Working through John Owen’s Thinking Spiritually in a men’s study, I was encouraged by a few thoughts. I hope you find them helpful as well.
“I have never known a believer to prosper spiritually who neglected public worship.”
- John Owen, Thinking Spiritually
Why and how does a believer in Jesus Christ prosper spiritually because of participation in public worship?
1. Public worship consists of all of the means of God’s grace. Throughout the week the Christian should experience droplets of grace through the given various means. Bible reading, prayer, listening and singing hymns, and spiritual conversations with others should be scattered Monday through Saturday. But public worship on Sunday provides a waterfall of His grace. Not only does the believer participate in the grace smattered here and there, but a great deluge should flood the heart during worship.
In addition to private Bible reading and prayer, the attendee receives teaching and preaching which both declares the truth of the Bible and applies that same truth in a corporate setting where all hear and are called to respond together. Prayers are prayed for the whole gathering. Gifts are extended to benefit the whole through corporate singing, instrumentation, giving, and service to one another. The grace of fellowship is magnified in corporate worship as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ visit with one another. The opportunity is there for deep conversation and to be challenged toward hospitality one to another. The sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and baptism are only present (or should be only present) during corporate worship. Together we witness the remembrance of Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection and share in the cup and broken bread together in union with Christ and in unity with each other. As a person is baptized (whether adult or child) we are encouraged to reflect on our own baptism . . . how we have been washed clean and renewed by the Spirit on the initiation and power of Christ alone. Rather than singing alone, we lift our voices together with others harmonizing in joyful noise. We are singing God’s truth to one another, for one another, and to be heard by one another and to hear God speak.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).
2. A person just going through the motions of worship having no desire for a growing faith, or a stirred love, or new found joy will not be encouraged by worship. It will be dull no matter how well delivered. On the other hand, a person expecting to be encouraged will be so no matter how poorly presented if the gospel is present. Because the believer finds their faith, love, and joy in God, worship encourages them. It is a new and regained strength for them. They desire to go into the house of the Lord because they know good things reside there. They seek out the pearl of great price and find it even in the darkest waters and deepest muck.
“I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD!" (Ps. 122:1).
3. There is increased delight when a believer enters worship and receives the means of God’s grace expectantly. God’s Word does not go out to return void. It hits its mark on the believer’s heart and produces new graces. Sins are exposed, grace poured in, and the believer sees Christ’s righteousness on their behalf again and again to restore them in their greatest joy.
“God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
4. Believers can also delight in worship because they know that it glorifies God. The Christian’s highest end is to make more of God than anything else in the universe. Christians are to have no other god before the one true God. He is their life-breath and their sustenance and they acknowledge such through worship. Worship that goes through the motions but has no heart engagement is detestable. It’s feigned worship. It’s a lie. It says, “Look at me,” rather than looking to Christ.
“I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart” (Jer. 24:7).
5. Corporate worship can turn a cold heart warm. The obedience of attending corporate worship (though the heart may be stale and a mere going through the motions) can find that Christ meets them there and changes their entire disposition. How many times have we entered worship unfit in heart and mind and found ourselves fitted with grace that comes from the truth of Christ for us?
“Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call” (Ps. 102:2)!