Come, Now Is the Time to Worship
- Hear and respond to an invitation to worship.
- Consider why it's important to gather with other Christians to worship God.
- Explore what happens during the “gathering” or “approach” to worship.
Christians have been gathering for worship for a couple thousand years, so you would think we would have a pretty good idea of why. But if you posed that question to any number of people after a church service, you might get quite a variety of responses. That's because worship, and how we think about it, has gone through enormous changes in the past few decades.
However, the answers in your random survey could probably be summarized under one of two headings. One group of answers would have to do with how worship affects us: we go to worship to be inspired, to learn to live our faith more deeply, or even to be in fellowship with other Christians. The other group of answers would revolve more around God: we worship to glorify God, to love God, to be addressed by God, to renew our covenant with God.
Both types of answers would be true---worship has to do with both God and with us. Yet in recent years it seems that the always-swinging pendulum has swung more toward our side of the equation, as worship has become ever more people-centered, entertaining, and practical. How does this view compare to the biblical definition of worship?
One of the best definitions of worship goes back to the covenant renewal assemblies of the Old Testament (see Ex. 19, Josh. 24, Neh. 8-9, for example). These assemblies present worship as a dialogue between God and his people---a dialogue that always begins with God. Worship is about God, first of all, and it's about us in our relationship to God. We assemble together with God to remember his covenant of grace with us, completed in Jesus Christ, and to commit ourselves to live as members of God's covenant in Christ.
Psalm 95 expresses that fundamental truth about worship so well: "Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care" (vv. 6-7). We gather before the Lord, as his people. So God is the center of worship, and our role is to bow together before him. That bowing suggests both reverence and obedience; it expresses God's holiness and our neediness. All worship, whatever the music, the "style," or the building in which it takes place, should be an entrance into that joyful, holy covenant assembly.
Acts 2:42-47 describes the activities of the first Christians after Pentecost. That passage certainly mentions worship (at this point still at the temple), which included fellowship, sacrament (the "breaking of bread"), and praising God. Later in Acts we discover that churches that grew outside Jerusalem began to meet on the "first day of the week" (Sunday), the day of the Lord's resurrection, and continued to include Word and sacrament (Acts 20:7). This has been the pattern ever since.
But we still haven't answered the question of why we worship. What's so important about it? The main reason we worship is that we need to center our lives on God and on God's kingdom. Week after week we need to remember and celebrate the glory of God and our identity as God's covenant people. It takes regular practice to get that down because the world always wants to give us a false identity and make us think we can live perfectly well without God.
Another way of looking at worship, suggested by the Eastern Orthodox tradition, is also helpful: when we gather together in God's kingdom each Sunday, we enter heaven. That view gives us one way of understanding Hebrews 12:22-24: "[Y]ou have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God . . . to God, the Judge of all . . . to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant. . . ." It's that experience, that "sight," that gives us the strength and faith to continue our journey.
Why do you think we worship?
Does your experience of worship tend to be more God-centered or human-centered? How can you tell?
See if you can outline the covenant dialogue of a worship service in your church.
There might be many ideas expressed during this unit about your church’s worship. Make sure your discussion time doesn’t become a gripe session or a debate about the effectiveness of the pastor. Keep the focus on the fact that no worship service is perfect, and our purpose here is to understand what worship is all about.
For each session in this unit on worship, step 4 will provide ideas for planning the different elements of a worship service, until the kids have created an entire service to be enacted in session 6. A planning template for each stage of worship can be found in the printable pages. We encourage you to keep a master copy of this template so that you have a complete service planned on paper going into session 6.
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