An hour is coming and now is when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for such people the Father seeks to be his worshippers. God is Spirit and those that worship him must worship in spirit and in truth. John 4:23-24
Jesus is a teacher who doesn’t just inform our intellect but forms our very loves. He isn’t content to simply deposit new ideas into your mind; he is after nothing less than your wants, your loves, your longings. —James K.A. Smith
1. What Is Worship?
Worship is the transcendent connection between God’s heart and the heart of a believer in Jesus Christ.
For many people the idea of worship is simply an activity of gathering together in a sanctuary, singing together and listening to a sermon. While these activities may foster worshipfulness, worship is much more than an activity. Worship is the transcendent connection between God’s heart and the heart of a believer in Jesus Christ. When God’s heart connects with our hearts, our minds, desires, and lifestyles are reshaped by his grace and his love in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts, taking the Word of God in the gospel and unsettling us of our self-sufficiency and sin and resettling us by faith in the arms of God’s fatherly care. This leads us to praise and adoration. This is why worship of God is not simply an optional or even occasional activity, but the very reason God has given us salvation in Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2: 17-22 says that “through him [Jesus] we have access to the Father by the Spirit.” (v.18) Salvation and worship are inextricably linked as each member of the Trinity is at work in bringing us to God. This dwelling place is not spoken to individuals, but to one collective family (the people of God) called together in one mission of becoming a worshiping community. (v. 21) This is why corporate worship is not an optional activity but is the central activity of the people of God.
2. Is Worship Strictly a Religious Activity or Do All People Worship?
Worship is the search for meaning and purpose in this life by setting the affections on a goal and seeking ultimate satisfaction and fulfillment from that goal. In Romans 1, humanity rejected the worship of God but continued to worship by turning away from God to search for satisfaction and ultimate meaning from the creation rather than in worshiping the Creator. (Romans1:25) Everyone worships at all times. This turning away from God is pictured in the Bible as idol worship. Idols such as materialism, greed, sensuality, and control serve as self-salvation strategies that promise hope and joy apart from God but lead to disappointment and enslavement. (Proverbs 14:12) In fact, in salvation a believer in Christ is pictured as turning from worshiping false idols and turning to the worship of the living and true God. (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10) Sanctification is the work of God’s grace that enables us to let go of idols of the heart and to rejoice and rest by faith in God’s heart for life. (1 Peter 1:14-15)
3. What Is the Focus of Worship?
When true worship takes place there is a connection made between God’s heart and the human heart.
Worship has in focus the adoration and praise of the only being in the universe that is worthy of praise. God’s demand to be praised is not a conceited act on his part, but is a recognition that ultimate joy and satisfaction in the human heart can only be found by focusing on the most beautiful and lovely object of worship, God himself. When true worship takes place there is a connection made between God’s heart and the human heart. The word heart in the Bible is often translated bowels or stomach, which has in mind the comprehensive central nature of personhood. The mind (thoughts), the emotions (feelings), and the will (volition and actions) are all connected and shaped by the heart. This is why full participation is required for worship. Jesus said the greatest commandment to be obeyed is to “Love the Lord our God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” (Matthew 22:37) The focus of worship is the experiencing of God’s love, which we praise him for, and thus being transformed by joy to love and serve others.
4. How Does the Holy Spirit Touch Our Hearts in Worship?
Worship takes place when a truth about God is grasped and that truth begins to change your heart. The Holy Spirit may take a truth spoken in the liturgy, in a hymn, during a confession, or during the sermon, and reveal that truth to your mind in a way that moves your heart. That truth could unsettle you or convict you. It may also thrill you, comfort you, or infuse your heart with joy or hope, but you should never be unmoved. In God’s presence, we are unsettled of our idols and through the gospel resettled in our place in him as children of the King. Colossians 2:6 says “in the same manner you have received Christ Jesus our Lord, so walk in him.” This means that just as we received Christ by repentance and faith, we respond to the Holy Spirit by repentance in faith. Our whole person should be affected (mind, emotions, and will). In fact, our worship liturgy is designed to encourage engagement with God and seeks to engage the whole person as a participant and not as a passive spectator. We stand, kneel, raise our hands and sit when we worship. We speak, we sing, and we listen, engaging our whole bodies in the worship of God. Even in partaking of Holy Communion we engage the senses and taste in order to respond to God’s presence and love with wholeness and devotion. (Matthew 22:37)
5. What is the Effect of Worship on the Believer?
Worship completes the human quest for meaning and purpose. St. Augustine said “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” Jonathan Edwards taught and preached that religious affections will move the worship experience from simply an activity or intellectual exercise to a heartfelt experience with God. In order for us to worship, our mind, will, and emotions have to be moved. You cannot be in the divine presence and leave unmoved if the Spirit of God dwells in you. When Isaiah was in the presence of God he declared “I am undone. I am a man of unclean lips.” In God’s presence we will be unsettled by our sinfulness and this will lead us to humility and repentance. By faith, we also will be resettled in God’s unfailing love and this will fill our hearts with thanksgiving. Humility and thanksgiving will be evidences that our hearts have connected to God’s heart in worship. This does not mean that every person will be emotional or outwardly expressive, but it does mean that we cannot be touched by God’s presence and be unmoved.
