The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks (John 4:23).
If you could make one change in your life, what would it be? A lot of people start a new year with resolutions. Some want to stop smoking, some want to start dieting, others have a different resolution. What about you? What's the most important change you'd like to make? Let me suggest a resolution that ought to be number one on anybody's listto become a better worshiper.
A year from now, will you know God better, love him more deeply, and honor him more fully than you do now? Or will your relationship to God be no better a year in the future than it is right now?
I don't know how often you think about God or reflect on what sort of worshiper you are, but God certainly thinks about you and what sort of worshiper he calls you to be. Jesus says, "The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks" (John 4:23). There's no question that God is seeking worshipers. The question is, are you seeking God? Is your top goal to become more spiritual and knowledgeable so that you are more able to worship God "in spirit and truth"? If you want to have a flourishing relationship with God and become a better worshiper, you need a pattern of daily worship.
Maybe you have no idea what daily worship involves. It's never been part of your life, and nobody has ever explained it to you or modeled it for you. Perhaps it will help if I describe my own involvement in daily worship.
When I was growing up, my parents led us in daily family worship. Before breakfast, my father or mother would say a prayer of thanks. After breakfast, they would read from the Bible, read a brief meditation on the Bible passage, and close with prayer. This time of family Bible reading and prayer was a top priority in our family. Sometimes we were running a bit late in the morning and thought the school bus might come before we finished breakfast. So did we skip Bible reading and prayer? No, if we were running late, my parents would read the Bible before breakfast instead of after. Then, if we saw the bus coming while we were in the middle of eating our breakfast, we could grab something from the table and eat it on the way to school, or simply skip part of our breakfast. My parents would rather have us miss breakfast than miss family worship.
At the evening meal, we would again bow together in prayer before eating. After the meal, we would read from the Bible, perhaps read an explanation of the Bible passage from a devotional book and close with prayer. This morning and evening pattern of family worship didn't really add up to all that much time: about five minutes in the morning and another five minutes or so at night. It didn't usually produce a stunning emotional experience. It was just a simple, quiet time to hear God speak in Scripture and to speak to him in prayer. But starting and ending the day that way set a spiritual tone for everything else. Also, over the years, it helped us gain a wealth of Bible knowledge that no school or seminary could teach as effectively.
As a boy growing up with parents who worshiped God in spirit and in truth, I learned daily family worship, and I also learned daily personal worship. One thing that taught me personal worship was my parents' example. They never made a show of their own personal time with God, but sometimes when I got up early, I would see my dad kneeling by himself in prayer before he wakened the rest of the household. My mom, too, was a person of prayer and Scripture. Following their lead, I began to pray personally myself as a young boy, usually at bedtime. When I was old enough to read fairly well, my parents gave me a Bible of my own, and I would spend a few minutes each night reading the Bible by myself.
I don't come from a family of preachers or Bible scholars. I come from a farming and ranching familyordinary folks with work to do and challenges to face. My parents and our family were not perfect by any means. We sometimes argued, got on each other's nerves, and made wrong choices. Still, we loved each other and knew that God was at the center of our home. Even now, when we visit my parents or my wife's parents, we know we'll have daily worship with them.
Where did my parents get their pattern of family worship and personal worship? They didn't dream it up on their own. They got the pattern from their parentsmy grandparents. Both of my parents grew up with daily family worship and with parents who not only led their children in worship, but also spent time alone in personal, secret worship.
Now that I have a family of my own, my wife and children and I have breakfast together, followed by Bible reading and prayer. We also have our evening meal together, followed by Bible reading, discussion, and prayer. The pattern we follow is similar to what I grew up with, with some small variations. In my home, we often have a prayer time together when every member of the familynot just a dad or mom, but each of the children as wellsays a prayer. We usually sing a song of praise together as well. But the essential pattern is the same as I learned as a boy: we take time each day to listen to God and talk to him as a family, and we also have our own personal worship time.
By offering my own personal and family pattern, I want to give you a glimpse of daily worship and to help you to build such a pattern into your own life. I have a long way to go in getting to know God better and worshiping him as he deserves. But I can honestly say that daily worship, as a family and as an individual, is vital to honoring God and growing in faith. If you want to know God better, love him more deeply, and honor him more fully throughout this year and always, make a commitment to talk and listen to him repeatedly through daily worship.
Every healthy relationship involves talking and listening repeatedly, and your relationship with God is no exception. If you don't talk to him and listen to him every day, your relationship to him is not going to grow. But if you make time every day to listen to what God tells you in the Bible and to tell him what's on your heart through prayer and worship, you have good reason to expect that your relationship with God will advance well beyond what it is now. Don't settle for anything less than worshiping God daily in your own home, in spirit and in truth.
