If you ask any Christian about the practices that are most important for spiritual health and growth, almost all will put acts of worship at the top of the list. But why does worship “work” in this way? How does God renew us spiritually through acts of worship?
1. Worship renews us because we meet God in a focused way. Two friends can experience one another side-by-side as they work together and face-to-face as they focus on relating directly with each other. Worship is spiritually powerful because it is most like the direct and focused experience of friendship in face-to-face mode. As worship scholar Josef Jungmann puts it, worship is “the life of the church with her face toward God,” and thus James K. A. Smith describes the practices of Christian worship as “hot spots where God’s formative, illuminating presence is particularly intense.”
2. Worship renews us because it engages our whole person. When we worship, meeting God is never just a purely “inward” matter of our thoughts or feelings but rather a tangible encounter through our whole person. With our ears we hear God’s word, which instructs our minds and kindles our imagination with a vision of the world from God’s perspective. With our lips we sing God’s truth, which engages the mind and moves our heart. With our eyes we see God’s people and visual symbols in art and architecture, which makes God’s word and worship visible. With our bodies we move to stand and even raise our hands to pray, to offer our gifts to God, and to embrace and serve one another in greeting and communion, which rehearses patterns of honor and love that train us to respond rightly to God and each other. Thus, James K. A. Smith writes, “historic Christian worship is fundamentally formative because it educates our hearts through our bodies (which in turn renews our mind).”
3. Worship renews us because we learn the practices of the whole Christian way of life in God’s kingdom. In worship, God engages our whole person in order to orient our whole life rightly toward him. Good coaches or teachers recognize that we need a lot of practice in order to play well; indeed, we will only play as well as we practice. Musicians play scales and athletes field grounders or shoot jumpshots over and over so that they will be prepared to act skillfully in a performance or game. Likewise in worship God trains us to live all of life according to his story by engaging over and over in the practices that embody his love and truth in action. In worship, we train to become a people who answer God’s call, repent and confess our sins, listen to God’s instruction, welcome one another with the love of Christ, offer ourselves and all our gifts to the Lord as faithful stewards, give thanks in all circumstances, pray for others, and receive and give God’s hospitality at his table. In other words, in worship we practice the habits that will enable us to live according to the gospel of God’s kingdom all the time in every situation.