You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)
Brian Doerksen has always had a passion for expressing worship through music. He is an award-winning songwriter of some of today’s most acclaimed songs of worship. He is currently developing a musical of hope based on Luke 15 called “Return.” Brian, his wife, Joyce, and their six children reside in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Come, now is the time to worship
Come, now is the time to give your heart
Come, just as you are to worship
Come, just as you are before your God
One day every tongue will confess
You are God
One day every knee will bow
Still the greatest treasure remains for those
Who gladly choose You now
Willingly we choose to surrender our lives
Willingly our knees will bow
With all our heart, soul, mind and strength
We gladly choose you now
©1998 Vineyard Songs (UK & Eire)
From the moment I “heard” the beginning of this song floating through the air early on that September morning in London, England, I knew something special was happening. 2
In the mid 1990’s I had become somewhat disillusioned with worship music and the ministry connected with it. I grew tired of the striving, weary of artists jumping on the worship “bandwagon” just because worship music projects were selling more units. There was also my own shallowness and my comparing myself with some of those artists. Looking back I can see that I was passing through a patch of wilderness; God desired to break me in different ways, so He could use me in new ways.
For the previous 5 years, I had experienced some successes with songs and recording projects (all of which were a surprise), and some failures too (not a huge surprise but still discouraging!) I had also spent a good portion of those years pursuing a dream to communicate the “Father-heart” of God through music and story in a musical called “ Father’s House.” The project collapsed for several reasons at the end of 1996. In the process I reached a low point; a point where I was not even sure I believed in God anymore . . . or maybe that I believed in God, but it was more like He wound up the universe, and for the most part abandoned us to sort ourselves out. Rather than finding a figurative corner to “suck my thumb” and feel sorry for myself after the musical collapsed, I decided to try and find a place in the church where I could serve someone else’s vision for a few seasons, rather than try and keep my own visions alive. And so God, in His great compassion for my family and my wife Joyce, moved us to England. (It was there that God restored our soul and gave us some wonderful life-long friends!)
I was given two jobs upon arrival. The first was to be the worship pastor at the Southwest London Vineyard under the leadership of John & Eleanor Mumford. The second one was to train the songwriters and worship leaders in the Vineyard movement throughout England, Scotland and Ireland. There were about 75 Vineyard churches in the UK and Ireland at that time.
It was challenging to do a good job leading worship when so much of my heart was still ravaged by confusion and disappointment. But I had served long enough in the church to know how to effectively gather people up in the presence of God through intimate worship, and so I just got on with it, believing that eventually my feelings and the restoration of my heart would follow. I do remember a few times, gulping rather deeply before I would get up to lead worship, wondering if God might strike me down for leading in public, when privately I was having doubts about His very existence; or at the least, doubts about his goodness and whether He was actively intervening on behalf of His children. Yet where else could I turn? I knew enough about the other major philosophies and religions to know that nothing else really made sense of life and death, nor satisfied my heart and awakened my spirit.
Most mornings I would get up before the kids to go for a brisk walk. It was some light daily exercise and a chance to clear my mind before the day began. And it was also time to pray, to sing and to speak out scriptures. It was on one of these walks that I heard it. The idea floated through the air, and in that moment my life changed again. I tuned into what felt like the “frequency of worship”; that realm where God is completely real, and I immediately sensed the presence of God in a way that I had not for some time. I intuitively knew I was tuning into God’s invitation that is going out “day after day” as it says in Psalm 19:
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” Psalm 19 1- 4 NIV
The call to worship is unending. Its sound reverberates in every language and culture . . . and I was just hearing a little part of it in English in England’s capital city on that September morning. It is so amazing how big a little fragment of “God inspiration” can be!
