Have you ever asked the question, “Why do we spend so much time in our services on worship?” What is the reason for all the present emphasis on worship?
It is insufficient to think of our worship services as merely ‘the preliminaries,’ something to ‘condition’ the congregation in preparation for the truly important part of the service: the sermon.
It is essential that every pastor and church answer this question for themselves. It is no longer adequate to defend our worship services by saying, “Well, we’ve always done it this way.” It is equally insufficient to conceive of our worship services as “the preliminaries,” something to “condition” the congregation in preparation for the truly important part of the service: the sermon. It is time to seriously consider from a broader perspective the vital role that worship plays in the life of the congregation.
There are three general spheres in which our worship services minister:
- There is the vertical aspect of worship, the level in which the worshiper communicates with the Lord;
- There is the horizontal aspect of worship, the level in which the worshiper communicates with others in the congregation;
- There is the inward aspect of worship, where the worshiper is personally affected by the worship service.
Each of these areas helps us to better understand the role of worship in the congregation.
The Vertical Aspect of Worship
The very first and primary reason for worship is to minister to the Lord. The basic posture of the worshiper is, “I will bless the Lord,” not “Lord, bless me!” We all know this, but let us face it—there are times when we go home from a worship service and complain because the worship did not do as much for us as it did last week. If the main purpose for worship is to bless and glorify the Lord then why am I upset when it does not seem to bless me? The question should not be whether the worship service blessed me; the question is, did it bless God? It is not what I thought of the worship service that matters—it is what God thought of it! Did He approve? Was He pleased with our “sacrifice of praise”? On us has been bestowed the unique and glorious honor of actually blessing the Lord God Almighty! We are the Levitical order of the New Testament, called by God to minister before Him (see 1 Peter 2:5,9). Let’s take full advantage of this special privilege!
The basic posture of the worshiper must be, ‘I will bless the Lord,’ not ‘Lord, bless me!’
A second reason for our worship services is to realize the manifest presence of God in our midst. We understand that God is everywhere at all times, yet there are different degrees to which God manifests Himself. He manifests Himself on one level “where two or three are gathered.” But when a larger group of God’s people congregate to sing His glorious praise, He “inhabits” those praises and reveals His presence in a special way among His praising people. (See Psalm 22:3 and 2 Chronicles 5:13-14.)
It was in Exodus 33 that the Lord made this special promise to Moses: “My Presence will go with you and I will give you rest” (v. 14 NIV). Moses’ response was, “If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. …What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (vv. 15-16 NIV84). The same goes for us today. What will distinguish us, as God’s people, from the people of the world? What makes our church services different from the meetings of any other social or service organization? The presence of God! If we don’t have God’s presence in our services, we may as well dismiss and throw a picnic instead.
The presence of God is the earmark of the church. That is how sinners will know we are different! When they sense the presence of God in our midst they will have experienced the reality all men truly desire.
The presence of God is the earmark of the church.
We also hold worship services in order to provide an opportunity for the power of God to be released in His church. In Luke 5:17 we are told that while Jesus was teaching “the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick.” This tells us that in the presence of God the power of God is revealed. It is true that God maintains sovereign control over the working of His mighty power—we cannot coerce Him into demonstrating His power simply because we have worshiped. But when God’s presence is manifest in the midst of the congregation, there comes an atmosphere that gives God greater freedom to work according to the counsel of His will. Worship prepares us to become ready recipients of the blessing of God.
We also worship in order to provide an atmosphere or seedbed for the gifts of the Spirit and various spiritual ministries to be manifested. Have you noticed that prophecies rarely come forth until after God’s people have worshiped for a season? This is not accidental. First we worship, then spiritual ministries begin to operate. It is not that God is unwilling to speak prophetically to His people at the beginning of the service, but we are not often ready to flow in the gifts of the Spirit.
Finally, in this vertical sense of worship, we worship in order to open up the channels of communication between us and God. A number of people attending a Sunday service have not communicated with God since last Sunday! This is lamentable, but true. They may have not read their Bibles or spent quality time in prayer all week. The worship service provides them the opportunity to confess their sins, open up their hearts to the Lord, and receive cleansing and renewal from Him. In the Song of Solomon the Lover begs of the beloved: “Show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is lovely” (2:14 NIV84). This is the call of our Lord to His bride. Can you imagine the Lord, with great yearning and emotion in His voice, calling to His people many times in this fashion? This is the heartbeat of God for our worship services! He wants to see our face lifted up to Him. O, how He wants to hear our voice singing sweet praises to Him! The Lord so longs for His people to overcome their inhibitions in the congregation, that they might with open face and strong voice radiate His praise.
The Horizontal Aspect of Worship
The interpersonal dynamics of a worship service are more significant than many realize. Consider, first, that we worship in order to enhance the feelings of unity within a body of believers. Can you remember experiencing one of those altar services where most have gone home and a few have stayed behind to pray and worship? It is a time when the few folks who remain are worshiping the Lord with everything that is within them. You look over at the one next to you and realize that he is unabashedly pouring out his soul to the Lord. At that moment you feel a tremendous affinity with that brother because he, like you, is totally committed to the Lord. There is a tremendous sense of unity that comes over the group and soon everyone is hugging each other!
This bond is greater than the unity we feel simply as Christians in the body of Christ. This bond comes from the unity we feel as fellow-worshipers with hearts that seek after God. Show me a church that worships with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and I will show you a church that is moving ahead for God with an extraordinary sense of unity.
We also worship in order to provide believers with an opportunity to confess and profess their faith before others. We usually find it comparatively easy to confess the Lord in the congregation, during the worship service. But it’s another thing altogether to confess the Lord to our unsaved neighbors, co-workers, friends, and relations. But confessing the name of the Lord in the worship service increases our boldness and faith to declare His name before unbelievers. Lift your voice in the congregation—“lift it up, be not afraid”—and the Lord will increase your ability to vocalize your faith to others.
Another key reason for congregational worship is that we might declare the glories of God before unbelievers. The unsaved do visit our worship services and this is an excellent opportunity for them to see the reality of the glory of the Lord. Psalm 108:3 declares, “I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples” (NIV84). It is clearly God’s intention that His praises not be confined to the ears of believers.
For too long God’s people have been bashful about the praise of God! We sometimes think like this: “I’m not going to bring my neighbor to the Sunday evening service, because our church gets too carried away in worship and I don’t want to turn my neighbor off.” But a worship service is the best place to bring an unsaved friend; when God manifests His presence in the midst of His people, unbelievers will be apprehended by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit and drawn to the Lord. Do you want to win your neighbors for the Lord? Take them to the hottest praise service you can find! They don’t need to understand what they see; they only need to experience the reality of our God. And we do not need to apologize for or explain the praises; we only need to declare His praises. God intends for His praise to be broadcast around the world!
Let us look for the day when singing groups will set up in City Square and do nothing but sing praises to the Lord. Open up the windows of your church, lift up the shades, swing wide the doors, and sing His praise before the world! As a final consideration of the horizontal aspects of worship, we worship in our churches in order to create a proper mood for the sermon and the remainder of the service. It has been the experience of countless pastors that when the worship is real and vibrant it is definitely easier to preach. Not only is the anointing of the Spirit more evident, but the hearts of the people are more open to hear the Word of the Lord. There is a phrase in Hosea 10:11 which reads, “Judah shall plow.” Judahmeans “praise,” so therefore we might say that “praise plows.” Praise plows the soil of our hearts so that we are prepared to have the seed of the Word of God implanted. It is not accidental that most churches flow in worship prior to the preaching of the Word.
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