A Harp, A Bowl, and A Crown
by Rick Shrader
Life’s day will soon be o’er, all storms forever past,
We’ll cross the great divide to glory, safe at last;
We’ll share the joy of heav’n—a harp, a home, a crown,
The tempter will be banished, we’ll lay our burden down
It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus
Life’s trials will seem so small, when we see Christ;
One glimpse of His dear face, all sorrow will erase,
So bravely run the race, till we see Christ.
I have often said to the people I pastor, we do not come together to worship, we are worshipers who come together. Sunday simply reveals what we already are. John Flavel, the Puritan, said, “Carnal men rejoice carnally, and spiritual men should rejoice spiritually.”1 The Sunday services won’t change us much. Tozer wrote, “If you cannot worship the Lord in the midst of your responsibilities on Monday, it is not very likely that you were worshiping on Sunday.”2 In an age like ours, we are easily drawn in to a spirit of symbolism over substance. We are too used to seeing and hearing the “spin” put on an account to bother about checking for reality. A person who spends multiple hours each week watching non-reality on a screen, is not likely to be bothered much by non-reality for one hour on Sunday morning. As a matter of fact, he may prefer it.
However, our biggest shock in worship is yet ahead. When we are ushered into the throne room of God, with its crystal sea and rainbow covering, its cubical creatures and numberless angels, and most of all, Him from whose face heaven and earth flee, then we will discover heaven’s reality and our own regrets. I wonder if it has occurred to us that we are only training for that service. Rebecca Merrill Groothuis wrote, “Most of the skills we learn in order to get along successfully in this life will be of no use in heaven…But when we invest ourselves in learning to worship, we are making an investment in a skill that will be essential throughout eternity.”3 There is no greater primer to worship than Revelation 4 and 5. In it we have a description of three worship tools with which we ought to be practicing.
When Esther Rusthoi penned the words “A harp, a home, a crown,” she no doubt was thinking of our mansion prepared for us, and two well-known instruments of heavenly worship, the harp and crown. Revelation includes a third instrument for worship and leaves the dwelling place for later. I will use the biblical order of Revelation 4 & 5.
1. The Crowns (Rev 4:10)
When the heavenly creatures give glory and honor to God, the twenty four elders (I take to be representative of the bride in heaven after the rapture) cast their crowns before the throne and sing, “Thou art worthy.” Twice crowns were mentioned in the letters to the seven churches, each time to churches which received no rebuke from Christ. Smyrna was to be faithful unto death and they would receive the crown of life (2:10). Philadelphia was to hold fast to their faithfulness so that they did not lose their crown (3:11). Evidently, they were to desire the use of their crowns as instruments of worship when they finally, after much agony, reached heaven.
Crowns are rewards for how we run the race of Christian service (see 2 Tim 4:6-8). The less self-centered our service is, and the more God-centered (precious stones, not wood, hay, or stubble), the greater our ability will be to worship in the heavenly service.
2. The Harps (Rev 5:8, 14:2, 15:2)
To every one of the twenty four elders is given a harp, a stringed instrument with which to play and sing. The only song played on this instrument is the song of the redeemed, “for thou hast redeemed us to God by thy blood” (5:9; see also 14:3). In chapter 5, the elders play and sing; in chapter 14 John hears “the voice of harpers harping with their harps”; and in chapter 15, those “who had gotten the victory over the beast” sing with “the harps of God.” Neither the angels nor the creatures are allowed to sing the song of the redeemed. Heavenly praise for salvation is done only by the redeemed about redemption.
There could not be a selfish note in the heavenly chorus. Unlike so much singing today, our heavenly singing will be only of the Lamb. The great song-writer, P.P. Bliss once said, “This singing and talking about the Good News of a present, perfect, free salvation and justification by faith is so popular and attractive, I do not believe I shall ever find time for any else. It seems to me it is needed. How much of everything else we hear preached, and how little Gospel.”4
3. The Bowls (Rev 5:8, 8:3)
The elders are also given “vials” or bowls, “full of odors, which are the prayers of saints.” In chapter 8, the angels mix their own incense with the prayers from the saints’ bowls and cast them to the earth, the effect of which is catastrophic (see 8:3-5). Our prayers thus become an integral part of heavenly worship, equal to the crowns we wear and the harps with which we sing. Are our prayers as selfish as our works and our singing? Tozer wrote, “How many hours of prayer are wasted beseeching God to bless the projects that are geared to the glorification of little men.”5 How little do we truly wait on and worship God in an attitude of prayer!
T.S. Eliot once wrote, “A religion requires not only a body of priests who know what they are doing, but a body of worshippers who know what is being done.”6 If earthly worship is merely the tuning period before the heavenly orchestra plays, we may have to ask the Conductor for extra time to find the right pitch.
Notes: 1. John Flavel, “A Coronation Sermon,” Orations from Homer To Mckinley, IV (New York: Collier, 1902) 1599. 2. A.W. Tozer, Whatever Happened To Worship? (Camp Hill, Penn: Christian Pub, 1985) 42. 3. Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, “Putting Worship in the Worship Service,” Douglas Groothuis, Christianity That Counts (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994) 75. 4. Quoted by E. Wayne Thompson & David L.Cummins, This Day In Baptist History(Greenville: BJU Press, 1993) 546. 5. A.W. Tozer, Born After Midnight (Harrisburg: Christian Publications, 1959) 58. 6. T.S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1949) 96.