May 292017

Worship and the Glory of God

Why do we worship?  

It is a fundamental question.  

We could say that we worship because it is a commandment. “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”  Yet, is this why we worship, in obedience to a law that says we must? I don’t believe so. 

I think that worship is a movement of the heart.  It is something that arises from our innermost being and, upon occasion, allows us to glimpse, like Moses, the glory of God in a single moment that is filled with the eternal.  Owing to this, that vision of God may come to us in solitude or in the company of others.  It may come to us in a cathedral with a thousand others by our side in cascading sound and melody, or it may come to us in a hermit’s hut in silence.  As each of us worships, it is as though we are a singular figure kneeling before the manger yet representing all of humanity.  

As we worship, however, we join a current of others, from all places and all ages, and that powerful current carries us together, and alone, into the presence of God.  As our worship is offered in Christ, it becomes an act of his whole body.  So, it reaches out and incorporates all those who are his.  Even the housebound, the elderly in the loneliness of a nursing home, the prisoner in his cell are caught up with us in adoration.  As we worship, we are joined by all those who have gone before us in faith and the whole company of heaven are as close as the neighbor at our side.

Yet, worship is more than an ethereal experience, for we are not gnostics.  We recognize that we are made up of body, mind and spirit.  The incarnation is rooted in the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. Our worship, therefore, would be incomplete if each part of what constitutes our humanity did not contribute.  The whole person is called upon.  Perhaps this is why we take a certain posture when we pray. In scripture we can find a basis for standing and lifting our hands in prayer (1 Tim. 2:8). I can also find the example of Christ kneeling in prayer (Luke 22:41) and yet other references of lying prostrate (Matt. 26:38-39).  We can even take the example of David and sit as we pray (II Sam. 7:18). To insist upon one or the other posture for prayer, however, is to miss the point.  In our worship, we bring our bodies with us and there is an innate sense that our bodies should reflect our attitude of worship.

In worship, we also bring our voices.  There is a kinship between the human voice and the Word.  There is a kinship between our every breath and God’s Spirit. In the very acts of speaking and singing we may bring what is profoundly human into contact with that which is eternal. Whether in choruses, hymns, choirs in harmony, or chant, that which is most human may rise in praise to that which is eternal.  We express this as well, with both mind and voice, in corporate prayer.  

Now, I realize that there are many, who object to the idea of corporate prayer.  I’ve always found this puzzling.  It seems obvious, at least to me, that when Christ was teaching his disciples how to pray, he began with corporate prayer. “This then is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven…” (Matt. 6:9) To pray together – “Our Father” – requires the attention of the mind and the activation of the voice.  It also allows us to reflect our unity as the Body of Christ in its very opening words, for he is not only “my” Father in heaven, he is “our” Father.  In our corporate prayer, with voices joined, we not only pray, but we reaffirm in our prayer that there is “One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Eph. 4:6)

As we bring the fullness of who we are to our worship, we bring new possibilities.  With the creative choice that belongs to art, in our worship we select essential symbols, substances, words and actions to bring before God – fire and water, bread and wine, stillness and movement, spoken words and silence, music and contemplation.  As we worship, these elements carry with them the whole of God’s creation in its rich variety, finding their true place and worth in service of him.

If I were to ask what I could do or say to truly worship God, I would be reduced to silence.  Perhaps I might venture to lie prostrate and mute, for I am unable to worship God as I should.  Maybe it would be best to leave it to a silent gesture or the flame of a candle, for I have no words, no thoughts, no actions that are adequate.  Yet, Christ is the Word made flesh and we must worship with our lips as well as our lives; and it is our worship, however fragmentary, partial or inadequate, that allows us to glimpse, if only for a moment, the glory of God.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

  17 Responses to “Worship and the Glory of God: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD”

  1. Outstanding article Duane.

    If I might ask, who objects to the idea corporate prayer? That astonishes me.

  2. And, as a follow up to my question in #1, do you know what the basis for such an objection would be?

  3. I’ve been part of all kinds of churches in my life and I have never encountered a group that objected to corporate prayer. Mostly, I have heard things said in group prayer situations that IMO are Prayer Closet Only material.

    I am familiar with groups that don’t like to recite printed prayers (liturgical prayers) either privately or corporately. That would include the Lord’s Prayer.

  4. In referring to corporate prayer, I specifically had in mind liturgical common prayer, as in the prayers of the people, the Lord’s Prayer and responsive prayer. I think there is real power as we pray a common prayer… We have to wait for each other, give attention to those praying with us, focus on our common responses, etc. It is something that not only expresses unity, but, I think, it also promotes unity.

    I hope this helps…

  5. Corporate prayer is usually liturgical in nature and many evangelicals have been led to believe that such is “rote” and “Catholic”.

    On the other hand, good luck trying to get anyone to show up for a “heartfelt” prayer meeting…

  6. To answer the second part of Jean’s question, I think there are many who believe that all prayer should be extemporaneous without the “restrictions” they feel in liturgical corporate prayer.

  7. I personally love corporate prayer and responsive prayer. I like the prayers which are written out. At my church we pray the Psalms weekly corporately also. In fact, virtually all of the spoken liturgy is from the Scriptures.

    Is there someone who can come up with something better than God’s Word for prayers?

    On the other hand, I hate the long winded extemporaneous prayers in the … churches I have visited. Especially those prayers which are actually in the guise of a prayer but are really speaking to the congregation about what to do, or some upcoming event, etc.

  8. #7 Jean

    Could not agree more…

  9. #7

    And there’s the prayer of the just…

    “Lord, we just ask you to just bless us and just…”

  10. are we equating prayer with worship?
    one thing seems clear to me is that …
    we cannot honestly worship what we do not know – the more we learn of our Triune God, the deeper and clearer our worship – there is nothing that we will ever learn of Him that will give us cause to not worship Him

  11. #10 Em

    Absolutely right…

  12. We are beings created for worship. We constantly emit worship at all times. It flows from us. The key fort the believer is learning to direct that worship towards the proper target.

  13. Yes, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee…” as Augustine says…

  14. I am wondering if this article is part one of a 2 part writing?
    I agree with everything that is written here as a part of worship.

    In the Lutheran world it is called The Divine Worship Service as it is not us but it is God who (and I know this will sound funny to many ears) brings his worship to us. This is the time that God brings to us his grace and good gifts. It is the time that God does for us his people.

    The part 2 is our response to what we have received. Our praise, our songs, our prayers are in response to what God is doing for us right there. (part 2 is actually interspersed within part 1)

  15. I should clarify that “Our praise, our songs, our prayers are in response to what God is doing for us right there…” is just us in various forms and methods saying back to God what he has already said to us.

  16. hooray! MLD just said that the Church responds to what God initiates … err, i think he did

  17. Em, I am glad you find that noteworthy. The Church cannot do anything on it’s own except to respond to God’s moving.
    There is no such thing as a person worshiping God without first God having done something.

    Many I know do the opposite and use what they think is worship to conjure up God.

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