Earlier this year I began this series of posts on Gathered Worship in the House of God, examining the role and responsibilities of the congregation in corporate worship. Part 1 of the series focused on how to prepare for times of worship. We now come to Part 2: Participating in Gathered Worship. How are we to join in the corporate worship of the church?
The first point that must be made may be the most obvious, but it needs to be said: We must come and gather! We are to come apart from worldly distractions and normal daily pursuits and regularly and faithfully join together in fellowship and worship.
Although we must certainly worship God continually in our hearts:
rejoicing always (Philippians 4:4 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16)
giving thanks always (Ephesians 5:20 and 1 Thessalonians 5:18)
praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
We must not neglect assembling ourselves together as God’s people for worship (Hebrews 10:25).
Worship begins in our individual relationships with God when He saves us and places us in Christ. But God does not save us to leave us on our own. In His wisdom and mercy He takes us, as living stones—those who once were dead but now are alive by grace in the power of His Spirit—and He places us into His church and builds us together in one house (1 Peter 2:5).
The church must gather because it is God’s purpose and design to bring us together. We need one another! We need Christian fellowship. We need corporate worship. God takes many members and fashions us together as one body. In 1 Corinthians 12:12–18 Paul explains:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose (1 Corinthians 12:12-18).
It is in corporate worship that we intentionally and vividly demonstrate that we are united together as one body—we are one building set upon the Cornerstone of Christ. We testify to one another in our praise and thanksgiving of the goodness of God.
And because God has joined us together, our joys and trials are shared. Paul says in verse 26 of 1 Corinthians 12: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” When one suffers, we all suffer and we pray together for the one who suffers. When one rejoices, we all rejoice—and unite our voices in praise and thanksgiving. We live as one body in Christ: supporting one another, serving one another, helping one another, praying for one another, and loving one another.
When we separate ourselves from worship and from being with God’s people, we place ourselves in spiritual danger, cutting ourselves off from vital means of grace and strength. When we isolate ourselves, we miss a large measure of God’s provision for our spiritual health and well-being. We miss the help and understanding that comes from hearing God’s Word read and taught. We miss the strength and comfort that comes from seeing God’s glory and power on display through our ministry to one another in the church.
Our trials, our suffering, our pain—all of life—will only make sense when we see it in the greater context of God’s glory.
This brings us back to worship. There is no better place to be in order to gain a larger perspective on the glory of God than in worship.
If things are happening to you in your life right now that you just can’t explain, that you just can’t figure out, trials or difficulties that are testing your theology and trying your patience, then your heart should long to be with the people of God in worship.
We see and example of this in Psalm 73. In this psalm Asaph, the composer, is trying to make sense of life. He is struggling with a question that perplexes him. His question is this: Why do the wicked so often seem to prosper and live care free lives, while those who love God must go through suffering and endure pain and trial and hardship? Asaph discovers his answer in verses 16–17:
But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
It is when Asaph joined with God’s people in worship that things finally began to make sense. He finally began to understand. What he thought was prosperity was actually a slippery slope leading down to destruction and eternal misery. What he though was affliction and hardship was actually a blessing, a gift of God to cause him to lean and trust God more for his own good.
Worship corrects our thinking and causes us to see things in their true light.
It is as we rest in Christ and worship Him, that we realize more and more that all things exist for Him—that He is working all things together for our good and for His own glory.
As we come to worship, we are like the psalmist. We each have our own struggles and trials. By ourselves, even our small troubles may seem very large and be very perplexing and overwhelming.
But in worship, God draws us together as ONE, and He gives us ONE pursuit and ONE direction—His glory. And as we glorify Him together, all of our lives begin to make sense. Even though we may not understand the details, we see that we fit into a greater plan that exalts and magnifies our God.
(Scripture quotations are from the Holy BIble, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway)