But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” – John 4:23-24 (NLT)
Our worship at Woodbury UMC is to honor, praise and express our love for God. It is the number one ministry priority for our church. We want our weekend worship to be a meaningful event of each person’s week, a place for seekers to find God.
Our first act of worship is gathering together. Simply by gathering, we’re showing that God has worth. Where two or three are gathered in his name, he will be present. When we gather, we gather in the presence of God.
In our worship services, we want God to be present. We specifically ask him to be present. He promises to be present. And if we are sincere about this, we should expect him to be present. And when we sing in God’s presence, we are singing to him. It’s not just a song about God — it is a song to God. These are words spoken to him. Like many of the psalms, the hymns we sing are often prayers set to music. He is the audience; we are the participants.
Our music comes in a wide variety. Some songs express positive emotions, such as adoration, praise, thanksgiving, confidence, faith, joy or excitement. We should always be happy that God is in our life. Even when we have trials, we are to rejoice. The psalms tell us to come before him and rejoice, to praise the Lord, to sing a new song unto the Lord. Praise him in the heights. Praise him, praise him, praise him. Our joy in him should spill over into praises. Praise dominates our worship.
But joy is not the only legitimate emotion we can have with God. The psalms also have prayers of confession and supplication. Some of our hymns are more meditative than celebration. Some ask questions, some express sorrow, or anguish or fear. These are legitimate emotions we can sing about.
Our worship services usually contain several prayers. They include praise, usually a request, sometimes a confession. When someone near the beginning of services asks God to be in the service, to inspire the service, this is something we all want. We join in the prayer not as an audience, but as participants. When we say "amen," we are saying, That’s my prayer, too. I want God to be here, too.
When we express our dependence on God, when we give all our requests to him, it shows his worth. When we want to be in his presence, it shows that he is good. When we confess our sins to him, it shows his greatness. When we give him thanks and praise, it exalts him and glorifies him. We worship when we participate in the prayers.
A fourth major part of our worship service is the sermon. The sermon is a communication of God’s word to us. It explains to us what God’s will is for our life. We expect God to speak to us through his Word, by inspiring the speaker, and we listen for what God is telling us. God’s truth affects our lives and our hearts. It affects real life, and it demands a heart-felt response. The sermon should therefore appeal to our mind and to our emotions.
In the sermon, we are not just an listeners — we should also be participants. We should actively think about the Scriptures, think about the sermon, think about what it means in our lives. This isn’t just information about God — it is information about how God wants to change our lives. Part of our worship, part of our respectful response to God, is listening for what he wants to teach us and how he wants to change us.
We should listen with the expectation that the sermon contains something God wants to tell us. It may be different for you than it is for me. The point is that we should participate in the listening. Just as we participate in the music, and we participate in the prayers, we are all supposed to participate in the sermon, too.
As we listen, we should also be ready to respond to the message. The response can come in many different forms, depending on the message we have heard. One way to respond is to do what God is telling us to do. Some people are doing this by serving in various capacities within the church.
Others respond with service outside of the church, and some may respond by telling others how good and great God is — worshiping him by doing the priestly duty of sharing the good news of salvation — and hopefully all these responses will be common.
Sometimes the proper response is more in emotion than it is in action. The most important response is that of faith – a willingness to believe what God has said. The response may include thankfulness, sometimes expressed as an offering during the worship service. Sometimes the appropriate response is simply joy. Sometimes it is repentance, a change in behavior or a change in attitude toward other people.
Sometimes silence is the best response. Sometimes we are simply dumbfounded at God’s greatness, or his mercy, and we just don’t have the words to say anything intelligent. So we cover our mouths and sit in awe of God. We are speechless at how utterly different God is from us, how holy, how righteous, how perfect, how powerful, how completely beyond limitations of time and space he is. And we are awe-struck that he has been so humble as to care about persons such as ourselves. Overwhelming awe is one of many possible responses to God, depending on how he reveals himself to us.
No matter what, we expect God to affect both our emotions and our minds. Our relationship with him involves all our heart, mind, soul and strength. God wants all of us, not just part of us, as we worship him.
The real test of worship is not what happens at church, but what happens at home, and on the job, and wherever we go. Is God important enough to make a difference in the way we live, in the way we work, in the way we get along with other people? When the Holy Spirit lives in us, when we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, worship is a part of everyday life.
The best way to learn about worship at Woodbury UMC is to experience it firsthand!