The Heart of Worship
In the role of a pastor, I always felt it was important to let members of the congregation know that, if they were absent from a Sunday worship service, they were missed. Their responses varied from elaborate explanations to straightforward ones, such as:
“It’s the only day I have to sleep in.”
“I can worship at home.”
“My mom always made me go to church.”
I realized that my best and most sincere reply needed to be, “You don’t have to explain; I just wanted you to know that you were missed.”
Corporate worship is an important part of our spiritual growth. We are wired for community and in the Sunday morning worship setting, we are challenged, receive revelation, and learn how to live together in a way that honors Christ. Let’s also be honest— that setting can spawn a hotbed of controversy. I have found that everyone has an opinion, or two, about that hour on a Sunday morning.
Clearly, worship in a body of Christ is an important discipline to our sacred rhythms. What then should our mindset be so that we may receive the most from God and contribute to the spiritual health and wellbeing of our church family?
It is vital to know that worship begins long before we enter the doors of the sanctuary. Everyone has a role in preparation for worship on Sunday morning. Just as the messenger of God’s Word prepares and musicians practice to be conduits of God’s blessing on the platform, there must also be preparation by the people seated in the pews. A good way to do this is to ask, “Have I prayed for God’s movement in the meeting? Have I asked God to help me be sensitive to His leading during all aspects of the service? Have I prayed that I and the congregation will remain focused rather than distracted?
If you leave the worship service feeling the same as when you entered it, continue to trust God. Know that God is always speaking to us. This can happen even though you might observe something lacking on the part of the worship leaders. God speaks in the midst of the morning offering, during the off–key singing of the worshiper seated next to you or while a baby loudly cries behind you. If you are prayed up and attentive to the Holy Spirit, you can hear God’s voice even in these moments.
When in corporate worship, it has been helpful for me to know what draws me into Christ’s presence. What lets my defenses down, takes my mind off myself, and centers me on Jesus?
Some people are wired for familiarity. By that I mean they honor the tried and true traditions of worship. Those staples offer a sense of security, which can result in an openness that allows the Holy Spirit to speak to us.
Other worshipers are wired for adventure. They want to experience the strange and unusual and enjoy a heightened awareness of God. When this happens, they are stirred to go deeper spiritually.
Look around you
The wonderful advantage of being in a community atmosphere of worship is seeing how God moves people. OK, perhaps an aspect of the service failed to speak to you. That is when you need to look around the room and see how the service is speaking to other people. As you observe them, rejoice in the faithfulness of God as He meets all of us at our individual points of need.
Go to the house of the Lord
Psalm 122 is a song about a person who has decided to go to church and worship God. “When they said, ‘Let’s go to the house of God,’ my heart leaped for joy. And now we’re here, O Jerusalem, inside Jerusalem’s walls! Jerusalem, well–built city, but built as a place for worship! The city to which the tribes ascend, all God’s tribes go up to worship, to give thanks to the name of God —this is what it means to be Israel” (1–4, MSG). This is an example of how complex and diverse worship is and is still a perfect instance of what happens when a person is prepared.
This is the third in a sequence of Psalms of Ascent. Pilgrims sang them as they traveled to Jerusalem for special festivals of worship.
“Psalm 120 is the psalm of repentance—the one that gets us out of an environment of deceit and hostility and sets us on our way to God. Psalm 121 is a psalm of trust—a demonstration of how faith resists patent–medicine remedies to trials and tribulations and determinedly trusts God to work out His will and ‘guard you from every evil’ amid difficulty. Psalm 122 is the psalm of worship—a demonstration of what people of faith everywhere always do; gather to an assigned place and worship their God” (Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction).
Worshiping in community is a vital spiritual discipline and we will get out of it what we put into it. It is important that we prepare our hearts, know ourselves, and remember we are in community and that everything isn’t “all about me,” but all about Jesus.
by Major Lauren Hodgson