Once the idea came, I just kept singing it over and over again so I wouldn’t lose it. (I have heard stories of songwriters who get a brilliant idea but they lose it because they don’t sing it enough to imprint it, or write it down or record it some way.) When I got home, I raced upstairs to the top loft of the house where the piano was and I started playing the idea over and over. I took a mental picture of playing the melody on the piano. I jotted down some notes on a piece of paper including other phrases that popped into my head. I only had a few minutes, because my favorite daily job of walking my kids to school was upon me, and so I managed to document the basic idea of the first section of the song before I left. I don’t remember the details of that morning walk with the kids. I am known to drive them crazy by singing silly songs . . . whatever I see sparks something and I love driving them crazy and embarrassing them by being silly. It’s part of the Dad job description. However, I expect that morning there were no silly songs, just the repetition of this God-breathed melody.
Over the rest of the week, I continued to sing the song . . . morning, afternoon and evening. When you are in the middle of writing a song, it feels more like birthing, and it invades every waking thought.
If you would have told me that this song would travel the globe, get translated into numerous languages and be recorded by dozens of artists I would have chuckled in disbelief . . . but just maybe I also would have said, “Yes, that’s going to happen.” I sensed something special was being designed and built and God, by His grace, was letting me in on the ground floor.
About a week later I felt like the song was basically finished; that’s pretty quick for me as sometimes I take months with songs as they go through multiple drafts. The next Sunday I tried the song out at our home church: the SW London Vineyard.3
The song connected right away. In fact, it seemed to me only a few weeks later that I started hearing that the song was already being used in South Africa. Part of what happened is that people passing through London would visit our church if they were interested in or connected to the Vineyard movement, and they would sometimes take songs with them as they headed home to other places. I remember being amazed to hear that the song had already traveled to the other side of the world. I had heard stories of other songs that had done that; but to have it happen to a song that I had written seemed crazy!
But even crazier is this: I wrote this song at one of the lowest points of my life; the point where I had failed in a big way with a project publicly, the point when privately doubts raged about this whole “Christian ministry” and serving God thing. But that explains some of the lyric choices I made.
I think if someone else had received the same melodic idea and opening line, the song would have likely been something like this:
Come, now is the time to worship
Come now is the time to give Him praise
Come, bring Him your best and worship
Come, give Him your all in glorious praise
The focus may have been more on the good that we could do for God. But I was feeling broken. I needed to know that I could come and worship God just the way I was; that He would receive me even though my life was not all together. I needed to know that worship was more a matter of the heart than of our accomplishments. And so I wrote lines like “give your heart” and “just as you are before your God” because those were the things that I needed to re-affirm. I needed to know that those lines were true. That’s what you are constantly doing as a songwriter; stepping back from what you have written and asking yourself, “Are these lines true?” “Do I need to say that in this season to God?”
Would you like to know a songwriter secret?
We basically write the songs that we need to sing. God by His mercy sometimes enables them to become songs for other people too, but we are writing the things that we really need to say to stay sane and alive! And I think that’s a good thing. That’s why I challenge worship songwriters to stop trying to write songs that the church around the world will sing, and try and write a song that they have the courage to sing in their private time with God.
So I wrote the first section of the song as an urgent invitation from God. The key words were
“Come”; “Now”; “Time”; “Heart”; & “Just as you are.” The 2nd section of the song declares the
contrast between the “one day” that is coming and this amazing treasure we receive when we choose to worship God: the treasure of relationship with God.
Think about it this way. Worship is reality.
Being aware of God, focused on Him and in relationship with Him is ultimate reality. Worship brings that reality into focus. One day, reality will be forced on everyone. Everyone will have to accept the certainty and truth that God exists and that He is their Creator and Judge. The tragedy is that He also longed to be their Savior, their Father, and Bridegroom.
I have received a few letters over the years from people who have accused me of being a
Universalist. This included one man who really hoped I was and thought He found evidence in this song! A couple of other worship leaders said they wouldn’t use the song unless they could change the words. The line they were wrestling with was “still the greatest treasure remains for those who gladly choose you now.” Some believed that because I said “greatest treasure” that there was a lesser treasure awaiting everyone else, hence “Brian Doerksen; the closet universalist”.4
The greatest treasure I am referring to is the “treasure and pleasure of worship; a living, loving relationship with God.” I had no intention of inferring that others who reject God will get a treasure of eternal life as well. After a few years of answering this question I am beginning to see how someone could stretch my words to head in that direction; it just never entered my mind, nor the minds of the theologians that I tested the song lyrics with before it was published.
