Over the past few months we have been talking a lot about flourishing, this idea that we were made to thrive, to experience and enjoy life in ever-increasing abundance and fruitfulness (John 10:10). We who were once dead in our sins – separated from the life of God – are made fully alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). Christ’s life is in us – new life, eternal life, Spirit-empowered life. And God’s desire is that we remain connected to the life of his Son so we bring him much glory and experience much joy.
The life of Christ is meant to be experienced or, dare I say, “felt.” We should desire to have regular experiences where we are especially aware of Christ’s presence as we meditate on his Word, talk with him in prayer, and meet with his people for worship and fellowship. To borrow the words of the psalmist, we are invited to taste and see that God is good (Psalm 34:8). This has been a favorite verse of mine over the years as a worship leader, probably because it appeals to my core need to know and sense God’s life in all its fullness.
As a worship leader and director, I am convinced that one of the ways God intends for us to come face to face with his presence and life is through regularly gathering with other Christ followers in corporate worship.
John Stott, a well-known theologian and Anglican pastor who died several years ago, was once asked the following question: “When do you most feel alive?” Here was Stott’s response:
Spiritually speaking, I think I would have to say “in public worship.” I think I know what it is, in public worship, to be transported above and beyond myself, into a world of ultimate reality, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. And I think there is almost nothing that convinces me more of the reality of God than public worship. With a congregation, one is just lifted into heaven.
I find it striking that Stott, who Time magazine once mentioned as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World,” said that public worship was when he felt most ALIVE. Here is Stott, this theological heavyweight and prolific writer, stating that the worship service was ground zero for his own experience of God’s life energizing his life.
I believe there are three takeaways to ponder concerning our life in Christ and the worship gathering. First, part of experiencing Christ’s life is being aware that we are not the center of the universe. Stott says he is “transported above and beyond myself” in public worship. When we gather in worship we are reminded that God is supreme and the source of all true life and joy – our eyes are fixed toward heaven. Through Christ we partake in the divine life (2 Peter 1:3-4) and get to experience and enjoy God’s presence dwelling among us and in us.
Second, when we gather for worship we are joining the company of heaven, as well as our fellow believers on earth, in responding to God’s greatness. My own experience of God’s presence is intensified when I am in the company of other Christ followers. When I am surrounded by others who are lifting their voices in praise and adoration, my own affections are stirred and my soul redirected toward God (Stott’s words of being “lifted toward heaven”).
Lastly, although Stott doesn’t mention this explicitly, I believe God has designed music (which is just a part of the worship service) to affect us emotionally. As we sing songs that are God-centered and Christ-exalting, our emotions are heightened and we are more aware of God’s life and love. We feel – are more sensitive to – God’s presence.
I need to regularly gather with other believers if I want to continue to grow in my own experience of Christ’s life. Being alive together in worship is one sure way to continue on our path to flourishing.