I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go the house of the Lord!” (Psalm 122:1)
Why Set Aside a Day for Worship?
We know from the Bible - very early in the Bible! - that tents or tabernacles or temples or synagogues or churches or mosques are not the only holy places where God can be sought and found.
“When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:4-5)
People have said to me plenty of times that they prefer to worship God outside, in nature. (I have also heard the “I can worship God on the golf course” line, too, but if you listen to what most people say when they play golf, I’m not sure a whole lot of worshiping is going on!) Believe me, I totally understand when people say they feel close to God in nature. I have experienced God so many times when out in nature. It is one of the main reasons I keep hiking.
So why set aside a day for worship, when we can connect with God anywhere... when anyplace can be holy ground exactly because God is there?
It gets to the whole issue of communal worship, and the idea of a community of faith. I heard many years ago that it is harder to keep your faith going and growing if you try to do that by yourself, and I think that’s true. Something different happens when we sing - together. (Not to mention, how often do you sing when you are not in worship?) Something different happens when we pray - together. Something different happens when we come to the altar rail and receive the body and blood of Christ - together. Something different happens when we listen to our Holy Scriptures together, and take some time to listen to someone make them relevant for our lives today. Something different happens when we say a confession - together. Something different happens when we offer up both our concerns and praises to God - together. Something different happens when we serve - together.
Here’s the “something different” that happens:
- We encourage each other and are reminded that we’re all on a faith journey - individually AND corporately.
- Our souls and spirits are uplifted.
- We encounter the love, power, and guidance of the Spirit of God in community - a nice balance to experiencing the Holy Spirit when we pray individually.
- We are given spiritual nourishment that helps us go out and be Christ - and see Christ in others - for the remainder of the week.
- We hear things from Scripture that we usually don’t hear in the prevailing messages of the culture. We are reminded that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and God’s ways are not our ways. (Isaiah 55:8)
- We are reminded that ALL of us are children of God, including the person whose political views are the opposite of mine, including the person who annoys me, including people of other faiths and people of no apparent faith, including - glory and hallelujah! - me!
- We are reminded that it is a good habit to pause regularly and praise the One from whom all blessings flow. (This is a really good antidote to thinking that life is all about me.)
- In receiving the sacraments, we are reminded of the sacramental presence of God in all of life... in every tree, every rock, every fish, every animal, and every human being.
- As the offering baskets are passed around, we are reminded of God’s generosity and that any giving we do is really about us joining in the flow of God’s giving.
- We are reminded regularly of the things that are deeply true about God and us - that God is faithful, loving and showers us with grace, and that we are called to walk in God’s ways.
I am going hiking again in a few days to celebrate my birthday. I know that I will encounter God on the “holy ground” of Rocky Mountain National Park. But I also know of the immense value of coming together with others - weekly - to worship and praise God.
I wonder: As fewer and fewer Americans participate in worship on a weekly basis, is this the thing that will ultimately divide us the most? Will we become 300+ million people doing our own thing, guided by no one greater than ourselves, and forget that we are children of God?
Coming together regularly for worship leads us in a very different direction. It leads us - again and again - back to God.
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go the house of the Lord!”