This is one of the challenges of writing for worship; we want to be theologically accurate, but we only have a few phrases to express an idea. Preachers and authors can take one concept and talk or write about it for quite awhile! Songwriters take a large amount of material and reduce it to a few phrases that one can remember, forming it into poetic and artistic phrases that sing. If we wanted to fully explain each concept with 15 verses, the song wouldn’t make it very far.5
What I was trying to say was that one day everyone will be forced to “worship” God with their bodies by bowing their knee, but some are missing this greatest treasure, the experience of worshipping God willingly in the here and now, knowing and loving God and being loved by Him. Instead of living for God, some spend their days seeking earthly treasure, treasure that will be revealed on that “one day” as worthless. God remains the only treasure that will always be worthy of our pursuit and devotion!
It seems that the “theological concerns” I received were really about who is going to get into heaven? And how exactly is that all going to work? I’m not sure any of us can presume to know those answers.
I can tell you this. Having special needs sons who cannot communicate verbally has tested me on
this point because they can’t pray the traditional sinner’s prayer. What if the deeper, heart-question that God longs for us to ask is: How can I get more heaven into me? and how can we get more heaven into us as the community of God? God alone will be the judge of who enters his presence. And He will be more HOLY than we could ever imagine . . . and more merciful!! So I’m leaving those matters in His hands. He knows our hearts. He will not force us to choose Him. He invites us to choose Him and our response to his invitation to “Come” makes all the difference in this life and the next!
Several months after I wrote the song, we started planning the first of 2 recordings I would produce while living in England in the late 90’s. The first one became known as “Winds of Worship – Live from London” with an alternate title of “Come now is the time” and the 2nd one turned out to be “Hungry” which went on to sell over 400,000 copies. The first recording took place on the 22nd of February 1998. It was a Sunday evening and we were in the Eliot high school auditorium, jampacked with people. It was as if people sensed something special was about to happen. Eleanor Mumford spoke before we started the first song about the treasure of worship and encouraged us to worship by singing to the Lord a new song with our whole heart! 6
As we started the song, I sensed God whispering to me, “This is one of the main reasons I brought you across the Atlantic – to encourage and awaken the call to worship in England and Europe in this season.” And it was as if the entire evening was bathed in the presence of God and charged with an energy and urgency that came from God stirring our hearts. I continued to sense that energy and urgency through the long days of postproduction, and we needed plenty of energy as we only had one week to mix the project, so some days at the studio started at 9 AM and didn’t end until 4 AM.
That sense of urgency was there because of the urgency to worship. Now is the time means just that. Now is the time to choose God, to choose to love and follow him. We don’t know how much time we have left, but we do have today. We have this moment to respond to God’s invitation.
This urgency speaks of re-ordering our priorities. It’s time to return to this truth.
Worship is first. . . .
always has been
always will be.
It’s the way we were made; it’s what we were created for!
Worship is the highest privilege and pleasure in the Kingdom of God. It is the response of our lives to the greatest commandment in Scripture: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Mark 12:30
I wrote this song in London, one of the great cities of the earth. But it’s filled with people who are passionately serving other gods. These days, the most common god is the narcissistic trinity of “me, myself and I.” A world of people faithful only to themselves, yet made in the image of God, created to worship YHWH. Some activists have declared this to be the generation when we can end extreme poverty with our technology and wealth. What a fantastic goal! There is only one challenge. When you have a world of people who are self-absorbed, serving and worshipping themselves and protecting their own rights at any costs, how can we see poverty ended? The only way to see poverty destroyed is to destroy the idolatry that is its root cause.
That’s one of the main reasons why there is such urgency to the call to worship that God is sounding. So much hangs in the balance. Those of us who have been called by God to sound this call often come under intense warfare and attack. That’s one of the reasons why having a “prayer shield” is so vital. Pam Dyck, who leads my team of intercessors shared this with me recently. “Satan hates what we do when we worship God. For when we embrace the calling to be “lead worshippers’, we are doing what Satan abandoned.” Many theologians believe that there is evidence in scripture that satan was a beautiful angel specifically created to direct the worship around the throne to God, until He desired the worship for himself. Of course, we won’t know in this life exactly what happened eons ago when Lucifer fell, but we do know that satan longs to be worshipped; behind every false religion and bondage is the “father of lies” craving what only belongs to God.
