display of mercy…the holy, battered, bloody, mutilated Son of God.  And if we don’t see Him…

We die.

We die.  We go to hell.  We have no victory over sin.  We have no power over our addictions.  Our lives remain a self-destructive mess.  We have no spiritual life…unless we see Him.  Unless we run to survey the Savior on the pole.  Unless we fight through the crowds and through our doubts and lift up our face.  The poison of idolatry will rot our veins until the glory of the crucified God-man fills our eyes.

The reason our church services are boring….the reason our sanctuaries are filled with cold, lifeless songs….the reason we feel the need to conjure up fake emotions with slick productions…it’s all because deep down we believe we’re ok.  We’ve forgotten that worship is life or death.

Worship is a looking.  It is the gaze of the soul towards greatness….towards some savior.  It is the pulsating, throbbing ache of the soul to see & celebrate glory.  The “wow” of the heart.  And we are always being captivated by something.  We must be.  The throne of the heart must be filled.

You have heard the phrase before “worship is a lifestyle”.  This is true, but weak.  It’s much more than that.  We cannot not worship.  We are continually kneeling to our highest perceived beauty.  The soul does not have an embrace….it is an embrace.  We never begin worship, we aim it.

And every week, people come into our churches.  They enter….eternal souls…hoping to be impressed.  Wanting to see real greatness.  They have seen the glory of the world this week.  We, along with them, have turned to the creation for happiness and have been betrayed.  We’ve seen the ads.  We’ve tried money, sex, and power and we have been bitten.  Entangled by all manner of slithering sins.  And now we come.  They come.  Wanting more.  Craving, yearning, longing, dying for real glory.

The hour strikes, the service begins. The worship leader…that little moses…takes the stage.  He takes his pole and he lifts up…

a guitar riff.

a catchy tune.

his own personality.

his own opinion.

his own greatness.

an idol.

a tragedy.

Because what should have been the pole became the thing on the pole.  Jesus was the pole, a means to an end, and the people did not feast.  They were placated.  Inoculated.  Restless. Embracing shadows. They leave church with a pseudo happiness in a vision of a pseudo glory.

Brothers and sisters, this should not be.

We must give them Jesus.  Idols and addictions are never suppressed.  They are eclipsed.  Replaced.  The brightness of the stars vanish in the fury of the sun.  Money, Success, Power, Lust, Pride don’t stand a chance in the presence of Jesus.

So to my worship leader friends out there…my pastor friends…be a little moses.  Standing before you are ever-worshipping, dying, immortal beings.  People thirsting for greatness.  So give it to them.  Give them the glory they were made for…the anti-venom of the soul…the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Exalt Him.  Satisfy them.  Paint Him.  Lift Him up.  If you don’t, the people in the back are going to die.

Because a worship leader is not someone who stands on a stage and passively says “Stand & sing”.  It’s someone who stands before a world of restless, dying hearts and lifts up Jesus as high as he can, and screams with every fiber of his being along with John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”


Worship or die.


Look & Live.

  • KellyW

    Thanks. I’d never thought of the worship leader as little moses with the bronze snake. As someone who doesn’t like to perform, I often find relief in the statement “it’s not about me”. I don’t like to be looked at. I don’t resonate with the temptation to climb up there on that pole, and just always hope people see Jesus in what I’m trying to do.

  • Betsy Markman

    Wow, some powerful, soul-shaking words here. Thank you!

  • John Stone

    Preach it. The whole Gospel is drama, not boring-often offending-but in no way unimportant or man/woman/guitar centered.

  • Theng-Hian Ng

    An urgent call. Worship or die, give up not buy. Behold the pole! Our only hope on hold. Look and live. Glimpse of relief. Be that Moses, raise those crosses. No one should perish, mercy lavish.

  • Tiki B.

    Your album is so important in this season we are walking in. Jesus says to his disciples can’t you even perceive the present times? I lead worship and have felt in my spirit the last 2 months God continuing to say that my people do not understand true reverence. I think this ties in exactly with everything you are talking about with this album about true worship. The 2 are connected as truly one thing. Blessings to you and yours. You are right on with what God is trying to get his body of believers to realize right now. Way to perceive the present times.

  • David Knox

    Wow, I was impressed and curious, by definition worship is an order, a direction of how things should go. In your illustration you lead us to the cross and go into something else with clearly defining the message. I believe that accountability that leads to responsibility can reflect what is worship. If we don’t follow the path or the example lead before us then can we worship? A worship leader shows the way with clear understanding that the words of the song will speak to the hearts and minds of those with open ears. That’s worship!