Quiet Time & the Sunday Service

(originally published in HIS Magazine, June 1979)

Lying motionless, he looked at the man’s sandals. He closed his eyes knowing that even that was more than he wanted to see. Staring at his sandals might suddenly lead to a view of his face.  He couldn’t stand that again, not now.  Unable to escape, he could not control the terror rising within.  Finally, he formed his desperate words, the only ones which seemed suitable:  “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

The writhing mass of fish and the tearing nets jolted Peter into an awareness of the Source of Jesus’ advice. He responded in awed amazement (Lk. 5:1-11).  The disparity between the Supernaturalness of Jesus and his own impure, finite humanity drove him to the dank bottom of his fishing boat to express that strong mixture of awe and humility.

The Need for Worship

This appreciation of God’s majesty and “awe-fulness” escapes many modern believers.  Our activism obscures God’s nature.

“It is not a cheerful thought,” A. W. Tozer said in The Knowledge of the Holy, “that millions of us who live in a land of Bibles, who belong to churches and labor to promote the Christian religion, may yet pass our whole life on this earth without once having thought or tried to think seriously about the being of God.  We prefer to think where it will do more good – about how to build a better mousetrap, for instance” (p. 34).

It is, indeed, “not a cheerful thought” that many of us unconsciously measure spiritual maturity by the number of Christian meetings we attend or Bible chapters we study or tracts we distribute.  Time spent simply reflecting on one verse about God’s nature seems wasted, unproductive.  There are no tangible results to justify the practice to our pragmatic culture.

The current church renewal movement, in spite of its numerous positive contributions, has magnified the problem.  The needed emphases on evangelism, church growth, discipleship, and “body life” have generated no corresponding development of worship.  Activism increases while adoration decreases.

None of these activities is bad.  They are, rather, necessary for the health of the church.  But they must grow out of an appreciation of God’s character.  Peter’s realization of Jesus’ majesty was the beginning point of his service.  The Lord responded to him with, “From now on you will be catching men.”  Worship is the necessary starting point.  Understanding the character of God is the prerequisite for personal growth and ministry to others.

The Essence of Worship

To worship is to actively affirm God’s character and to acknowledge His unlimited worth.  In the presence of God’s majesty, we express our wonder through worship.  The inhabitants of Narnia, C. S. Lewis’s land of fantasy, expressed this awe concerning Aslan, the Great Lion:  “Of course he’s good, but he’s not safe. . . . He’s not a tame lion.”  In recognition of God’s “awe-full” character, worship is our unique response.  Only as we worship are we truly meeting God.  God’s nature allows no alternative.

Worship is not thanksgiving.  While closely related, the two are distinct.  Through worship we acknowledge who God is; by giving thanks we acknowledge what God does.  Since God’s actions express His character, both are important.  But worship is our primary response to God’s essential majesty.

This majesty drove Isaiah to respond like Peter. When he saw the Lord exalted in the temple, he gasped, “Woe is me, for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Is. 6:5).  The unveiling of God’s glorious nature transformed a routine temple service into an experience of dread and adoration.  This awe was Isaiah’s primary motivation to serve the Lord of hosts (v. 8).  If our activities are to be more than purely human efforts, this recognition and appreciation of God’s character must undergird everything we do.

Barriers to Worship

Worship is a natural response to God’s nature.  Several factors, however, hinder that response.  First, we have no model for worship in a democracy.  Our form of government strips our thinking of any concept of royal majesty.  Elected leaders rule by consent, not by inherent right, so we honor men because of their office, not because of their intrinsic worth.

As this frame of mind infiltrates our spiritual lives, God is reduced to a powerful ruler who is not particularly different from ourselves.  The awesome, holy king who has absolute authority over his subjects diminishes to an official who deserves only reasonable obedience.

A second barrier to worship among students is the academic environment of universities.  Chemistry and French and business administration courses indoctrinate the mind with an academic bias, and time spent with God can become a scholastic analysis of various biblical facts.  As J. I. Packer warns in Knowing God, “Doctrinal study really can become a danger to spiritual life” (p. 17).  The excitement of discovering a new point of doctrine too often replaces the enthusiasm of meeting the God of the universe.

Finally, worship can be an exciting experience. Meeting the living God deeply affects the whole person, including the emotions.  But don’t let worship be governed by the experience. Disappointment because of the absence of a particular feeling reveals an attitude bordering on idolatry.  Seeking an experience in worship elevates man above God; it diverts attention from His majesty to our internal response.  God desires and deserves Worship regardless of our emotions.

The Content of Worship

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!  Worthy art thou, Our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:8, 11).

This heavenly worship in Revelation 4 illustrates three aspects of the content of worship.

