Activating our Spiritual Muscles for Worship
I’ve been reading Stephen Charnock’s masterpiece, “The Existence and Attributes of God”. It is simply magnificent. Ancient Puritan prose, but glorious. Utterly thorough and profound, yet delightfully heart-warming and deeply pastoral and practical in places.
I would say one thing about reading Charnock—I find it helpful to make an outline of his points—that way I can trace his argument more clearly.
I’ve posted gold from Charnock here before, but if I had my way I would have all of chapter 3 “On Spiritual Worship” reprinted—albeit with a clearer layout, and some light modernisation. What is worship? How do we prepare for worship? How do we keep our thoughts from wandering in worship? How do we avoid worship that is simply in body, rather than in spirit?
(On those last two questions he has a vivid and helpful illustration: He says that we should maintain a worshipful and spiritual mindset outside of worship too. “To avoid low affections, we must keep our hearts as much as we can in a settled elevation. If we admit unworthy dispositions at one time, we shall not easily be rid of them in another; as he that would not be bitten with gnats in the night, must keep his windows shut in the day: when they are once entered, it is not easy to expel them; in which respect, one adviseth to be such out of worship as we would be in worship.” Keep the gnats out Monday to Saturday, and they’ll trouble you less on Sabbath!)
Charnock’s desire to equip us to worship ‘in spirit’ really struck me. And it was looking at the outline of one of his sub-sub-points(!) that helped me see it. He had a list of 11 qualities (sub-sub-sub-points!) all of which he expanded on,over several pages, but seeing them listed all together with their heading gave me a better sense of what he was saying.
He has been asking the question “What is spiritual worship” and as part of his answer he outlines that spiritual worship is performed with several spiritual graces activated.
Have you ever thought of that? Athletes warm up so that they have different muscles not only stretched but even activated—switched on and ready for use. (I found this out because a particular muscle in my shoulder had switched off, causing issues with my swimming. As part of the treatment the physiotherapist showed me how to ‘switch it on’ before doing a training session, so that it was active and ready to engage.)
For athletes (and middle-aged men who don’t want to admit their body is in need of a good resurrection) it's not just a general warm up they need, but a task-specific warm up.
And I think that’s how we should think of worship. We are often told to prepare our hearts for worship, but Charnock is not content with such a nebulous instruction.
Instead he identifies some specific worship muscles which we need to engage as we come to worship.
Let me give his list of graces to activate and then unpack them in a prayer, by way of example.
• Faith in God, in his goodness, in his salvation.
• Love for God
• Aware of our own weakness
• Desire for God—not simply to be together, or even to worship.
• Thankfulness and admiration
• Delight—a joy in God.
• Deep reverence
• Aiming at the glory of God
• Approaching in the name of Christ
Do we think of consciously activating these as we come to worship?
It’s a wonderful list, and Charnock wonderfully unpacks it, but here is my attempt to take his list and turn it into a prayer for the beginning of worship—to help us think about the things we want to have in place as we come to worship our great God in spirit.
Father in Heaven, as we gather to worship you this morning we ask that you would enable us to come with faith—faith to believe, despite our surroundings, despite the familiarity of worship, despite the unseenness of your nature, that we are in your presence, and that we gather with the host of the redeemed and all the angels to worship you. Grant us faith to believe that what we hear from your word is your voice speaking to us. Help us to hold on the truth that the unseen realities of worship are more important than all the myriad pressing realities of everyday life. Help us to believe that you are here to meet and to feed us.
Father, fill us with love for you. You who have done so much, loving us with an everlasting love, sending your Son, forgiving us, adopting us into your family, loving us despite all the failures of the week past. Fill us with love for your Son—for all he has done for us—let us see more of him today. Help us to love more your Holy Spirit, who works in us so powerfully and patiently.
Grant us an awareness of our weakness. We are so flawed, and often think we aren’t. Show us our weakness so that we may receive your correction and comfort.
O Lord we desire you above all else. We long to see your beauty this day. Unless we meet with you, all else is worthless.
Give to us a glimpse of your character, such that we are filled with admiration. Help us to come with thankful hearts, grasping more of all that you have done for us. Delight us with your being, goodness and glorious salvation and all its benefits. And amidst our thankful delight, fill us with an awe-filled reverence, seeing something of you in all your heavenly glory, before whom the angels cover their faces.
We humble our hearts before you, for we are creatures, and you are the creator. We are sinners and you are holy. You see more defilement in our obedience than we ever saw in any of our sins. We come confessing our need of holiness, and the sins we have even committed this day. Cleanse us afresh we pray.
As we gather today, we come not like a poor man coming to honour a prince in the hope of receiving a reward, or as sinners hoping our worship will atone for our sin, but because you are worthy of our worship. Enable us to worship for your glory.
And in all this we come to you in Jesus’ name, because without him, nothing we do is acceptable.
Meet with us we pray, and enable us to worship you in spirit and in truth.
“God is a Spirit infinitely happy, therefore we must approach to him with cheerfulness; he is a Spirit of infinite majesty, therefore we must come before him with reverence; he is a Spirit infinitely high, therefore we must offer up our sacrifices with the deepest humility; he is a Spirit infinitely holy, therefore we must address him with purity; he is a Spirit infinitely glorious, we must therefore acknowledge his excellency in all that we do, and in our measures contribute to his glory, by having the highest aims in his worship; he is a Spirit infinitely provoked by us, therefore we must offer up our worship in the name of a pacifying Mediator and Intercessor.” vol. 1, p. 242