(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.”

In the School of Prayer

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)

There is a scene from Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which Hamlet plans to kill his uncle Claudius, but cannot because Claudius is praying, and Hamlet would not want Claudius’ soul to be cleansed and rise to heaven. Setting aside the unbiblical and misguided understanding of salvation, what has always resonated with me in this scene in Claudius’ comment after he rises from prayer. In great irony, Claudius has found no comfort in prayer, saying, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below” (III.iii.96). His prayers have been insincere, ineffective, and his soul remains unchanged in prayer.

Often have I shared this feeling when rising from prayer.  I draw near to the Lord, but feel my words have merely bounced around the room; never penetrating the roof, much less the throne room of grace. How can I be prepared for an eternity before God in His new Heaven and new Earth, when I grow weary after 15 minutes in prayer?

Spiritual disciplines require a similar approach in training as physical disciplines.  If you want to run a marathon, you start by running 1 mile. If you want to grow in prayer, then you must start praying.  Pray, seeking God’s Holy Spirit to give you the words to pray, to give you a spirit of prayer, to increase your passion for praying.  The old puritans taught, “pray until you pray.”

So I’ve decided this year to enroll myself in the school of prayer.  To sit under the teaching of God’s Word, reading and studying the prayers of scripture to increase my heart for prayer.  I’ve picked up a couple of books on prayer, and some collections of puritan prayers, and those will help – but the most important part is simply to pray.

I was reminded recently that prayer is not the work of the Church, it is the very heart of the Church. Without prayer there is no connection with God, no seeking His face, no being led by His Spirit. Without prayer, all the labors of the Church are in vain. So let us then ask the Lord to teach us to pray; and may we know the great power of prayer as it is working (James 5:16).

I’ve added here some of the bullet points from the opening chapter of D.A. Carsons, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Prioritiees from Paul and His Prayers (Baker Books, 1992, Grand Rapids, MI) Digital Copy.

  1. Much praying is not done because we do not plan to pray. We do not drift into spiritual life; we do not drift into disciplined prayer. we will not grow in prayer unless we plan to pray.
  2. Adopt practical ways to impede mental drift. Vocalize your prayers, pray over the scriptures, make prayer lists, journal your prayers – find ways to keep your mind focused on the act of prayer.
  3. At varies periods in your life, develop, if possible, a prayer partnership. Seek someone to teach you to pray, or someone you can teach. Prayer-partner relationships are as valuable for the discipline, accountability and regularity they engender as for the lessons that are shared.
  4. Choose models – but choose them well. Listen to others pray. Read books of prayer. Study their content, their breadth, their passion, their unction – but do not ape their idiom.
  5. Develop a system for prayer lists. Whatever the system, use prayer lists.
  6. Mingle praise, confession, and intercession; but when you intercede, try to tie as many request as possible to Scripture. One of the most important elements in intercession is to think through, in the light of Scripture, what it is God wants us to ask for.
  7. If you are in any form of spiritual leadership, work at your public prayers. Public prayer ought to be the overflow of one’s private praying.
  8. Pray until you pray. Pray long enough and honestly enough that you get past the feeling of formalism and unreality that attend not a little praying.