6. Can’t We Worship God Privately? Is Regularly Attending Corporate Worship Necessary?
The first step in cultivating a God-centered life is to prioritize worship with the people of God on the Lord’s Day.
The fourth commandment says to “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8) Every person and family has a lifestyle or liturgy that determines what activities are given “holy” priority and importance. For the follower of Christ, prioritizing corporate worship on the Sabbath not only realigns our Sunday with the potential for God-centered worship, but helps individuals and families shape God-centered lives. In our day, our lifestyles have led many to make leisure, children’s sports or even travel as the central part of a weekend. The Bible commands believers “not to forsake the assembly of themselves together with other believers, which is the habit of some.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) Habits of lifestyle are shaped by habits of the heart and the reshaping of lifestyle habits helps reshape heart habits of worship. Our souls are healthy and flourish as a product of an “inside/out” orientation to life. When our lives are driven by “outside/in” activities, our souls diminish, our sense of the presence and peace of God diminishes, and our understanding of our place in God’s mission becomes clouded. The first step in cultivating a God-centered life is to prioritize worship with the people of God on the Lord’s Day. At First Presbyterian Church Augusta, the Pastors and Elders believe that worship together with the people of God both in morning and evening services is vital to the spiritual health of every member. This regular rhythm of worship with the people of God keeps individuals and families grounded in worship and in Christian community.
7. Does Christian Discipleship Require More Than Attending Regular Corporate Worship?
All of life is a call to the worship of God.
Christian discipleship is a summary of formative practices to shape and reshape our affections and our lifestyle in Christ. Christian discipleship is more than attending corporate worship, but it should not be less than this. Regular corporate worship is a significant formative practice in our discipleship and provides concentrated doses of grace and blessing as well as modeling a template to shape our daily lives as Christ-centered followers. All of life is a call to the worship of God. Philippians 4:4 says “rejoice in the Lord always.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says “Pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Colossians 3:23 says “Whatever you do, do all in the name of the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 says “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Even mundane and routine activities can and should be worship where we make transcendent connection with or heavenly Father’s heart and our hearts are both humbled and made thankful. Our life together should be an encouragement to “spur one another on to love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24) But the next verse says we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. (10:25) This means Christian discipleship is more than gathering in corporate worship but it is never less than this.
8. How Should Corporate Worship Be Regulated?
The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) declares that Scripture is “sufficient concerning all things necessary for (God’s) own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life. (WCF 1.6) God regulates all that we do in worship and our worship is a response to God’s call to worship. The commandments are clear that only God can determine how he will be worshiped. The PCA Book of Church Order (BCO) states that “public worship must be performed in spirit and in truth. The Lord Jesus Christ has prescribed no fixed forms for public worship, but has given his Church a large measure of liberty in this matter. All things in worship should be done decently and in order, that God’s people should serve him with reverence and in the beauty of holiness. From its beginning to end a service of public worship should be characterized by that simplicity which is an evidence of sincerity and by the beauty and dignity which are a manifestation of holiness.” (BCO 47-6)
Our church uses liturgy to structure the worship service. Our liturgy follows the pattern of historic Reformed Presbyterian worship to respond to God’s call to worship him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:23-24) Liturgy is a simple structure of form to re-present the gospel and to provide a formative pattern of entering God’s presence with praise and to worship him as he has directed. Each liturgical element provides a guideline for how we are to approach God.
9. Are There Styles of Worship That Are More Acceptable Than Others?
The Scriptures give more attention to substance in worship that style. Our services are shaped by the Scriptures to be simple, accessible, intelligible, and inclusive of a wide variety of expressions of worship of God. The Bible teaches that the proper elements of worship are: reading of Holy Scripture, singing of psalms and hymns, the offering of prayer, preaching of the Word, presentation of offerings, confessing the faith, and observing the Sacraments. (BCO 47-9) We seek to offer a variety of styles in our worship services in order to encourage fresh experiences of God and to advance our mission of making disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:18-20) Because we are called to pass the faith from generation to generation, our worship services will naturally take on new variations of expressions guided by Scripture.
