Personal view: True worship
Worship is not an event, but a lifestyle. The more we treat worship as an event, the more it becomes a caricature of God’s intention and unacceptable to him. To maintain a lifestyle of worship we must attend to it on a daily basis. If you regulate worship to a once-a-week event, you really do not understand it and it will take a low priority in your life.
By its nature, worship is not some performance we do, but a presence we experience. Unless we have experienced the presence of God in our worship, it cannot rightly be called Christian worship. Although there can be worship apart from God, it is not Christian worship.
It is my contention that, once we experience the actual presence of God, we will lose all interest in cheap Christianity with all its bells and whistles vainly trying to compete with the world. For worship to be a vital part of everyday life, it must be systematically and carefully nurtured.
Let me offer a few suggestions to help along the way. At this point, it is important to steer clear of all those sterile approaches that think one size fits all. All of us are different and, although we are walking along the same path, we have different personalities.
A few essentials need to be a part of our daily walk to maintain a vibrant life of worship.
I put this first, because unless we can find a place without distraction the rest is undermined. We must withdraw from the world and find our repose in God.
In such a frantic world as ours, it is almost impossible to find any quietness. Our world is riddled with noise of all kinds and levels of intensity. Not only the world but increasingly the church itself echoes with noise and commotion. Finding a quiet corner to get away to is a great challenge, but well worth it.
When I first became a Christian, it was difficult to find a quiet place. Eventually I found refuge in a corner of our basement where I could focus on worship without interruption. Those were delightful times of fellowship with God and laid the foundation for not only my walk with God but also my ministry in the days to come.
I firmly believe it is important that we become still and wait on God. And it is best that we are alone, preferably with our Bible open before us. I usually have my King James Bible, but I do not think the version is that important. The important thing is to get alone with the Word of God. Then in the quietness of the moment and as we draw near to God we will begin to hear him speak in our hearts.
This is the most important part of our initial walk with God. To follow God arbitrarily is one thing, but I take great pleasure in the Scripture that says, ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says…’ (Revelation 2:11, etc.). The saints of old always followed that voice. They were quiet enough to hear that ‘still, small voice of God’ speaking to them.
There comes the happy moment when the Spirit begins to illuminate the Scriptures, and what has been only a sound, now becomes an intelligible word, warm, intimate, and clear as the word of a dear friend. Then will come life and light, and, best of all, ability to see and rest in and embrace Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord and all.
The key here is to wait patiently and quietly on God. There is no need to rush. Noise is the enemy of the soul and in our noise-drenched culture it may take some doing, but the result is well worth the effort. Wait until he breaks through the tough exterior of your consciousness.
Cultivating quietness is a missing discipline in today’s Christian church. There seems to be a wretched conspiracy in many churches to rob the saints of the quietness necessary to nurture their inner life, which is hidden in Christ in God. The old saints would practise what they called ‘tarrying’. They would get on their knees and tarry in God’s presence until the light broke into their heart. Sometimes it took all night, but the wait was well worth it.
All worship should begin with the Bible. This divine road map will lead us to God. It has been a neat trick of the devil to confuse us with a variety of translations. The Christian community is divided by which translation is the right one. I suggest that you settle this matter once for all in your own mind, no matter what it takes, and press on in spiritual growth and maturity. Then put the Bible in a prominent place in your daily life and allow nothing to interfere with reading it and meditating on it.
Our reading here should not be a marathon, but a slow, deliberate soaking-in of its message. Bible-reading calendars are no help here. There are times when one verse or even a phrase will strangely appeal to us. It would be impossible to go on until that scripture has done its work in our heart. Do not weaken here. Allow that scripture to marinate in your mind and heart as long as it feeds your soul.
God is speaking, and he deserves our utmost respect and attention. Often we restrict ourselves to a daily Bible-reading schedule and hurry on in our reading to keep up. The importance of reading the Bible is not the reading, but the fellowship with its author. The proper reading of the Bible must be in the same Spirit that authored it.
I like to memorise portions of Scripture, especially the psalms of David. Charles Spurgeon used to say that we should read our Bibles until our blood became ‘bibline’. I like that. Memorising the great passages of Scripture will go a long way in meditating on God, especially in the nighttime. ‘I have hidden your word in my heart’, the psalmist said (Psalm 119:11), and he knew something of delighting in the presence and fellowship of God.
In your prayer life, quickly move beyond the idea of ‘getting things’ from God. Prayer is not technical in the sense that if we go through the right motions, say the right words, automatically our prayer is answered. Our aim in prayer is not simply ‘getting our prayers answered’. Here, we go beyond all that and luxuriate in the overwhelming presence of God.
Prayer is not a monologue in which we tell God what we think or want. Rather, it is a dialogue between two friends; an intimate fellowship that more often than not surpasses words.
Words can be clumsy and grossly inadequate to express sufficiently how we feel. Begin practising the presence of God. This is not merely an exercise in imagination but the ecstatic joy of fellowship. Once you lose yourself in rapturous prayer, you will never go back to prayer by routine.
The key to prayer is simply praying. As we engage with the God of the universe, our hearts are stretched upward in adoring wonder and admiration, resulting in spontaneous worship. Our heart always responds to that heavenly pull. This kind of praying is contagious and thankfully dangerous to the spiritual status quo.
I must confess that I am an ardent lover of hymns. In my library, I value a collection of old hymnals. Often, on the way to an appointment, I will grab one of these hymnals to read and meditate on. After the Bible, the next most valuable book is a hymnbook. But do not get one that is less than a hundred years old!
Let any new Christian spend a year prayerfully meditating on the hymns of Watts and Wesley alone, and he or she will become a fine theologian. Then they should read a balanced diet of the Puritans and Christian mystics and the result will be more wonderful than you could dream.
The old hymnal is invaluable in my personal walk with God. This may be the most difficult aspect. For a variety of reasons, many have tossed the hymnbook aside or at least ignored it. It has been a successful ploy of the enemy to separate us from those lofty souls who revelled in the rarified atmosphere of God’s presence.
I suggest you find a hymnbook and learn how to use it. Perhaps one reason the hymnal has fallen out of favour with many is that we do not know how to read or sing a hymn. We are not taught in our churches the great hymns of the church; consequently, many Christians are the poorer, spiritually speaking.
A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) and James L. Snyder
© Edited from The worship driven life, Monarch Books ISBN 10-1854248774