First, as the words “Holy, holy, holy” are repeated, God is worshiped for His attributes.  God’s holiness, His omnipotence, and His mercy deserve man’s worship.  Diligent Bible study, rather than a search for mere knowledge, should result in adoration.  As you discover attributes of God in His Word use each of these as a focus for worshiping Him.

Second, worship employs the names of God.  Scripture abounds with names of God, such as Almighty, I AM, the Lion of Judah, the Lamb, the LORD. Each name reflects a facet of God’s nature worthy of awe and adoration.  You might choose to use one name at a time or to list many names and use the list as a broad summary of who God is and why He deserves adoration.

Third, the heavenly worshipers praise God for creation, one of His works. This is more than thanksgiving for the work itself.  The emphasis is on the particular quality of God’s nature (creativity) that enabled Him to accomplish the work (creation).

God’s character is demonstrated through His works, both in the Bible and in your own life. Reflect on these works to discover what qualities of God’s character they reflect, and then honor Him for those qualities.

In using these guidelines for the content of your daily worship, be flexible. Nehemiah demonstrates a principle which is helpful in choosing worship’s content.  He was facing a situation which depended on one of God’s promises (Neh. 1:9).  His prayer (1:5) begins with adoration: “O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God who keeps covenant. . . .” He worshiped God for that one attribute (promise keeping) that was most needed in his current experience.  In your own Quiet Time relate your worship to your present circumstances.  Praising God everyday for the trees and the flowers can soon degenerate into meaningless formality.  Adoring God as the Provider when you are facing financial difficulties can add a new dimension to your Quiet Time.

The Form of Worship

In addition to flexibility of content, worship in your Quiet Time should be flexible in form. Remember that the goal is to express appreciation of God’s character, not to perform certain rituals.  The following suggestions are not magic formulas for worship, but they may be helpful as guidelines.

In The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence describes a helpful aid to worship: visualization. “Sometimes I considered myself before Him as a poor criminal at the feet of his judge; at other times I beheld Him in my heart as my Father.”  Such visualizing can help you understand God’s character in concrete terms.

Picturing yourself before God the King or the Holy One accents the majesty and perfection of His nature in contrast to your own.  Or visualize how one of God’s attributes, such as great patience or wisdom, is reflected in people you know.  As you consider how their lives express that attribute, expand the analogy to God’s perfect patience or wisdom.  Use your imagination to enrich your worship, but be sure you are worshiping God and not a mental image.

A natural way to express adoration is to sing. Try to have your Quiet Time, at least occasionally, in a place where you feel free to sing aloud. (Remember, the quality of the voice in personal worship is less important than the quality of the heart!) Unfortunately, most hymns and songs are about God instead of to God.  Changing pronouns – from “he” to “you,” for example – can transform a familiar hymn into an expression of love addressed directly to God.

You may also use songs or prayers directly from the Scriptures.  Memorizing a Psalm (Ps. 145, for example) can help you express your love to God as you use all or part of it in spontaneous praise.  Even simply addressing God by one of His many names can affirm His character.

Try to express these various forms of worship aloud. Speaking aloud to God will help make your worship specific, a necessary element if the relationship is to progress beyond a casual acquaintance.

Don’t limit the form of your worship, however, to visualizing, singing and praying Scripture.  Use your own creativity to discover ways to express adoration to our awesome God.  But remember these forms, like any activity which diverts attention from God, can become obstacles to worship.

Balanced Worship

As you use these suggestions for worship in your Quiet Time, beware of another danger. Personal worship is not complete worship.  David knew that personal worship necessarily creates a desire for corporate worship: “O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together!” (Ps. 34:3).

Genuine personal worship must lead to corporate worship.  Perhaps this is because no individual worshiper can provide a sufficient response to God’s majesty.  The fullness of God’s nature requires a response from the diversity of the body of Christ.  As individuals begin to appreciate God’s character in personal worship, they are driven to worship with the Community of believers.  Individual worship which does not lead to corporate worship is limited in its appreciation of the character of God.

In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned, “Let him who is not in community beware of being alone” (p. 77).  As worship becomes a regular part of your Quiet lime, join others in a local church to express the fullness of adoration as the Body of Christ.

Each believer must learn to appreciate God while alone, and bring that awe to the corporate assembly. Again Bonhoeffer’s admonition applies: “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community” (p. 77).  Without personal worship the individual becomes a spiritual parasite, completely dependent on the corporate worship for his appreciation of God’s majesty.  As the number of parasites increases, the living organism dies, and adoration of the Holy One shrivels to a formalized ritual.

The Christian life necessarily starts with worship, both the personal and corporate.  Use your Quiet Time as an opportunity to discover the character of God and to respond to Him in worship so that you can mingle your adoration with that of others together before the High King of heaven.

Copyright 2004 Michael Wiebe