In the March issue of Forward in Christ, WELS President Schroeder discusses what should be the proper focus of worship. He says that when Christians go to church, we
step away from the distractions and difficulties of daily life, and gather as a spiritual family in the promised presence of God himself. Why do we come? What is the primary focus of our worship? On what we do? Or on what God does for us?
Certainly there are things that we do in our worship…
But if we think of worship as primarily something we do, we are missing the most important part of our worship. Worship is about what God does for us.
Lutheran worship—biblical worship—is above all God speaking to us in his Word. It is God proclaiming through human messengers the crushing blows of his law. In worship, God lovingly speaks to sin-burdened sinners the sweet good news of sins forgiven and death defeated. In readings and sermons, God instructs, strengthens, equips, and motivates his people for lives of Christian service. Worship is where God comes to us in his sacraments, adopting sinners into his family through Holy Baptism and strengthening the faith of his people by giving them his true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. In worship, with every syllable of his Word that is proclaimed and spoken, God assures us of what he has done for us; in turn, he also reminds us of the mission that he has now entrusted to us.
When the focus of worship is on what God does for us, then our worship will be a blessing. It will help us to understand ourselves and all of our weaknesses. It will direct us to the grace and love of God. It will transport us to the foot of the cross, where Jesus demonstrated a love both undeserved and inconceivable. It will fill us with joy that continues long after the time for worship ends.
Sad to say, many lose sight of this primary focus and think of worship as primarily an activity that they do. When that happens, people tend to develop certain unhealthy expectations of worship. They begin to view worship as something that should be “fun” or entertaining. They adopt a consumer approach to worship, expecting that worship should be shaped by their own tastes and that it should cater to their own comfort level. They insist that worship should reflect what they want, what they like, and what they find pleasing. They run the risk of losing sight of what God wants to do for them in that precious time in his house…
God-pleasing worship always focuses on the proclamation of Christ and on all that God has done for sinners like us. And if that is what characterizes our worship, if that is where our focus is, then our worship will never be dull, never boring, and certainly never irrelevant. When God’s Word is proclaimed, worship becomes the blessing that God wants it to be.
Yes, the proper focus of worship is on what God does for us, because the only good things we do are because of what God does for us. Paul wrote, that we should “continue to work out” our “salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in” us “to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13). When we focus on the good that God does for us, we of necessity also focus on our own depravity; this is because we cannot fully comprehend the good that God has done without first realizing how desperately we need his forgiveness. We need his gospel just as much as we need air or water.
President Schroeder’s article articulates well an important principle. Remembering this principle: that our worship should focus on what God does, should help to unify worship practices in the WELS.
When we receive his true gifts (in Promise and Sacrament), and thank God for what he has truly done, that is the proper focus of worship. That is worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:23-24).