Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Three Timeless Traits for Worship

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Three Timeless Traits for Worship”
First Published: April 24, 2007

Quick note: this Sunday, we begin a new expository series in the book of Philippians on Sunday mornings. The series title is Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility, Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians. I had been thinking of another series, but I think it is time for Philippians at First Presbyterian. More on that soon.

Meanwhile, like many of you, I’ve been thinking of our worship in the new sanctuary. Anticipating it with great longing, actually. I want us to make our first year in this beautiful meeting house a deliberate exercise in learning again what it mean to worship God together. As such, I think that three traits (among a dozen others) ought to mark our public worship. Our worship should be word-based, God-centered and Christ-delighted. Here’s what I mean.

We want our worship to be word-based, biblical, ordered by God’s own Word. One of the distinctives of Presbyterian worship is that it aims to be completely guided by Scripture. It is, in fact, worship that is according to Scripture. This is known as “the Regulative Principle.” Since our worship is for God, our first question is not, “What do we want to do?” or even “What would others like to do?” but “What does God want us to do?” For direction we look to the Bible where God directs by command or approved example how to worship Him. In the Bible we find God accepting these acts of worship: Singing, praying, reading the Bible, preaching, celebrating sacraments, giving offerings, confessing the faith, and making holy vows. We want to assure that our corporate worship is Bible-filled and Bible-directed, that the substance and structure are biblical, that the content and order are biblical. To put it slightly differently, we want to worship “by the book” in two ways: so that both the marrow and means of worship are according to Scripture. We want the form and substance of corporate worship to be suffused with Scripture and scriptural theology.

Second, we want our worship to be God-centered. Christian worship is all about God. He is the object of our worship, the focus of our worship. We gather as a congregation, not to seek an experience but to meet with God and give him praise. The whom of worship is central to true worship (see John 4:22, 24). It is what the first commandment is all about. We aim to worship the God of the Bible. Many Christians leave Sunday services asking the “what did worship do for me?” Yet it is more helpful and biblical to think just the opposite. “What did I give to God in worship?” “How did I encourage the brothers and sisters to praise Christ for his grace?” “How did I take advantage of the means of grace in order to glorify God?” Ask not what this service will do for you, but what you will give to God through this service B the rest will take care of itself. Don Carson puts it this way: “Should we not remind ourselves that worship is a TRANSITIVE verb? We do not meet to worship (i.e. to experience worship): we aim to worship GOD. ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’: there is the heart of the matter. In this area, one must not confuse what is central with byproducts. If you seek peace, you will not find it; if you seek Christ, you will find peace. If you seek joy, you will not find it; if you seek Christ, you will find joy. If you seek holiness, you will not find it; if you seek Christ, you will find holiness. If you seek experiences of worship, you will not find them; if you worship the living God, you will experience something of what is reflected in the Psalms. Worship is a transitive verb, and the most important thing about it is the direct object.”

Finally, we want our worship to be Christ-delighted. That is, we want to worship together in a way that is totally consumed with delight for Christ, passion for Christ. Does that sound un-presbyterian? Well it’s not! True Christian worship is filled with delight—the delight of the believer’s heart in God himself. The congregation delights in God because he is God. Jonathan Edwards put it this way: “True saints center their attention on Christ, and His beauty transcends all others; His delight is the source of all other delight; He in Himself is the best among ten thousand and altogether lovely. These saints delight in the way of salvation through Christ, because it demonstrates God’s perfection and wonder; they enjoy holiness, wholeness, while they take no pleasure in sin; God’s love is a sweet taste in their mouths, regardless of whether their own interests are met or not. They rejoice over all that Christ has done for them, but that is not the deepest root of their joy. No, they delight merely because God is God, and only then does their delight spill over onto all God’s works, including their own salvation.” John Piper puts it this way: “The authenticating, inner essence of worship is being satisfied with Christ, prizing Christ, cherishing Christ, treasuring Christ. . . . [This] is tremendously relevant for understanding what worship services should be about. They are about ‘going hard after God.’ When we say that what we do on Sunday mornings is to ‘go hard after God,’ what we mean is that we are going hard after satisfaction in God, and going hard after God as our prize, and going hard after God as our treasure, our soul-food, our heart-delight, our spirit’s pleasure. Or to put Christ in His rightful place—it means that we are going hard after all that God is for us in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.”

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

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