[This was originally posted on the Covenant Presbyterian Church, Nashville blog on 18 November 2011]
Sometimes our form of worship can be hard to understand and follow. I was reminded of this again recently when I sat next to a woman visiting for the baptism of her friend’s little boy. She often seemed caught off guard that we were all standing up, then noticed too late that we were all opening our hymnals, to which page she wasn’t sure. Throughout the service I ended up handing her my hymnal and opening another. The problem was not with our worship,, but simply that it was new to her.
The form of our worship may not be new to you, but do you understand what we are doing and why it matters? Last time we discussed the format of the service. It is a conversation between God and us, His people. The conversation consists of his declaration of the gospel to us and our songs and prayers and confessions in joyful response. In this post I want to turn our attention to the fact that worship requires our participation.
This may seem obvious. After all, it’s called “worship”, which is ours to do. However, there is more to it than simply going through the motions. Here are three ways that we participate meaningfully.
With Our Voices
Throughout the service there are plenty of spoken parts for the congregation. We sing, confess sin, read responsively, recite creeds and even pray as we recite the Lord’s Prayer corporately. It’s important that we all participate in this: men, women, and children. All our voices should be lifted up. These elements are nothing less than a declaration of praise to our God! And because we are not gnostics – that is, we believe that God has created us body and soul and is redeeming us body and soul – we worship with both body and soul. This is why posture matters in worship: standing, sitting, kneeling, hands held out to receive the benediction. This is why worship appeals to all five senses – especially during the Supper when smell and taste and touch are included. In this same way, engaging in the worship of our God through the lifting up of our voices matters. And even more so, since it is by our voices that the Word of God goes forth.
With Our Minds
Even as we speak we are to be engaged thoughtfully. Do you ever think carefully about the words of the hymns we sing and what they mean? Do you ever listen to the amazing gospel as it is declared in the Apostles’ Creed? Does it ever humble you profoundly when you open your mouth and address the Creator and Judge of all things as “Our Father”? But it is not merely when we speak that we are to be thoughtfully engaged. It is true even when we listen. Does the pronunciation of the assurance of pardon ever give you great relief? Are you actively listening during the sermon to hear the indicatives of the gospel and the imperatives of the kingdom so that the Spirit may apply them to your heart? If you come into worship prepared, both conscious of your sin and your need of a Savior, and ready to be reminded that Christ is the salvation of God, then you will find yourself weeping for joy and relief.
With Our Hearts
And it is when we experience the shame of our sin and the thrills, and relief, and joy of the gospel, moved to shout and to sing ever louder and, yes, even to weep, that our worship moves from the ear, through the mind, to the heart. True worship is emotional. It does not start with emotion, as if emotion was the point of worship. And it is not a contrived emotion, caused by a direct appeal to the heart which bypasses the mind. It is the effect of the gospel rightly understood and experienced. And this emotion properly sourced in the knowledge of God elevates our worship to even greater heights, as we cannot help but shout for joy to the Lord.
It is when we actively participate in worship that we not only worship well, but we are transformed in the process, conforming more and more to the image of Christ. And greater and greater participation resounds to the glory of God, fulfilling our created purpose: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.