Discipleship and spiritual formation curriculum for new believers, new Christians

9. Worship - Communing with God

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
 

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A young worman who finds joy in praise and worship.We humans desperately need to worship, that is, to come before God to honor him and to draw close to him. Why? Because we need God.

St. Augustine (354-430 AD) said it well: "God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you."15Along these lines, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) observed that there is a God-shaped vacuum in every heart, that can only be filled by God himself.16

External vs. Internal Worship

It is possible to perform acts of worship (such as prayer, Bible reading, giving offerings, singing) in an outward and formal way -- just going through the motions. Indeed, that is how many worship.

But merely outward worship is satisfying to neither God nor to us. Jesus quoted the Prophet Isaiah in saying:

"These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." (Matthew 15:8)

He is not talking about the emotional ups and downs that we experience from day to day, but about people who don't really love or care about God.

Sometimes when you come to worship, your heart may seem cold and your thoughts distracted. Enter into worship anyway. Seek to focus your mind on the Lord. The point is to bring your worship before the Lord intentionally, not just going through the motions. Often after a little "spiritual exercise," however, your mind and body will be able to enter into worship wholeheartedly. Your spirit just needed a little warm-up exercise before the Lord.

Style of Worship Services

Different generations and traditions may prefer one style of worship to another; our preferences tend to be heavily influenced by our culture. But the Bible does not spell out one "right" way of worship.

Heart worship has little to do with the various styles and traditions of worship. Formal liturgical church services with readings, responses, and traditional hymns are no more or less heart worship than non-liturgical church services that feature contemporary choruses and people dressing casually. You can enter into heart worship in either style -- or just go through the motions.

By all means, you should attend a gathering of Christians every weekend for public worship, as we discussed in Lesson 4. You need to join a church and participate in its worship and ministries to the community.

But your worship shouldn't take place primarily in a church setting. That should be only the tip of the iceberg. Your primary worship should take place day by day as you live out your life before God.

Offering Worship

True heart worship should fully engage you in communion -- that is, a two-way communication between you and God. You will be giving worship to God, and receiving blessings from God.

First, let's look at some ways of offering worship. You don't have to do all of these. They're just some suggestions so that your offering of worship is not just on a single track, but can be more expressive of your heart.

Praise

Praise involves acknowledging the greatness of our God. Remember the ACTS acronym we looked at in Lesson 2: Adoration / Confession / Thanksgiving / Supplication. Praise is the Adoration part of this.

We don't praise God to stroke his ego or make him more inclined to answer our prayers. We praise him because he is worthy of our praises. Considering his power and majesty, his love and mercy, and all his other attributes, it is appropriate to offer praise. The book of Psalms -- which has served as a songbook, not only for Jews, but also for Christians -- gives us many examples of this.

"I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name forever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
and extol your name forever and ever.
Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom." (Psalm 145:1-3)

Praise is a way of "enthroning" Christ as King (Psalm 22:3), of acknowledging his rightful place as our Lord and God.

If you think about it, praise is the language of faith. When we speak praise to God -- even when we are going through difficult times -- we are demonstrating our love for and trust in God. Praise can be on our lips throughout the day, not just during our accustomed times of worship.

When you are alone, try shouting to God: "Praise you, Lord!" or some other word of praise. Don't limit your praises to just the domesticated variety. Let your spirit express your love in whatever way seems appropriate at the time.

Singing

God's Spirit has inspired many thousands of hymns and songs, which have helped Christians lift their praise to God and honor him by telling of his greatness. The lyrics combined with beautiful melodies have a way of helping us express ourselves to God on many levels -- with our mind as well as with our emotions.

When Christians sing together in a larger meeting, the presence of everyone joining together in worship and praise helps us express our corporate love for God. It is often inspiring to us. And God looks upon such heart-felt worship with pleasure.

But don't limit your singing only to church gatherings. Begin to sing to the Lord at home, on your way to work. It doesn't really matter whether or not you can carry a tune -- just sing. You will find it helps you offer worship to God.

Thanksgiving

We talked about the importance of thanksgiving as the "T" in the ACTS memory device. Thanking God for what he has done is just basic gratitude, as well as an act of worship and honor. It should be a regular part of your personal worship.

