“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:29-30). When Jesus gives this commandment He is setting worship at the center of our lives. Worship is meant to permeate all parts of our lives. Whether it is private or public worship it is, first and foremost, a matter of the heart. In Jewish tradition the heart is the steering wheel of life, the core of personal character, including thought, emotion, will, intuition, and imagination. Thoughts, motives, desires and intentions, whether good or evil, arise from the heart.
When our hearts are turned toward God we are filled with grace and truth; when our hearts turn away from God we are filled with delusion. True worship of God, therefore, means tuning our hearts toward God and responding to His glory and love with our entire being. When the Holy Spirit touches our spirit we are moved in both feelings and commitment.
Worship from the heart joins the inner reality with outward expression. “And the Lord said: Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,” (Isaiah 29:13). Integrity of action and heart together cannot be produced by a simple act of will on our part. Author Richard Foster reminds us, “Until God touches and frees our spirit we cannot enter this realm…Our spirit must be ignited by the divine fire.”
That divine fire in our hearts and spirits must be tested and verified; whether we are worshipping alone or in the community of others, we need to experience our Christian faith grounded in the larger community of faith. Our most personal disciplines need to be supported, broadened, clarified, and sometimes corrected in the light of corporate theology and practice. Otherwise we can become susceptible to a corrupted perspective of spiritual truth. The way God provides for our deepest hopes and needs is usually through the ministry of others to us.
To be a Christian is to be joined to the body of Christ. We gather in worship to remember who we are and whose we are. It is through the praises, prayers, sacraments, and proclamation of the Word that the church is continually given life.
When we worship in community we present a united front “against the cosmic powers of this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12). It takes a communal witness of light, truth, and peace to overcome the corporate power of darkness, deception, and destruction in this world.
Sometimes we can feel unable to penetrates the circles of people who seem to be at the center of the church’s life. We may feel unaccepted, for various reasons, including various forms of brokenness in our personal lives. We may leave worship feeling isolated and lonely. An expectation of meeting the real presence of Christ can seem absent in our worship experience.
Are there aspects of your worship experience that seem unsatisfying? If there are, name them.
We may feel that public worship has little true devotion; it feels ever more rote and external each week. When God seems remote to us we can feel as dry as a desert. We come searching for living water and leave thirsty. We come desiring to be nourished and leave with what feels like a mouthful of sand.
We often have little power to change the external forms of a worship service. We can take responsibility for our experience by preparing in advance for weekend service. The most important thing we can do to change our experience of public worship is to revitalize our personal worship.
We can begin by steeping ourselves in Scripture, journaling, and praying on a regular basis. Committing ourselves to even one of these suggestions can enrich our experience of common worship. We can try out a half hour for self-examination directed by the following questions to God. “When have I been aware of Your presence, guidance, or grace this week? How did I respond? When have I been especially unaware of Your presence, guidance, or grace this week? Why? What habit of the heart do I need to acquire in order to live more faithfully?”