Recently I was asked about the worship at Redlands, the Presbyterian church I pastor. "What's with all the responsive readings and prayer recitations? I thought we were Protestants." I knew what he was getting at. The order of worship seemed a little too ordered. It seemed like we were just going through the motions (though as Presbyterians we really don't do any "motions"). I reminded him that we do want to avoid being rote, but there is nothing wrong with routine. This reminded me of a recent blog post by John Haralson. He explains their practice at Grace Seattle:
We follow an ancient liturgical pattern in our worship, drawing from the wisdom of Christians who have gone before us. Every Sunday we renew our commitment to God, offer him our prayers and gifts, confess our sins, receive forgiveness, hear from God’s word, and celebrate the Lord’s Supper together.
In other words, not much changes from week to week. Sure, we sing different songs, pray slightly different prayers and hear from different parts of God’s word, but the weekly pattern is the same.
In a culture obsessed with the novel and unique, we should ask a very important question: What is the wisdom in this?
God generally doesn’t work through seismic spiritual events in our lives. True, most of us can look back to significant turning points in our lives that were profound and maybe even “out of body”. But the vast majority of the growth God brings is the result of slow, plodding work.
Think about the Bible’s dominant metaphor for spiritual growth—it is the growth of fruit. When you grow fruit, you don’t just plant some seeds and expect immediate results. No, you plant seeds and then you do a lot of the same things—watering, fertilizing, pruning—over, and over, and over again. Then you will have fruit. French winemakers are said to not really take a grapevine seriously until it is at least 20 years old. I think we need that kind of perspective when we think about growing as disciples.
By worshiping liturgically, we are doing the same things over, and over, and over again. We do this with the belief that, over time, God will bless these practices with fruit in our lives. Sure, there will be some seismic moments of profound change. But, for most of us most of the time, change will happen in a much more deliberate fashion.
And how does this spiritual growth manifest itself? It manifests itself when we actually “become the liturgy”. It happens when our liturgical actions—like responding to God’s word, confessing our sins, praising God for his goodness, pouring out our sorrows at his feet—become second nature to us.
Think about our liturgy and the actions we practice. Every week, we confess our sins. We confess our sins on Sunday morning because we want confessing our sins to become second nature on Thursday afternoon. We sing our praises to God on Sunday morning so we can learn how to instinctively praise him on Friday nights. We pour out our hearts in prayer to God on Sunday morning so that we can turn toward him in prayer when our lives fall apart on Wednesday.
Is it the sexiest way to worship? Not by a long shot. However, worshiping in this way helps us be shaped and formed by a God who grows his people slowly and steadily.