Within Christian communities, there’s a pattern that I’ve noticed. That pattern is that when we use the word “worship” all our minds jump to one common thing, the Sunday song set. We hear pastors and leaders say all the time that “worship is more than just songs.” We all agree with that sentiment, but the habit still seems to remain, that when we talk about worship, we usually mean the songs.
How do we break ourselves of this? How can we be sure that when we talk about worship we are not fixating onto only the songs we sing, and end up constricting the value that can come from a lifestyle of worship? In my opinion, the most effective discipline to practice is what I will call, “private worship.” I like referring to it in this way because it helps to distinguish in my mind a corporate space and a private space for worship; of whatever kind, that will help to break down those preconceived notions of what worship should really entail.
Corporate worship is probably the space that a lot of Christians; especially in the American church, emphasize most when we’re considering the broad topic of worship. It is the easiest to define and point to with components and activities such as communion, group prayer, hearing from a preacher, or singing songs of praise together. These practices are invaluable when it comes to being a part of a Christian community as each of these practices has a unique functionality and purpose for church edification and support, but they are not the “end-all.”
I am a believer that there is no act of worship; or rather space for worship, that is so engaging and shaping to the believer than the act of private worship to God.
Alone, just you and God, away from the noise and busyness of life and the temptation to glorify ourselves rather than God. The Word commands us on numerous occasions to take part in private worship to God. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus commands that when you worship God by serving others, to not, “let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (Matt. 6:3) Also, in his commentary on the proper ways to pray He says, “go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private.” (Matt. 6:6) Attached to both of these commands for private acts of worship there is a promise that when your Father in Heaven sees what is done in secret, you will then be rewarded. In all these texts we see that the only way, in fact, to disqualify yourself from the rewards for these worship acts, is to boast about them in the public eye!
There is another text worth highlighting that addresses this subject of private worship and it is Psalm 51. This psalm almost reads like a journal entry from David’s journal for private worship. He was coming out of a challenging season and was repenting of some grievous sin he had committed and you can really sense the relief and solace David is finding in that moment of private worship and he uses an especially poignant phrase that I think can serve as a valuable reminder for all of us. David prays to God and says, “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” (Psalm 51:6)
What a beautiful way to view private worship. To view it as a place where the Lord delights to be, a place where honesty and truth in our most vulnerable area is met with grace, love, and gifts of wisdom direct from the God of the universe! Later in that verse David says to God, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17)
You see, worship as we know, can encompass a wide variety of traditions and practices. Singing, prayer, reading the word, serving, listening, and communion all have their place in the life of a believer. However it is so valuable for us to acknowledge that the corporate space should never be the primary space for our worship.
In fact, the place where God desires most to see worship take place is in the secret place, in the truth and honesty of a broken and contrite heart.
So when we worship, let us worship God from the overflow of the wisdom we are sure to receive when we worship Him “in the secret heart.”