The Transforming Power of Biblical Worship, Part 1
The exact date is fuzzy, but it must have been some time in 2004. I had only recently moved back to the States from my first missionary stint in Thailand. The new pastor at our church was passionate about worship and about teaching the congregation what God’s Word says about worship. He had spent significant time investing in the elders and introduced them to a book entitled Give Praise to God. After digesting the material, the elders began to team-teach a Sunday School class on the content of the book. This Sunday School class was one of my “Eureka!” moments.
It’s not that I had never worshipped God before—I had been a Christian for as long as I could remember. I went to church every time the doors were open. I sang with gusto, listened to the sermons (I even took notes), tried to stay focused during the prayers, etc. Rather, it was that I had never really given any thought to how God wants to be worshipped…or, to put more bluntly (and biblically), how God requires that we worship Him. It made sense to me that God should have the right to tell us how we must worship Him. After all, He is the Supreme Lord of all creation and He exercises sovereign dominion over all He has made. But somehow I had never really taken the time to consider that how we worship God is just as important as that we worship God.
Over the next several months I hope to write a series of articles that will seek to answer the question, “Why do we do what we do in worship?”. The focus in the rest of this article will fall on a few principles that guide our worship of the Triune God. The first of those principles is what we can call gospel logic. Why are our worship services structured the way they are? The answer: gospel logic. The gospel shapes the pattern of our worship. When we gather for worship we have a fresh encounter with God’s majesty and glory which leads us to a confession of our sinfulness and our need for his pardoning grace. The good news is declared to us through the preaching of the Word and we respond in thankfulness for God’s mercy. We could summarize this gospel logic pattern using a little alliteration: guilt, grace, gratitude.
A second principle is that worship is dialogical; it is a dialogue between God and us. God speaks and we respond. You can see this pattern very clearly in the order of service each week. God calls us to worship by His Word; we respond in prayer and singing of praise; God speaks to us through the reading of Scripture; we respond by confessing our sins; God speaks to assure us of His love and grace; we respond in song and prayer; God speaks through the reading and preaching of His Word; we respond in a song of thanksgiving; God speaks His Word of blessing in the benediction. God speaks, we respond. But notice, God has the first word and the last word in worship. He calls us to worship and He sends us from worship with His blessing.
Participation is a third principle that guides our worship. Public worship is not a show or performance that is put on by the pastor and the music team. We are each called to join our hearts, minds, and voices in the public worship of the living God. In 1 Peter 2:9 we read these words: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Jesus bought us with His blood so that we might proclaim His excellencies. This means that when we sing, you need to sing. When we pray, your mind must be engaged so that you can add your “Amen” to the prayer. When there are corporate confessions of faith and sin you must fully participate. If you don’t, you are in effect denying the priesthood Christ purchased for you with His own blood. It is our great privilege to participate in worship and add our voices to those of the heavenly choir that never cease to sing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8).
Dear friends, worship is our chief and highest calling. There is nothing greater that we can devote our lives to. There is nothing more fulfilling and satisfying than devoting ourselves to God in worship. It is what we will do for eternity in heaven. Let these words from Charles Wesley be your prayer as you prepare for worship this Lord’s Day:
Come, Almighty to deliver, let us all thy life receive
Suddenly return, and never, nevermore thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing, serve thee as thy hosts above,
Pray, and praise thee, without ceasing, glory in thy perfect love.
Finish, then, thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be:
Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee;
Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise.