By Loren Gjesdal
My local church’s worship team is really tremendous. Vocals, drums, guitars, piano—all very talented. Yet they just can’t quite measure up to my favorite worship band and they rarely play any of the songs on my faves list. Don’t get me wrong, I like our pastor (oh, wait, I am the pastor) but he just can’t hold my interest like Louie Giglio. To experience the most impactful Sabbath worship I choose to stay home and view worship concerts on YouTube and stream the latest Giglio sermon on Facebook. It’s so restful! Isn’t that the purpose of the Sabbath anyway?
Maybe this isn’t the way you think about the Sabbath worship service at your church, but the paragraph above is an increasingly common view. The focus for many believers is on the experience of one’s personal relationship with God, which can supposedly be expressed and enhanced at home just as well as at church. But is this true? Is it biblical?
CULTURE OF INDIVIDUALITY
Our culture emphasizes individuality and self-sufficiency, and we increasingly use consumer terminology when talking about church. We talk about what we got out of it, whether we were fed or not, whether our needs were met. Somewhere we lost the perspective that we are offering ourselves to God as worship. We have lost sight of the call of Scripture to see ourselves as members of the church—not in the sense of being members of a country club, but in the sense of being vital organs essential for the thriving of a living body (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12). In short, church does not exist for our benefit, but rather we draw breath so that we may participate in the mission of the church and supply what we can to strengthen the other members of the body.
We have all heard sermons admonishing us not to forsake the assembling together, but too many of those sermons stop with a scolding of those staying home without explaining the purpose of gathering. We certainly don’t explain why we should sing when we get together—even if the band and song selection are inferior to our home CD collection. Maybe it’s time to reconsider what worship is and what the Sabbath worship service is all about?
THE REAL HEART OF WORSHIP
The familiar verse in Hebrews referred to above says:
And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
The purpose of assembling together isn’t to be fed or get something out of it, but to encourage each other to love and good deeds. The worship service is a weekly rally to encourage worship through love and good deeds the remaining six days of the week! The real heart of worship takes place outside of the church building on days other than the Sabbath. On the Sabbath we are to come to contribute encouragement as much as to receive it. The whole tone of Jesus’ teaching and example is to ask what can I give, not what’s in it for me.
SINGING PRAISE TO GIVE AND RECEIVE
Interestingly enough, our song service (what we typically think of when we hear the word “worship”) is also to be as much about giving as receiving, and as much about giving to each other as giving to God. Consider these two admonitions by Paul to sing songs:
Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; (Ephesians 5:19)
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
How often have you associated the singing of hymns and choruses with speaking, teaching and admonishing? Setting God’s Word to music can embed it in our minds for a lifetime, making it available for recall at any opportune time. Setting insightful poetry of praise, adoration and spiritual aspiration to music can connect commitments of the mind to the passion of the heart. Singing with conviction not only encourages us but can also instruct, inspire and encourage those around us.
A SACRED MISSION
Most relevant to the opening question of staying home rather than going to church is the inability to encourage, admonish and inspire another believer in isolation. It is God’s plan that we would engage in the mission of being salt and light in the earth in community, but its also His pleasure that we would use the power of music and poetry (powered by our own voices) to do at least part of the work of teaching, encouraging and admonishing each believer to be fully engaged in God’s mission. God is the creator of music and the giver of musical gifts. It is idolatry to hoard the gift for its own sake, but it is worship to offer it back to God in loving service for the building up of the church of God.
Each Sabbath we gather for teaching, singing and prayer. We are instructed to assemble so we can be reminded, encouraged and inspired to remain surrendered worshipers 24/7/365.
SING A NEW SONG
We should also keep in mind that each Sabbath is preparation for eternity:
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” (Rev 5:9-12)
May we never cease joining the myriads in singing together in praise to our Redeemer!