Just a Closer Walk With Thee
Part 4: The Discipline of Worship
It happens almost every Sunday. When a church service begins, most of us aren’t quite ready to worship. The music starts, Scripture is read, but our minds are a thousand miles away. Sometimes stress or pain or troubles make it difficult for us to focus. Sometimes, it’s other things.
Whatever the reasons, I believe we need to think of worship as a spiritual discipline in which we can grow and have a closer walk with the Lord. Here are several biblical characteristics of worship that will help us mature spiritually.
In Scripture we frequently see groups of people gathered for corporate, or group, worship. Corporate worship is a distinctly different experience than individual worship because it can only be done with others. However, it is not merely a bunch of individuals worshiping as it suits them. It’s a family of interconnected people focused on creating a unique expression of their community’s praise and love for God.
When we enter into corporate worship, we join a choir, so to speak; and God is the audience. Each one of us is a performer, adding to the praise the group offers to God through adoration, submission to His Word, singing, and giving. Corporate worship is about God hearing from us more than us hearing from God. If we leave worship without “getting anything out of it,” then, likely, neither did God. We all must participate actively to create our church’s expression of praise each Sunday.
Celebration. When we observe people worshiping God in Scripture, we see several characteristics that can help us discipline ourselves for corporate worship. The Israelites sang and celebrated when God rescued them by drowning the Egyptian army in the Red Sea (Ex. 15). King David danced with abandon when the Ark of the Covenant was returned to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6). Singers in Solomon’s Temple played a variety of instruments to inspire praise (1 Chr. 25). Even the psalms of ascent (120—134), which were designed for groups to sing as they went up to Jerusalem for feast celebrations, are largely joyful, exuberant, hope-filled songs.
When not focused on communal lament or confession of sin, almost all of the pictures of group worship in both the Old and New Testaments impart a tone of celebration. Celebration over what God has done should be the true disposition of our hearts when we worship.
Sacrifice. The apostle Paul taught that, in order to worship together as a body, we often need to sacrifice our personal ideas of what worship should include. He addressed this fact in his teaching on what types of songs we sing (Col. 3:16) and how quickly we should relinquish our preferences in worship (1 Cor. 8—9), even our sense of waiting for others: “Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (1 Cor. 11:33).
In other words, we must train ourselves to think of Sunday worship as an opportunity to meet other Christians’ needs sacrificially as we give God praise.
Persistence. Hebrews 10:25 reminds us the Christian life is a “together” life. Christians have a new hope and a new family that encourages us in our new identity. That’s why it’s vital to worship in groups, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” but persistently holding tight to our distinct community. Worshiping together reinforces who we really are.
All these characteristics beg for a disciplined approach to corporate worship. We must train ourselves to see worship as a group celebration of what God has done for His people. When we don’t feel celebratory, we can still sing, pray, and engage the Word with our hearts focused on the goodness of the gospel. We can smile as we lift our eyes toward God, our help.
As a former worship pastor, I have pleaded with parishioners to see it as an act of worship when they sing a song for its truth and not its style. It’s important to realize we can still worship well to a song we don’t know. We can worship well to a song we know benefits a brother more than ourselves. And we can even worship well to a poorly written song as long as the song speaks truth. Disciplined corporate worship starts with remembering we gather for God’s glory, not our comfort!
I like to compare corporate worship to Legos, those individual building bricks that contribute to a larger structure. Without the individual bricks, there is no Lego dragon or Lego skyscraper. Corporate worship is dramatically affected by our individual worship outside of church services.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, primarily individuals or individual families worshiped God. Large gatherings only occurred a few times a year at the Temple; and even after synagogues were established, worship still centered in Jewish homes on Shabbat. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, worship was a daily, individual pursuit, as people prostrated themselves before God in prayer, meditated on Scripture, and communed with the Almighty.
If we worship only on Sunday morning in church, we’re missing a vital component of worship; and our corporate gathering will likely feel flat and difficult.
The parable of the sower is helpful here (Mk. 4:1–9). Jesus equated the fruitfulness of studying God’s Word with different types of hearers and different types of soil. Good, prepared soil will produce great fruit. But unprepared soil will yield little.
People who spend disciplined, personal time in the Word, preparing their hearts by meeting with God repeatedly, will cultivate good soil where God’s seeds will mature. Such people have ears to hear. They’re ready to obey the Word when it’s taught to them.
Consequently, corporate worship becomes more profound. Individual worship builds corporate worship.
Lamentation. Another principle of individual worship involves lamenting. The Bible contains more than 40 psalms of lament. There’s even a book called Lamentations.
There will be times when we pour out our heartaches to God. Doing so is a regular, expected aspect of our individual relationships with Him. Don’t be afraid to lay your disappointments, pain, and even accusations before the Lord (cf. Lam. 2). He wants to hear them—and approaching Him with them can be an act of worship.
Praise. In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul reminds us that all of life can be used to praise and glorify God: “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
From a moment of praise over a beautiful sunrise to prayers for strength, everything can be a catalyst to turn our hearts toward our Creator and Redeemer. Sometimes individual worship is an intentional time of regular study or prayer, and sometimes it’s simply having a heart that quickly admits God into every moment of our days. Learning to discipline ourselves to have both spontaneous and intentional times of individual worship is what it means to walk with the Lord.
Worship is on Purpose
Worshiping God, both individually and corporately, requires discipline. But the incomparable, blessed result of a close walk with the Lord is worth the effort. May our imaginations and thoughts be dominated daily by the greatness and goodness of our magnificent God.