Maybe daily worship sounds like too much to expect. You may think going to church once a week is doable, but daily worship is impossible. You've got too many other things to do. There's no way you can make personal worship a daily part of your life. There's no way you can get your whole family together daily for a meal, let alone for a time of worship together. Besides, why read the Bible every day? Why pray so often? A little religion may be okay, but you don't want to overdo it. What's wrong with weekly worship in a church?
At least two things are wrong with neglecting daily worship and settling for weekly worship in a church. First, if that's the only time you worship, it's a sign that something is very wrong with your relationship to God. Second, if churches are made up mainly of people who only attend weekly services, but don't worship daily at home, the church gatherings become spiritually hollow.
Let's begin with the first problem. Neglect of daily worship in the home is a sign that you are at best spiritually sick and at worst spiritually dead. You might have some sort of religion, but you don't have a vibrant relationship with the living God. You might get an emotional boost once in a while at church, but you don't go through life with a sense that God is always with you, directing you, correcting you, encouraging you, communicating with you. You don't worship in spirit and in truth. How can you worship in spirit, when you'd rather ignore God most of the week? How can you worship in truth, when you seldom listen to God and don't know who he is or what he says in the Bible? If you really know and love him, worship is a vital part of your everyday life. It is disastrous when your only time for worship is in church.
The disaster multiplies when churches pander to spiritually sick or dead churchgoers who neglect daily worship at home and are interested only in a weekly event at church. That's the second major problem with having weekly worship only: the weekly worship itself goes downhill. Churches start aiming for the lowest common denominator. They aim less at bringing committed worshipers together in praise of God and more at providing an event for people who prefer entertainment to worship.
Some churches claim to be "seeker oriented." By this they usually mean that they are trying to connect with people who haven't yet found a church to belong to. That can be a good thing, but churches must not forget the greatest Seeker of all. According to Jesus, God himself is a Seekerthe Lord is seeking true worshipers who worship the Lord in spirit and in truth. If too many people are interested only in getting their weekly fix from church, rather than becoming daily worshipers of God in their homes, and if churches design their services to attract these people and meet their preferences, such churches will not cultivate the kind of worshipers the Father seeksthe kind whose hearts are filled with his Spirit and whose minds are gripped by his truth. Church services become performances to please the people, not worship gatherings to honor God. Churches like this may be packed on Sundays, but they are hollow. They may be full of people, but they are empty of real worshipers.
A British visitor to North America was asked to give his opinion of the churches in the United States and Canada. He replied that many churches in North America are rich, well attended, well organized, and efficient. But it all reminded him of England in the late 1800s, when successful churches served "as a cushion against the hard impact of the living God." He said, "It seems to me, the cushion of religious efficiency and prosperity is still doing its comfortable, but fatal, work." These remarks were made back in the 1940s, but they ring more true today than ever. In 1949, Peter Eldersveld, the Back to God Hour speaker at the time, reported the British visitor's comments. Peter Eldersveld then observed,
It is truly amazing that with all our religion and our long history of religious teaching and preaching, we have drifted so far from the true God. Indeed, as our critic says, we have a religion that is a "cushion against the hard impact of the living God." You know it is a bad thing to have religion if it is the wrong kind. We have come so close to God, or so it appears, and yet we have missed him completely, simply because we have rejected, ignored, or failed to perceive the greatest revelation of him.... We have missed God because we have not seen Jesus.
Ten years after making those remarks, Peter Eldersveld commented in 1959 on what he called "a typically modern standard of what constitutes success, measuring everything in terms of mere numbersalways counting instead of weighing." That's more common today than ever: "always counting instead of weighing."
It's easy for churches to keep statistics on how many members there are, how many attend on an average Sunday, how many new people have been added, how much money is being donated, and so forth. Counting is common; weighing is less common. Who weighs whether the people are growing closer to God and more like Christ? Who weighs whether their marriages are stronger and their souls sturdier? Who weighs growth in biblical knowledge and holy living? The result of "always counting instead of weighing" is hollow churches made up of people who are spiritually weightless.
An African pastor tells me that many millions of people in his country are considered Christians. But this man of God does not just count; he weighs. He sadly observes that many so-called Christians know little of God's Word and do not live holy lives. How much of the problem is due to a lack of daily worship at home?
