March 17, 2022 Samuel Lindsay

The Dialogue of Worship

The Dialogue of Worship

When you have a relationship with someone how does it grow?

It has become popular to speak about Christianity as a relationship not a religion. Make no doubt about it, our faith is a religion! But the sentiment is very good. Ours is not a religion based on ritual observance and mental ascent, but on the God-man Jesus Christ. We enter into a covenant, a union, a relationship with him and in doing so we receive everything!

But entering into a relationship comes with responsibilities and allegiance. If we ignore or betray our friends then our relationship is disrupted and damaged. In order to grow our friendships or marriages or even child-parent relationships, we must each put in the effort to engage and build that connection.

We spend time with one another, we listen as the other talks, then we speak in return. We don't do things to the other that hurts them, and conversely we try to do things that leads to their joy and their good.

Now we need to be careful not to take our human creaturely experience and overlay that on God, but it is true that God designed some earthly relationships, like Husband & Wife or Parents & Children, to reflect heavenly reality. Our earthly relationships are shadows of spiritual realities. For example:

"Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Lk 11:11–13).

Now, when it comes to our relationship with God through Jesus Christ we have great confidence and encouragement, because although we have done many things to hurt and offend God, He has made a way to be reconciled. He is merciful and patient and kind. We have wonderful promises:

"Come near to God and he will come near to you... ...Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up" (Jas 4:8 & 10).

What does this have to do with Worship?

Well, when we gather as the church to worship, we are essentially having a public dialogue with God. He speaks to us, and we speak to Him. We ratify and build our relationship with God collectively as his people. Yet in doing so we are also confirmed and encouraged as individuals. He comes near to us as we come near to Him.

If you look at church services throughout history you will find some variation, but you will always find that orthodox churches will have some kind of pattern that involves God giving to his people, and them responding in worship and service.

Lets think about our own "standard" church service.

It starts with God speaking; a verse from God's word that tells us something about who He is, or why we worship him (sometimes called a Call to Worship). Then, the people respond to God by speaking in prayer, usually sung a praise. You see this pattern in many of the Psalms, e.g.:

"Let us come before him with thanksgiving 

     and extol him with music and song. 

For the LORD is the great God, 

     the great King above all gods" (Ps 95:2–3).

After this we will often be reminded of God's expectations of us, of His holiness and righteousness, then we will respond with confession recognising our failure. Then in response to our response we are reminded that we are forgiven by God because of the reconciliation of Jesus Christ.

It goes on, back and forth hearing from God, then he hears from us.

We read the scriptures, then we pray and sing. We hear from God in the preaching of his word, then we respond with our thankfulness and commitment in the songs and prayer. God communes with us in the Lord's Supper, where the elements communicate to us the sacrifice of Jesus, and we respond my taking, eating and proclaiming the Lord's death.

At the end we are sometimes reminded of what God has done and our commission as God's sanctified people (the benediction) then in response we fellowship as the church, then go out into the world, on the basis of that truth.

The dialogue takes different modes as outlined above. Sometimes it is reading, sometimes it is spontaneous speech, sometimes it is singing, sometimes it is being led in prayer by a leader. But throughout our gathered time it is an ongoing dialogue between God and his people.

Like earthly relationships, selfishness is a fast track to bring it to a swift end. If you come to God only for what you can get out of it, you'll be disappointed because you're coming serve yourself, not Him.

God has set the example in this by giving his only Son. He has given far more than we could ever give back. He pours out love and mercy and kindness on us in immense measures! We cannot hope to repay Him! He gives without any hope of being repaid in any meaningful way. He gives self-sacrificially. He gives for our benefit. And we respond by giving back to him, not out of expectation of gain, but out of love.

"We love because he first loved us" (1 Jn 4:19).

We don't come to worship because of what we can get out of it, yet amazingly, when we give up trying to gain for ourselves and give ourselves over to serve Him, we find that we gain everything that we need! It is part of the seemingly upside-down way of life for the Christian.

"For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." Mt 16:25.

As you walk into church this Sunday, I encourage you to consider it not as religious observance or ritual, but as God's people entering into a glorious discussion with God through Jesus Christ.

Samuel Lindsay