I Find it Hard to Worship God in Church, but what is Worship?
Someone asked whether I actually worship God in the Sunday service because I remain ‘stiff’ and quiet when other church members are happily clapping and singing songs of praise. I confess that nowadays I find it hard to worship in church. I have to try very hard not to be distracted by the loud music that I may rest and repose in God’s presence. Obviously, my idea of worship is quite different from the music-driven worship that is popular in churches today.
First, I should clarify my understanding of corporate worship which is:
the activity of a congregation of true believers giving reverence, adoration, praise and thanksgiving in response to the incomparable glory and ineffable holiness of God, while expressing gratitude to the magnificent grace and goodness revealed in the person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ, and finally receiving the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit through the sacraments and preaching of the word to enable us to live a life of obedient service to the triune God.
Admittedly, this definition is quite a mouthful, but it provides several criteria on what worship is acceptable and pleasing to God.
1) Worship must be God-centred. In contrast, I find contemporary worship too man-centred. Traditional hymns replete with deep theological truths are now replaced by songs with effusive personal emotions. To be sure, we should be emotionally authentic in worship, but if the frequently mentioned word ‘I’ in our singing and prayer effectively displaces the word ‘God’ in our worship then perhaps we are taking ourselves too serious in this most holy of Christian activities.
2) Worship must be centred on the magnificent works of God. Naturally, the book of Psalms and the eloquent proclamations of the OT prophets on God’s holiness provide the most appropriate inspiration for praise that is due to God in his own right. I try to be sympathetic to my friends when they repeatedly sing “I love you God,” but the phrase sounds vacuous despite many repetitions. If our lives are soaked with meditation on the Psalms and OT prophets we cannot help but become concrete in our praise of God. Maybe we should sing less and reflect more quietly on God’s inspired word on Sunday morning. Concrete praises will well-up irresistibly from our innermost being.
3) Worship must be focused on the cross where God’s love is supremely revealed in the crucified Christ dying to save sinners. God in his all-sufficient glory does not need repeated confessions of our love. He is not an insecure lover needing to be assured of our love for him. It is rather that case of we expressing gratitude to the incomparable love of Christ displayed on the cross: “We love because he first loved us” (I John 4:19) and “He who is forgiven much loves much in return” (Luke 8:47).
4) Worship must give prominence to the sacraments (communion or eucharist) and the preaching of the word. We do not first enjoy a great session in ‘song-worship’ and then proceed to partake the communion. Indeed, we cannot separate the communion from worship as it re-presents and re-enacts the saving death of Christ and together with the preached word mediates grace to nourish our faith.
5) Worship becomes most authentic when it leads to submission to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit who sustains believers in obedient service to God and his people. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).
To conclude, worship that is centred on the triune God engages the whole person and impacts the whole of the life of Christians.