Prior to having children, I had not considered that participating in a faith community could be an act of spiritual discipline. I have learned over the past three years that the 10 minutes, and sometimes 3 hours, before church on any given Sunday tend to be the most unholy minutes or hours of the week. They are prime-time for marital discord, toddler meltdowns, projectile bodily fluids, and disappearing shoes. By the time we roll into a church service I am spent, generally disengaged, and have a hard time remembering the sermon.
I lamented this to my sister, a more seasoned parent than myself, earlier this year. After listening to my frustrations, she commented that she has faced the same issue and that rather than become discouraged by how hard things are, she has begun to think of the simple act of getting to church as being enough. She knows it will not always be this hard, but while it is, she knows that getting into the habit of showing up to attend church with her family and faith community is enough.
My sister’s advice came to mind as I began to contemplate the spiritual discipline of corporate worship, or rather, worshipping God in community. I do not often think of worship as a spiritual discipline. As someone who grew up going to Catholic mass with my parents and an Evangelical youth group with my friends, I’ve always considered worship to simply be the part of a church service or faith event that involves singing and prayer. Over the years, this has required little effort from me – all I had to do was pay attention to the lyrics and try to sing on key. I still get stuck in this mindset from time to time.
In his book The Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster proposes a very different concept of worship. He notes that the form – style of church service, prayer, music, etc. – is unimportant. Rather, he identifies worship as experiencing the reality of God, both for who God is and what God has done. In this way, worship becomes about the way that we approach God, and requires us to consider our attitude and disposition when encountering him. However, this is more than just a guideline or suggestion for the way that we interact with God. The Bible indicates that the worship of God is a command. In Matthew 4:10 Jesus refers to God’s directives in Exodus 20, stating, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”
From this perspective, it can seem that worship is a solitary endeavor, much like meditation or prayer. And yet, it is also something that can be shared amongst a group of Christians. In fact, many people equate the idea of worship as only involving large groups of Christians gathered together during church services. Scripture actually directs Christians to gather together in this manner as well, and Hebrews 10:24-25 states, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Though we can worship God alone, there is something uniquely special in worshiping God with a community of believers.
Practicing Corporate Worship
Foster suggests that in order to engage in the discipline of worship on a communal level, individuals must first cultivate a personal attitude of worship and suggests that “while living out the demands of our day, we are filled with inward worship and adoration.” It is also possible that even if our own individual attitudes towards worship are not fully developed, the Holy Spirit can stir our hearts to a place of worship as we participate with other Christians. Worshipping God in community can then both be something we can cultivate, as well as something God can enable us to engage in. Dallas Willard builds on this idea of worship in his book The Spiritual Disciplines, noting that, “in worship we engage ourselves with, dwell upon, and express the greatness, duty, and goodness of God through thought and the use of words, rituals, and symbols.” He notes that this is both an individual task, as well as one that can be done with the company of other Christians.
Before you worship together with other Christians, find ways to foster an attitude of adoration toward God in your own life. The spiritual disciplines previously mentioned in this series, such as Meditation and Prayer, may be helpful in this. You could meditate on the greatness of God, what he has done, or aspects of God’s character. Or, you could pray that God would help you cultivate a worshipful attitude in your daily life.
It can be really helpful to identify a couple of people within your church who can also commit to doing this with you. It is one thing to arrive at a church or worship service with in an internal state of worship, but the crux of worshipping communally is doing it with other people who are of the same heart and mind. If you are actively involved in and know people in a church, consider approaching one or two individuals about attending church with an intentional attitude of worship. Maybe you don’t have close connections at your church, but you are part of a bible study or have a couple of Christian friends. Consider asking them to join you in this endeavor, and find a place where you can be around other Christians while worshipping together.