One of the challenges for followers of Jesus during this lock-down coronavirus season has been how to worship. How do we give God our praise, when we can’t gather together? How can we participate in worship with the family of God when we’re on our own, or with just the few members of our household?
If you think about it, this has always been an issue for people who are confined. If people are ill at home or in hospital, or perhaps in prison, the same question arises. So this isn’t new, it’s just that it’s a challenge in this season that all people of faith, especially followers of Jesus, have all been facing.
I spent an hour online yesterday with our second year interns, teasing out this issue. We had a fascinating conversation, going back to basics, talking about the very nature of worship: what it is, what we do, where we find biblical inspiration for it, how we do it well. As we did this we kept applying the conversation to the present situation. We noticed that there are 2 main New Testament words for worship: proskuneo, which is about drawing close to God in times of worship, and latreo, which is about living a life of worship, serving the Lord and giving him glory with all of our lives. Our conversation was mainly about the first – about times of worship. We all wanted to do this well, but many of us, if we were honest, were finding it tough. We recognised that there were many distractions. That it was easy to be passive. That the novelty of online services was now starting to wear off. That sometimes we felt uncomfortable about worshipping with others in the room, or in the house. I expect this is how many of us have felt over the last few weeks and months. So what should we do?
Here’s what we concluded: in this present situation we actually do what followers of Jesus have been doing for the last two thousand years: we worship. It’s just that we do it at home. It was summarised in a simple phrase: ‘don’t just watch, worship.’
We talked about some good things we could do on Sundays to help ourselves, and others, to not just watch, but to worship. Here are four things that became clear for me.
1. Choose your Church
This means choosing a church fellowship and a time. Unless you’re new to faith, it’s best to join with the church you normally worship with, so for me that would be The Belfrey in York. Of course there’s nothing wrong with sampling other churches, but if you do that, be honest about whether you’re just watching, or really worshipping. In terms of time, while you can always catch-up later, many of us don’t, so it’s best to worship at the same time each week. That puts some structure in your Sunday and your week.
2. Arrange your Space
It also means thinking about the place where you’ll worship and the device you’ll use. I suspect many of us don’t think very much about these things, but they’re actually really important. Pick a useful space in your home that’s conducive for worship. We actually do that on Sundays in church, by going to a particular church building and choosing where to sit, so do the same at home. Do you need to clear a few things and get the space ready? Also think about the device on which you’re viewing. If it’s not working so well, is there another way to do it? Can you mirror from your phone to your TV, or if you can watch the internet directly on your TV, why not do that, and have a bigger screen experience?
3. Prepare your Heart
Don’t turn up at the very last minute. Instead prepare your heart. So as the worship service approaches, take a few moments to pray. Pray for those who will be worshipping with you, in their homes. Pray there will be people tuning in who aren’t yet following Jesus, who will hear the good news of Christ, experience his presence and want to know him. Also ask the Spirit of God to help you in your worship.
4. Give your Worship
Then when the service begins, be active in what you do. This is harder than most of us realise, because our homes are set up for comfort and we default to sitting passively in a comfy chair. Also most of us are not used to being expressive when we watch things on a screen. Rather, we tend to sit quietly and watch and listen. But in worship, we’re invited to be fully engaged and be highly expressive. We’re called to consciously give our thanks and praise. We’re encouraged to be vocal and speak out. So why not decide to stand in the presence of the King of kings? Say aloud ‘Amen!’ to the prayers. Be intentional about giving God your praise. Sing enthusiastically – what the Bible calls ‘extol’ (Ps 34:1). Lift your hands. Clap. Kneel down. I find that this can be difficult at first, but the more I do these things, the more I find that I am authentically participating in the worship. And the bi-product is that I experience God’s presence. James 4:8 becomes a reality for me, when it says: ‘draw near to God and he will draw near to you’.
These four things, of course, apply to our worship anywhere. They’re not new in this stay-at-home season. They just need applying in our present circumstances. If we can do that, learning to do these four things in our homes – even if at first they feel a little strange – it will change for the good the way we will worship together in our churches after lock-down. Our worship then will be stronger, more vibrant and more engaging, because the church will have discovered more of what it means to be a community of worshippers (John 4:23-24). This is an important lesson the Spirit of God wants to teach us in this season, as we worship in our homes (see the blog I wrote near the start of lock-down, entitled Houses of Worship).
So, if you’re a disciple of Jesus who wants to grow as a worshipper, may I urge you to make the most of the fantastic online services that so many churches are presently producing week after week, by being intentional about your worship.
Choose. Arrange. Prepare. Give.
Most of all: don’t just watch. Worship.