Called to Worship: Giving God the First Word
These short essays by Covenant Seminary president Bryan Chapell and worship pastor Ron Man explain that worship always begins with God’s initiative and summons to us, and they draw out the implications of that gospel insight for the way we enter into corporate worship.
Liturgy Literacy at Central
Q: Why do we have a call to worship at the beginning of the service in which “God calls us to worship”?
A: When the church gathers for corporate worship, we do not call God to come to be with us. Rather, we gather because God summons us to come to him (e.g. Leviticus 9:1-6; Psalm 95:1–3; 98:1–4; 100:1–4). God’s initiative in the liturgy reflects the consistent pattern of God’s actions in history: God always takes the initiative to pursue and to save sinful and broken people and to make us participants in his mission to the world. Therefore, the first major action in the liturgy is God’s call for us to come and to respond to the uniquely powerful and clear way that God reveals himself to us and gives himself to us in the worship service. When we hear the call to worship, we ought to be attentive and respond with faith, love, and joy because it is God himself who summons us to receive him and his gifts of grace.
Q: Why do we sing songs of praise following the call to worship?
A: God calls us to worship in order to bless us, and thankful praise is the most fitting way that God’s people respond to their Father and King when he invites them to share an audience with him. In the Old Testament, when God’s people gathered at the Temple to draw near to God in corporate worship, they entered into God’s special presence with singing. For example, Psalms 120-134 were psalms of “ascent,” which the people sang as they went up to worship God on Mount Zion, the mountain where the Temple stood (see also Ps. 95:1-2, and Isa. 35:10). It is fitting that Christians continue to enter his presence with vigorous songs of praise and thanksgiving (Ps. 100:2, 4) because the Christian church is now God’s temple, the place where God’s special presence, grace, and glory are revealed and experienced by his people (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:5; see also Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 for commands to sing together). The opening song is usually a general hymn of praise and thanksgiving that focuses upon God’s nature and character as revealed in his mighty works of creating the world and delivering the world from sin and death. Our opening song is God-centered in this way because his works of creation and salvation are the foundation of the church’s covenant relationship with him and thus the very reason that we gather for corporate worship.
Q: After the opening song of praise, why do we “pray for God to help us worship”?
A: In this prayer, we are not calling upon God to be present with us because he has already called us. Rather, this prayer acknowledges that we can only respond to God from the depths of our heart and soul if he is present within and among us to give us the desire and the power to do so. Therefore, it is fitting at the beginning of the worship service to ask the Lord to give us the ability to respond to him by the supernatural power of his Holy Spirit with faith, hope, and love and with all our mind and strength (John 14-17; Rom. 8:1-11; Gal. 5:16-26; 1 Cor. 2:1-16; Eph. 1:13-21). When we realize the role of the Holy Spirit in helping us to worship God as we were created to do, we understand that in corporate worship we participate in the very life and communion of the Trinity. We worship God the Father only through God the Son (Jesus) by the power of God the Holy Spirit in us, who brings us into a living union and relationship with Christ our High Priest as he leads us in worship before the heavenly throne of God (Heb. 4:14-16, 7:1-10:25).
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