Years ago, before I got into the habit of attending worship services, I read a poem by Emily Dickinson that made an impression on me.
Some keep the Sabbath going to church; I keep it staying at home, With a bobolink for a chorister, And an orchard for a dome. Some keep the Sabbath in surplice; I just wear my wings. And instead of tolling the bell for church, Our little sexton sings. God preaches—a noted clergyman—And the sermon is never long; So instead of going to heaven at last, I’m going all along!
There is a certain worldly wisdom to that. I still think of this poem occasionally, when I am standing at the glass doors at the beginning of worship, watching the sandhill cranes striding grandly across the grass, listening to the mockingbirds proclaiming their territory from the oak trees, tracing the paths of the puffy clouds as they sail through the blue morning sky. One might be tempted to think of that little outdoor reverie as worship in its own right. Nature hasn’t paused to observe the Lord’s Day, so why should I? I can still speak to God even if I’m not sitting in a pew, can’t I?
God demands that we worship Him. In reverent fear, we must come and bow before His awesome majesty. Even from ancient days, God chose a place, “to establish His name there” (Deut. 12:5; 26:10); a physical location to meet Him, “and there you shall come.”
Thankfully, New Testament Christians do not need a specific location for worship—it can be in a rented room one week, an open field the next week, a member’s home the next week. Our temple is the church body, and as long as “two or three are gathered in my name” for worship (Matt. 18:20), we have entered His presence. But we must never lose the attitude of humbly answering the call to assemble with other local saints to present our worship. If it’s the Lord’s Day and you aren’t assembling (Heb. 10:24), then you are simply disobeying God.
The example of the church under the direction of the Apostles includes coming together on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7) to sing (Eph. 5:19–20, Col. 3:16), pray (James 5:16), explore Scripture (Acts 2:42, 20:7, 1 Tim. 4:13), partake of the Lord’s supper (Matt. 26:26–28, 1 Cor. 10:16–17, 1 Cor. 11:17–34), and give an offering (1 Cor. 16:1–2, 2 Cor. 9:7). One cannot do that simply by taking a Sunday drive with the family or, like Dickinson, by relaxing in the garden and swinging in a hammock—even with an open Bible nearby. There are components of worship that cannot be experienced watching religious programming on TV. We have an appointment to keep!
Second, God deserves our worship. His great love and bountiful provision should motivate us. In 1 Chronicles 16, David commissioned a psalm of thanksgiving:
Oh, give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples. Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; Speak of all His wonders. Glory in His holy name; Let the heart of those who seek the Lord be glad… Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the people. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.
We should not feel like we have to come to worship, but truly look forward to it. Surely, God’s greatness and His personal care for us are worth a few moments of our focused devotion.
God governs our worship. He tells us how to do it. God has revealed certain standards by which He must be worshiped. He doesn’t automatically accept every blundering attempt. “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). He rejected worshipers who had failed to prepare themselves, or who had disqualified themselves due to uncleanliness or sin. He rejected Cain because of his attitude. He rejected Nadab and Abihu because of their carelessness. He told Moses to take his shoes off. We ignore the directions at our peril!
God provides worship for our benefit. Worship is not ultimately for God. He doesn’t need food from our hands and He can live without our attention (Acts 17:25, Isaiah 66:1–2, etc.) Worship is actually good for us! Even though it may be inconvenient for us to wake up and come, worship provides a blessing God knows we need as much as food and air. It elevates our minds. It restores our spirit. It recharges our batteries. It reconnects us with our brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, it may be in those difficult times that we are stressed or sleepy that we most need the blessings we gain from pausing to worship.
God requires a time for worship because He knows we need worship time! So, let us strive to have this attitude: “I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1). —John Guzzetta