And so our calling is to clearly and urgently sound the call to worship God. And what is the core of that calling? Nothing less than our hearts! It’s loving God with all of who we are!
And if worship is first and foremost of the heart, it’s not about where we worship or what we look like when we worship. It’s not a performance for God. It’s a surrender of love to God, just the way we are.
It’s time to worship.
The word “time” reminds us that we are in the season of worship that God is releasing on the earth. Some people believe that the modern worship music movement “discovered” worship in the last few decades. I think that’s proud and ridiculous! I believe that Jesus inaugurated these days when He arrived a short 2,000 years ago, and even Jesus the “son of man” was building upon the worship of the millennium before him including the Davidic house of worship.
Listen to Jesus’ words recorded in John 4.
“A time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is Spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4: 23,24 NIV
The implications of what Jesus is saying here are HUGE!!! We are changing seasons, and I am bringing clear revelation of the truth, so that each of us can become the kind of worshipper the Father is seeking.
A time is coming and has now come . . . . we are in that time now. A time when we are called to worship. What does it really mean to worship? Does it only mean getting together on Sundays and singing a few songs and clapping our hands? And why did Jesus speak some of his most direct and instructive words on worship to an outcast woman? Wasn’t that incredibly un-strategic of Jesus? Shouldn’t this conversation have happened in the temple with the high priest, with someone who could teach and influence the nation?
I believe one of the many reasons Jesus did this is that He wanted us to see the contrast between the truth and faithfulness of who He was, and the faithlessness and brokenness of our lives filled with fatherless worship. The shame of the woman at the well was the result of men’s utter faithlessness. We don’t know, but for a woman to become like this woman, it’s very likely that her father abandoned her, likely through neglect or more optimistically through death. Otherwise, if she had known the love of a good father, why would have she sought out the love of so many unfaithful men? Do women with good fathers throw themselves into the arms of scoundrels? Well yes, we can all probably think of a couple of examples, but they are the exception.
Here is Jesus, speaking to a woman who is miraculously still seeking truth, though there is evidence that she is starting to abandon hope, for “the one you have now is not even your husband.”
And so Jesus offers this woman two things. One is living water. She had been drinking from the polluted wells of unfaithfulness which always made her thirsty again. Jesus offers her a well of pure water; water that would satisfy her spiritual thirst. All romantic relationships are inherently spiritual. We know that we are not complete in ourselves, and so we reach out for another to complete us. Because we as humans are all fallen, the only true romance that can fully satisfy our hearts is the divine romance.
The second thing Jesus offers is the opportunity to worship the Father. I wonder if she cringed when she heard the word “Father.” It seems crazy to me that in our season of history we seem to shy away from this clear Biblical revelation. Just because so many men are scoundrels and bad fathers doesn’t mean we should not hold out the truth.
Jesus is saying to the woman, “People just like you who have experienced the pain and rejection of unfaithfulness can be healed. You can become a daughter again and this time you will encounter true faithfulness. Trust me. Everyone who worships experiences my faithfulness.”
There is no better place and way to be healed from the effects of unfaithfulness than to give yourself to God in worship. As we worship, our hearts are healed by the faithfulness of God; because that’s who God is. God is a faithful God!
At the very core of worship is a call to faithfulness, because faithfulness is what’s most important to God. How many times in the OT did God send prophets calling . . . “Return to me faithless people!” 7 We tend to wander away from God and his heart.
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.8
Worship is returning.
There was and is nothing that breaks God’s heart more than faithlessness. Can you imagine what
Jesus was feeling for this woman? The Father had revealed to him that this woman’s life was filled with failed marriages and unfaithful living. So Jesus came to show her the path to faithfulness, a chance to break free from fatherless worship to worshipping the Father in spirit and truth.
