Living the Christian Life in 2010, Part Three: The Preeminence of Public and Private Worship
Worship of God is the fundamental Christian act. Previously, I have stressed the importance of reading God’s Word and praying to Him. These are certainly important, but in actuality, they are a part of proper worship. Studying the Bible and praying to God are not ends of themselves; they are not independent activities. Rather, they are (or should be) aspects of our worship of our Creator. When we read the Bible, we should do so in the attitude that we read to know God more fully. Reading the Bible, in fact, teaches us how to worship. This is important because there are wrong ways to worship God. Namely, wrong worship of God is anything not from faith.
“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). If we praise God but do not really believe in His existence and that “He rewards those who seek Him,” we worship amiss. Furthermore, consider the last sentence of Romans 14:23, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
Prayer, also, is an act of worship; prayer is the expression of our reliance upon God. In prayer, we cast our cares on God, we thank Him for who He is and what He has done and what He has promised to do. Prayer rightly includes the worship and praise of God (Matthew 6:9).
In the broadest sense, there are two forms of worship: public and private. Since most people—myself included—think of public worship when we hear the word “worship,” I will discuss public worship first.
Public worship is our worship of God along with other Christians. Most familiarly, public worship takes place during a church service. We sing hymns (or other songs), have an offering, and listen to a sermon. Singing, giving, and hearing the preached Word of God are all aspects of public worship that are extremely important. There are those who are against “organized religion” and who are against attending church services. But this is not just a modern problem; the early church faced this problem, as well.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25). Notice that from what the writer of Hebrews tells us that even in the first century of the church, some were “neglecting to meet together.” Individualism is the bane of spiritual growth. Is daily “alone-time” with God important? Yes. But to grow spiritually, we must “stir up one another to love and good works … encouraging one another.” God is sovereign, and in His sovereignty, He has provided His people with the Church, of which we Christians all are a part.
Church worship, however, is just one form of public worship. Partaking in Christian service projects is another form of public worship. James, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). Here, I ask: How are we to keep ourselves “unstained from the world”? By public Christian accountability. “No man is an island.”
Yet another form of public worship is when we meet to read the Bible or to pray with even one or two other Christians. Jesus said in Matthew 18:19-20, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.”
But public worship should both feed off of and further ignite private worship. In private worship, we can read the Bible and/or pray (as mentioned earlier). But there are other aspects to private worship. As with public worship, we can sing. So many times, I personally have listened to and sung along to Christian songs, and singing certainly is a vital part of worship, both public and private. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). Private worship, of course, most broadly defined, is how we should live every aspect of our lives 24/7. Everything we do should be an act of worship to God; everything we do should honor and glorify Him.
All that said, it is important to discuss what worship, in general, is and is not. Here, I must admit that my own words cannot express so well what others before me have put so wonderfully. Here are a series of quotes about worship from others:
“God has no need for our worship. It is we who need to show our gratitude for what we have received [from God].” Thomas Aquinas
“It is only when men begin to worship that they begin to grow.” Calvin Coolidge
“God does not need our worship! But we need to worship God! … Made to worship, man becomes something less than human when he refuses to worship. It is not God who suffers when we do not worship—it is we who suffer!” Richard C. Halverson
“Worship is not simply something done on set occasions or on certain days. It is an entire way of life.” Wes Harty
“When Christian worship is dull and joyless, Jesus Christ has been left outside—that is the only possible explanation.” James S. Stewart
“The test of true worship is not whether it makes us happy, but whether it makes us holy; not whether it pleases us, but whether it pleases God. Worship is not always a pleasure, sometimes it is very painful.” Brian Edwards
To Edwards’s statement, “Worship is not always a pleasure, sometimes it is very painful,” I can only attest to its shocking truth. Worship is, in fact, “sometimes very painful.” There are times when we read a passage of Scripture, or pray, or listen to the words of a song, and immense pain strikes our hearts. But there is, in fact, “godly grief [that] produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). That is what this painful worship causes: godly grief. Because when we are truly worshipping God, there will definitely be times at which we feel the immeasurable weight of our sin and the infinitude of His holiness, which certainly would produce in us a repentance born of godly grief. But I must go a bit further than Mr. Edwards did. Even when worship is not a pleasure, it leads to pleasure. Because we feel no greater joy, we feel no greater gratitude, than when we have seen afresh in a time of worship our boundless sin and the boundless grace of God that overcame it on the Cross.
I leave you with Psalm 95:1-6:
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In His hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are His also. The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!