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Much of the worship across the evangelical landscape today resembles something similar to a performance or a form of entertainment—complete with circulating lights, fog machines, and dueling DJs—where the people are seen as the “audience” watching a live show. A band often features gifted musicians and lead singers, and a speaker delivers a motivational “talk” meant to inspire the crowd. The people are simply passive observers.
Yet, worship is not for our entertainment but rather for our sincere expression of awe, wonder, joy, and thanksgiving to God and His mighty works of creation and redemption through the Lord Jesus Christ (Ps. 105:1; Isa. 12:6; Heb. 12:28; Rev. 5:9). We are called to actively participate in worship—having our minds and hearts engaged in every element—so that God may be glorified as He has prescribed in His Word, and the believers sanctified according to the powerful working of the Holy Spirit through the means of grace.
Worship, then, requires preparation and effort. It is our sacred duty and delight, the call of God for us to worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24): “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” (Ps. 100:4). Worship is also an expression of our chief end, which is “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism 1). Our task is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength—not only as individual worshipers but also as participants in the gathered body of Christ, the communion of saints (Heb. 10:25). And our full participation in worship follows our desire to glorify Christ, love Christ, and know Christ, that we might be conformed more and more into the likeness of Christ.
How are we to be active participants in worship? Here are four ways. First, prepare yourself and your family beforehand. This might mean, on Saturday evening, reading the Scripture passage that will be preached, praying for the service and for the minister preaching, going over the order of worship (if available) with your family, and setting aside your tithes and offerings. It might mean setting out your clothes and going to bed early. Also, plan to arrive early, use the restroom, and remove or minimize any distractions (e.g., cell phone ringtone). Make sure everyone has a bulletin so they can take part in each element. All this supports our full participation in Lord’s Day worship.
Second, come to worship with eagerness and expectation that the Spirit of God is active—saving the lost and sanctifying His people—through His Word, prayer, and the sacraments. As the gospel is planted and watered through these means of grace in worship, God provides the growth (1 Cor. 3:7). When we consider that all we have is from the hand of our gracious God, and that He has sovereignly saved us from eternal damnation, our desire will be to offer to Him sincere and humble sacrifices of thanksgiving (Ps. 50:14). We will long to praise His holy name with fully engaged hearts and minds. When we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will be blessed and satisfied (Matt. 5:6). Moreover, our desire to worship God fuels the desires of others to worship God, including our own children. Sincere worship is contagious, testifying to the reality of God and His gospel. This, in turn, encourages an overall eagerness and expectation by others to participate in worship.
Third, worship is dialogical—God speaks, and His people respond. Therefore, as active participants in worship, we hear the call of God to worship Him; we engage in various responsive readings from Scripture or a confession of faith; we follow along in the reading of God’s Word in our own Bibles; we join our hearts in the prayers that are offered; we take notes (mental or actual) of the points made in the sermon; we sing thoughtfully and joyfully the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with grace in our hearts; we confess our sins with a sincere awareness of our depravity; we remember to improve upon our own baptism when we take part in the baptism of another; we participate in the body and blood of Jesus at the Lord’s Supper, remembering by faith His sacrifice of atonement for our sins; we actively take comfort in being assured of His pardoning grace; we give of our tithes and offerings as an expression of our thanksgiving toward and dependence on God; and we go with the peace that God has promised in His benediction. In every element, then, we are fully present and attentive.
Fourth, being an active participant in worship may involve certain appropriate postures or movements. It’s not uncommon to stand for the reading of God’s Word out of respect (Neh. 8:5), to bow one’s head in humble prayer (Ps. 35:13), or to stretch out one’s hands to receive the benediction (Num. 6:24–26; Neh. 8:6). All these are ways to increase both individual and communal participation in worship.
Rather than being mere observers or passive attenders in the worship of our triune God, may we carefully prepare ourselves for worship, eagerly expect God to be at work among His people in worship, and actively engage our hearts, minds, souls, and strength in each element of worship. And as we become active participants, may God work in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever (Heb. 13:21).