In Britain and Western Europe, throngs of people once attended churches, but today the churches are mostly empty. Some of the fancier church buildings have become museums. Others have been demolished. Meanwhile, in Canada and the United States, many churches are still prosperous and well-attendedmuch as the churches of Europe once were. But if we weighed North American churchgoers instead of merely counting, what would we find?
A friend from Europe told me that she wonders whether the well-attended churches of North America are any more devoted to God than the empty churches of Europe. If these busy, successful North American churches didn't offer bands, bingo, bowling clubs, dieting groups, aerobic fitness programs, and countless other activities for religious consumers, said my friendif they offered only the Word of God and the worship of God without lots of extras to draw a crowdthese churches might be as empty as those in Europe.
I don't know if she's right about that, but she makes me wonder. Are many of our busy, bustling churches less healthy than they appear? How many churches are outwardly successful but inwardly bankrupt? How much spiritual substance is there? If the substance is lacking, it may be just a matter of time until the numbers go down as well. If many churches of Europe were full not so long ago, but now stand empty, will churches in North America go the same way? How long can custom, entertainment, and activities keep people going to church if they are not seeking God or finding him there?
In a healthy church, the weekly worship is a time for people who have already been walking with God in daily worship to join others and worship God together. Such worshipers won't go for gimmicks that substitute for really worshiping in spirit. They won't go for preachers who offer shallow salesmanship rather than proclaiming God's truth. The Bible endorses people of noble character who listen attentively to the preacher but also examine the Scriptures every day to make sure of the truth (Acts 17:11). But when daily worship at home is not a reality for churchgoers, weekly worship at church is soon changed and compromised.
What about you? Are you the kind of worshiper the Father seeks? Or are you just a weekly churchgoer who adds to the Sunday morning numbers without adding any real weight? Or do you not go to church at all? That's what often happens when there's no home worship. Eventually church worship vanishes as well. Even if you do keep going to church yourself, your children or grandchildren will stop attending, because they will view worship as just a hollow, once-a-week thing, not daily, spirit-and-truth reality.
A pastor friend of mine, Henry Reyenga, compares worship to baseball. Attending major league baseball games used to be a favorite pastime for many Americans, but these days fewer kids are eager to watch a baseball game. Why? Because they don't play the game themselves. More kids play soccer or some other sport instead, so they have less interest in baseball than their parents had. Once kids stop playing the game in their own day-to-day lives, it's only a matter of time until fewer of them show up for the big events at the stadiums. Likewise, as fewer people worship God in their homes and their day-to-day lives, it's only a matter of time until they or their children lose interest in the big public gatherings in church on Sundays. Now, if kids don't play baseball and stadium attendance declines, it's no great tragedy. But if daily worship declines and Sunday services eventually go down, it is an enormous tragedy. We deprive ourselves of a rich relationship with God, and we deprive God of the worship he deserves.
Some parents and churches are alarmed that their children might lose interest in church. Churches may respond by fine-tuning their Sunday school programs, hiring youth pastors, and redesigning worship services to appeal to the next generation. But, for the most part, this is doomed to fail. If those young people are not involved in daily worship at home, they simply won't have a daily, meaningful walk with Christ. Their religion will be hollow or they will eventually drop out of church entirely, no matter what the church does. But if their parents and their church teach them the practice of daily worship, these young people will focus on the living God, not on finding church events that pander to adolescent tastes.
Back when churches first began to have Sunday schools, they were aimed only at children whose parents weren't Christians. But after a while, churchgoing parents started depending on Sunday schools too, thinking it was the church's job, not the parents' job, to teach their children the ways of the Lord. Instead of having a daily time of worship with their own families in their own homes, kids were given a weekly dose of a prepackaged Sunday school curriculum. Is it any wonder that it's hard to keep such kids interested in God and eager to become more like Jesus?
Don't count on church services or youth programs to fill the spiritual void in your personal or family life. If you long for yourself and your children to know God better, then begin at home. Start having a time of worship each day, by yourself and as a family. If you need help getting started, you can get the daily devotional booklet, TODAY, at no cost from the Back to God Hour [at the address below].
When Jesus called his first disciples, he said simply, "Follow me." He invited them to get to know him by spending time with him, talking and listening to him. That's what Jesus is calling you to do right now. Follow him. Walk with him. Spend time with him each day. Make the Lord the number one priority in your schedule. Nothing else can match the impact of a daily walk with Christ, and nothing is more basic to building a relationship with him and honoring him. So get started today!
The author is the radio minister for the Back to God Hour, which broadcast this message on January 7, 2001. © The Back to God Hour of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, 6555 West College Dr., Palos Heights, IL 60463. Used with permission. Reprinted from New Horizons, July 2002.