Spiritual Disciplines: Worship
“How great you are, Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears.” ~ 2 Samuel 7:22
“To worship is to experience Reality, to touch Life. It is to know, to feel, to experience the resurrected Christ in the midst of the gathered community. It is a breaking down into the Shekinah (the glory or radiance of God dwelling in the midst of his people) of God, or better yet, being invaded by the Shekinah of God.” ~ Richard J. Foster
Don’t misunderstand me, music is one of my favorite part of any church service I attend. However, if it is absent or not of much measurable quality, I generally don’t leave feeling unfulfilled. While I appreciate music, it isn’t why I go to church. With that being said, Easter Sunday is generally the one Sunday of the year where I would go someplace with a full choir and orchestra if I could. On Easter, I wish I would always be able to worship with several hundred other people who love to sing as we declared together “Christ the Lord has risen today! Hallelujah!” or “Up from the grave He arose. With a mighty triumph o’er His foes!” Not to mention, you can finally sing the final verse of Were You There: “Were you there when God raised Him from the tomb? Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”
These songs most of us traditionally sing on Easter Sunday declare a key reality of our Christian faith: That Jesus Christ defeated death and rose from the grave. If, as Richard Foster says, worship is the human response to the divine initiative, then our traditional Easter hymns seem have to unique way of inviting generations of Christians to respond collectively to the Jesus’ resurrection causing them to embody what worship is really all about in a way not always, or even commonly, known in today’s church.
To understand worship as a spiritual discipline is to first and foremost to understand that music is just one expression of worship. All too often, we associate the songs we sing on Sunday with worship and all too rarely do we stop and think about what worship truly is all about. It is also important to remember that we, as humans, can and do worship many things including other gods. As a result, it is important for us, as we talk about worship as a spiritual discipline, to always remember that the object of our worship, Jesus Christ, matters.
True Christian worship is our response to the love we experience from the heart of God the Father. It is experienced with our entire being: mind, body, and soul. While one person may experience true worship in the context of a highly liturgical, solemn prayer service, another will experience true worship in the midst of a crowd, signing along to the latest single released by their favorite worship band. One of the greatest gifts we are given as Christians is that we are free to worship Christ using whatever form of worship enhances, deepens the connection of our spirit to the Spirit of God.
When we limit our understanding of worship to the songs we sing at church or even to a worship service at church, we miss the riches true worship, experiencing worship as a spiritual discipline, has to offer. A key feature of worship in the Bible is that people gathered expecting God to be in their midst. They knew that when they entered the Tabernacle in general, and specifically when they entered the Holy of Holies at the very center, they were entering into the very presence of God.
A particularly powerful moment, which often gets lost in the midst of so much happening during Holy Week, is the moment on Good Friday when Jesus breathes his last and the curtain in the temple is torn in two. This curtain wasn’t some flimsy piece of fabric that would blow easily in the wind. Rather, it was essentially a woven wall which took multiple grown men to move. Additionally, this curtain is what physically separated the people from the full presence of God. For it to be torn apart meant that God’s physical presence among His people was no longer contained, it meant that everyone now dwelled in the very presence of God, everyone could now enter the Holy of Holies.
The believers of the early church lived in this new, wondrous reality. They witnessed the power of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of gathering together to worship the risen Christ in a very real and tangible way which is hard for us to fully understand today so many generations later.
So how can we deepen not only our understanding but also our experience of worship? We must live a lifestyle of worship. Listen for God’s voice throughout each day, not just when you are at church or spending intentional time reading your Bible. The more you listen for God’s voice, the more you will hear it. When you are going to church or some other public worship service, get there five or ten minutes early so your heart and mind can have time to leave behind the worries and stresses weighing it down and focus on the majesty, glory, and tenderness of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Look around you and ask God to reveal who needs someone to pray for them. You don’t need to go up and have a conversation with them, just start praying for them.
I want to end by reminding us all that yes, music is a form of worship. In fact, it is often a very powerful and effective form of worship. We cannot ignore this reality as we talk about what the fullness of true worship. But we also cannot hold it up as the only way in which to truly worship God. One of the ways in which to learn more about worship is to worship in many different ways. It seems obvious, yes, and yet how often do we limit our thinking about worship to what we experience on Sunday morning?
- What is one way in which you could make worship part of your daily life?
- In both the Old and New Testaments, we see God’s people gathering for worship expecting God to be there in their midst. How often do you expect God to be in the presence of God? Why?
- Can you think of a time where you, in the midst of worship, knew you were in the presence of God? If so, what made that worship experience different than others?
Helpful Resources Used:
- Chapter 11 of "Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth" by Richard J. Foster