Confession

We talked about confession in as the "C" in ACTS, as well as in Lesson 3 about dealing with temptation. Regularly confessing any recent sins that God brings to mind, saying a prayer of repentance, and receiving God's forgiveness is an important part of worship, too.

Prayers

Our prayers or supplications are the "S" in ACTS. I want to encourage you to make this part of your worship, not just as requests, but "talking over with God" aspects of your life and the challenges you face. Thus prayer becomes a discussion, a dialog, not merely a monologue on your part. I like to talk to God about my life as I take a walk. Of course, there will be requests that you are asking God for, too.

Tithes and Offerings

Perhaps you have thought that the offering plate at church was a kind of embarrassment. It is not. We Christians see giving towards God's work as part of our worship of him. More on that in Lesson 10.

Offering Thanksgiving before Meals

Since ancient times, believers have used the occasion of eating as a time to give thanks to God. Though you will often hear Christians blessing the food itself, the Old Testament and New Testament practice was to bless and praise God before eating. Make your meals a time to worship God.

The Conduct of Your Life

There are many other elements of offering Christian worship. But in a real way, the Bible tells us that the very way you live your life is "your spiritual act of worship" (Romans 12:1, NIV).

Postures in Worship

Different churches have different traditions of postures in prayer and worship. There are no rules or requirements here, but you may find some of these helpful to you personally in your own quiet time with God:

Bowed head shows reverence before God. But you may also find it helpful to look up to pray.

Folded hands during prayer I think was more an invention of parents trying to keep children from fidgeting during prayer. But if folding your hands helps you pray attentively, that's great.

Eyes closed during prayer can cut down distractions. But it may induce sleep. And don't close your eyes while praying during driving a car or riding a bicycle.

Lifted or outstretched hands has a long history in the Bible as a prayer posture.17Many find this meaningful (though in some congregations, people may think you are a radical if you lift your hands). Palms open to God can express requesting or openness. Hands lifted heavenward can be a sign of praise or adoration.

Kneeling is a customary prayer posture in many homes. Some churches have built-in "kneelers" for worshippers to use during prayer.

Lying prostrate on the floor is found in some traditions and can represent full surrender before God. It is seen in the service to ordain priests in the Roman Catholic tradition.

Making the sign of the cross is practiced in many churches. While some people may cross themselves superstitiously, others do this reverently as an act of worship. The sign of the cross is usually made by touching the hand sequentially to the forehead, chest, then each shoulder.

You will find many other postures and acts of worship in the Scriptures, including dancing (2 Samuel 6:14), clapping (Psalm 47:1), and leaping (Luke 6:23).

I mention these postures in worship for two reasons.

  1. Explore. First, to help you explore various ways that you can express yourself to God in your own personal worship. Try some of these postures. You may find they help.
  2. Understand. And second, to help you understand worship practices that you may have observed in others. Christians have developed various worship traditions over the years, different for people in different areas of the world and different histories. We can learn from one another.

Receiving During Worship

We have looked at ways to offer worship to God. Now let's consider ways that we receive during our times of communing with God.

Let me emphasize: We don't worship for what we can get out of it. That is selfishness, not true worship. We worship because God is worthy. But, having said that, we do receive much as we worship -- since God intends us to.

Instruction

Most corporate worship services have a period of instruction, called variously a sermon, message, or homily. The point is not the eloquence of the preacher, but what God wants to say to you personally during this time. His Holy Spirit is active with the Word of God to help you grow. Listen for God's voice to you during this time.

During your own quiet times of worship and meditation you are also seeking God to teach you. That is why you read a passage from the Bible.

Guidance

Closely related to instruction is guidance for our own personal lives. Sometimes when we are seeking what we should do, God will speak to us during a worship time, since it is then that our hearts are particularly focused on God. This has happened to me many times. Often what God will speak to me has little to do with the speaker's message. But God's own message is imprinted in my thoughts and in my heart.

Besides vocal worship through singing and prayer, I encourage you to let yourself become quiet before God. Sit before him and listen. Often he will drop a word or two into your heart that are just for you. You see, worship is a time of communion between you and God. Your life with the Lord is meant to be a conversation, a dialog, back and forth between you and God.

Comfort

Our times of worship are meant to stir us up in the Lord, but also to provide comfort to us in the struggles we are experiencing in our lives. When you come to worship, let the presence of God envelop you in comfort and peace.

