Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through an annotated translation of Pascal’s Pensees called Christianity For Modern Pagans, I’ll post the thoughts I’m emailing the students here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2020. The reading schedule is online.
This week we come to one of the most visible corporate disciplines in the Christian life: worship.
If I had to identify one challenging aspect of worship for Stanford students it would be this: worship feels like a waste of time. Time spent in worship is time not spent doing homework. More altruistically, time spent in worship is time not spent witnessing to someone. Foster nails this mentality on page 161:
“The divine priority is worship first, service second…. The primary function of the Levitical priests was to ‘come near to me to minister to me’ (Ezek. 44:15). For the Old Testament priesthood, ministry to God was to precede all other work. And that is no less true of the universal priesthood of the New Testament. One grave temptation we all face is to run around answering calls to service without ministering to the Lord himself.”Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, page 161
In Mark 3:14 we see Jesus selecting the disciples. What does it say? “He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.” They are first to be with him, then they are to serve him. God did not hire us, God adopted us. Worship must come first. In Deut 6:4 we are called to love Him with all our heart before we are called to love Him with all our strength.
While it is true that worship means far more than music, it is also true that the largest book in the Bible is a book of songs. Singing praise to God is an important part of our spiritual health, and often actions accompany the singing. If I had to pick a second challenging aspect of worship for Stanford students it would be this: such worship often feels undignified.
Throughout Scripture we find a variety of physical postures in connection with worship: lying prostrate, standing, kneeling, lifting the hands, clapping the hands, lifting the head, bowing the head, dancing, and wearing sackcloth and ashes. The point is that we are to offer God our bodies as well as all the rest of our being. Worship is appropriately physical. We are to present our bodies to God in a posture consistent with the inner spirit in worship. Standing, clapping, dancing, lifting the hands, lifting the head are postures consistent with the spirit of praise. To sit still looking dour is simply not appropriate for praise. Kneeling, bowing the head, lying prostrate are postures consistent with the spirit of adoration and humility. We are quick to object to this line of teaching. ‘People have different temperaments,’ we argue. ‘That may appeal to emotional types, but I’m naturally quiet and reserved. It isn’t the kind of worship that will meet my need.’ What we must see is that the real question in worship is not, ‘What will meet my need?’ The real question is, ‘What kind of worship does God call for?’ It is clear that God calls for wholehearted worship…. Often our ‘reserved temperament’ is little more than fear of what others will think of us, or perhaps unwillingness to humble ourselves before God and others. Of course people have different temperaments, but that must never keep us from worshiping with our whole being.Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, pages 169–70.
Foster says it well, but King David says it even better. In 2 Samuel 6:22, the Psalmist tells a critic of his extravagant worship, “I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.”
Here are some of the ways we see worship expressed in Scripture. If you struggle with expressiveness or self-consciousness in worship, meditate on this list. Many more verses could be added along with much commentary — this is far from a comprehensive study. It is merely meant to open your eyes to the various expressions of worship we find in the Bible. Some are commanded while others are modeled, all of these expressions are appropriate at different times.
- WE SING because in the Bible we read: “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:16)
- WE PLAY INSTRUMENTS because in the Bible we read: “Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.” (Psalm 150:3–5)
- WE RAISE OUR HANDS because in the Bible we read: “I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” (Psalm 63:4)
- WE CLAP because in the Bible we read: “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.” (Psalm 47:1)
- WE TESTIFY PUBLICLY because in the Bible we read: “I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” (Psalm 9:1)
- WE LAUGH AND REJOICE because in the Bible we read: “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’” (Psalm 126:2)
- WE SHOUT because in the Bible we read: “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn— shout for joy before the LORD, the King.” (Psalm 98:4–6)
- WE LAPSE INTO REVERENT SILENCE because in the Bible we read: “The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20)
- WE STAND because in the Bible we read: “They [the Levites] were also to stand every morning to thank and praise the LORD. They were to do the same in the evening….” (1 Chronicles 23:30)
- WE BOW AND KNEEL because in the Bible we read: “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.” (Psalm 95:6)
- WE LIE PROSTRATE because in the Bible we read: “Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, ‘Amen! Amen!’ Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.” (Nehemiah 8:6)
- WE LEAP because in the Bible we read: “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Luke 6:23a)
- WE DANCE because in the Bible we read: “Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp.” (Psalm 149:3)
- WE SPEAK IN TONGUES AND PROPHESY because in the Bible we read: “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” (1 Corinthians 14:26)
- WE CREATE ART because in the Bible we read: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.… to make everything I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent— the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand— and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place.’ ” (Exodus 31:1–11)
- WE PRAY SIMULTANEOUSLY because in the Bible we read: “When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.” (Acts 4:24a)
- WE LISTEN TO A SERMON because in the Bible we read: “…devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” (1 Tim 4:13)