G.K. Chesterton, in his collection of essays entitled, “Heretics,” observed, “There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.”
By this, Chesterton meant that every subject contains within itself all sorts of fascinating diversions and truths. He further suggested, “We might, no doubt, find it a nuisance to count all the blades of grass or all the leaves of the trees; but this would not be because of our boldness or gaiety, but because of our lack of boldness and gaiety.” That is, the joyous person finds enjoyment or novelty in all things, whereas the very boredom of the bored person proves themselves prosaic; their lack of enjoyment in life stemming from their own lack of inward strength and vitality.
Whereas Chesterton was making general observations about mankind at large, we might note that there is a corresponding application to be made regarding the worship of the church.
There are those who delight in worship and find the whole of the affair spiritually uplifting. Worship for them is a rejuvenation of the soul and their heart thrills with a keen pleasure in the experience of giving to God, whilst at the same time being fed by God. They think upon the words of each hymn sung, searching those words for personal application and biblical precedent. They delight in the sound of uplifted voices joined together in congregational unity, finding within that moment a brief taste of the eternal home that awaits them. They meditate upon the words of the prayers as the congregation is joined together before the throne of God in praise, thanksgiving and the offering of petitions. They find the reading of God’s word to be a feast for the soul, and they ponder the words of each homily and meditation, measuring them against the truth of God’s word, using sound words to propel themselves to greater spiritual maturity and readiness. They somberly, but joyfully, partake of the communion, moved to both melancholy and gratitude as they remember the sacrifice of God’s own Son on their behalf.
Such a person, in contemplating worship, can say truthfully with the Psalmist of old, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’(Psalm 122:1; ESV),” and they understand, as Christ taught, how to worship in “Spirit and in truth (cf. John 4:24).” When such a one leaves the worship, they say truthfully, “It was good to have been there.”
There are yet others, however, for whom worship is a drudgery, and they seek ever to make worship more entertaining that they may be diverted from their boredom with the whole. They find no beauty in the singing. They have no interest in the prayers, except perhaps to notice whether or not the one praying misspeaks in some humorous way. As the word of God is opened in their presence, their mind drifts to other matters, perhaps business, perhaps sports, perhaps the menu awaiting later. They find no romanticism or spiritual communion in Lord’s table, seeing it only as a ritual demanded by the moment, but little more.
Such a one, prior to worship, no doubt contemplates whether there is some excuse they can make to avoid worship. They sit through the whole of the service counting the minutes until it is done, and after they do little more than complain about the sermon, the style of the prayers, and the fact that too many songs were sung.
Yet if one can find the worship uplifting, even as another finds it tedious, then the fault is not the worship itself, but rather it proves the axiom that for the spiritual all things involving God are spiritual. Or, as it is written, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14; ESV).” Worship thus becomes a test of our own spiritual maturity and strength. The man mindful of the things of God, delighting in the word of God and filled with a zeal for the things of God finds worship a blessing. The worldly man finds it a burden to be endured, akin to a curse. Where we individually stand in regards to the question is thus a legitimate matter for self-reflection as we contemplate how much of the world yet dwells within us as we, as Christians, seek to be pleasing to God.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.