Most of us do not associate corporate worship with the word discipline. Perhaps this is because we view discipline as something that starts with our resolve, and we know that worship starts with God’s revelation. God reveals Himself to us, and we can’t help but respond to Him, right? So how could we say that corporate worship is a discipline? Let’s start by defining the phrase, “spiritual discipline.”
What is a spiritual discipline?
The key text for defining spiritual disciplines is 1 Timothy 4:7, which says, ” … discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness … ” (NASB).
First, this verse shows us that Christian discipline doesn’t start with our resolve, but rather it starts with a command in Scripture. The spiritual disciplines are God’s idea, not ours.
Second, we see what sets Christian spiritual disciplines apart from worldly disciplines. As Christians, we discipline ourselves “for the purpose of godliness.” We don’t discipline ourselves for the purpose of financial gain, power, control, or fame, but so we can look more like Jesus. Here’s how Donald Whitney puts it:
“The Spiritual Disciplines are those practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are the habits of devotion and experiential Christianity that have been practiced by the people of God since biblical times” (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, page 4).
In other words, if it’s not mentioned in the Bible as a means for godliness, then it’s not a spiritual discipline. Hiking, gardening, and cooking are all wonderful, but they are not included in the Bible as a means for godliness. You can, however, become godly through hiking if you pray while you hike, because prayer is one of the disciplines we find in Scripture.
With this in mind, we must conclude that corporate worship is indeed a spiritual discipline, as it is mentioned in God’s Word several times as a means for godliness. So how do we put this into practice?
How do we practice corporate worship as a spiritual discipline?
Here are just a few ways that the Bible encourages us to discipline ourselves “for the purpose of godliness” in a corporate worship setting:
Hebrews 10:25 warns us against “neglecting to meet together” (ESV). A pastor friend of mine, Nathan Lino, says that members of his church are expected to attend corporate worship services every Sunday that they wake up “in town” and “healthy.” I think those are good parameters for obeying Hebrews 10:25 in a local church context. Nathan’s church is in northeast Houston and even held their regular corporate worship services during the initial storms of Hurricane Harvey.
The most reiterated command in the Bible is to sing. We are not commanded to do so when we feel like it or if we are musically inclined. We are simply commanded to open our mouths and sing. Just look at Psalm 47:6, “Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King sing praises!” (ESV).
All throughout Scripture, we find physical expressions of worship—bowing (Psalm 95:6), clapping (Psalm 47:1), dancing (Psalm 149:3), and lifting hands (Lamentations 2:19), just to name a few. I lead three services every Sunday at The Austin Stone North Campus. My emotions can vary from 9:15am to 11:15am to 4pm, but at every service, I posture myself in worship before God.
If we don’t feel like showing up or singing or posturing ourselves before God, we are still called to meet together with other believers and worship Him. As we do, we must beg God to capture our affections. Lamentations 3:40-41 says, “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord! Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven” (ESV). Sometimes I will lift my hands as if to say, “Here’s my heart Lord, engage it!” For worship to truly honor God, it must be in line with the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-38). We must worship God with our hearts.
Think about God
The heart and mind are connected. If we are struggling to engage emotionally, we should dwell on the goodness of our God. We should think deeply about who He is and what He has done. If we truly worship God with our minds, our hearts will follow. Jesus tells us to worship God in truth (John 4:23), and we can’t worship God in truth if we are thinking about where to go for lunch after the service. Don’t get me wrong, we can praise God for good food, but we can’t rightly worship Him through song if we are thinking about lunch instead of the truth we’re singing.
Prepare for the next gathering
When the service ends, our worship of God should not. In the Bible, Jesus worshiped in the synagogue (Luke 4:16) and with the disciples (Matthew 26:30), but He also withdrew to spend private time with the Father (Matthew 5:16). We should do the same. The more time we spend in private worship throughout the week, the more robust our corporate worship experience will be on Sunday.
God tells us to gather, posture ourselves before Him, sing, and worship Him with our hearts and minds. So as we prepare to gather with the church this Sunday, may it be our aim to practice the spiritual discipline of corporate worship for the purpose of godliness.