I will praise You, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works. I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High. Psalms 9:1-2
By Robin G. Jordan
In his first epistle the apostle Peter writes, “…you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…” (1 Peter 2:9). God has chosen and made us a royal priesthood to proclaim His praises. The English Standard Version renders “…proclaim the praises…” as “….proclaim the excellencies…,” in other words, to proclaim God’s attributes, his character, and his mighty deeds.
We do this every time we gather to worship Him. We do this whenever we sing God’s praise in song, in a canticle, hymn, or a worship song. We do this whenever we read the Scriptures aloud and sing or recite the Psalms, whenever we rehearse the story of God’s mercy to us. We do this whenever we proclaim the good news from the pulpit. We do this whenever we give a report of how God has answered our prayers and the prayers of others. We do this whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, whenever we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. We do this whenever we plunge someone in water or pour water over him in baptism.
We do this whenever we talk with a friend or neighbor or colleague about Jesus over coffee. We do this whenever we share our testimony of what God has done in our lives, how God has changed us. We do this whenever we act in ways that show that God has indeed changed us. We make known the virtues of Him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.
As you can see, singing God’s praises is not the only way of making known His great merits. Everything that we say and everything that we do should draw attention to them. Our words and our actions should point past us to God. They should magnify God--proclaim His greatness. They should give glory and honor to His name. We have been called out of darkness for this sole purpose. We have been called to a life of worship.
“Worship” is derived from the word “worthy,” which means “estimable or deserving respect, entitled to condescending recognition, deserving of, suitable to the dignity, good enough for.” The root word is “worth,” which refers to the value that a person or thing possesses. To worship is to recognize the worthiness of an object and the honor due such worthiness and to give the object the honor that its worthiness is due. By “object” I am not referring to a material thing. Rather I am referring to that to which action or feeling is directed.
As the Bible tells us, God is the only object that is truly worthy of our worship, and God is no material thing. He is “Spirit.” Indeed the Bible warns against the folly of worshiping material things in place of God. When we worship God, we acknowledge God’s worthiness and the honor due His worthiness and give Him the honor that His worthiness is due.
This statement has tremendous implications. If we worship God “in spirit and in truth,” what we do for one hour on Sunday is only a small part of our worship. If we truly acknowledge God’s worthiness and the donor due His worthiness and give Him the honor that His worthiness is due, we must do so twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. Every moment of our lives, everything we say and do, should glorify God and honor Him. It should bring glory and honor to God. This is not to dismiss what we do for that hour on Sunday but to put it into proper perspective.
If we are not living God-glorifying, God-honoring lives, if our lives are not bringing glory and honor to God, we are not worshiping God whatever we do on Sunday. We are not acknowledging God’s worthiness and the honor due His worthiness and give Him the honor that His worthiness is due.
If we are, on the other hand, living God-glorifying, God-honoring lives, if our lives do bring glory and honor to God, we are true worshippers of God, those who worship Him “in spirit and in truth.” It does not matter if we do not have a tracker organ and a large vested choir with paid section leaders or a professional quality band. It does not matter if we do not have a voluminous Gothic sanctuary or huge auditorium, state-of-the-art sound system and multimedia projection system, cathedral or theater seating, and a congregation of 3000 at our main worship gathering. What matters is that our hearts are close to God.
I am not suggesting that we should be indifferent to the quality of our worship on Sundays. “What is worth doing is worth doing well,” to quote an old adage. We should offer God our best and settle for nothing less. Worship that is second-rate, shoddy, or slip-shod conveys to outsiders the message that we do not value worship or the object of that worship. Thom Rainer in his research found that what mattered to the unchurched when they visited the worship gathering of a church was not the style of worship music so much as the quality of that music. It said to them that the church took seriously worship and the God whom the church worshiped.
The principal objective of a music minister should be to “release the congregation into praise.” By “music minister” I mean everyone involved in a church’s music ministry. This praise should be a part of a life of worship. It should flow from a life of worship and it should strengthen, reinforce, and invigorate a life of worship. It should express in the lyrics of a hymn, canticle, Psalm or worship song what the lives of the worshipers express in their words and actions throughout the week. I will explore what music ministers can do to attain this objective in a future article.
Pastors and music ministers can help a congregation connect what they do on Sunday with how they live during the week and visa versa in a number of ways. One thing pastors can do is to preach a sermon series on the true worshipper. If the church has a small group ministry and the small groups discuss the biblical truths and principles in the sermon and their application to their lives, study questions can be developed to help the participants not only to have a better understanding of what it means to be a true worshiper but also to live more God-glorifying, God-honoring lives. Music ministers can teach an adult Christian education class on the worship of God “in spirit and in truth.” This works best when most of the adult members of the congregation regularly attend the adult Christian education classes offered before or after worship gatherings or at other times.
A session on worship can be incorporated into newcomers’ orientation. A module on worship can also be made a part of the church’s equipping track. For those unfamiliar with the concept of an “equipping track,” it is a term used primarily in cell churches to describe a series of training modules that are used to leadership development, discipleship, and spiritual formation purposes. It is described as a “track” because an individual completes the training modules in succession, one after the other, and in the process moves from new believer to a fully functional disciple of Jesus Christ. It is a form of equipping that also works well in house churches and more conventional churches. A school of worship might be held on a weekend with teaching and inspirational talks interspersed with times of praise and prayer.
In my experience whichever of the options are used, they will need to be repeated. This not only catches those people who missed an earlier preaching series, class, or weekend but also reinforces what was taught on these occasions. People also learn differently. They differ in how long they may take to assimilate and incorporate what they have seen, heard, and experienced. God may need to work in their heart before they take a particular teaching to heart and live it in their lives. Preaching series, classes, instructional modules, and weekends can be supplemented with e-book links, videos and audios on the church web site and books, DVDs, and CDs on the church book table.
One thing that will happen when a church becomes more God-glorifying and God-honoring throughout the week, it will be discernable in the worship gathering on Sunday. People who put their hearts into their daily walk with Christ will put their hearts into hymns and worship songs, the Scripture readings, and the prayers. They have made a major change in their lives whether they realize it. God has become real to them.
God, of course, is not a figment of our imagination—an adult version of the invisible friends and companions of our childhood. He is real—very real. Through the teaching and by the power of His Holy Spirit God has opened their eyes to His presence. He has made known to them the full implications of being a true worshiper of God and given them the grace through Christ to have the good will to take these implications to heart and to worship Him in spirit and in truth. We can only exclaim, “Behold what God has wrought! See what He has done!”