Biblical worship requires relationships that have both vertical and horizontal dimensions.
Worship begins with God, and God invites a response from us. Without a vertical dimension to worship, worship doesn’t happen.
Remember God initiates relationship with us. Numerous examples abound. God came down to walk with Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis 3). The LORD initiated covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12 and 15). God gave Isaiah a vision of his holy splendor in heaven (Isaiah 6). The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1).
Because God initiates relationship (and by extension worship), then our worship activities build upon the relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ. In doctrinal terms, relational worship relies upon our union with Christ.
Because worship is vertical, proper worship depends upon a proper perspective of God and a proper relationship with God.
In his classic work The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer affirms:
The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy.
What we think about God forms the foundation for our worship of God. Tozer continues:
A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse. I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy.
Tozer underscores the necessity of making sure our view of God is true and accurate. In order for our perspective on God to be true, relational worship must be based upon Scripture. Scriptural Worship will be a subsequent post, but it is important that we grasp here that worship being relational depends upon a correct view of God.
In making sure the vertical dimension of worship is right, we should regularly seek God’s forgiveness. What keeps us from worshiping in a manner pleasing to God is our sinfulness.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.1 John 1:5-10
Relational worship not only contains a vertical dimension, but also a horizontal dimension. Because congregational (gathered) worship is so vital for God’s people, we must also be aware that our relationships with others (horizontal dimension) affect our worship of God (vertical dimension).
Jesus addressed this very concept in his Sermon on the Mount.
22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.Matthew 5:22-24
The context for Jesus addressing anger is worship, “offering your gift at the altar.” Jesus expects that his followers will seek reconciliation with one another before continuing the worship of God.
Paul echoes Christ’s sentiment as he closed his second letter to the Church at Corinth.
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.2 Corinthians 13:11
So, how do we practice and apply this worship value?
- Before entering gathered worship, confess sins and ready your heart to focus on God. In recognizing the vertical dimension of worship, thank and praise God for initiating relationship with us. We must ever be grateful that God would invite us to worship. Our thanksgiving and praise directed upward to God should help us to see our sinfulness and lead us to confession and repentance.
- Before entering gathered worship, seek peace and reconciliation with others. Unreconciled relationships present one of the most harmful realities to gathered worship. As much as depends on you, pursue peace with one another. Forgive others quickly. Make things right if there is something wrong. I realize that reconciliation is a two-way responsibility. And some do not want to be reconciled. But as much as depends upon you, seek reconciliation. This is the lesson Jesus teaches in Matthew 5. It is vital for our worship to be relational and meaningful.
- When worshiping, realize that both vertical and horizontal dimensions are at work. We sing praises to and about God, but we also address one another (Ephesians 5:18-21). Our praise and testimony in song is to exalt God deservedly and to encourage and strengthen one another helpfully. One of my favorite expressions of this has been how encouraging congregational singing has been to me from our worshipers at Wilkesboro Baptist Church.
This week when you gather for worship, look up. Worship is from, about, and to God. Also, look around. Our gathered worship is to encourage our fellow believers.