(more) Thoughts on Worship

Several years ago I was asked to lead a lay-pastor training course on Worship in the Reformed Tradition. In the preparation for the class, I took copious amounts of notes from books that I was reading and recommending to the class. I find that I still turn to those quotes quite often, so I thought I’d share some of them here. Enjoy.

From: Hughes Oliphant Old, “Guides to the Reformed Tradition” (Worship.  Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984):

“We worship God because God created us to worship him.  Worship is at the center of our existence; at the heart for our reason for being.  God created us to be his image – an image that would reflect his glory.”

“When those who worship the holy God become through that worship holy themselves, they show forth the praises of him who has called us out of the darkness into his marvelous light… Holiness is the fruit of worship.  By purifying the worshipers the worship is made pure.  When we worship, having our minds enlightened by the Spirit, our lives cleansed by the Spirit, our wills moved by the Spirit, and our hearts warmed by the Spirit, then our worship is transformed from being a mere human work into being a divine work.”

From John MacArthur, “Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically.” (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005):

“Worship is ascribing to God His worth, or stating and affirming His supreme value.So to talk about worship is to talk about something we give to God.  Modern Christianity seems committed, instead, to the idea that God should be giving to us.  God does give to us abudnatly, but we need to understand the balance of that truth.  We are to render ceaseless honor and adoration to God.  That consuming, selfless desire to give to God is the essence and the heart of worship.  It begins with giving first of ourselves, and then of our attitudes, and then of our possessions, until worship is a way of life.”

From D.A. Carson, “Worship by the Book,” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005):

“We  cannot imagine that the church gathers for worship on Sunday morning if by this we mean that we then engage in something that we have not been engaging in the rest of the week.”

“Worship is the proper response of the creature to the Creator.”

“You cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself.”

“If you wish to deepen the worship of the people of God, above all deepen their grasp of his ineffable majesty in his person and in all his works.”

“Worship, properly understood, shapes who we are.  We become like whatever is our god.”

“To say that we come together “to worship” implies that we are not worshiping God the rest of the time.  And that is so out of touch with the New Testament emphases that we ought to abandon such a notion absolutely…  The people of God should worship him in their individual lives and in their family lives and then, when they come together, worship him corporately.”

From David Wells, “God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World,”(Crossway. Kindle Edition):

“We come to the Lord, not because it is our idea to do so, or because we need to do so, or even because we like to do so, but because he first came to us. Worship is our response to what he has done. Worship undoubtedly can have its benefits. However, it is not primarily about our finding comfort, inspiration, or social connections, or being entertained. It is primarily about adoration and praise being directed to God simply for who he is and what he has done. Worship loses its authenticity when it becomes more about the worshiper than about the God who is worshiped.”

“A congregation is a fellowship of sinners, those who know their own waywardness, their own willfulness, and how much they need to be redeemed. It is precisely those who know such things who are in churches or, at least, ought to be. For it is here, in the company of others, that we learn of God’s goodness and of his grace. It is here that we think together about life and its meaning. We are enriched through the gifts that God has given in the church.”

But He Grew Strong in His Faith

Nearly 30 years ago, when I was a freshman at Sterling College, I was selected as a member of a group of students to take part in a research project about youth and faith. I don’t remember the name of the doctoral student who was doing the research, and I don’t think that I ever saw the results of the study or paper he was writing, but I still vividly remember the conversation, and one particular question that he asked that day.

As I was talking about my “Christian experience” I had routinely mentioned wanting to grow stronger in my faith. At one point the researcher broke from his prepared questions and asked me what I meant by that. I didn’t really know.

And that became a point of concern for me.

I had used the phrase “strong faith” all the time, but I never really stopped to think about what it meant. Did I mean “strong” as in muscular, able to say to the mountain, “Up,” and then watch the mountain walk away? Or did I mean “strong” as in unmoving, resilient, able to face whatever came my way.

Keep in mind, I was only 18 at the time, and barely that. I was naive, having grown up in the church and been sheltered from most of the ugliness of the world. I think I hoped that a strong faith would help me “Just say no!” to sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. I thought a strong faith meant never having any doubts, never struggling to make sense of things, never wrestling with what I believed and what I saw in the world around me.

In reality, I had no idea what I was talking about. I was ignoring much of the revelation of Scripture, that showed the faith of those who believed but needed God to help them in their unbelief. I overlooked the fact that the disciples, who witnesses the mighty acts of Jesus firsthand, still often struggled to have any faith at all. I was oblivious to the truth that it was these experiences (times of loss, pain, hardship, and doubt) that were often the means through which God worked to strengthen the faith of His people. Consider the example of the passage above: Abraham was as good as dead, but he did not waver, for he considered the promise of God, and grew strong in faith (Rom 4:19-21).

If I could go back and talk to 18 year old me – I’d have a lot to say. But on this matter of a strong faith, I’d try to tidy things up a bit.

For faith to be strong, you must know what you believe. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). To grow strong in faith you must have a thorough and deep knowledge of the Bible, which tells us what God says about who He is, who we are, and how we are to get right with Him. To be strong in the faith is to continue to grow in understanding of God’s Word.

But the other side of this is equally true. A strong faith is not just knowing a set of teachings; Satan himself knows the word of God, probably better than most of us, and yet he has no faith. A strong faith is knowing God as He is revealed in His Word, and trusting God in all that He says. To grow in strength in faith is to take God at His Word. Like Abraham, who had questions and struggles along the way, but he continued to trust in the promises of God, convinced that God could do all that he promised.

But the most essential thing for strengthening one’s faith, and it almost seems contradictory. If you were to start body building, you would want to constantly look to your muscles to see how you are growing. If you want to improve as a runner, you track your miles and times. But that’s not how faith grows – you don’t think more about your own faith.

Instead, faith is a holding on to the faithfulness of God. Martin Lloyd-Jones once wrote, “Faith does not look at itself. Faith is never interested in itself and never talks about itself. That to me is a very good test. I always distrust people who talk about their faith. That is the characteristic of the cults. They always direct attention to themselves and to what they are don for have done. You have to be ‘thinking positively,’ or you have to be doing this, that or the other. The emphasis is always upon self. but faith does not look at itself or at the person who is exercising it. Faith looks at God, holds on to the faithfulness of God. The big thing about faith is not what I am doing, but God’s faithfulness. Faith is interested in God only, and it talks about God and it praises God and it extols the virtues of God.”

Beloved, trusting in the knowledge and the promise of God, may you be strengthened in your faith as you glorify Him.