10. How Should Each Believer Prepare for Corporate Worship?
Since Worship of God is a response to God’s mercies in our lives, it takes more than showing up on Sunday to cultivate a lifestyle of worship. (Romans 12:1-2) This means that week by week, before Sunday we all must commit to several things:
- Preparation—We must begin before Sunday to prepare our lives for a Sabbath worship experience. Entering Sunday morning physically worn out, lacking thoughtful prayer for yourself, your family, your spiritual leaders, for unbelievers, and for the worship experience will be detrimental to your soul and the soul of God’s people. While no one else will know if your heart has prepared in prayer for worship, you will know and this will impact your attitude as you head to church for worship.
- Anticipation—You must, by faith, bring a sense of expectancy when you arrive at church. You should be expecting that if you arrive looking, listening, waiting, seeking, and knocking you will be receiving what God has prepared for you. When you arrive at church only out of a sense of duty or routine, you quench the Holy Spirit’s power and limit your awareness of his presence at work in your life. If your family will be worshiping with you, set aside time over the weekend to read over the passage being preached or look at the bulletin in order to begin to anticipate God’s work in your life.
You should be expecting that if you arrive looking, listening, waiting, seeking, and knocking you will be receiving what God has prepared for you.
- Adoration—Jesus said that all of humanity is commanded to Worship God and that if humans refuse, the rocks would cry out! (Luke 19:40) Corporate worship is the call to “with one voice and one heart to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6). Whether we are singing a song we are familiar with or singing a tune or style that is not one we prefer, we are called to adore our God. Ask God to help you understand the Scripture and the sermon, but ultimately ask God to help you see him at work that you might adore him as your loving Savior. Adoration is not a response to the excellence of a worship service, but it is a response to the excellence of our exalted God.
- Examination—When our hearts are touched by God’s heart we will experience an unsettling because our heart will be aware of our own shortcomings and idols that bind us. Idols are like barnacles on the hull of a ship that need cleansing so that we can enjoy and serve God in freedom and not out of fear or guilt. Beyond unsettling us, we also must seek the Holy Spirit to resettle our hearts by faith in God’s sure and secure salvation. We are his Holy Temple in the Lord which means that we have a permanent place as receivers at God’s table as children of our Heavenly King and Father.
- Participation—The vision of Christian worship is not like attending a concert or a play where those on the stage create an interesting performance while casual observers pick and choose their level of engagement. Christian worship views all who are present as part of the performance and each person’s heartfelt engagement is not only important for their experience but also for the experience of each member present. Ephesians 2:21 says we are a Holy Temple being built up and rising together as one in the Lord. The picture is like a football or soccer team where all the members at all times are needed to contribute their unique part for the success of the team. Can you imagine the frustration of football players showing up to a game and having some players arrive unprepared or without their equipment? When many members approach worship as casual or optional, having not prepared their hearts to meet God, this diminishes the mutual edification of the whole body and fails to fulfill the vision and calling of God in corporate worship on a local church.
Ask yourself “Did I meet with God today?”
Each Sunday after worship it is appropriate to ask yourself “Did I meet with God today?” We should also ask “How was I changed?” It is also appropriate to ask family members or fellow believers “What truth struck your heart today and has changed your fears or anxieties or unsettled an idol’s grasp on your heart?” We should also ask one another “How did some truth of God’s goodness and grace re-settle my heart in him?
Martin Luther has a famous quote about the gospel that applies directly to experiencing the gospel in Christian worship: “Here I must take counsel of the gospel. I must hearken to the gospel, which teaches me, not what I ought to do, (for that is the proper office of the law), but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me: that he suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel wills me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, and wherein the knowledge of all godliness consists. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.”
Luther instructed believers to apply the gospel to how they approached worship. He said “we are all beggars” and should approach worship as those who have brought an empty sack looking to be filled with God’s good gifts and pleasures. Before we arrive we should prepare and anticipate the reception we will receive in God’s presence with God’s people. This starts with bringing our knapsacks to the service with expectations to receive from the Triune God. During the service we must pray that the Holy Spirit will fill our bags with joys by opening our eyes to each part of the liturgical experience that we might discover assurance, forgiveness, grace, affection, conviction, or correction. When the benediction is given we should view this as the Holy Spirit commissioning us with gospel bags that remind us of our status, security, and strength as part of a Spirit-filled community.
Worship that makes the aim to experience connection with the Father our Shepherd will lead to our own hearts’ transformation. The most quoted Psalm in the Bible is Psalm 23. The Psalmist says we can even worship God when life is at its worst, because in his mercy and grace, God has “prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” We never have to fear our inadequacies or our lack of wisdom or strength to face our circumstances because our loving Father “has filled our cups with oil that is overflowing” and we do not have to fear the future because our hearts can be changed by the certain promise that “surely grace and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
In summary, all worship is gospel-framed (we enter the Worship of God as humble receivers of what he has done for us in Christ), Scripture-formed (God’s Word provides the direction, correction and promise we need to resettle our hope in God) and Spirit-filled (we receive strength and enablement to live a life of praise as those indwelt by God).