One common question we receive from newcomers is often phrased like this: “What is your worship like?” In a nutshell, we read scripture and recite from creeds, sing both traditional hymns and modern songs, use instruments ranging from piano and organ to guitar and drums, we confess our sins through solemn prayers and celebrate the Gospel through joyful singing, take the Lord's Supper weekly and listen to Word of God through expository preaching of the Bible. You may look at some of our Sunday Worship Guides to see other ways in which our services are structured.
For many, worship amounts to an experience or music style often measured by personal preferences. However, the Bible casts worship in a far different light. Worship centers around God’s worthiness and describes our response to his worthiness based on the terms he sets and enabled by the grace he gives.
In Scripture, we see responses to God’s worthiness as events wherein one might bow, sing, or gather to celebrate (Gen 24:26, Ps 95:1, Acts 13:48), as well as responses to God’s worthiness expressed as commitments wherein we devote the whole of life to God’s service (Rom 12:1, 1 Thess 1:9, 1 Pet 2:5). Thus, we could say that worship is both liturgy and lifestyle, both declarative and demonstrative. To acknowledge God’s worthiness will not only inspire praise on Sunday, but also produce whole-hearted obedience daily. All of life, down to eating and drinking, becomes a sacred matter of worship (1 Cor 10:31; 1 Tim 4:3-4). This is “upreach.” God reaches down to us in redeeming love and opens our eyes to his worth. In response, we reach up to God in thankful adoration and total devotion.
With that established, we turn to the question - what do we do when we gather for worship?
We Respond to God’s Call
Across the Scriptures, we see a common pattern: God reveals himself to man and man responds to God. As God reveals his power and greatness, we respond in wonder and humility (Exod 14-15). As God reveals his holiness, we respond in confession and contrition (Isa 6:1-5). As God reveals his provision and grace, we respond in love and thanksgiving (Ps 106:1). As God reveals his purpose and plans, we respond in commitment and petition (2 Sam 7:27). God grants new spiritual life, and we respond to him as a worshiping community (1 Pet 2:9-10). Because worship begins with God’s call, our Sunday gatherings begin with a call to worship.
We Sing of God’s Worth
In Hebrews 2, we encounter a wonderful picture. Having identified with his people in suffering and staying faithful through death, Jesus leads his people in praise to God’s name. “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise” (Heb 2:12). With Jesus as our leader in God’s praise, the church then follows him with songs of praise in the assembly:
“…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph 5:19).
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly… singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16).
“When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (1 Cor 14:26).
By singing together in this way, not only do we reflect the worship of heaven in the present (Rev 5:9-14), but we also foreshadow the day when the great multitude of God’s elect from every nation, tribe, people, and language worship before the Lamb’s throne.
“‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen’” (Rev 7:10-11).
We Read and Hear the Word of God
As was mentioned earlier, the biblical pattern of worship involves revelation and response. Through reading the Scriptures and hearing the Scriptures preached, God speaks to us.
“Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”
(1 Timothy 4:13 ESV)
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10–11 ESV)
We Confess & Take the Supper
In response to the exposition of God’s Word, we turn our gaze inward to confess in prayer our failures. Both personally and collectively, to obey the commandments of God, and receive from the Word of God our assurance of pardon by God’s grace and through our faith in Christ by means of His gospel (death, burial, and resurrection). Having examined ourselves in prayer, we take the Lord’s Supper:
- to proclaim and remember God’s past deliverance in Christ (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:23-24, 26).
- to participate in the gospel’s benefits (1 Cor 10:16, 21).
- to renew our commitment to one another in Christ (1 Cor 10:17), and
- to anticipate Christ’s return in glory (1 Cor 11:26).
Prayer should be a rhythm in the life of the believer and characteristic of our gathered worship. Jesus did say that his house would be a house of prayer (Matthew 21:13, Isa. 56:7), and such was the practice of the early church recorded in the book of Acts. Time and time again the gathered church prays.
In gathered worship, our prayers are offered to God aloud such that other believers can hear and agree, adding our own “amen.” Corporate prayer should be characterized by active participation, not passive listening. It’s a time where we “help” one another in prayer, resulting in more glory to God for his blessings.
“You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” (2 Corinthians 1:11 ESV)
We Commit & Commission
Just as Isaiah, after seeing the Lord exalted and hearing his voice responded with “here I am, send me” (Isaiah 6:8) so too, we renew our commitments to follow Christ as we are sent back into the world to serve as the aroma of Christ to those who are perishing. This is the pattern of the church: we gather for worship and scatter for mission.