As Christians, we tend to pick up fairly early that worship is a whole of life thing, but the question quickly becomes, “what does that even look like? For example, Paul tells us to pray without ceasing (1Thess 5:17), but it’s all very well for Paul to say that, when he was in prison -- he didn’t have anything else to do (Ain’t nobody got time for that). But then Colossians 3:24-24:
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving”.
As Rebecca McLaughlin remarks, “Christians are called to see work as part of their worship--whether they are designing a building or sweeping its floors” (“Confronting Christianity”, p25).
So we’re supposed to pray without ceasing and consider our work as worship. But then the Bible goes further and we have to try and work out: How do you actually “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Rom 12:1)?
It would be so easy if worship was prescribed and compartmentalised, because most of the things in our lives are easier when they’re spelt out and easily achievable. But whole-life worship can’t be fitted into a neat portion of time, or a particular practice that we can put a tick in the box for, like you can on Bible reading apps.
Our worship comes as a response to the gospel that has changed us, to the God who has made us, who loves us, who has entered our world, who died for us, who rose to sit by the father and intercede for us, and who dwells in us.
Mike Cosper, in his excellent book “Rhythms of Grace”, helps us to think through how the gospel should shape our worship practices, particularly in our churches. The first half of the book plots the trajectory of worship, from the perfect worship found in the community of the Trinity before God formed his creation, through the Old Testament narrative of the formation of the people of Israel and their Temple and sacrificial worship system. He then follows this through to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the formation of the early church. In doing so, we are able to see the way that God has called his people to worship Him throughout history, so that we can understand where we are and begin to interpret how we might begin to worship with our whole lives.
It is hard to read this section of Cosper’s book without being completely overwhelmed and inspired by the incredible truths of the gospel: we are given a comprehensive picture of an amazing God who is constantly encouraging and forgiving his chosen people, showing mercy, grace and justice toward them, and blessing them abundantly and often, despite their sinful thoughts and actions. In the face of such complete love and generosity, it is almost impossible to consider not worshipping this God; in fact the idea of ascribing worth to anything other than God becomes totally ridiculous and is exposed for the empty idolatry it is. I found it hard to read a whole page without being so moved by the enormity and goodness of God that I wanted to stand and sing with gusto (awkward when you’re reading on campus!)
Cosper follows on with a discussion of the different spheres of worship which he calls Worship One, Two, Three: We worship one object and author (God), in two contexts (gathered as church and scattered in our day-to-day lives), and with three audiences (God, the church of believers, and the watching world). Cosper asserts that it is helpful to acknowledge each element so that we might know that we are indeed worshipping as the gospel instructs us, and because our habits inform our practice: if our habits are badly formed, it follows that our practice will be flawed also. In highlighting this, Cosper shows that our resistance to changes in worship practices comes more often from a place of having to break a formed habit, than actual theological discord.
With this desire to instil accurate habits and practices at a church-wide level that then informs personal application, the second, much more practical section of the book deals with worship in churches. Cosper asserts that the gospel should shape each of these sessions and champions a liturgical style of worship, for its rhythm and routine, its clarity, its comprehensiveness in dealing with each of the aspects of the gospel narrative (God is holy, we are sinners, Jesus saves us from our sin, and Jesus sends us on his mission, p122-3), and its capacity for teaching and formation of the congregation members. This section is less helpful for those without a position of authority in their church, but is still a valuable resource for understanding how Cosper seeks to apply his theory, and for those who are seeking to grow their capability in shaping the worship life of their church community.
There is so much gold in this book. Not all of it may be relevant to every reader, but certainly all can read and consider at least the first gospel-tracing section. Cosper has an easy, inspiring, and vivid style, that will lead you to wonder not “How can I worship with my whole life?”, but indeed “How can I not?”
Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s worship tells the story of the gospel
Mike Cosper (2013, Crossway)