It happens every Sunday: our worship leader, Marja, invites us to confess our sins in a manner so winsome and simple that the eight year old is encouraged to engage wholeheartedly, and a crusty old-timer like me cannot resist either.
We have unwittingly allowed her to coach us in one of the many spiritual disciplines that are embedded in worship: corporate confession. Through her two minutes of leading, Marja has followed Craig Dykstra’s three suggestions for learning spiritual disciplines: receive simple instruction, experience others practicing them, practice them ourselves.
And as we have followed her, we have quietly “caught Jesus.” After all, according to Paul, that’s what happens through our spiritual disciplines: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). Through a variety of disciplines such as singing, submitting to teaching and corporate confession, Jesus’ presence within and among us is strengthened.
I wonder if one of the most overlooked gifts we receive from the Lord through worship is that it involves a synergizing set of spiritual disciplines. In other words, one can identity quite a few different disciplines that are embedded in the act of worship, and the sum of these is greater than the individual parts.
Here’s how this synergy often works on my heart: before worship begins, I often feel somewhat scattered inside. The opening songs gather this scatteredness in two ways: they orient my heart towards the Lord of the universe, and they begin to align my heart with about 300 other hearts that are going through the same re-orientation process. And usually without my conscious awareness, I am practicing the spiritual disciplines required to give worship songs permission to work this double blessing within me.
This first discipline has set the stage for the second: entering into corporate confession. Its fruit of gentle repentance and peace-filled resting in the mystery of grace in turn prepares the way for the discipline of submitting to the Word read and proclaimed.
And so the liturgy continues. By the time we are driving home, our time of worship has included the following spiritual disciplines:
- Singing that orients the heart to the Lord and his people.
- Corporate confession that softens the heart for transformation.
- Submission to the Word to strengthens the spirit.
- Renewed awareness of and prayers for the gathered community.
- Renewed awareness of and prayers for many matters around the world.
- Capacity to receive blessings from words and music that originate from many different times and places.
- Financial giving that contributes to seeking first the kingdom.
- Capacity to receive the blessings from corporate worship in such a way that one lives as a blessing during the coming week.
- Giving and receiving words of encouragement in the fellowship hall after formal worship ends.
The list could continue, but you get the idea. Each discipline is a skill that one learns to do through countless gently guided repetitions. Each discipline bears fruit that both bears fruit in and of itself and prepares the ground for the other disciplines. Together they form a family that quietly catches Jesus.
Thank you, Marja, for coaching us so well.
Syd Hielema serves as the Team Leader for Discipleship and Faith Formation Ministries of the Christian Reformed denomination. Forty two years ago he began serving as a church organist, and since then he has continued to serve as a preacher, worship team leader, author of short liturgical dramas, writer, worship mentor for teen musicians, and professor of university level worship courses. His passion lies at the intersection of worship, discipleship, and faith formation.