As modern Americans we’ve been conditioned to always want something new. There is always something better coming around the corner. Likewise, we’ve been conditioned to value the spontaneous and the unscripted. Think of the popularity of reality television. If it’s spontaneous than it must be more real.
These work against the reception of the repetitious nature of worship, especially traditional worship. “Boring” is a word which describes it well for some people. It feels like a duty and not a delight.
Yet, the very thing many resist in worship (repetition) is something most people accept as necessary in other parts of life, such as learning a new skill or getting a job done. What they fail to realize is worship is more like these things things than not.
Like learning a new skill, say playing the piano, worship is about being changed. A major goal of worship is being transformed through an encounter with God. The classic passage in Isaiah 6, where Isaiah sees the Lord high and lifted up, leaves Isaiah a different person. Our transformation is ongoing, as we return again and again to encounter God.
Even as it takes years of practice to be proficient with in an instrument, it takes years to become more and more Christlike. And what starts out as conscious behavior must over time become unconscious habit. We just do it, because it’s become part of us. It’s who we are. As the Bible says, Christ is formed in us (Galatians 4.19).
Worship is central to how Christ is formed in us. As we gather with other Christians we receive the Spirit of Christ specially present in that group. Unconsciously this Spirit is affecting us. The word of Christ in hymns, choir anthems, and praise music gets into our heads and then our hearts.. The word in songs sticks and becomes part of the way we receive Christ
Repeating the Lord’s prayer forms our desires and orients us towards God’s purposes for us in Christ. We are made to long for the things Christ wants us to long for. We are being changed by the repetition, like the practicing piano player. Likewise, continuing to go over the story of Christ in Scripture readings, sermons, and church year themes works Christ into us.
Yes, there is an element of work in going to church each week. (It can feel like getting a job done.) Yes, it isn’t always new and exciting. However, like the person who sticks with piano practice we find it’s worth it, for it is the very way God is transforming us, deepening our assurance of his presence in our lives and our knowledge of his eternal purpose for our future.
Just as we want our children to learn the skills which will help them in life and so we send them dutifully to school each day. So we should send our children and ourselves to church each week for the things formed in us there are of even more lasting worth.