By Rev. Dr. Robert Haynes
In the midst of the Advent season, many church leaders are busy preparing for some extra special: Extra and Special worship services. These services generally draw people to church who have not been before or who have not been in a long time. These can be wonderful times of evangelistic energy. Newcomers to the church can be invited into the Christian community when church leaders work to prepare themselves and their congregations for authentic worship.
Though it may seem paradoxical, Christmas services maybe a time to demonstrate that the work of worship can lead to a divine rest. It is work that does not exhaust, but refreshes.
Church leaders will spend a great deal of time preparing for worship services. Every word to be spoken has been carefully prayed over. Music has been rehearsed. The worship space has been prepared. Leaders should also teach the congregation that worship takes some work on their part. It takes a holy work, and therefore, it is work worth doing. Whether we participate in a uniform, regular order of worship or not, we all participate in a “liturgy.” Liturgy literally means “the work of the people.” Liturgy does not have to be confined to something we read through in traditional worship.
It is indeed powerful to remember, participate, and celebrate the traditions of the centuries of worship that came before us. But all worship: traditional, contemporary, emerging, etc. can be a “liturgy” or a work of the people. Worship is not a spectator’s sport. True worship occurs when we bring ourselves to the worship of God. This requires more than our mere physical presence. This requires our entire being, our time, and our full attention. This can be real work sometimes, but it is always worth it.
Because the Holy Spirit is working in authentic, work-filled worship it is powerful! The power is already there in the Person and Presence of the Holy Spirit. We do not have to force it or make it happen. The Spirit is already there. When we open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit by reverent and careful preparation for worship God is glorified, and we transformed in the process.
Worship is also about rest. Let’s face it, many of us have trouble resting. Sometimes we even look down upon those who rest as lazy or unproductive. To be the child of God that we are called to be, we need to rest. We must take a deep breath: spiritually, emotionally, physically.
True worship is a time of rest. We rest in the arms of the God who loves us and desires that we too love Him. He wants us to cast our cares upon Him and take rest from the burdens that the world, others, or even ourselves have placed upon us.
In our worship we can sometimes get so caught up in singing about God or reading about God or hearing about God that we forget that worship is an experience of God. We experience God’s love so that we too might be changed more into the likeness of Him. Have you ever considered how you might move from all those things about God and move into a restful experience of God?
Our worship truly takes on a whole new meaning when we live out that which we say and do in worship. We affirm that God is all powerful, that He forgives sins, that the saints are to commune together, and that there is more to our being than just this earthly life.
If done carefully, prayerfully, and intentionally every worship service can be filled with holy work and holy rest. As new people come to our churches, may Christian leaders model this work and this rest some that others would come to know God’s work and rest for themselves as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Dr. Haynes is the Director of Education and Leadership for World Methodist Evangelism and the author of Consuming Mission: Towards a Theology of Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage. He is an ordained member of The United Methodist Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about, or to order, Consuming Mission, visit www.ConsumingMission.com.