Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Public Worship
Reformed Free Publishing Association
The final spiritual discipline of the Christian life we consider together is public, corporate worship. By public worship is meant the gathering of believers and their seed in church, on Sunday (or during the week for a special service), to meet with God and give him the honor due to his name. This worship is the meeting of God with his people in covenant fellowship, the purpose of which is to give glory to God for who he is and what he has done in Jesus Christ.
Sadly, the public worship of God in the church world has become largely optional. Attendance at worship services has dropped off. The elderly who come to church scan the auditorium with grief as they note the absence of the younger generations. Parents allow their teenagers to decide whether they will come to church consistently, if at all. Soon, those teenagers grow up, marry, raise families . . . and attendance at church for them and their families is not a priority; in fact, except for the occasional baptism or special service, their church attendance is non-existent. Furthermore, the livestreaming of worship services, although obviously not itself wrong, has made it easier to stay home; such technology becomes a crutch for those who stay home for illegitimate reasons.
Now, perhaps more than ever before, we must be reminded that the corporate worship of God is a discipline of the Christian life. That is, such worship is not optional. It is a “must.” It is our firm resolution and commitment, every Sunday, twice a Sunday, to frequent the house of God. This is the requirement of the fourth commandment, as our Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 38 explains: “What doth God require in the fourth commandment? First, that the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained; and that I, especially on the sabbath, that is, on the day of rest, diligently frequent the church of God. . . .” The exhortation of Hebrews 10:24, 25 concerns this public assembling of God’s people: “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
Public worship is a “must,” but it is also a joy. The Spirit of Christ has regenerated us. We are glad to go up to God’s house. We are thankful for salvation, and express our gratitude by assembling with the saints to praise God. We recognize the awesome privilege that is ours: to come into the presence of the thrice-holy God every Sunday!
My purpose is not to elaborate on the principles and elements of worship; many fine articles, pamphlets, and sermons can be consulted for that. Rather, I will make only a few brief points that touch on worship as a spiritual discipline.
First, preparation is necessary for worship on the sabbath. This preparation begins already on Monday: making ourselves ready for public worship by the life we live during the week, by reading the Word daily, and by praying without ceasing. Disinterest in church very often proceeds from disinterest in day to day spiritual disciplines. This daily preparation will reach its peak on Saturday evening, spilling over into Sunday morning. During this time, we will meditate on the texts for the sermons (if available), read scripture and edifying literature, and pray for all the aspects of worship (mental alertness, strength for the pastor, etc.). Also, sleep is key at this point—we must turn in early enough on Saturday so that we can be mentally sharp for the hardest work of the week on Sunday. Spiritual preparation for serving God also includes coming to church in a timely manner, and then setting aside time before the service starts to pray and meditate on the things of God.
Second, as concerns the worship service itself, we must worship in spirit, as Jesus says in John 4:24: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” This lower-case “spirit” is not the Holy Spirit, but our inner, spiritual life. Our worship must be genuine, sincere, and heartfelt. In our singing, do we focus more on the tenor line than on the words? Do we really hear the law when it is read? Are we engaged in the congregational prayer, praying with the minister? Then comes the sermon. Here the goal is to listen well, and to listen to be edified. Some choose to take notes to help them concentrate, and others prefer not to take notes—each person must do what helps the most.
Third, we do well to reflect upon our worship, especially the preaching, after we are finished with church. Sunday lunch is a good opportunity for this. Father might lead into the discussion: “What did we hear this morning? What did you children hear? How does this apply to our life as a family in our Christian walk of thankfulness? How have we been led to glorify the God we love?” The Sunday meal after the evening service can be used similarly. We can take the sermons into the week, weaving them into family devotions, marriage devotions, and instruction of the children. The more reflection there is on the last Sunday’s worship, the more eager we will be to go back to God’s house the next Sunday!
Fourth, related to corporate worship is a zeal for the communion of the saints. We do not worship in isolation, but together. Does it not follow, then, that commitment to public worship is also commitment to fellowship with God’s people? One does not go without the other. When we love the fellow saints and seek communion with them in the narthex on Sunday and in church activities during the week, our zeal for corporate worship will be all the greater.
May it be that this public worship is our firm commitment and our chief joy.
May God grant to us grace to be disciplined in our lives of service to him: in personal reading of scripture and prayer, in marriage devotions, in family worship, in our memorization of scripture, in our reading, and in our public worship.
This post was written by Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois. If you have a question or a comment for Rev. Barnhill, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.