And if nothing breaks God’s heart more than faithlessness, we know that nothing brings God greater joy than faithfulness.
God doesn’t want to just hear us sing. God wants to see us live a life of faithfulness. The songs that spring from that kind of life will bring God much joy. If people sing of faithful love with their lips, but have hearts that are far from him, and their lips are kissing unfaithful lovers, the song they sing is no longer pleasing to God.
Biblical worship is full of truth. Truth about who God is coupled with truth about who we are.
These truths are essential for real worship. Sometimes God’s people were clear on declaring the truth of God, his actions and character. But they would never reveal the truth of their lives and struggles in His presence. This leads us in the direction of an artificial or acting faith, where we are always doing “great” and we only sing songs that are happy and full of thanksgiving . . .and we think we are really worshipping. Well sometimes we are really lying! I recently read an interview with one of Hollywood’s rising talents, and He confessed that as actors they basically get paid to lie; to pretend to be someone that they are not. Real worship is saturated with truth!
I love the Psalms and I love King David; he’s one of my biggest heroes! I often say “I want to be like Dave!” For centuries the Psalter, the collection of the 150 Psalms, was the hymnbook of God’s people. I am not advocating that we only sing Psalms from this side of the cross. But the Psalms are still full of truth and comfort for God’s people today. And they contain truth about God and truth about us as humans. God is not afraid of our humanity. As we come to worship, let’s be truthful to who we really are and how we are really doing. Anything else is not real worship.
Listen to Eugene Peterson’s version of Jesus’ words to the woman:
‘But the time is coming - it has in fact come - when what you are called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. . . . Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: Those who are simply and honestly themselves before Him in their worship.’9
Jesus is saying, “I am thrilled that you are asking about worship; but you are asking the wrong questions. You have asked about ‘where’ and I am telling you that the most important aspect of worship is ‘who’ - who God is and who you are!”
This woman lived in a world (as do we!) where what you are called - your genealogy and roots, your class, your background, your profession, your age, your sex, your name, matter. They matter a whole lot! Jesus is saying that a time is being ushered in when labels will not matter anymore! The full and final fulfillment of his words will not happen in this life among the kingdoms of men. But it will happen in the kingdom of heaven! And it happens here on patches of earth where God’s rule and reign is invited in.
So Jesus says that “what we are called will not matter.” Therefore, the names that our parents give us and the labels others slap on us are not as important as who we are in the Father’s eyes. I can hardly wait for the day in heaven when we get our new name . . Rev 2:17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.
I think of this as the name that is you or me . . . there could never be 2 people with the same name. It will be almost like God breathing out a word and that word will be us, it will be our name. Maybe that’s how God awakens worship in us to start with. He speaks our name, and we respond with worship!
But it’s not just the labels we wear that are throwing us off the real track of worship. It’s our focus on the “where” or place of worship. That means that the denomination or type of church we belong to is not the most important thing (I’m so grateful we are seeing breakthroughs in this as more and more of God’s people are learning to walk together). Nor is the type of building we worship in of ultimate importance. This is a really big one, and to be fair to the people living early in the 1st century, this was a big shift that Jesus was introducing!
Our labels and locations are so important to us. And we will do almost anything to defend and protect them and attack those not like us. The sin of prejudice is probably the most violent sin on the earth.
And so Jesus speaks truth to this woman and to us across the centuries. What counts to God is not our labels, it’s not our outside appearance. It’s our integrity, our honesty that counts to God. God wants us to come before Him just as we are; “simply & honestly themselves” means God is inviting us to come with a genuine naturalness.
You don’t have to change before you come to worship. You change because you have worshipped.
This is in contrast to Ps 78:
‘Psa 78:36 - 37 But then they would flatter him with their mouths, lying to him with their tongues; their hearts were not loyal to him, they were not faithful to his covenant.
When we flatter someone we are just saying what we think they want to hear so that we get something back . . . sounds eerily like some modern worship services doesn’t it? We fill the air with our “happy-clappy” songs about how wonderful God is so that we get blessed with good feelings and prosperity.