Joy

A final blessing of worship is joy -- joy in the presence of the Lord. I didn't always experience joy when I was young in the Lord, probably because I hadn't yet learned the practice of praise. But now, again and again, I find a gentle joy in the Lord during my worship. It is a part of the love for God that the Holy Spirit is growing in my heart.

Emotional Deadness Sometimes

Realistically, we don't always hear God or feel much comfort. Our hearts may be distracted when we come to worship. At times, we may be going through depression when we experience little joy.

Sometimes our worship and devotion seem dead, empty of any spiritual life -- at least that is the way we feel. But since we worship because God is worthy, not as an emotional pick-me-up, we continue to worship God no matter what our emotions are like at the time.

In normal times, however, as we learn to quiet our hearts before him, the worship we offer to God will be from our hearts, and the blessings we receive from worshipping him will infuse our beings with a sense of his holy presence.

Regular Worship as a Good Habit

The Gospels show us Jesus' own example of prayer and regular worship:

"Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." (Luke 5:16)

"When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom." (Luke 4:16, NRSV)

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For Jesus, praying each day and gathering regularly with others for worship and Scripture reading on the Sabbath was a good habit that was essential to nourish his relationship with the Father while he was here on earth.

It is easy to get out of the habit of worship -- both in our own daily quiet times and even worship with the Body of Christ on the weekend. Resist the temptation to neglect worship. Satan seeks to weaken you by starving you spiritually. He can't grab you out of God's hand, but he can pull you away from regular fellowship with God, and so weaken and neutralize your joy, peace, witness, and effectiveness as a child of God.

So make worship central in your life. That is the practice of Jesus and this is the way of his disciples.

Prayer

Father, you are worthy of all our praise. I ask you to help us to give you the honor that is due your name. Teach us to worship you. Teach us how to praise you. Teach us to listen to you and pour out our hearts to you. Make this channel of communication between us strong and well used. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Memory Verse

"I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth." (Psalms 34:1, NRSV)

Questions and Discussion Points

  1. Read aloud five times today's memory verse (Psalm 34:1) and write it on a card.
  2. Discuss. What is the difference between outward worship and worship with your heart? What can we do when our heart seems cold when we come to worship?
  3. Discuss. Do we worship out of self-interest or to honor God? What is the problem when we come to worship in order to get something, rather than to offer something to God?
  4. Discuss. Which part of a worship service do you enjoy the most? Why? Which part of a worship service do you think is most honoring to God? Why?
  5. Discuss. Which postures have you observed in people who are worshipping? Which have you tried out yourself? Which of these seems most meaningful to you?
  6. Assignment. This week in your own personal quiet time, experiment with six or more postures in worship. Then report back next week on what you experienced.
  7. Discuss. Have you ever experienced joy in worship? If so, why do you think it brings you joy? Why do you think worship brings God joy?
  8. Review. Which of your friends are you particularly praying for that they might become Christians? Has God answered your prayers for them in any way you can see at this point?
  9. Review. Last week you worked on an outline for your testimony:
    (a) Before I became a Christian,
    (b) How I became a Christian,
    (c) Since I became a Christian.
    Have you written it out yet? Share it with your mentor today, trying to keep it to about three minutes.
  10. Review your memory verses from Lesson 1 (Ephesians 2:8-9), Lesson 2 (John 8:31-32), Lesson 3 (1 John 1:9), Lesson 4 (John 13:34-35), Lesson 5 (1 John 4:7-8), and Lesson 6 (John 3:16), Lesson 7 (John 14:16-17), and Lesson 8 (Matthew 5:16). Try to say them together with your mentor without looking at your cards.
  11. Pray for each other. Share with your mentor your needs to pray about and ask your mentor how you should pray for him or her. Then spend a few minutes praying for each other aloud. Also pray for friends you hope to witness to.
  12. Appointment. Set a time and place to meet and go through next week's lesson.

15. St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions 1.1.

16. Paraphrase. The actual quote can be found in Blaise Pascal, Pensees, #425.

17. See my article, "Lifting Hands in Worship," Paraclete, Winter 1986, pp. 4-8. www.joyfulheart.com/scholar/hands.htm


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Copyright © 1985-2014, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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