I invite you to think about worship as a place of intersections. At the center of the intersection is God, whose majesty and splendor bend us Godward in awe and adoration. Personal worship for some is an attempt to find that intersection, that place where God might be met. Congregational worship might be likened to a three-way intersection between God, you, and other people. Just as it is possible to drive the wrong way on a one-way street, it is also possible for us to miss God (and each other) in worship if our worship is not directed Godward.
Some scholars remind us that the word worship is a derivative, in some languages, of the word worth. God is worth-y for reasons too numerous to list in this short article. Suffice it to say that worship is grounded in the worthiness of God as revealed to us through the personhood of Jesus Christ. It is not grounded in our personal testimonies of “how we have overcome,” or “how, by the grace of God, we have prospered.” Worship is for and about God and God alone.
We do not gather to adore this majestic God in secret, our gatherings are public. Our gatherings are purposeful. We gather primarily to meet with the God who created us for worship. Though we could have worshipped alone, the ancient patterns bid us to worship in community (Hebrews 10:24-25). We come together from various stations in life, from assorted households and habitats, we are drawn to worship together because of the common conclusions we share about the worth of God and the personal experiences we have with this great God. We share those common conclusions in word and in song – that God is good, that God is good to us, that God cares about everyone and loves us regardless of the walls we build to separate ourselves from one another. And, while we are there, we remember. Individually and collectively, we remember our experiences with God and how we came to be a people of God. We strain to listen for any instruction or instructions God might choose to share with us through those who dare to speak for God. What does the Lord require of us? Worship is an intersection with God, and in this intersection are myriad mini-intersections.
Among those mini- intersections are intersections with what we believe about God. How many doctrines of the Church intersect in worship? The doctrine of the Atonement, definitely finds voice in worship. Whenever we make mention of the salvific death of Jesus Christ in worship – in our songs, in our prayers, in our preaching – we are making a doctrinal statement. What we, as spiritual leaders of our local congregations, believe about the family of God comes through in the words we speak before during and after baptism and what we believe about eschatology, Christian community and a host of additional doctrines are evident in Holy Communion. In our preaching, our praying, our singing and how we treat one another our worship, we dramatize what we believe about humanity, community, forgiveness, restitution, and the power of God to restore lives.
Not only is worship a place where doctrines intersect, it is a place where Christian practices are modeled and learned. We have already talked about the fact that new Christians often learn how to pray in private by listening to the prayers prayed in public worship. How to study the Word of God and how to appropriate it for ourselves is often learned by being exposed to the exegetical and application skills of the preacher at the weekly gathering. Similarly, we learn more about the faith as we learn to make melody in our hearts through the songs that we teach one another when we gather. It is often through the music that is, at times, mistakenly equated to worship that we learn how to communicate this great faith to the next generation.
Weekly worship is so much more than music, and so much more than the words that we speak to one another. It can be an intersection with God and each other, a place where our doctrines and beliefs are rehearsed among ourselves and made known to others, and a place where we learn how to engage in personal spiritual practices.
May we find God and each other at these intersections throughout this Lenten season!