Christian worship is far too often judged for its immediate effects and not its long term value. Surely things such as the quality of the sermon, the selection of songs, and even length do matter, but I wonder if we often ponder enough the vital transformative power of regular participation in worship. Is there not something in the character of the liturgy itself with power to integrate itself into our own perceptions and to form and shape our own rhythms of experience? I cannot really recall any of the sermons of my childhood. I cannot reflect any of the hundreds of thousands of words spoken or songs sung. Nevertheless, I am certain that the character of my life and or my thoughts and of my desires has been shaped and directed by those weekly routines of song and word and prayer and, in my case, quarterly sacramental participation.
I cannot PROVE the value and I cannot point to academic comparative studies substantuating my claims, but I sense this is true.
Joking with a newly married couple the other day, they spoke of something they had now done ‘twice’ which had become for them, therefore, a tradition and needed to be kept up. Clearly there are aspects of family life that through repetition and priority form the members of that family into certain shapes and develop within them certain attitudes and passions. As family tradition and ritual can do that, so can regular participation in Christian worship.
A fellow pastor lamented to me recently the low commitment to worship evidenced by members of his congregation. I know the temptation to treat worship lightly. On a Sunday I had ‘off’ a few weeks ago, I faced the desire to just kick off my shoes and sit quietly at home for a Sunday. In nearly thirty years of pastoring, I’ve heard my share of ‘reasons’ for missing worship on Sunday far less substantive than I would have had. But I wonder what sustained and regular absence does to us. I wonder what we lose.
Criticism of sermons is painful, but a part of the job. Complaints about music I take to heart but despair of satisfying. I do want worship to have an immediate positive impact upon all who participate. I do want worshipers to drive home with their hearts full of the power of the gospel and the greatness of God. And yet, I think the real, lasting, deep, and abiding value of worship is in its regularity. It is a discipline that shapes us.
1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD of hosts!
2 My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
3 Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise! Selah