For most of the past year COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the world at large. Governments have taken some extreme measures to try and slow the spread of this disease. These measures have included social distancing, the wearing of masks, and restrictions on gatherings. The impact of these measures has reached into most areas of our lives. And for Christians, as well as other religious groups, it has adversely affected our ability to gather for worship, for study, and for fellowship. Many Christians are struggling with these restrictions on our Sunday morning gatherings, our most visible and iconic activity.
What Is Worship
In the Old Testament the Hebrew word ḥāwâ is found 170 times. This word means “to bow down; to prostrate oneself; to pay honor or homage.” The NIV generally translates this word as some form of worship or bowing down. So, the idea in worship is that of falling on your face before God, acknowledging his greatness and goodness. It is an activity I perform that is directed toward God.
In the Scripture you will find two ways that worship is carried out. The first is a formal service offered to God. Hebrews 9:1 expresses this form, “Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary.” Under the first covenant, the one established at Sinai, there was a defined place for worship as well as specific rituals that were performed, including sacrifices.
This was performed as a part of the covenant agreement made between God and the people of Israel. Their worship was an acknowledgement of God’s lordship over them. And it was done in a very precise way with variations in the form being punishable, even up to death (Lev. 10:1-2). Worship in this ritualistic fashion was largely an outward activity. There may or may not have been any spiritual connection made with God.
The other form found in the Scriptures is quite different. It is spontaneous, individual, and a matter of heart rather than form. I find this best exemplified in the book of Job. In the first chapter of this book, we are introduced to Job, a righteous man who feared God. God allows Satan to afflict him for a time and in Job 1:20 we find Job’s response to the suffering he was undergoing, “At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship.”
Job’s response to his suffering was to worship. It was spontaneous, it was informal, and it was very personal. There was none of the formality of temple and ritualized worship. Yet in many respects it was a more real form. His worship was coming from the heart rather than following a program.
Those same two forms that are found in the Scripture are also found within Christianity today. The Scripture does not mandate a specific form that our corporate worship should take. Instead, each tradition within Christianity has developed a form that they find meaningful. These different forms generally include similar elements such as music, prayer, and proclamation or reading of the Bible. But they do it in different ways.
What makes this worship is that it is directed towards God. Worship is not entertainment. It is not about what I get out of it. It is about showing homage to God. And, so long as that occurs, the form does not matter.
The spontaneous worship that Job demonstrated is also still a part of the Christian faith today. We can, and should, worship wherever we are and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. But there are some times and places, that will move us to an even greater sense of awe. For me, that is out in the mountains. Sitting on top of a mountain and surveying the world around me almost always moves me to exalt the creator of it all.
Whether we are worshipping corporately or alone, we should do so in humility, paying homage to our Lord and God. He alone is worthy of our worship.
How to Worship Without Gathering
But how do you worship corporately when you are unable to gather with God’s people? The social distancing necessitated by COVID-19 keeps many of us isolated. Illness, work schedules, or isolation may also prevent you from being able to physically assemble with other believers. While we can still worship when we find ourselves in those circumstances, its corporate nature can be challenging. Is there any solution to that?
It might seem to be impossible to worship as a body when you are physically scattered. But what may be impossible for humans is not necessarily impossible for God. As Christ’s church, we are more than just a physical collection of people. We are a spiritual body. And while we might be physically constrained, those constraints should not hinder us spiritually.
Gathering in Spirit
In 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 Paul deals with a matter of sin within the church at Corinth. In verse three he tells them that “even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit.” Paul’s spirit was not constrained by the physical distance that separated him from the church at Corinth. He was able to be present with them in spirit regardless where his body was.
Although Paul was not referring to gathering to worship, I believe the same principle applies. Even when circumstances prevent us from physically gathering, we should be able to assemble in spirit. Granted, we cannot just flip a switch and be together in spirit. It requires that we learn to live a spiritual life. And it is not as satisfying as being physically together. But still, we can draw together in spirit, even when apart. And today’s technology can help us feel more connected by being able to see and hear each other.
I do believe that assembling together corporately is the ideal we should strive for when it is possible. But it is not always possible. And when that is true, we can still gather together in spirit to worship our Lord.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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