Spiritual practices for the year: Worship
by Marion Van Driel
Just weeks ago, we commemorated the death of Christ – that awe-filled love sacrifice for which our expressions of thanks could never be adequate – and then, a few days
later we celebrated the incredible resurrection of Christ, the earth-shattering victory overcoming death itself. The Easter service is the most triumphant celebration in the Christian calendar. This God, the Father who gave up His only Son – the Son, who walked out of the tomb after being dead for three days, and the Spirit who comforts and guides us throughout our earthly journey – this God, is the One we worship.
In our church, we engaged a full component of musicians, vocal leaders, and a choir to help celebrate this marvelous day. People sang their hearts out. There was baptism and we flowered the cross as a reminder that new life is ours. I find myself wishing every Sunday service could be as triumphant as on Easter. Then I recall times of lament – such as our Good Friday Taize service – where the experience of worship is rich and deep. Worship is not dependent on circumstance.
Invaded by God’s glory
Author of the bestselling Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes that to worship “is to know, to feel, to experience the resurrected Christ in the midst of the gathered community… being invaded by the Shekinah (glory, radiance) of God.” Certainly individual worship is valid as a spiritual discipline as well; in fact, unless we spend time during the week practicing the presence of God, we may find ourselves feeling less than excited to join His people in corporate worship. This is precisely why worship is a discipline. More often than we’d like to admit, after a week full of scheduled meetings, assignment deadlines, and never-ending care for others, we’d often rather enjoy a relaxing Sunday morning with nowhere to be. Is it possible that our assumptions about worship keep us from an adventure so delightful, so transformative, that we would trip over ourselves to get there?
When we consider worship as the Bible reveals it, we notice those who entered the presence of God had what Foster calls a “holy expectancy.” Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah and the prophets all realized they were in the presence of the powerful, awe-full, glorious God, encountering His direction, anger, mercy and love. New Testament believers had seen the veil of the temple torn in two, and knew that God was right there, with them. They saw people in their midst fall down dead, they experienced divine fire, heard people speak in new languages, saw bodies healed, saw the Spirit melt hard hearts. They came to expect God to do the unexpected.
What about us? Do we enter a worship service expecting God’s powerful presence? Do we expect Him to do the unexpected, or is it too risky a consideration? If we have just an inkling of His holiness, there is a part of us that will be terrified. And there is a part of us that will long for His divine fire.
As a long-time worship leader, I’m aware of the temptation to become overly engrossed in the form of worship rather than anticipating the joyful surprise the Spirit has waiting for us. Foster emphasizes that the form of worship, while necessary, is neither here nor there. Whether the worship style is highly liturgical or leading edge isn’t the issue. Whether the music is traditional or contemporary doesn’t really matter. It’s when a few people come together in holy expectancy that the atmosphere is changed. When we acknowledge God’s character, inviting and expecting Him to be true to His nature, we worship in Spirit and in truth. Foster asserts: “If Jesus is our Leader, miracles should be expected to occur in worship. Healings, both inward and outward, will be the rule, not the exception. The book of Acts will not just be something we read about, but something we are experiencing.”
Our whole being
Worship is considered a discipline because it involves ordered responses leading to our transformation. Both stillness and exuberant praise are avenues that convey us into worship – engaging our emotions, focusing on our Beloved. With our minds we recognize His attributes and deeds, our spirits awaken to stirrings of the Holy Spirit, and our bodies respond in kind. “God calls for worship that involves our whole being,” Foster claims. “Often we forget that worship should include the body as well as the mind and spirit.” This might include upturned or bowed heads, raised or clapping hands, lying prostrate or kneeling. While it’s true that people have different temperaments, fear of how we are seen by others should not keep us from worshipping wholeheartedly.
Preparing for corporate worship
Worship is an act of our nature. Studying forms of worship is not enough. Foster writes, “We have not worshiped the Lord until Spirit touches spirit.” He gives some practical steps to help us improve this discipline:
• Learn to practice the presence of God daily. Follow Paul’s words to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).
• Have many different experiences of worship – personal and in small groups where things can take place that wouldn’t in a larger setting, but will enhance the larger experience.
• Find ways to be prepared for corporate worship – be well rested, engage in self-examination and confession, read the message text before, gather early to pray the presence of God.
• Submit with a willingness to be gathered in the power of the Lord – let go of any individual agenda, use the language of ‘we’, not ‘I’, with a desire for God’s life to rise within the group.
• Cultivate holy dependency – be utterly and completely dependent upon God for anything of significance to take place.
• Absorb distractions with gratitude – if small children are disruptive, be thankful for their presence and bless them; become willing to relax with distractions – they may be a message from God.
• Learn to offer a sacrifice of praise – even if disappointed in the past over worship experiences, choose to attend worship with God’s people as a sacrifice, realizing that all together are sinful, but bound in the redemptive work of Christ. Give God this time.
• As those who lead the church in worship, learn that God chooses whom He will and how. Obedience and attentiveness are our calling; there is no room for human glory.
The outcome of the corporate discipline of worship is transformation. No one who encounters the living God is the same. We come away changed, made more into the likeness of Jesus. “Holy obedience saves worship from becoming an opiate, an escape from the pressing needs of modern life… it enables us to hear the call to service clearly so that we respond, ‘Here am I! Send me!’ (Isaiah 6:8). It involves an opening of ourselves to the adventurous life of the Spirit,” Foster concludes.
Join Marion Van Driel for further discussion on the topic of spiritual disciplines. Go to attentivesoul.blogspot.ca