The word of God is the Story—the metanarrative that is missing in our Postmodern culture. Without the intentional, abundant, meticulous, prepared, prayerful, and respectful reading of the scriptures in worship, we are living outside of the Story of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ—the magnificent work of God in creation, redemption, and re-creation of all things.
—Constance Cherry, “My House Shall Be Called
a House of . . . Announcements,” 13
As God at first gives faith through the Word, so He thereafter also exercises, increases, confirms, and perfects it through the Word. Therefore the worship of God at its best and the finest keeping of the Sabbath consist in exercising oneself in piety and in dealing with the Word and hearing it. On the other hand, nothing is more dangerous than a dislike of the Word.
I did nothing; I left everything to the Word.
If true worship involves an audience with God, then the health of the church depends upon hearing the voice of God in the Scriptures (cf. Deut. 31:9-13).
—Daniel I. Block, For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship, 190
To ensure that God’s voice is heard, we might consider the following suggestions:
- Devote more time to reading the Scriptures—not just a verse or two from the Psalms as a quick call to worship, or a short text from Paul as a preface to the sermon.
- Read large blocks of Scripture at a time. While chapter and verse divisions help us navigate the Scriptures, they are a supreme hindrance to reading holistically and comprehensively. Chapter and verse divisions encourage treatment of the Scriptures as fragments loosely strung together. For practical reasons we may want to break up larger books into smaller parts, but this should not blind us to the fact that Deuteronomy 5:1b-26:19 and 28:1-68, for example, were preached as a single, coherent whole. Paul wrote his Epistles so believers might hear the entire letter in one reading; the same is true of the Gospels and the book of Revelation. The Psalms and Lamentations, and perhaps some prophetic books, may be read piecemeal, because they are collections of independently delivered and composed utterances, but even then we should be sensitive to the coherence exhibited by the canonical forms of these books
- Promote an atmosphere of reverence when reading the Scriptures. In the First Testament the Israelites stood in awe when God spoke (Exod. 19:17). It is appropriate to prostrate ourselves in homage before God when we enter his presence, but when he speaks, he calls us to rise (Ezek. 1:28-2:1). The people’s response to Ezra’s reading the Torah in Nehemiah 8:5 may be paradigmatic for our worship.
- Promote the expository reading of Scripture. Expository reading means reading the Scriptures so that their literary qualities are appreciated, their message understood, and their transformative power experienced.
- Prepare spiritually for the ministry of reading. Reading Scripture in public worship is a sacred task, for the reader serves as the mouthpiece of God. Ezra exhibited the qualities of a model reader: “He had determined to study the Torah of YHWH, to apply it, and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).
- Subordinate the sermon to the Scripture. Let the voice of God be clear, and let the voice of the human mouthpiece be suppressed.
—Daniel I. Block, For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship, 190-191
Part of what we need is simply to recover the idea that reading of Scripture is itself a powerful act of worship. Rather than thinking of Scripture reading in worship as a short preface to the sermon, try thinking of the sermon as an extended footnote to the reading of scripture.
—John D. Witvliet, “Isaiah in Christian Liturgy: Recovering Textual Contrasts and Correcting Theological Astigmatism,” Calvin Theological Journal 39 (2004):150
Perhaps the question to ask is whether we actually expect God to speak. If we wish to invite worshipers into that expectation, then the opening words of the service are especially important. A blessing and invitation from God, in the words of Scripture, set the expectation that God is already speaking in this place, today. This prepares worshipers to hear God in any element of the service, even those not specifically thought of as God’s Word to us.
—Debra and Ron Rienstra, Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry, 48
The beauty and effectiveness of a well-crafted liturgy will always lie in the allegiance to the Word. Just as the arts are servants of the liturgy, so is the liturgy a servant of the Word.
—Harold M. Best, Unceasing Worship, 72
As worship leaders . . . we also have the holy task of being stewards of God’s Word. Our choices of Scripture and themes for worship represent a degree of control over people’s spiritual diets, over how they feed on the bread of life.
—John Witvliet, Worship Seeking Understanding, 282
The first business of the Church at all times is to be attentive to the Word of God.
—William Nicholls, Jacob’s Ladder: The Meaning of Worship, 39
Word must always precede, and also create, sacrament and praise, confession and blessing.
—Paul F. M. Zahl, “Formal-Liturgical Worship,” in Exploring the Worship Spectrum: 6 Views, 34
As much as I love music . . . we have placed far too much faith in it and not nearly enough in the power of the Word, the authority and sweep of fearless prophecy and earnest, yet hope-filled, intercessory prayer. I have often wondered what would happen if we got music out of the way, especially in its upfront dress, and spent abundant time in interceding prayer, reading and searching the Scriptures, sitting in silence, prophesying and perhaps only then singing and making music.
—Harold M. Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts, 140
“Man is what he eats” was Feuerbach’s aphorism. By feeding on the word of God, the believer is changed according to God’s character.
—Geoffrey Wainwright, Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine and Life, 18
The New Testament says that when churches gather they should read the Bible, preach the Bible, pray the Bible, sing the Bible, and see the Bible [Communion].
Scripture should constitute the very content for much of what we say, sing, and pray in worship. When this is the case, Scripture permeates the service from beginning to end. Scripture forms the basis for all of worship.
—Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect, 80
God’s sacred Word . . . is that inestimable treasure that excelleth all the riches of the earth.
—translators of the King James Version, 1611
“This Book [is] the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is Wisdom; this is the royal Law; these are the lively Oracles of God.” With these words the Moderator of the Church of Scotland hands a Bible to the new monarch in Britain’s coronation service.
—Preface to the English Standard Version
The heart can only go as high in worship as it can go deep in theology.
—John MacArthur, Sing! Conference 2018
The host of the worship service is divine. We do not invite Him to be present. He invites us.
He always initiates; we respond.
The worship leader issues God’s invitation to join the heavenly throng that already and always praises Him. The privileges and responsibilities of the call to worship that actually commences our focus on revering God are too good to displace with comments regarding the weather and yesterday’s football game.
By using the words of Scripture as a call to worship, the leader automatically urges God’s people to respond to His disclosure of His own nature and purposes. This pattern established by the call to worship shapes the rest of the worship service. We do not approach God on our terms, but His. When He speaks, it is our obligation and privilege to respond appropriately in praise, prayer, repentance, testimony, encouragement of others, and service to what He declares about Hhimself. This corporate dialogue in which we as God’s people respond to God’s revelation is the sacred rhythm of covenant worship.
—Bryan Chapell, Foreword to Robert I. Vasholz, Calls to Worship
All devotion, all attention should be concentrated upon the Word in the hymn…. [We] do not hum a melody; we sing words of praise to God, words of thanksgiving, confession and prayer. Thus the music is completely the servant of the Word.
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 43