Worship cannot be reduced to the pragmatic – nor can prayer. Leander Keck reminds us that, “making worship useful destroys it.” Why? Keck explains, it “introduces an ulterior motive for praise. And ulterior motives mean manipulation, taking charge of the relationship, thereby turning the relation between the Creator and the creature upside down.”
To be genuinely corporate – worship must engage the congregation as participants – as worshippers, pray-ers and people of praise. Today, people are in the same space, but at different places, given the headphones, cellphones and electronic companionship. That we are in the same room does not constitute corporate prayer and worship. It is not uncommon to find people tweeting and texting, while sitting on a pew. We are a culture deeply committed to creating and manipulating our own world, as we can, in defiance of God’s sovereignty, even in His house.
The problem of audience centered worship is centuries old. Chrysostom would declare, “Our worship is not a stage show.” Nor is our worship earthly. In worship, we are to enter heavenly places, to puncture the veil of time and space. It is not so much that God joins us on earth, but that He bids us to join Him in heaven. Worshiping in ‘heavenly places’ means that we join in the worship that goes on continually around the throne. “The glorious company of the apostles, the noble fellowship of the prophets, the white-robed army of martyrs praise you” and as we worship, we join that illustrious throng in heaven in worship. The small group that occupies a church may feel alone, but they join
…thousands upon thousands, myriads upon myriads of angels, and archangels, of thrones and dominions, of principalities and powers. Beside you stand the two august Seraphim with six wings; two to cover their face, two to cover their feet, two with which to fly. They sing your holiness. With their praise accept also our acclaimations of your holiness: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Sabaoth! Heaven and earth are filled with your glory. The heaven is filled, the earth is filled with your wonderful glory!
In prayer I am not alone. I am one with the members of God’s family, my family. My weak prayer is caught up into the great stream of prayer that goes up forever from God’s family. The strength of my prayer is that it is not simply mine. The moment I fall upon my knees, I am no longer an individual man or woman talking to God, but a member of the family of God, a sharer in that human nature which Christ has carried to the right hand of God. The communion of the saints is what gives life and force to prayer, comfort and confidence to those who pray. On my knees, I cannot be alone. My prayer, as weak, as feeble, as helpless as it is, is organically untied with the prayers of the whole Church. We are all members of one body. We belong to an association for intercessory prayer.
This blog is part of The Praying Church Handbook – Volume III – Pastor and the Congregation which can be purchased at alivepublications.org>
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 Leander Keck, The Church Confident (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1993), 35.
 Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God (Yale University Press: New Haven, 2003), 43.
 Ibid, 47.
 Ibid, 48.
 Spiros Zodhiates, The Lord’s Prayer, revised edition (Chattanooga, TN: AMG, 1991), 46.