I’ve written a lot about worship on this blog; it’s one of my favorite topics. There are a lot of worship-related tags on the right-side of this page here: worship, prayer, art, music, Baptism, confession, sacrament… But something I haven’t really written about before is what makes worship so important for every Christian. I have hinted at this question when describing the purpose of the Church which includes worship, and the importance of balancing different types of worship for maximum spiritual health and vigor, but now I’ve got a new illustration to try out on this three-fold rule of Christian worship.
Worship is the spiritual life of a Christian. What are the most basic needs of life’s survival? Food, water, and sleep. Eucharistic worship is the food, personal devotions is the water, and the daily office is the sleep. Let’s explore this intriguing thought more closely.
#1 ~ Eucharistic worship as food
Eucharistic worship is not just receiving Holy Communion, but the whole worship service – opening acclamations, singing praises, hearing the word, preaching the word, confessing our faith, confessing our sins, praying for the state of Christ’s Church and the world, receiving the Eucharist, and being sent out into the world. How is this is the food of our worship lives? First of all, Jesus told Peter to “feed my lambs.” In Eucharistic worship, the leaders of a congregation feed their congregation with the bread of life and the cup of Christ’s blood she for us. All feed on Christ in their hearts by faith, with thanksgiving. Secondly, preaching and teaching straight from God’s word builds up the body. This must be done faithfully and accurately, though; bad teachings are harmful. Additionally, congregational singing and praying bring out different “side-dishes,” if you will, that supplement the flavor and nutrition of the main course of Word & Sacrament.
Without Eucharistic worship, we starve. In saying this, I am not putting down any denomination or tradition, except for those people who call themselves Christians but do not “go to church.” This communal form of worship is what binds us together with God in a unique way, and infuses new life into our spirit. Now, there are denominations and traditions that change the balance of this meal. Many Catholic churches really skimp on the preaching and assume that the Sacrament alone will be food enough. This is true to a point – people can survive on meager teaching and strong sacramental worship, but they’re undernourished. The same is true for the many Protestant churches that preach well, but don’t serve Communion every Sunday, or downplay its celebration to mere mental recollection, turning it into a shadow of the powerful sacrament it was meant to be.
#2 ~ personal devotions as water
This analogy is especially neat, because the Holy Spirit is often symbolized through water, and the Spirit is the key power behind one’s personal devotions. From contemplative prayer to Bible studies to political activism in the name of Jesus, this is the most varied and personalized area of worship. There is one wellspring of the Spirit, but He crops up all over the place. We each have our own gifts and callings which, to different degrees, God compels us to carry out, lest we find ourselves “kicking against the goads.” As healthy and filling we may find Eucharistic worship, personal devotions are personally refreshing.
There are lots of Christians who “go to church” but turn out not to be Christians at all. How can this be? Partly because they weren’t actually eating the meal offered them on Sunday morning, but mostly because they don’t drink from the wellspring of the Spirit. Without our personal devotions we spiritually wither and die. Although God does call us to Himself into community, we are also called as individuals, so failure to make that personal commitment defeats the ability to participate fully in the communal worship.
#3 ~ the daily office as sleep
This analogy could be the butt of jokes – the “boring” one gets to be sleep! That is unfortunate, but check this out; the analogy works alarmingly well. What does sleep do for our bodies? It refreshes us, stabilizes our health, defines our waking life, and if timed well, sleep also enables us to live in more full community with others. (If we slept all day and stayed up all night, we literally wouldn’t cross paths with most of the world.)
How does the daily office meet these criteria? First of all, there’s the matter of refreshment and stability. Our lives as individuals has ups and downs. The daily office, because it is a regular worship practice that does not change very much from day to day, forms a stable place, emotionally and spiritually, for us to meet with God despite our state of mind, heart, and soul. Personal devotions can jump around from place to place according to our mood and condition, but the daily office is a place where we can, as individuals, step beyond our own circumstances and join the Church in common prayer and worship to our God. Secondly, there’s the matter of defining our waking hours and communal participation. The daily office is a devotion that is designed to disciple people by worshiping together – it builds us up, increasing our maturity, by providing us a healthy spread of prayer and biblical meditation. And at the same time, when we do this in community, it keeps us on the same page spiritually, providing us a common language that we can share with one another as we grow together in Christ.
Without the stabilizing, disciplined prayer of the Office, we’re much more prone to spiritual burn-out. Running on our own strength, relying on our personal devotions and personal applications from the Sunday service, we’re forced to invent our own Christian lives. The daily office enables us to grow with that community of believers, not just in the general area of one another.
So Eucharistic worship is our food, providing us with the nutrition we need to survive and grow in the Christian life. Personal devotions are the waters we drink, satisfying our thirst for God’s active presence within us. The daily office is our sleep, providing us that regular dose of refreshment and rest together from our busy roller-coaster lives.
Someday I might want to explore how the Catholic, Charismatic, and Evangelical streams of Christianity contribute to the Eucharistic, personal, and official forms of worship, respectively, cos there is an intriguing connection emerging. But for now, suffice it to say, I think this illustration of food, water, and sleep provides a pretty helpful explanation to why this “three-fold rule of Christian worship” is such a big deal.