Kevin G Cook

Theology | Worship | Resources

Harp and Bowl Worship

April 2, 2014  |  worship

This past Friday I had the opportunity to lead worship at an event at Asbury Seminary. It was a night of open and free worship, filled with spontaneous worship and prayer. Our Dean of Chapel made a fine point affirming that our worship really must be combined with prayer – that worshiping God ought to result in a prayerful heart for others. In other words, the effect of worshiping God and being in His presence is a heart for others, manifested in a desire to pray. This reminds me of what I’ve learned about  the Harp and Bowl Worship model, the combination of worship and prayer together.

As mentioned in my Hebrew Words article, only two of the seven most common Hebrew words that translate into what we call “worship” have anything to do with music. Those words are zamar, which means “to touch”, as in playing an instrument, and tehillah, which means to sing, and specifically in the context of singing spontaneous songs to God. When discussing Harp and Bowl, we really emphasize the tehillah.

“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant…”

Luke 1:46-55

The idea of spontaneous song is present throughout the Scriptures. Many of the Psalms are believed to be spontaneous songs recorded by a scribe during worship in the Tabernacle of David. We see the song of Moses being sung as a reminder to the Jews during the exodus from Egypt that God will deliver them. (Deut 32:1-43). We see Mary’s spontaneous song after meeting with Elizabeth in Luke 1. This spontaneous song was Mary’s response to a revelation that God was with her and her relative.

Looking forward to Revelation, the worship taking place in Heaven is characteristic of David’s Tabernacle: a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, rather than a sacrifice of blood (the blood of the lamb has already been shed). Angels are eternally worshiping God in the throne room of Heaven. Revelation 5 shows us this picture of Heaven:

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.  And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.  And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.  In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”

The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

-Revelation 5:6-14

In this heavenly picture of eternal worship, we see two specific images are used to describe them worshiping the Lamb: a harp, and a bowl of incense. The harp represents worship through music, and the bowl of incense represents our prayers rising to God as smoke rises from the bowl of incense.  It is a sweet pleasing fragrance to the Lord.

All this to describe what Harp and Bowl worship is and its affirmation in Scripture; it is the practical combination of musical worship and intercessory prayer.

Tehillah is a central part of this model of prayer and worship.  Some people call this tehillah spontaneous worship.  Others calls it prophetic worship, where the word “prophetic” simply meaning inspired by God (prophetic here simply means receiving what God speaks, shows, inspires, impresses, or nudges to us in thought, feeling, word, or vision that we share with others).

Another way to think about tehillah can be singing the heart of God, or, especially in the context of the Harp and Bowl model, it can simply be singing our prayers to God.

Prayer and worship are responsive to each other; there’s a fine line between the two to begin with. Harp and Bowl worship may begin with a worship song and move into a time of open prayer. Or it may begin with a prayer and move into responsive worship. The point is a synergistic fusion of prayer and worship together.

As people come and pray, the Holy Spirit may inspire a worship leader or singer to respond musically or lyrically to that prayer. A worship leader may also be inspired to move into a new song to respond to that prayer, or lead people in singing a chorus or refrain. Others may feel inspired to read or sing a passage of Scripture. The use of prayer, responsive singing, worship songs, and scripture are all intermingled together in responsively seeking God.


About the Author

Kevin Cook is a 4th year student at Asbury Theological Seminary and an Aspirant for Ordination in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). After graduating, Kevin hopes to plant a contemporary three-streams Anglican Church. He and his wife Nicole attend Wilmore Anglican Church in Kentucky.

Kevin holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Business Administration from Florida State University. Kevin enjoys playing music and leading worship, reading fiction and spiritual classics, drinking coffee, and spending time with family and friends.

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