Tuesday, September 1, 2009


God-Centered Worship

One pitfall of writing (or blogging) is that a rhetorical point can get lost in translation.  Such seems to have been the case with my previous post, in which I sought to stir up our thinking about worship by poking some holes in the common practice of taking prayer requests before engaging in corporate prayer. As is often the case with such things, those closest to me (who've had the chance to hear my thoughts at length on this topic) responded favorably, while those without the benefit of my context were compelled to supply their own.  So, this seems like a good time to clarify a few things:

First, several things I am not saying:
  1. I am not saying we should never pray for our needs and desires.
  2. I am not saying we should never pray for each other.
  3. I am not saying we should never ask how we may pray for one another.
  4. I am not saying we should never ask for prayer requests during a worship service or prayer meeting.
What I am trying to get across is that the idea of "prayer requests" has become habitual in the church, to the extent that it has crowded out the other important aspects of prayer:  praise, thanksgiving, confession, etc.  Corporate prayer has often devolved into long lists of petitions for the meeting of worldly needs, with occasional head-nods in the direction of the rest.  This takes place in worship services, but also in prayer meetings. 

The point is this:  Worship has intrinsic value, which is often lost in the context of our methods.  For example:
  • Music is chosen with a mind to entertain. 
  • Sermons are constructed with a mind to provide tips for "victorious Christian living."
  • Services are geared primarily to bring people forward at the altar call.
  • Events are planned for maximum turnout.
  • ... and prayer is structured around requests.
The theme is that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with being entertained, or living successful lives, or (of course) making public decisions, or having great turnout.  There is certainly nothing intrinsically wrong with praying for our needs or those of others.  The issue is identifying how corporate worship can get lost in the noise. By the time we're done, what's left of our "worship" is that activity that occurs between the first and last praise song during the "worship time" of the weekly service ... and even that may be undercut by the temptation to entertain or be entertained.

So, to return to the original point:  we need to be wary about how our "prayer-request culture" has contributed to a devaluing of worship for its own sake.
Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain. (Psalm 48:1)


  1. There is so much debate about church and how to do church these days. Much of the debate is very self centered. What can we do on Sunday morning to please me? Whether it is prayer request that draw unnecessary attention to the requester or the demand to have just the right type of music.

    It is very important to take self out of the picture and focus on the King.

  2. Years ago, I spent a couple of weeks on business in a small city to the north of Stockholm and, when Sunday came, the issue of where to worship came with it. There was no service in English nearby, and I had no car, so I ended up worshipping with some Swedish saints at one of their churches. Before and after the service, communication was no problem, since English is the official second language in Sweden, and they were even gracious enough to acknowledge my presence briefly in English during the service, but the rest was in Swedish, of which I have none.

    A circumstance like this clarifies some issues: I recognized some hymn tunes and that was pleasant, but the experience wouldn't have been memorable for that alone. What made it memorable was the fact that I knew that by participating in faith in a public worship service, I and the other saints there were the recipients of the awesome privilege of being invited into the very throne-room of God, and this by virtue of Christ's blood and righteousness. So it was an infinitely precious privilege, even though almost nothing of what we're often tempted to think we "need in worship" was there for me that day.

    Of course, it's the Lord's will that His saints should be fed in worship, and especially by preaching, and it is true that 1 Corinthians 14:22 makes it clear that being condemned never to understand is "a sign to unbelievers", but, still, I think that the circumstance I was in that day is worth considering. A one-day test to see whether our attitude toward worship is that of Psalm 89:3, that a sparrow privileged to make her nest near the Lord's alter is truly blessed.


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