This is the essence of religion, doing everything we can to reach God and make ourselves presentable to Him. This is approaching worship with the attitude - what I give is the most important thing. It’s saying what I say is the most important thing. It all hinges on our performance. It’s trying to constantly put our best foot forward. It’s one of the reasons the phrase “let’s put on our Sunday best” has always left a bad taste in my mouth. When it comes to issues like clothing in worship, I believe God is most delighted when we come dressed the way we live; if you wear a suit during the week and that’s the way you live, then please come to worship wearing a suit! But if you live in casual clothes come to worship the way you live, in casual clothes, as long as the clothes you wear in any style are modest enough not to cause men’s eyes to be drawn and distracted.
The time for religion is over! The time for hype is over! It’s time for worship to be saturated with a spirit of humility and honesty. Hype comes from taking our cues from the advertising and image culture all around us. We are supposed to be different than our culture, yet still attractive and accessible.
What I am trying to say . . . because I believe this is what Jesus was trying to say to this woman, is that the Father is not looking for performance. It’s when we believe that everything hinges on our performance that we often resort to hype and flattery. That’s so religious. We should have no time or heart to play that game!
The Father is looking for worshippers, which means He is looking for people. The Father is looking for sons and daughters who will come just as they are, whether weeping with tears or dancing with joy.
It’s time to leave behind our fatherless worship, time to break free from the orphan living and thinking that fills our lives with striving, competition and unfaithfulness. It’s time to worship the Father in spirit and truth.
Come, now is the time to worship.
Document your inspiration when it comes, for it will not come again! I believe that a song starts as a seed; a clear single idea that contains the songvision of the song. It’s the “one thing” of your song. Make sure when the inspiration comes, or when the seed falls into the soil of your life, you plant it! Write it down, record it, and take a mental picture of playing the melody on the piano. Invest in something that makes documenting the idea really simple.
Repetition is good; actually it’s more than good, it’s GREAT! Think of the way I repeat “come” in this song. I keep on sounding that simple clear invitation. If you are working on a song, look for the key word that you can repeat.
Make sure you have a strong melodic hook to build upon. This song starts with a very clear strong melodic hook on the 3rd note of the major scale. It’s a hook that is memorable and easy to sing. (Of course coming up with a fresh hook is always very difficult and is a gift every time it happens!)
Don’t waste time. Come right out of the gate with the key thing you want to say lyrically and a strong melody. It’s amazing to me how many times writers think they have all day to noodle around and have “indistinct” melodies to “build momentum’. You only have momentum if you have something clear right from the start!
It’s OK to be unique, to put your personality stamp on your song. One of my key melodic
distinctives is found in the way the melody is pushed on the last word of line one: “worship.” Both of those notes are pushed (of course I have heard many churches straighten those out which removes personality and energy from the melody to my ears). I love melodies that are pushed. What kind of melodies do you love?
2 At the time of writing this, I have only “heard’ two songs floating through the air; the first one was “Refiner’s fire” in 1989 and “Come now is the time’ in 1997. Most of songwriting for me is a labor of love, not simply downloading songs from heaven, though I do believe that all inspiration is a gift from God and we would have nothing without it!
3 We met at Elliot High School in Putney right beside River Thames within greater London.
4 One worship leader wrote me about the song with this theological quandary, and then after reading my explanation and wrestling with it a bit more, wrote me back and said,
“I introduced your "greatest treasure" song to our church last Sunday, and many people told me afterwards that they liked "that new song." NO ONE mentioned anything about the lyric I was concerned about. I don't get it. My band loves it!”
Of course just to prove how diverse we all are, others wrote and said that line was their favorite line in the song.
Over the years, I have come to see that music is very subjective; and when you mix subjective musical tastes with theology, which is also subjective and diverse, it makes for some lively and interesting discussions!
5 Unless you are Gordon Lightfoot writing “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”!
6 It’s Eleanor Mumford’s voice you can hear in the swirl at the beginning of the recording
7 Jeremiah 3:14
8 Come thou fount of every blessing
9 The Message – Eugene Peterson John 4:23, 24 Can you hear how some of this paraphrase of scripture informed aspects of my song, “Come now is the time to worship”?