What do we do in worship? What sorts of things make up the “agenda” on any given Sunday service? We sing, we pray, we read the Bible…but what do we sing? Why do we pray? Why are these things important? And how would we help someone new to the whole “worship scene” understand the different parts? How might we explain them to our children?
That’s what a couple of church planters asked in 2005, and their answer was a teaching series called “Vertical Habits” that has gained traction in many churches and schools as an accessible way to learn about worship. The title itself is not very helpful, until we un-pack it. Worship is about our relationship with God (vertical). Habits are those good repetitions we engage in to grow and mature and learn.
Let me explain it this way: just as we teach children to say “I’m sorry” when they’ve done something wrong or “Thank you” when someone gives them a gift, so worship too teaches us those good habits in our relationship with God. We begin worship by singing praise: saying “I love you” to God because of who He is, and what He’s done for us! We say “I’m sorry” to God to acknowledge our sin and brokenness. The part of the service where we give our offerings can be seen as a time when we say to God “thank you” for all He have given us. When we hear the Bible being read, and the preacher teaching we say “I’m listening” to God. We can also ask “Why?” in worship when we give voice to our lament and sadness (this doesn’t happen every week, but think of the times when we’ve sung “How Long?” reminding us of the lament of Psalm 13).
We do these things EVERY Sunday, and so we call them “habits.” We hope they are good habits: routines and actions that help us grow in our relationship with God. The further hope is that these habits enrich our lives every day. When we see a beautiful sunset, or an amazing bird we can say to God “Thank you!” When we are sad beyond sadness we can cry, we can rage, we can ask “Why?” to God, because we have experienced in worship that this is safe. Whenever we read our Bibles at home in the week, we can silently pray “I’m listening, Lord.” When we have made a mistake, we can acknowledge that and say “I’m sorry.”
Talk about this with your children or families or small groups and use the weekly Psalm to guide your devotions in preparation for Sunday worship. May God be glorified and his church transformed.
~ Ruth Ann Schuringa